Mono-Black Control

I've always been one to ignore the numerous cries each year that this is the set that will bring mono-black control back. However, the reprinting of Mutilate and Sign in Blood got my wheels turning. Combined with some of the powerful black cards that will still be in the format for a few more months, a mono-black control deck might actually be viable this time. Here's what I came up with:

The Win

Sorin Markov
Sorin Markov can kill off a couple creatures if need be or even chip away at your opponent's life total. However, his main function is to put your opponent at 10 life so he can be finished off by a Sorin's Vengeance next turn. If you don't have a Sorin's Vengeance in hand, things can be a bit tricky. You can set your opponent to 10 immediately and let Sorin die to an any attack or you can try to kill off a couple creatures and hope you can keep him alive long enough to use his −3 when the time comes.

Sorin's Vengeance is almost always the card that will kill your opponent. Not only does it strip away half his life total in one blow, it also gives all that life to you. Against aggro decks, this can be extremely important, allowing you to stay alive long enough to find a second one. Much of the time, the life-gain won't matter because your opponent will be dead, but then I guess that's all you really wanted in the end, isn’t it?

Sign in Blood helps you dig for your win condition as well as other cards to make sure you stay alive long enough to cast it. As Phyrexian mana has proved, 2 life isn't too much to pay for a good effect, even in a control deck. Sign in Blood can even be used on your opponent if necessary, allowing you to kill him even if he's gained a life or 2 to avoid dying to 20 damage.

Sphere of the Suns and Pristine Talisman allow you to win the game much sooner. This means that you can expend all the resources you need to in order to control the game for just a few turns—rather than aim to establish unbeatable long-term control as similar decks do. Sphere of the Suns comes down earlier, allowing you to cast spells such as Barter in Blood and Mutilate on turn three if necessary, and Pristine Talisman gives you 1 life per turn, making it that much easier to stay alive.

The Control

Mutilate
Mutilate is the key piece that makes this deck possible. It's very close to a Damnation in a mono-black deck, and you'll very rarely see a creature still on the board after this is cast. The fact that it costs only 4 mana is what makes this card so important. It allows you to clear the board of creatures before even the fastest decks will kill you. As you keep playing Swamps, it continues to be effective later in the game, easily taking down Titans and Angels and whatever else you might come across.

Black Sun's Zenith is much worse than Mutilate in this deck, and yet it's still powerful enough to have seen extensive play during its time in Standard. A pair of these brings you up six sweepers, ensuring that you should see at least one in almost every game, making things very hard for aggro decks.

Curse of Death's Hold makes things much more difficult for many of the decks in Standard at the moment. Huntmaster of the Fells turns into a 4-mana Gather the Townsfolk, and Blade Splicer becomes Gray Ogre. Delver of Secrets will never have a chance to transform, and even an Insectile Aberration is much less threatening as a Mistral Charger. Utility creatures such as Snapcaster Mage and Birds of Paradise will die instantly, and Strangleroot Geist essentially loses undying altogether. Having this one card on the board can make a huge impact on your opponent's game plan.

Tragic Slip
Tragic Slip helps you deal with turn-one plays such as Birds of Paradise and Delver of Secrets before they become a problem, preserving your life total and slowing down your opponent significantly. Although the morbid ability won't come into play unless you work for it a little bit, it isn't so hard to turn on that it becomes irrelevant. It can still be quite useful when you have another removal spell in hand.

Go for the Throat is still an extremely efficient piece of instant-speed removal, dealing with almost any threat in the format for only 2 mana. Although it can't deal with Golem tokens from Blade Splicer or Phyrexian Metamorphs, the ability to kill Geralf's Messenger and other Zombies seems more relevant at the moment, and the other comparable removal spells we have access to can't do that.

Barter in Blood is excellent in this deck. Since you have no creatures, there's no drawback to casting it, and although it does cost 4 mana, it's quite good at dealing with hexproof threats such as Geist of Saint Traft and Dungrove Elder as well as threats that come with friends such as Blade Splicer and Huntmaster of the Fells. Most of the creatures that are currently seeing play bring some form of card advantage along with them, and this helps you fight that quite effectively.

The Sideboard

Doom Blade can come in for Tragic Slip in matchups where the latter isn't very effective. It can also help against decks that run artifact creatures if you happen to come across one.

