How many of you out there were playing when Wizards released Torment? Probably not too many. For those that don’t know, the set contained: Chainer’s Edict, Mind Sludge, Mutilate, and Nantuko Shade. These cards were added to a Standard environment that already included Corrupt and Duress. If you’re looking at those parts and thinking “Yeah. That looks like a sweet deck,” let me introduce you to the rug that really brought the room together:Cabal Coffers.
The deck practically built itself.
Some of you may have heard of the legendary “Mono Black Control” deck. Well, this was it at the height of its power. The list that performed at Tier 1 levels during the time of Odyssey block is the deck that is still talked about today. Whenever one of its key parts gets reprinted, its fans starting brewing decks in the margins of their class notes and presentation plans. People are waiting with baited breath for the time when it will rise again.
Why? Because it was a really cool deck. It gave those who wanted to play Control without playing permission a really easy way to do it. It breathed some variety into Control match-ups for those that were sick of playing against the “draw-go” Blue approach. Its positive reception endeared it to a very large cult following within the game, myself included.
The dominance of Mono Black is long gone – Odyssey block was last legal in Standard over ten years ago. Thankfully, like many old archetypes that will probably never have their favourite toys reprinted, Mono Black lives on in the eternal formats. Pox and Demon Stompy survive in Legacy while Suicide and Control thrive in Pauper. Meanwhile, in Commander, anything continues to be possible.
I myself have taken a run at Mono Black a few times over the years. My first attempt was zombie tribal, led by Geth, Lord of the Vault. My second build was Toshiro Umezawa combo. The release of the Sworn to Darkness preconstructed deck this year saw me smash Toshi into that list and create:
Blackest Heart – Jackson Miller
This is my take on a Mono Black Control list. Commander is in many ways the perfect format for this kind of deck. Back when Torment was in Standard, the acceleration provided by Cabal Coffers was what made the deck largely competitive. In the longer games of Commander, the unreliable access to that acceleration is largely mitigated by the pace of the game.
Not to say that decks like this are completely devoid of early plays. Entomb/Exhume is always a brutal one-two punch (usually targeting Kokusho or Rune-Scarred Demon). Phyrexian Arena and Necropotence can get the extra resources flowing early, while Burnished Hart and Crypt Ghast can fix up mana troubles. However, if you examine the curve of the deck, you’ll notice most of the low points are inhabited by removal. The usual approach for Mono Black Control (when you can’t always rely on the Coffers) is: suppress first, dominate later.
A steady stream of cards like Fleshbag Marauder, Big Game Hunter, Shriekmaw, Smallpox, and Slaughter will maul opponents attempting to set up their own plans and clear the way for things like Sepulchral Primordial and Grave Titan.
Sometimes they’ll have answers for your threats, but that’s when you cast Death Cloud for 10 followed by Spoils of Blood. Other times you’ll dump 39 life into Necropotence, cast Repay in Kind, and then scroll Ob Nixilis up. I missed out on the joy of playing the Coffers deck the first go around, but now I have the chance to make up for lost time.
Only showing off a single decklist would be doing a disservice to Mono Black as an archetype. Control is only one route you can take when you’re sculpting a list around swamps. This next list shows what you can do when you take all that black mana and channel it directly towards your opponent’s face:
Fifty Shades – Daniel Hewak
This masterpiece comes from the brilliant mind of Daniel, my playgroup’s mad deck designer (he’s at 16 Commander decks and counting). While it doesn’t actually contain fifty shades (yet), it is the only example of shade tribal that I have ever seen. This beautiful brew does a great job of illustrating a Mono Black deck that uses the absurd amounts of mana that Cabal Coffers, Crypt Ghast, and Nirkana Revenant can generate to get aggressive. Caged Sun, Extraplanar Lens, and Liliana of the Dark Realms help prop up the more conventional Mono Black staples and guarantee even greater returns when the combat step comes around.
Equipment like Hot Soup and Whispersilk Cloak ensure that your shades can connect for truly ludicrous amounts of damage. If your spooky minions aren’t able to get the job done, Exsanguinate, Diabolic Revelation, and Empty the Pits also provide constructive outlets for all of that excess mana.
The Eyes Have It
While I am talking about Mono Black, I may as well go for the hat trick. I’ve checked off Control and Aggro, let’s finish things up with a Combo list. This list comes from a friend I made back when I was blogging regularly on Tumblr. While that blog has gotten less use now that I am writing here, mtgjoz was kind enough to supply me with a list of his for this article:
Xiahou “Combo King” Dun – mtgjoz
This deck combines the mana-hoarding of the Shades with the slow-roll of Ob Nixilis. The ultimate goal here is to obliterate all resistance with cards like Overwhelming Forces and Curse of the Cabal before ending the game by abusing the deck’s Commander and Rings of Brighthearth. The Coup de Grace can come from a steady stream of Praetor’s Grasps or an unfortunate number of Temporal Extortions.
Within the combo/control shell there exists cool micro-interactions that can help subjugate the board. Things like Breeding Pit/Contamination or Magus of the Coffers/Sword of the Paruns/Staff of Domination are all within easy reach thanks to the proliferation of tutors in the list. The colourless sub-theme consisting of utility artifacts, Kozilek, Karn, and All Is Dust is easily enabled by those same tutors and provides a solid back-up plan if the attempted combos come to naught.
Paint It Black
In my research, I have come across some really old Mono Black lists, things that relied on Order of the Ebon Hand and Hymn to Tourach. These lists seem sweet, but when they were being played, I was about 6 or 7 years old. I think the reason that Mono Black Control struck such a chord with players during Torment’s heyday was because it let an entirely new generation of Black players discover themselves. That sounds hokey as hell, but speaking for myself, it’s at least a little true.
I didn’t pick up the deck at the time of its dominance – it was too indulgent for my 14 year old budget – but it is the only deck I can remember clearly from those years of Magic. I was using White Weenie as my weapon of choice at the time, but less than a year later I was driven to build Suicide Black. My efforts were an attempt to put my own spin on the Mono Black I remembered so fondly fighting against.
As it is with movies and music, Magic is a hobby driven by the subjective “tastes” of those that play it. I am sure that most of you reading this will remember the first album that you really connected with, the one that defined what you consider your taste in music. Most of the enfranchised players reading this will probably have a deck list that had a similar effect on their time with Magic. The ability to incorporate your deck of choice into your sense of identity is an integral part of Magic’s depth. If you think I am over-analyzing, bad-mouth a beloved archetype at your next big tournament and see how defensive people can get. I, for one, will throw down on behalf of Mono Black any day of the week.