I've been playing Magic Online consistently since its Beta test in 2001, and it's going to have to be ripped from my hands before I ever stop. This love of digital Magic means I'm also excited about Magic Arena, so I was quick to join its Beta test last year. All the great tournament action on Magic Online means it's my primary place to play, but I also make sure to keep up on my Arena account, making sure I log on at least every few days so I can finish my daily quests. This easy source of gold is a good way to fund Limited events, which is a free, fast and fun way to play compared to the financial and time investment of Magic Online – and it helps me build my Arena collection.
I'm sure many players finish their quests just by playing a lot, but for me it means hopping in a Constructed Ranked game with a deck designed to complete the quests in the most efficient way possible. Most quests ask you to play several spells of two given colors, so I have a gauntlet of five mono-color decks that I can use to easily fulfill the requirement, often even overlapping two quests, a classic two-for-one that I can't pass up. There are also quests that ask you to attack with a number of creatures, and these decks get that done beautifully.
Building most of the mono-color decks was easy, and could be ported straight from Standard, like the Mono-Blue Tempo deck, Mono-Red Aggro and all the best cheap white creatures I had on my account – surprisingly effective. I determined early on that the mono-green starter deck was the best and that was the deck I sunk some of my early wildcards into with an eye towards transitioning into Golgari, so that one was a gimme. The interesting deck, and the one I've come to truly enjoy and look forward to logging onto Magic Arena to play with like a dirty little secret, is the Mono-Black deck. I had a few decent cards from working on Golgari, and I just built around them with the most efficient and value-laden cads I had. The result, in its current state, looks like this:
This is a midrange deck built to grind, built in much of the same mold as Golgari. The fact that it is creature based and has so much removal to clear the way means the many small creatures can add up to a sizable offense pretty quickly. I have no idea what my actual record is, but it feels like I am always ahead of my opponents. I have been impressed with how the deck feels and performs, especially when it's able to hang with the big dogs and beat actual real Standard archetypes I come up against on occasion, I've always thought about the idea of what the deck would really look like without card access issues, and if it could actually be a real competitive Standard deck in any capacity. Today I realized that if there is anytime for the deck, it is now.
Niv-Mizzet, Parun is likely the best card in Standard, where it's become the centerpiece of Jeskai Control and is now central to the Arclight Phoenix-less Izzet Drakes deck, which just won the SCG Invitational in the hands of Andrew Jessup and is poised to break out as what appears to be the best deck in the format. The black deck with four Plaguecrafter would be a nightmare for these decks that rely on Dive Down to protect their creatures, especially if it's supported with a set of Ravenous Chupacabra, which can destroy Niv-Mizzet, Parun without giving them a free card.
Porting the deck to Standard really just means maxing out on the best cards and trimming some of the fat. The end result is something full of actual proven Standard playables and doesn't feel like it's sacrificing card quality to stay in one color.
This is designed as a Plaguecrafter deck at its core, with eight expendable bodies on turn two to sacrifice to Plaguecrafter. Burglar Rat and Seekers' Squire are the primary fodder here, and they help get some value out of the exchange in the form of upgrading into Plaguecrafter's 3/2 power body – a significant threat when backed by removal. When Plageucrafter does have to sacrifice itself it's still an effective removal spell, but it does suffer against small creatures when it has to trade down in mana. Plaguecrafter also means the deck is also strong against planeswalkers, so Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is easy to contain. In my very first game with the deck today – which I fired up as I was thinking about writing this – Plaguecrafter snapped off a Sarkhan, Fireblood on turn three.
What really helps take Plaguecrafter to the next level in this deck is Midnight Reaper, which extracts value from creatures dying and really supercharges the value proposition offered from cards like Burglar Rat and Seekers' Squire, and at worst means Plagecrafter will replace itself. Midnight Reaper really impresses in Golgari and has become a staple there, and it really fills the same role here, and feels great even when it eats a removal spells and forces the opponent to concede a two-for-one.
I've only had two in my Arena deck, but Kitesail Freebooter never feels bad whenever I've drawn it. It's disruption good enough to see play in Modern, and it feels like a great card in this midrange-heavy Standard metagame with plenty of great targets to hit. In theory it's great with Midnight Reaper – Kitesail Freebooter is a prime target for removal spells, especially when it's exiling a removal spell, but Midnight Reaper disrupts that by giving a card if the opponent does want to free their spell. Midnight Reaper also has a big target on its head, so the opponent may Opt to destroy that instead, forcing them to leave a spell under Kitesail Freebooter. It feels like the most flexible slot in the deck, and I'm open to other ideas and exploring this slot – in my mind Cast Down might be the best alternative.
