A week back in Chicago I decided to battle with a five color control variant. I will have the list below, but today, I wanted to talk about a specific strategy I used with the deck against one of the best decks in the format. Monoblack may not be the only deck running around right now, but if you had to ask what the best deck is, most players are going to default to that answer.
The deck does some powerful things, but it is more the fact that it can keep you from doing powerful things in a consistent manner. We will get to specific cards that stand out in the deck in a bit, but think about the last time that you played against Monoblack Devotion. Was it their Mutavaults and Desecration Demons that made the match unwinnable? Or was it the fact that their Thoughtseize and Hero's Downfalls took away the cards that would normally make the match winnable?
In my experience, the disruption that black puts on your game plan is the reason it wins. It has access to 10 or so hand disruption spells without touching red for more and about as many removal spells for planeswalkers or key creatures you might have. Planning on staying alive forever with Revelations? Erebos, God of the Dead. Even Nightveil Specter gets to Meddle with your scrys. Simply put, they take away the things that make your deck consistent and they do so consistently.
If your plan against black involves a card like Blood Baron of Vizkopa, there is a pretty great chance that they find a Thoughtseize or Lifebane Zombie to pluck it out of your hand. The same can be said of Sphinx's Revelation, Detention Sphere, or any card. In spite of this, people seem to attack black in the same way that they attack other decks. Blood Baron would be game over against a red deck if it were Kor Firewalker, for example, but black just has ways around it.
It occurred to me, then, that rather than attack them with small doses of extremely potent cards, is there a way to attack them by making all of your cards potent? Anyone who has been playing Magic long enough has heard someone utter the phrase, "Can't Duress the top of their deck!" In other words, no matter how good hand disruption is, it only disrupts the opponent's hand. It cannot stop the top of their deck from entering their hand (Slaughter Games aside). Generally, this is not a punishable attribute. It is often thought of as a random thing. You Thoughtseize their hand to death, but they top deck a Blood Baron and win. How lucky, etc., etc. But we could theoretically turn the luck in our favor.
Here is the list I played this past weekend:
The main deck here is a list that has a reasonable shot against the various monoblack decks. I specifically made some alterations just prior to the tournament to improve said match up with swaps like Keranos for a second Rakdos's Return main instead. It has some powerful spells, like Sphinx's Revelation, Elspeth, and AEtherling that can all win against black should they resolve. However, it also has some cards that do not produce nearly as big of an impact. This allows the black deck to pick apart your hand of the powerful cards while leaving less useful cards around that they have other answers for in their own hand.
Detention Sphere is a great example of a hole against the black deck splashing green. We do not have many targets for their Abrupt Decay, so generally, the first few Detention Spheres we draw are just going to be answered by those first few Decay. Thoughtseize revealing a Detention Sphere is like revealing a blank card.
Those lands are also blank cards.
After all is said and done, you would be lucky to have one or two cards that are actual aces against the black deck and at least one of them is about to hit the bricks. This is the issue we are looking to confront. If we cut the holes, or fill them up, to choose more metaphor appropriate language, then we can put extra strain on the black deck's disruption and force them to answer the tough problems for more than just a single black mana.
Going into the tournament, I was originally considering this sideboard:
2 Counterflux 1 Blind Obedience 1 Silence the Believers 1 Hero's Downfall 2 Golgari Charm 2 Thoughtseize 1 Sin Collector 2 Warleader's Helix 2 Blood Baron 1 Rakdos's Return
Once I decided to add the second Return to the maindeck though, I knew I needed to revisit my board anyway. Monoblack was the deck in my sights the most and I did not want to lose to a deck that 30% of the room would be on. I came up with the idea to simply sideboard into a threat dense monstrosity that just hit monoblack back harder than it could handle.
The idea was simple: make as many cards in your deck into threats against them. This would weaken their hand disruption by presenting them with many tough options when they do actually resolve one and beyond that, this would improve your top decks, allowing you to claw back from getting your hand shredded should they draw enough disruption.