On the other side, the extra copies of Tragic Slip can come in for matchups where it's particularly necessary to have one. Against decks like R/G aggro and Birthing Pod, which usually have around eight to ten mana-producing 1-drops, I'd like to go up to the full play set.

Phyrexian Crusader
Control players will almost always sideboard out all their removal against you since you don't have a single creature in the main deck. They might leave in Oblivion Rings if they're particularly worried about Sorin staying on the board, but everything else should be gone. This leaves the door wide open for you to bring in a few aggressive creatures that can sneak in under countermagic and start killing our opponent unobstructed. Due to the threat of Lingering Souls, I felt it necessary to include threats that had protection from white, namely Knight of Infamy and Phyrexian Crusader. This avoids giving the opponent the option to trade off some or all of his tokens to get rid of your threat. It has the added bonus of making the creatures immune to Oblivion Ring, the only piece of removal that might reasonably be left in.

Distress is also excellent against control, allowing you to rip apart your opponent's carefully sculpted hand. At the worst, he counters it, making it easier for you to resolve Sorin's Vengeance later. When it does resolve, you get to pick through your opponent's hand, getting rid of whatever might present the biggest threat to you. You can eliminate a threat if you're short on removal, a counterspell if you're looking to resolve your win condition, or a piece of card-draw if the opponent doesn't have anything else that worries you.

The last sideboard slot is filled by Sever the Bloodline. Although somewhat mediocre against many decks, it can serve as an extra removal spell if you need it, and being able to flash it back gives you a bit of extra value. However, it is absolutely devastating against tokens. Not only is it essentially another Wrath effect, it's a Wrath effect with flashback, allowing you to get an absurd amount of card advantage out of it. I've been on the other end of this exchange a few times, and as a tokens player, there is no card I hate seeing more than this one. Even Ratchet Bomb pales in comparison.

Playtesting

R/G Aggro – Game 1

I lost the roll and kept a hand of three Swamps, two Mutilates, Sphere of the Suns, and Curse of Death's Hold. My opponent opened with a Copperline Gorge and a Llanowar Elves. I drew a Swamp, played it, and passed the turn.

Strangleroot Geist
My opponent played a Forest, cast Strangleroot Geist, and attacked with both creatures for 3. He passed the turn. I drew a Sphere of the Suns, played a Swamp, and cast it. I passed the turn.

My opponent swung for 3 again, then played a Mountain and cast Borderland Ranger, searching up a Forest. He ended his turn. I drew Sorin's Vengeance, played my Swamp, and cast Mutilate, killing everything save the Strangleroot Geist, which came back with a +1/+1 counter.

My opponent played a Forest, swung for 3, and passed the turn. I drew a Swamp, played it, and cast Curse of Death's Hold. I passed the turn.

My opponent cast Sword of War and Peace, equipped it, and attacked. I dropped to 3, and he went up to 22. He passed the turn. I drew a Swamp, played it, and cast Mutilate to kill the Geist. I passed the turn. My opponent played a second Geist, and after it died and came back, he equipped it with the sword and killed me.

Sideboarding:
−2 Sphere of the Suns
+2 Tragic Slip

R/G Aggro – Game 2

Pristine Talisman
I kept a hand of two Swamps, two Tragic Slips, Sign in Blood, Black Sun's Zenith, and Sorin Markov. I played a Swamp and passed the turn. My opponent played Copperline Gorge and cast Llanowar Elves. I killed it with Tragic Slip when he ended his turn.

I drew a Swamp, played it, and cast Sign in Blood, losing 2 life and drawing a Swamp and a Pristine Talisman. I passed the turn. My opponent played a Forest, cast Strangleroot Geist, and swung for 2. He ended his turn.

I drew Mutilate, played my Swamp, and cast Pristine Talisman. I passed the turn. My opponent attacked again, and I used the Talisman to make it a net loss of just 1 life. He cast Llanowar Elves and passed the turn.

I drew Curse of Death's Hold, played a Swamp, and cast it, gaining 1 life from the Talisman. Llanowar Elves and Strangleroot Geist died, the latter coming back as a 2/1. I ended my turn. My opponent swung for 2, then played a Forest and cast a 3/3 Thrun, the Last Troll and passed the turn.