An exciting addition to the deck was the Doom Whisperer, which I opened in Limited at some point and quickly added. It has won me games where I had completely written off winning and was only going through the motions to complete quests, a miracle topdeck where no other card would have done it. The huge, flying body for a low cost makes it a great finisher, but it's the surveil ability to dig into action, whether it be a removal spell or another threat, that makes it so good. If the opponent kills it you might just be able to dig up another one, or at least some strong play, and that's what makes it so deadly. Today I realized I opened a second copy at some point and am thrilled about it.
I added a pair of Karn, Scion of Urza to the green precon when I first started grinding Magic Arena, with the logic that until I really built a collection it would be one of the best cards in any deck I built. It's one of Standard's better cards anyways so I hoped I'd end up using it in a top-tier deck down the road. It was a quick addition to my first iteration of the black deck, and it has really excelled there because the deck has so much creature removal to protect it. It's a great card advantage engine to help the deck run away with the game, since it doesn't actually have any card draw and relies on the top of its deck to deliver action. Making Construct Tokens is a valid way to win a game and is really useful for making a body to sacrifice to Plaguecrafter, which effectively means it made a 3/2 token.
The one slot in the deck I was least sure about when porting over to a fully-powered build was the one-drops. On Arena I use Diregraf Ghoul and Grasping Scoundrel to give the deck an aggressive element, which backed with removal spells is nice for closing out opponents. There are also a couple Pilfering Imp, which can also chip in for damage or can convert into a discard spell as a pseudo two-mana play. I resigned to Diregraf Ghoul being the best option here, but it felt like an unexciting card in an otherwise exciting deck. That's when I had the realization that the best option is probably to not have a one-drop at all – why not use this slot for Treasure Map?
I first thought about Treasure Map when pondering the sideboard, but it's quickly becoming one of the most proven cards in Standard and a main deck staple. It helps provide consistent draws early while helping to grind later. It's the exact sort of card drawing that this deck craves. The deck even has Karn, Scion of Urza, which benefits from the increased artifact count. I don't have any actual games with the card in the deck to back up my theory, but I suspect that Treasure Map is exactly what the deck needs if it's to become a well-rounded, fully-functional deck that can compete with the top-tier.
One Memorial to Folly always feels fantastic when I draw it on Magic Arena, so I'm quick to move to three copies, especially now that I've cut all the one-mana creatures. The free value that comes with playing a spell attached to a land is incredible, especially in a deck with so many good creatures to return, most of all Plageucrafter since it sacrifices itself. The deck is also hungry for action, so it's a natural fit. Golgari decks get away with three copies, so I imagine that's the right number here.
One card I haven't had the pleasure of playing in the deck on Magic Arena is The Eldest Reborn. The effect seems fantastic in a deck like this, which is hungry for value and the effects it provides. Creature removal, discard and a threat all tied in one is exactly what this deck is about. If I were to really start taking it seriously, the next step would be to test some copies in the deck and see how it performs. I've put a few in the sideboard here, where it should be strong in the control and midrange matchups, including against the Izzet Drakes deck because it dodges Dive Down.
There's also the subject of Dread Shade, which to be honest I've never really given a lot of thought about in the deck because I never had access to one. It doesn't offer any value or mesh into the general creature strategy of the deck, but it will hit very hard. Nantuko Shade is one of my favorites of all time but I suspect that this mono-black deck might actually be better off without it. In a world where Plaguecrafter was no longer effective, Dread Shade might be effective in a rebuilt version.
When I first made the deck, Plague Mare seemed like one of the best black cards I had and my one copy has remained in the deck ever since. It's not far from being the black Goblin Chainwhirler, and its effect is fantastic when the opponent has many small creatures. In the sideboard it helps give the deck game against decks like Boros and Mono-White Aggro, which in theory are the toughest matchups.
It didn't make the final cut, but I want to give a shout-out to Vampire Sovereign, which at one point was a three-of in my deck before Doom Whisperer took over. There's really no more fun to be had playing the deck on Arena than when I lay down the flying Siege Rhino against unsuspecting opponents. It won some pretty incredible games, like an otherwise unwinnable game against Mono-Red Aggro where my opponent must have felt he was living a nightmare. At times the card really felt Standard-playable, and while Doom Whisperer does mostly make a joke out of it, I can't help but wonder.
At this point I can't stop myself from trying this new version, even if it means putting it together online. If it's good, maybe I'll let you know how it goes!