We've been spoiled lately with Thraben Inspector and Toolcraft Exemplar. They've basically giving white a stranglehold on the aggro portion of the metagame. With Amonkhet, however, everything has changed! Cryptbreaker finally has the necessary supporting cast to shine and Winding Constrictor no longer has to worry about her allergy to cats. Today we're going to look at four successful Black Aggro builds and what advantage each has over the others, including which one(s) I would recommend for this weekend. Unless you want to play Mardu or Torrential Gearhulk, you might just have to cover your eyes and pretend Swamps tap for white mana.
This is Raphael Levy's favorite thing to do in any format, and he already talked at length about how he would build a graveyard deck based on Prized Amalgam and all the cards in the format that support it. This build is a little more aggressive than most graveyard decks though.
Although Scrapheap Scrounger is a great second-turn play, the card you want to cast more than anything is Cathartic Reunion. The deck loves to draw cards and throw stuff into the graveyard and this card does it all for just two mana. Sometimes you'll wait until the third turn if you plan on getting free value out of a Fiery Temper, but for the most part you just want to fill your graveyard with Prized Amalgams, Haunted Dead and Scrapheap Scroungers.
Distended Mindbender works great in this deck because all the creatures are expendable, especially Prized Amalgam and Haunted Dead. Voldaren Pariah is good for similar reasons but clears the battlefield instead of the opponent's hand. Fiery Temper, Lightning Axe and Unlicensed Disintegration help out against all the creature decks, of which the majority of the metagame is currently comprised. Really, only the Torrential Gearhulk decks are spell-based. One of the great things about this deck is that it has plenty of ways to discard cards for value, so even against the control decks where are removal is ineffective, the deck can put those removal spells to good use by discarding them to one of the many discard outlets.
Speaking of discard outlets, Cryptbreaker is a big one for the deck because it not only gives us value whenever we discard Prized Amalgam, Scrapheap Scounger, Haunted Dead, or Fiery Temper but it also makes Zombie Tokens that can allow us to draw more cards since the deck incidentally happens to contain several zombies. Cryptbreaker's card draw is at its best in the slower matchups where you can discard removal spells to make Zombies and then tap the Zombies to draw more cards to keep the engines running and gaining incremental advantages each turn.
This deck is mostly about making big value plays each turn and cycling through lots of cards. It's aggressive, but can also grind very well. If graveyards are your thing, this is a good place to be. However, if you want to get even more aggressive and go even deeper on the Zombie theme, check out this Mono-Black Zombie deck:
This list is pretty streamlined and straightforward. The only card some people are playing in this archetype is Liliana's Mastery, which I don't like. I prefer Plague Belcher, which is the card people are cutting to play the enchantment.
Dread Wanderer was the much needed one-drop to go alongside Cryptbreaker. The lack of one-drop Zombies was the biggest hindrance to the viability of Mono-Black Aggro and Dread Wanderer fills that hole exceptionally well.
Diregraf Colossus and Dark Salvation were likewise powerful cards without the necessary support. Dark Salvation is a very powerful and underappreciated spell. It is extremely flexible in a deck filled with Zombies. You can cast it for a single mana to kill a creature, not unlike Fatal Push, or you can cast it for three mana to basically be a Gatekeeper of Malakir but better since you can choose which creature to kill, or you can go crazy with five or even seven mana and leave behind an entire army of Zombies while killing the opponent's creature. It's really a gamechanger and one of the biggest reasons to play the Zombie tribe in any format, especially Standard.
Lord of the Accursed is another addition that makes all your other Zombies better and makes combat math frustrating for the opponent since the tap ability threatens an alpha strike that requires leaving back more than just a blocker or two to avoid getting Overrun on the swing back.
Diregraf Colossus, Relentless Dead, Dread Wanderer, and Dark Salvation can each provide card advantage, but the primary card advantage engine in the deck is Cryptbreaker. Zombies tend to be smaller than opposing creatures, so it's not uncommon for stalemates to occur in the midgame. That's exactly when Cryptbreaker shines, breaking not only crypts but also stalemates by turning the Zombies sideways to fill your hand instead of draining the opponent's life total.
