Black/white with no Pack Rats! It was a rather simple and somewhat noble goal. A friend of mine was looking to play in a tournament with a black control deck, specifically black/white, but wanted to avoid playing with the most common vermin in Standard. The argument was that Pack Rat, while powerful, is not very fun to play with. You do the same thing turn after turn until you win, or they answer the card. At a slightly lower tier tournament, they just wanted to have fun without any Rats in their 75.
Pack Rat is so good because it plays well in both the early and late game while being both a defensive option as well as a threat, all rolled into one. You are not going to replace a card like that straight up. Instead, you need to approach the situation from a different angle. Pack Rat might be sweet, but would you play him in a Vampire tribal deck? What about in a storm combo deck? As you move more and more toward a linear strategy, there is a greater chance the Rat just does not make the cut.
I began exploring right where my Pro Tour left me. Black/green/white constellation, or Junk for short, was an excellent deck fool of a lot of tricky things, but other teams had a similar list and did not arrive at all of the same cards. Some lists played a card like Underworld Coinsmith, and for good reason! Coinsmith is extremely powerful, but I just did not find it necessary in the game plan we were executing. You established dominance by controlling the board and almost never needed lifegain or a closer once that happened. If we could have cast Coinsmith on turn two with regularity, we definitely would have run it, but the mana just did not allow.
That said, once one of those colors leaves the mix, Coinsmith becomes a lot more attractive. Sylvan Caryatid no longer competes for its two-drop slot and Eidolon of Blossoms is not an amazing double pipped green card asking for so much out of your mana base. And once you go down the road of including a life total manipulator in your deck like that, it only makes sense to follow it up with more, right? While I began at a slightly different place, after playing with the deck more and watching some of its flaws exposed, this is where the list is currently at.
The deck might catch you as doing one certain thing, but unlike most decks, this one has a bit of an Identity Crisis. Neither plan is necessarily bad, but this deck can come out in one of two very different ways. On the one hand, you have the tools to end a game relatively quickly. I watched a match in which a single Brain Maggot plus Underworld Coinsmith coupled with four mana was dealing five a turn and crushed a control deck before they could stabilize in time.
Coinsmith has this really interesting element to it in that it is a lifegain card with a very aggressive edge. It deals a lot of damage out of nowhere, almost unavoidable in nature, and can often sneak by with people forgetting about it. The life loss does get coupled with the loss from Grim Guardian and extort as well, so even though it comes in small doses, they add up quickly.
On the other hand, this deck can grind a game out like few other decks can. When you are facing down an aggressive opponent or a monsters deck with just spot removal, you can easily turtle up behind the life gain from Coinsmith and the Staying Power of Doomwake Giant or Sphere of Safety. Generally, this is going to end up with you stalling the game but also struggling to win it, as life points pumped into Coinsmith are too valuable to use up.
Before, we had no access to Dictate of either god and we also had no Assemble the Legion. You were pinging your opponent to death unless you were fortunate enough to have a 4/6 out, which meant even after you regained control of a game, very little secured that for you in a timely manner. Now, sticking a Dictate of Heliod or pumping a ton of mana into Heliod will just win you the game over the course of a turn or two. You still get to hide behind your wall of life gain, but now you actually have something to work toward!
*It is worth mentioning here that with an anthem effect out, your Nyx-Fleece Rams can actually do some attacking. Many people assume zero power creatures are all defenders, but as a 2/7, feel free to turn your sheep sideways and rumble with it!
Athreos, God of Passage is a huge draw toward any of these decks as it is one of the cooler cards in the format but is actually kind of tricky to pull off correctly. You want his undercosted body to mean something when it is active but you also want to do sweet things with its ability over the course of the game. Constellation does that perfectly, which is pretty exciting.Other Angles
Coinsmith was easily the most impressive part of working on the constellation deck so I wanted to continue to explore it further. A month or so back I began working on some fun Soul Sisters variants in Standard that used cards like Vizkopa Guildmage to open up on very bursty draws that just killed opponents, but were also a little too inconsistent to be competitive. Underworld Coinsmith was a big part of those decks though as it provides exactly what we are looking for.
I wanted to meet somewhere in the middle between those lifegain heavy decks and the constellation heavy deck to see if there is some other linear aspects to capitalize on with Coinsmith involved. Despite Coinsmith triggering off of enchantments and having quite the otherworldly name, it is in fact a human. For the past three or four years, black/white human decks have been tried again and again, but this seems like a card worth rediscovering the discussion.
With very solid options all along the curve and a plethora of good removal at our disposal, all this list really needs are ways to close the game. Spear of Heliod provides one, but Coinsmith comes in here big as it gives us some reach and still turns into a zombie should there be a friendly necromancer nearby
I worry that this list needs some extra oomph against the midrange matchups where I can see a stall forming rather quickly. Because we have a limited number of slots devoted to removal, we will not be able to answer every threat and our creatures all get outclassed rather easily considering most of them are 2/2.
Hopefully, a healthy dose of hand disruption and a fast curve with solid tempo allows the deck to just get out in front of its opponent. If the opponent can match our speed, we can answer back by going over the top with our sideboard featuring cards like Gift of Orzhova and Banisher Priest.
This list is a whole different animal. Whereas the previous deck used the human tribal synergies to filter who made the cut, this list's theme is simply to tear your hand apart each game. Four copies of Thoughtseize and four copies of Brain Maggot allow you to disrupt even the best of opening hands, throwing off an entire game plan or simply slowing down the opponent by some number of turns. Just as they begin to recover, six more three-drops await them that also take a card. While Lifebane Zombie and Sin Collector tend to be at their best against different decks, against either style of deck that pushes us to 11 ways to disrupt their hand and that accounts for zero overlap between the three-drops, which is obviously unrealistic.
Athreos has a much bigger impact here as basically every creature in the deck offers you something in return should it be sent back to your hand. It is also pretty nice to get it active, which is relatively easy in this list assuming there are no sweepers flying around.
And there is no hiding the fact that this list needs help closing games. Those Dictates of Heliod are main this time around as a board of 1/1 creatures is not the easiest to put a game away with. All of that time that a card like Brain Maggot buys you can be for naught if the game drags on because eventually it is going to die and that might start a cascade that you cannot recover from.Wrap Up
I think there is definitely some meat to this style of archetype and I want to keep exploring it. Chicago is right around the corner and it would be fun to see some people playing one of these lists. I am fairly certain I will be playing Five Color Control at this point, as it has been putting up the best results for the longest time for me.
If you can arrive at a list that can beat monoblack reliably, the rest is probably solvable through sideboarding. You are looking at a field dominated by monoblack, but one that will also contain:
EsperUW ControlMonoredJund MonstersNaya MonstersMonoblueMonogreenDredgeBG ConstellationGW AggroBoros BurnNaya Auras
That is a lot of things to be aiming for. If you are going to play a control deck, I advise playing one with a highly proactive game plan. That can be Elixir of Immortality, as at least you have a plan, just know where you want to go in a matchup and get to that point. Trying to play tournaments by ear these days is very difficult with the average player being so much more informed.
Regardless, to all those going to Chicago this weekend, good luck! Feel free to stop by and say hi if you see me around. Until next time, thanks for reading!