 

Black Sun's Zenith
I drew Sorin's Vengeance and cast Black Sun's Zenith for 3, gaining a life from the Talisman and wiping the board. I passed the turn. My opponent played a Forest, cast Wolfir Silverheart, and passed back.

I drew Sign in Blood and cast it, going down to 13 and drawing a Mutilate and a Swamp. I played both, killing the Silverheart and gaining 1 life from Pristine Talisman. I ended my turn. My opponent played Kessig Wolf Run and cast Huntmaster of the Fells for a pair of 1/1s.

I drew Sign in Blood and cast Sorin Markov, gaining another life from Pristine Talisman. I used his +2, killing Huntmaster of the Fells and gaining 2 more life, then ended my turn. My opponent played a Forest and swung at Sorin with the Wolf token, pumping it with Kessig Wolf Run to bring Sorin down to 1. He passed the turn.

I drew Sphere of the Suns and added 2 more counters to Sorin to kill the Wolf and gain 2 life. I played the Sphere, gaining another life from Pristine Talisman, and passed the turn. My opponent played a land and passed, and I killed him on my turn with Sorin's −3 and Sorin's Vengeance.

R/G Aggro – Game 3

Tragic Slip
I kept a hand of four Swamps, Tragic Slip, Go for the Throat, and Mutilate. My opponent took a mulligan and led with a Forest and a Birds of Paradise. I drew a Swamp, played it, and killed the Bird with Tragic Slip.

My opponent played a Forest and cast Strangleroot Geist, hitting me for 2 and passing the turn. I drew Sorin Markov, played a Swamp, and passed the turn.

My opponent played a second Strangleroot Geist and passed the turn after dropping me to 14. I drew another Swamp and passed the turn.

My opponent swung for 4 again, and I killed a Geist with Go for the Throat. He cast Green Sun's Zenith for 1, finding Birds of Paradise, and ended his turn. I drew a Swamp, played it, and cast Mutilate, killing the 3/2 Geist and the Bird and turning the other into a 3/2. I passed the turn.

My opponent swung for 3 and passed the turn. I drew another Swamp, played it, and passed the turn.

My opponent dropped me to 6, cast Llanowar Elves, and passed the turn. I drew yet another Swamp and cast Sorin Markov, killing the Llanowar Elves and gaining 2.

Borderland Ranger
My opponent hit me for 3 with the Geist again, then played Copperline Gorge and cast Borderland Ranger, finding a Mountain. I drew Curse of Death's Hold, cast it, and played another Swamp. I killed the Geist with Sorin, gaining 2 life, then passed the turn.

My opponent swung at Sorin for 1 with Borderland Ranger, then cast Thrun, the Last Troll and passed the turn. I drew a Swamp again, then killed Borderland Ranger with Sorin's +2, went up to 9, and passed the turn after playing a land.

My opponent played a Forest, cast Sword of War and Peace, and equipped it to Thrun. He attacked me for 5, then hit Sorin for 2 with the ability. He gained 2 life for himself and ended his turn. I drew Sorin's Vengeance and promptly killed him.

 


Sword of War and Peace
Although Sword of War and Peace is difficult to deal with for a mono-black deck, I still managed to pull out the match, although granted the last game was very strange. I was buried in a flood of lands while my opponent was stuck with just two for some time. In the end, I finally managed to draw the Sorin's Vengeance I needed to pull it out, but it was close. If I hadn't drawn either the Vengeance or a Sweeper that turn, I would've been forced to sacrifice my Sorin to give me another draw step to find one.

The first game went rather badly for this deck and showed what I think are the two largest weaknesses in this deck's game plan: artifacts and undying. Although undying can be dealt with by accepting a loss of card advantage, and Swords are useless without something to equip them to, they both necessitate the expenditure of resources in situations where you might otherwise be able to hold on to your spells.

Curse of Death's Hold was amazing in this match, and I'd like to experiment with adding another copy or two somewhere between the main deck and sideboard. The card performed even better than I expected, buying me a massive amount of time and making Strangleroot Geists much easier to deal with.

Although mono-black control might not be the force it once was, it's stronger now than it has been in quite some time. If you're interested in bringing back the old archetype or trying it for the first time, give this deck a shot.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, you can find me on the forums under Twinblaze, on Twitter under@Twinblaze2, or simply leave a comment below.