Back in Black: MBC in Post-Rotation Extended
By Andrew Brennan on September 28th, 2005 · Filed in Extended (Type 1.x) · Comments not available just now
There have been a lot of post-rotation Extended articles in the past few months, but they all seem to be overlooking one thing: I have yet to see one mention good old Mono-Black Control in the matchups [Note: this article was written before yesterday's -Ed]. Not a one. “Hmm. That’s odd,” I thought. “MBC is a crazy deck.” So, I thought I would set the record straight and introduce all of you to the house that is modern MBC.
MBC: What is it?
MBC stands for Mono-Black Control, a deck that has existed for…well, a really long time, since the days of Necropotence and earlier. For a long time, MBC drifted in and out of tournament formats, but it got a real boost back when Torment came out and gave it such lovely cards as Cabal Coffers, Nantuko Shade, Mutilate. Now, I believe MBC will have a resurgence of sorts: MBC has game against a lot of decks and has a “rogue” element to it that opponents may not anticipate…
Mono-Black Control has four basic elements to it: removal, discard, draw, and a win condition. Your removal generally comes in two forms: creature removal and graveyard removal. Your discard is there to remove threats that you can’t deal with (like enchantments or artifacts), and the draw can come in the form of a ridiculous engine, a la Necropotence or, these days, the not-so-ridiculous Phyrexian Arena. The win condition can be lots of things, usually in the form of either a small army of pump creatures or a giant direct damage spell. This is a very mana-hungry deck, the S.U.V. of the Extended world, and mana acceleration in the form of Dark Ritual (sadly unavailable in the post-rotation world) or Cabal Coffers will make its way in there too. The strategy behind the deck is fairly simple: keep the board clear of threats while you smash face with your beaters or expand your mana base to power up your damage spell.
Of course, all of this vague stuff doesn’t help too much, so let’s look at some of your key cards and see what they’re for.
Key Kards: The Anatomy of a MBC deck
The Creature Removal:
Chainer’s Edict: This is no Diabolic Edict, but the presence of Flashback on this makes it really useful. Doubly so, in fact. In any event, you can bet any mono-Black control deck in Extended will pack four of these.
Mutilate: Black’s Wrath of God, but able to take out indestructible creatures if you’re lucky enough to have lots of Swamps. As your best board sweeper, you should include at least two of these, maybe more. Speaking of sweepers, there is some debate over this card versus Hideous Laughter. Both are good cards, although the latter’s relative speed gives it an edge in some situations (I’m thinking here of Goblin Bidding decks…), but the fixed -2/-2 is not always as impressive. Run both if you want to, but keep the Mutilates maindeck.
Smother: every MBC deck needs instant-speed removal. Normally, I would say “Use Terror or Rend Flesh.” These are your best instant-speed creature-kill spells…if we ignore Affinity. Unfortunately, it hasn’t yet been banned to death in Extended (just very close to death), so you’ll have to adapt. Terror can’t remove the bulk of the Affinity player’s best cards and Rend Flesh is too slow at three mana. Smother can hit just about everything but Frogmite and Myr Enforcer, which means all of the key Affinity creatures are covered. Outside of Affinity [and U/G Madness -Ed], it’s somewhat sub-par but still decent removal.
Echoing Decay: good removal against token-based decks, which aren't looking to be all that popular. Meh removal against other decks. A sideboard option.
Last Gasp: a new removal card from Ravnica, the first thing you may think when you see this is "Smother." Nope. These two operate on a comparable level as far as removal goes, but Smother is better against both Goblins and Affinity. And Mutilate will already give -X/-X...to everybody...and not at a fixed -3/-3 either. So this guy is meh unless you find yourself needing lots of cheap, instant-speed removal.
Duress: before the bannings, Duress was a terrible card in this format because it couldn't hit creatures, and that was what most of the big decks were - aggro decks. Now, post-bannings, the balance has shifted closer to a fifty/fifty control/aggro format. That said, this card's stats have improved quite a bit in this format...this should be a four-of in every deck.
Cabal Therapy: I am not sold on this one…yet. On the one hand, if you name the correct card, it can be a one mana Mind Rot or better…on the other hand, if you name the wrong card, it’s a black Peek without the cantrip. In combination with a first-turn Duress, this works…but I am a little leery of a card that requires setup like that and on turn two you can just play Distress. Also, this is notoriously difficult to flash back, since most MBC builds run very few creatures. In short, it can be good sometimes, bad sometimes, and okay other times - in this format, about the equivalent of Duress. Definitely consider it.