We need to start by identifying the holes and then cutting them. For my example going into the weekend, I focused primarily on black devotion splashing green, as I expected it to be the most popular of the variants. After doing some theory crafting, I realized I had eight permanents that were able to be hit by Abrupt Decay. While both cards are very reasonable in the matchup, I could potentially do without them if I was blanking one of the better cards in my opponent's deck.
In exchange for losing all of these three-drops, I would get to bring in a sideboard full of over-the-top powerful cards against them. My topdecks would be lands or haymakers and half of my lands came with card selection to help find a haymaker. As it stood, my sideboard was not equipped to handle this task though. I had to rework it so that I would have enough cards against monoblack that I could fill my deck with good cards and not feel bad about it. This is what I ended up registering.
1 Counterflux 1 Blind Obedience 1 Silence the Believers 1 Hero's Downfall 2 Golgari Charm 2 Thoughtseize 2 Sin Collector 1 Warleader's Helix 2 Blood Baron of Vizkopa 1 Deicide 1 Vraska the Unseen
With this sideboard plan, I could morph into a deck full of cards that monoblack could not ignore. While many of these cards were here for other matchups as well, the important thing is that I would be stretching the black removal thin. Post board, this is what my deck would look like against those black decks splashing green:
You can even take it a step farther by getting the pair of Sin Collectors in on the deal, although I tend to bring them in against the red versions of the deck and not here as we are already blanking one of their spells by denying it targets.
After board, all my deck consists of are cards that are high value threats against the black deck, answers to high value threats out of the black deck, or mana. I should never be sitting with cards flooding my hand that have no uses unless an unlucky string of removal happens to come up as my cards are rather proactive and not that expensive, sans the X-spells which make for the best sorts of top decks.
This does mean you need to know what matters out of the black deck though. We are all aware of how powerful Pack Rat is and how quickly Desecration Demon will close out a game, but you also need to know the weak points for your specific match up. As a control player, I know that Underworld Connections is a huge fighting point for me. If that card sticks around, it is arguable whether or not my big picture plan even matters because they can just Overload me with cards, regardless of how many I have made blank.
Because I have that knowledge and because monoblack happens to play other enchantments or 1/1 creatures, allowing for splash damage, I can safely show up equipped with enchantment removal. Detention Sphere did the trick in game one, but we know Abrupt Decay is coming, so we turn to other measures here.
There is an argument to be made about taking out the AEtherling in this match up as well, as it is a sitting duck for Thoughtseize and the like when you draw it, but because it is such a potent late game threat off of the top, I generally leave it in and just scry it away should it show up any time early.Redundancy, the Other Way
What we created above was a deck that had a lot of redundancy. Our cards all did one of a few different things so that black could not pick us apart. Taken to an extreme, imagine you had a 60 card combo deck.
This deck will go off every single game on turn four, but in order to do so, it needs to play every single card in its deck, each of which is only a one-of. It will draw them all on turn four, but they all need to be there in order for the whole puzzle to work.
In many formats, this deck would be insane. It would win every game one and then have a great shot against most decks in game two. In current Standard though, if you were to run into a monoblack deck, they would tear you apart. Your cards have zero redundancy and are all critical for success. A single Thoughtseize has the whole deck fall over on itself.
While that deck obviously does not exist in this format, less extreme decks, perhaps combo decks, might exist if it were not for a deck that had so much hand disruption available. But packing your deck full of only the most powerful cards, as we did above, is not the only way to create redundancy. You can also do so simply by reaching a uniformity across a few pockets.
If your deck were 26 Grizzly Bears and 12 Glorious Anthems that would probably be too difficult for black to Prey Upon. If your deck is 34 Grizzly Bears and 4 Anthems, like Tempered Steel back in the day, we have lost redundancy as we now rely on a hinge point in our anthem effect.
While token decks are not very popular at the moment, they might be worth considering as a way of attacking monoblack. Currently, I would argue that the burn decks use redundancy the best, especially at fighting off black decks. Tokens would be a strong option though and is somewhere one should look as M15 approaches.
Thanks for reading!