The removal suite in this deck is also quite good. Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness are two of the best removal spells in the format and provide great answers to Heart of Kiran. And, as I've already mentioned, Dark Salvation is bananas. Trust me, as someone whose diet consists entirely of fruit and vegetation, including several bananas each day, I know bananas!
One of my favorite parts about this deck is its sideboard plan. Against Torrential Gearhulk decks or any other matchup in which removal spells are lackluster, it brings in Transgress the Mind, Scrapheap Scrounger, Dispossess, and Ob Nixilis Reignited. Dispossess naming Torrential Gearhulk is pretty backbreaking, as is Transgress the Mind taking a key Wrath effect or card draw spell. Transgress the Mind is also good against Prized Amalgam strategies, including the first deck we talked about. This deck is simple and straightforward but has a surprisingly high power level and a good plan against most of the decks in the format. If you can stomach 22 Swamps and zero Plains in your deck, this is the Cryptbreaker variant I would recommend most, although I think the first deck is favored in the head-to-head match-up.
Some lists splash white for Wayward Servant and a few other options, likely in an attempt to bait me into playing a Black Aggro deck:
Now we're talking; Wayward Zombie is a white creature! The pilot of this deck even went one step further by adding a singleton copy of Binding Mummy to the main deck, just in case I refused to count Wayward Zombie as a true white creature, given the creature type and the fact that it's tossed into a deck filled with mono-black Zombies. They might have gotten away with it too if it weren't for those Meddling Kids! Zoinks, I mean if it weren't for the fact that they replaced the fourth copy of the second-best card in the deck – Dark Salvation – to fit it in. Cut a Lord of the Accursed or two and I might buy it, but this was way too obvious.
While I am not convinced by any stretch that less than four copies of Dark Salvation is correct, nor am I convinced that Binding Mummy is a card worth having in the main deck, I do see some merit to playing white – most notably Wayward Zombie. It adds a dimension to the deck that fits really well with the rest of theme. It offers life gain to offset the life lost from Cryptbreaker and it also offers a way to drain the opponent's life outside of combat. With that said, the deck only runs 10 white sources and trying to fit more into the deck will make it much harder to cast Relentless Dead and Grasp of Darkness. While the payoff is reasonably high, I think mono-lack offers enough added consistency to more than make up for the slight decrease in power of the deck by leaving out Wayward Servant.
Since this article is not just about Zombies but about black aggro decks, the last deck I will share is an updated version of Black-Green Energy, which I consider the strongest Winding Constrictor deck in the format:
The biggest addition to this deck is Rhonas the Indomitable. It gives the deck another much-needed mana sink where previously it only had Walking Ballista and Hissing Quagmire. This way we can go pretty crazy with Rishkar, Peema Renegade even when we flood. It almost feels like attacking with an exalted creature with a Sublime Archangel out since only one creature needs to attack and all the other ones pump it, except Rhonas also grants trample, making it also kind of feel like having a Kessig Wolf Run.
While Rhonas definitely improves the deck and was the biggest addition, the biggest advantage this deck gained was via the subtraction of Felidar Guardian from the format. Copy Cat was the toughest matchup for Black-Green Winding Constrictor decks and they no longer have to worry about that. Now they can afford to max out on anti-Mardu cards and just sideboard for Torrential Gearhulk decks. Against control, they side out some removal spells for Transgress the Mind, Lifecrafter's Bestiary, and Gonti, Lord of Luxury. I'm not exactly sure what the four copies of Manglehorn are intended for, but it's a fairly flexible addition against any deck running artifacts, whether Hearth of Kiran, Dynavolt Tower or Aetherworks Marvel. If the opponent builds up to six or more energy and I have multiple copies in hand, I think it is correct to play out the first Manglehorn so that the opponent's Aetherworks Marvel enters tapped, at which point you can untap and cast the second Manglehorn to kill it before they ever get a chance to convert all that energy into an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. I'm all about feeding the hungry, but I draw the line when it comes to Eldrazi.
In an alternate universe in which Craig Wescoe is known as the "small black creatures" guy and people tag me every time a new black creature is spoiled from an upcoming set, I would definitely play either the Mono-Black Zombie deck or the Black-Green Energy deck this weekend. Unless you're excited about playing Mardu or Torrential Gearhulk, I would recommend playing either of these. Or you can be my hero by building a successful white aggro deck for me to win Pro Tour Nashville with next weekend!