Distress: your only other really viable one-for-one discard option, this is guaranteed to hit something (unless your opponent has a hand full of land, in which case you've probably won anyway). Unlike Therapy, it won't net you more than one card - which only happens occassionally anyway - but it is a very flexible discard spell. I like it.
Phyrexian Arena: this is arguably the best draw spell available to the modern black mage, but it has a major drawback...specifically, it puts you on a clock against aggro. “So what,” you say. “You’ll draw enough threats and/or drain spells to win before you kill yourself.” Yes, but only if you live that long. In a format largely composed of very fast aggressive decks, putting yourself on any sort of clock can be deadly – even if you get a sudden flood of removal that can keep your opponent’s army dead, it won’t matter if you’re at a low enough life total. Still, this is the most powerful black card drawer available, since it will stick around for a while, so it may end up in a number of builds.
Night’s Whisper: two for two cards and two life. Unimpressive, to be sure, but it can certainly be useful in the right situations: i.e. “I’m dying to aggro and I don’t want to kill myself with a one life per turn draw spell.”
Skeletal Scrying: a good late-game draw spell. Every deck should have 1-2 but more than that is overkill, especially because it’s not so hot early-game like the Arena is.
Undead Gladiator: I’ve seen this card often on the wizards.com boards and it’s starting to show up here more too, so I’ve decided I’ll take time out of my article to bash it. First, the creature stats: a 3/1 for three. Meh. He can trade with Goblins and force your opponent to discard cards to keep their Mongrel around, but getting him back to do it again will cost you a card...sounds like card disadvantage to me [Um.. unless it blocked and killed a Goblin like you said, 1-1, or made them discard 2 to Mongrel like you said, 2-1 -Ed]. Moving right along: the card-drawing capability. Cycles for two, which is nice, especially because you probably won’t be so keen on playing him. But then there’s the clincher: you can return him from your graveyard to your hand for …and a card! Wow! So basically, this guy reads: , discard a card: return UD Gladiator to your hand, then discard him, then draw a card. Yay for efficiency! Seriously, though, don’t play this guy - he's a really bad Compulsion. He’s not worth it.
Nantuko Shade versus Genju of the Fens: hoo boy, the debate over this one has been hot lately. Should I choose one over the other? I like the former, but I’ll lay out the pros and cons of them both and let you decide. Shade – pros: faster than the Genju, a better early game card, doesn’t require mana to attack or block with, rocks control’s world. Shade – cons: has 1 toughness, so it will die to each and every sweeper effect that comes its way, and it’s a creature, so targeted removal can eat it for lunch too. Genju – pros: gets around all of the Shade’s cons, because it’s an enchantment at a time when enchantment removal isn’t common. And it’ll stay that way until you activate it and attack. Genju – cons: none of the Shade’s pros. You have to shell out to activate it and it can’t block on its own unless you activate it. So, to summarize: Shade is faster, Genju is harder to kill. Use the latter in a deck with Night of Soul’s Betrayal, use the former if you want to win.
Consume Spirit: your classic X damage spell. Great with Coffers, this guy can win games or act as powerful removal, whichever you need most. A must-have for any deck.
Random Black Fat: every deck should have some of this. The key things to look for in this category are: 1) has evasion, 2) is large, and 3) has a useful ability. That said, Visara, the Dreadful, Kokusho, the Evening Star, and Kagemaro, First to Suffer are all top contenders here. I prefer the first one since she acts as backup instant-speed targeted removal too. However, note that Kagemaro, although he comes down at sorcery speed, can act as a mid-range instant-speed Mutilate...if your meta has a lot of Goblin Bidding Decks, this guy is a must.
Splashing: A Controversial Issue
Now, I know this is supposed to be an MBC deck, but with access to Ravnica’s new dual lands, splashing has just become a very accessible option, since it won’t mess up your Swamp count. That said, what color should you splash, if you want to? Here’s a list of the most important cards MBC gets from other colors:
White: Vindicate, Gerrard’s Verdict, Disenchant – Vindicate is awesome targeted removal since it can hit anything at all. Yes, anything. That said, the latter two options are not as exciting – this deck really wants targeted discard and Disenchant’s job is better done by Green. Splashing for one card is generally not a good idea, so…
Blue: Counters, Bounce, Psychatog – simply put, there is no reason to splash blue. Most of the better blue cards (counters, removal) really want you to run lots of them or have a heavier blue presence than this deck can support. If you want blue and black together in a control deck, play ‘Tog.
Red: Terminate, Burning Wish, Just Plain Burn – if Vindicate is the star all-around removal card, Terminate is the premier creature removal card. In the burn department, Blaze and Fireball as wins would be interesting…except you already have Consume Spirit or Corrupt, so they’re kinda worthless. Targeted burn is outclassed by your targeted removal. The Wish is an interesting option and will give you access to a toolbox-style sb...but there may be better choices available and most of your standard sideboard for this deck does not consist of sorceries.
Green: Pernicious Deed, Putrefy, Vulturous Zombie – Deed. Ah yes. Why should you choose to splash in order to run Deed over Oblivion Stone? First, Deed is an enchantment. While there are several enchantment-based decks running around right now (Wake, Slide, Enduring Ideal), and while Aether Vial has been banned and Affinity is crippled, I think that artifact removal will still be more common than enchantment removal – and even then, most of the best enchantment removal is in white, and who plays that? Secondly, Deed won’t destroy everything unless you want it to. Okay, O-Stone works like that too, but you’ll have to spend a few turns mucking about with Fate counters. And, if the highest CMC among your opponent’s permanents is, say, three mana, Deed is cheaper than O-Stone and will leave your Visara the Dreadful alive to attack. This is why Deed is superior. Putrefy is just a good card (and will help against ScepterChant decks since it can nuke artifacts, as can the Deed), and the Zombie can get insanely big with all of your removal, and has evasion. Not bad, considering it only costs five mana.
Decklists – Everyone’s Favorite Part
Okay, so now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s look at some lists. First up: my personal decklist.
This deck’s game 1 is geared towards a more common aggro matchup, although games two and three can be brutal against control with the right sideboarding. Of course, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to splash green in this deck – you could go with a mono-colored version by dropping the Deeds for maindeck Shades, replacing non-Coffers lands with Swamps, and adding in 6 more cards to the sideboard (three of which should probably be Oblivion Stone).
Don't think my deck is the be-all and end-all of MBC decks. Decks like Dr. Tom's version, although they run (quite a few) card choices I disagree with, will be fairly common. Note that the expanded disruption suite will give you better game against control in game one. Also note that the Therapy can sacrifice an Undead Gladiator (since there's not a whole lot else you'll want to do with him) to flash itself back, mitigating my biggest beef with Therapy.
And last but not least, how does this deck fare in actual games? Note: all sideboard suggestions refer to my build…and sideboard will of course change based on individual builds. Success is rated as great, good, okay, meh, bad, and terrible.
Affinity: this used to be one of the toughest matches for all decks in the format, but the loss of both Aether Vial and Disciple of the Vault have crippled this deck…not killed it, just crippled it. The deck no longer has the option to “burn” you to death by sacrificing its board to an Arcbound Ravager, which means it will have to rely mainly on combat damage for the win, something that can be easily dealt with by all of your removal. The problem is Affinity builds may decide to become more exotic and run things like Erayo, Soratami Ascendant…and keep in mind the artifact lands are still legal in Extended, so Affinity will still be a fast deck. Initial playtesting results on Magic Workstation seem to indicate that most builds have moved in this more pro-blue direction, packing Islands and cheap artifacts for an Erayo or maybe a storm spell. However, from what I’ve seen builds vary wildly and at this point it’s hard to tell what to expect. Cranial Extraction targets, in order of priority: Erayo, Soratami Ascendant or Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating. Sideboard Cards: Putrefy. A tossup until further data is gathered.
Goblins: Engineered Plague is your friend, so you’ll need to side any extras you don’t already have maindeck. The loss of Aether Vial slows this deck down a tiny bit but remember that Skirk Prospector hasn’t been banned yet and Goblin Warchief still reduces the mana required to play Goblins by . High priority Smother targets here are the Warchiefs, Goblin Piledriver, and other big Goblins or ones with nasty activated abilities. Without access to Ostracize in the deck or in the board, Goblin Matron and Goblin Ringleader will hurt but they won’t spell ruin for you unless the opponent pulls multiple Goblin Kings. If you side in Cranial Extraction for this matchup, hit Goblin Matron first to prevent such troublesome plays. Cranial Extraction targets, in order of priority: Goblin Matron/Goblin Ringleader. Sideboard Cards: Engineered Plague, Putrefy, Haunting Echoes (for Goblin Bidding versions). A great matchup.
Madness: destroy their discard outlets and they usually fall apart. Remember that creature tokens in this deck have a converted mana cost of 0 and can therefore be Smothered. Getting a Haunting Echoes can turn this game around, especially if you can hit multiple sorceries like Roar of the Wurm, dead Wild Mongrels, and incarnations. If you really want, throw some Damping Matrix into your SB to deal with activated abilities like the Mongrel’s – it can be useful for Goblins and some other matchups. Cranial Extraction targets, in order of priority: Gifts Ungiven, if they use Wishes remove those first. Sideboard Cards: Haunting Echoes, Putrefy. A great matchup.
Psychatog: there seem to be 2 types of builds for ‘Tog post-rotation: the first splashes red for Burning Wish and the second splashes green for Pernicious Deed. Both builds win with a Meloku or a Psychatog after an Upheaval. To deal with the latter situation, hold a Swamp and an Innocent Blood in your hand, and you’re good to go. To deal with the former…discard! The Burning ‘Tog variety is a little bit more annoying to deal with since it has a ton of toolbox options open to it, but it also appears to be much less common (at least, as far as MWS goes). Cranial Extraction targets, in order of priority: Psychatog, Wishes (depending on the build), Upheaval. Sideboard Cards: Distress, Boseiju Who Shelters All, Cranial Extraction, Haunting Echoes, Nantuko Shade. An okay matchup.
Slide: kill Witness. Remove Witness. DO NOT ALLOW AN ETERNAL WITNESS TO REMAIN IN PLAY. If you do you will die to a Plow Under every turn or something else stupid like that. Hit her with a Cranial Extraction early and you will win this game. Cranial Extraction Targets, in order of priority: Eternal Witness, Plow Under, Lightning Rift. Sideboard cards: Haunting Echoes (absolutely evil against this deck), Cranial Extraction, Distress. A good matchup.
The Rock: MBC is good with creature-based aggro decks, and after some sideboarding, it’s good against control decks too. What is a little trickier for this deck are the hybrids – decks that are both aggro and control, like the Rock. The creatures you can handle – all of them but Ravenous Baloth should go quietly and usually painlessly into the void – but the disruption hurts, and you can’t do anything about it. Just try to play out a normal game and hope you can remove their disruption before they destroy your hand. In games two and three, side in more hand destruction. One thing to note here – if the dredge mechanic in Ravnica turns out to be playable in the Rock (and so far, it looks as though it may be), you will want to add Withered Wretch to your sideboard to deal with dredge spells. Cranial Extraction targets, in order of priority: depends on what Ravnica cards are relevant, but at this point I would say Ravenous Baloth, Pernicious Deed. Sideboard Cards: Distress, Haunting Echoes. An okay/meh matchup.
Domain: Global Ruin hurts like hell. It really does. And with all of the dual lands coming out in Ravnica, you can bet this deck will be seeing a boost in performance. Thankfully, if this deck really bothers you, you have a nice, easy answer in the form of a very playable (with Coffers) Sundering Titan. If you don’t want to warp your SB to pack Titans, then the next best thing is discard for their non-land mana fixers, which will slow the deck down and buy you time. Try to determine what they use for a win (be it an activated Genju of the Realm, a Bringer, or a Clearwater Goblet to make themselves unkillable) and remove it via Cranial Extraction. Cranial Extraction Targets, in order of priority: Win Condition (see above), Global Ruin. Sideboard Cards: Distress, Nantuko Shade. An okay matchup.
Balancing ‘Tings: this is a weird matchup. If your opponent has good draws, a Balancing Act can come down on turn three and just wreck you…that bit about losing your lands in the Domain matchup still applies here. If, however, you last long enough to fire off Extractions for Burning Wish and then Balancing Act, they will wilt. Discard helps here since their first few turns will be limited to, “I play a land, pass.” Basically, this comes down to “whose starting hand was better?” Cranial Extraction targets, in order of priority: Burning Wish, Balancing Act, Obliterate. Sideboard Cards: Nantuko Shade, Distress, Haunting Echoes. A toss-up.
There are other decks to be sure but I think these will be the biggest ones post-rotation and personally, I haven’t played against everything out there so I honestly can’t give you a matchup analysis for every deck. However, as you can see, this deck is very viable post-rotation and is something you should be prepared for…if you’re not going to actually play it (I recommend playing it).
Good luck gearing up for next year’s extended Pro Tour and may you be Back in Black!
Edited and crappy banner by Goblinboy
By Andrew Brennan on September 28th, 2005 · Filed in Extended (Type 1.x) · Comments not available just now
About Andrew Brennan
Andrew Brennan is a current freshman at the University of California, Berkeley. He has been playing Magic since Mirage and continuously since Invasion, largely as a casual player but recently as a competitive Extended player as well. A Johnny/Timmy sort of fellow, he enjoys smashing opponents to a bloody pulp in unique and interesting ways. His favortie colors are blue and black, with a recent addition of green.