How to Battle Mono-Black
Hello everyone! Welcome to Standard Weekly!
This week’s article focuses on black’s growing popularity and power in standard. Since the release of Dominaria United, I have monitored the percentage of decks playing black. On a typical day, around 50% of the format plays black according to data from untapped.gg. In best of three matches, seven of the top 8 decks play black and these decks all have over a 54%-win rate. According to tournament reporting site mtgtop8.com, both post rotation three-star tournaments were dominated by black decks. Fourteen of the top sixteen finishers at Crokeyz Dominaria United @ Team Liquid event played black. The Japan Open 2022 event saw fifteen of the top sixteen players using black as part of their deck and a whapping 556 of 687 decks played black cards.
The data clearly shows that black decks have dominated the early part of Dominaria United’s standard season and that non-black decks are not able to compete with the power level of black cards.
Today I am going to go through each of the cards most played across black decks in the format and look at ways to counter their power and popularity in standard.
Tenacious Underdog, Graveyard Trespasser, and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse see the most play across decks.
Tenacious Underdog is a recursive threat that can use its blitz ability to return to the battlefield turn after turn if it remains in the graveyard.
Graveyard Trespasser gets to exile a card from a graveyard when it enters play or attacks during a day cycle or two cards during night. If the card exiled was a creature, then you gain a life and your opponent loses a life. Also, Graveyard Trespasser has ward. His ward cost is to discard a card. This makes removing Graveyard Trespasser cost two cards if spot removal is used.
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is a 4/5 Phyrexian praetor with deathtouch. Sheoldred’s ability gives you two life each time you draw a card and costs your opponent two life when he/she draws a card. Unchecked, Sheoldred can close out a game on its own.
In some decks, Concealing Curtains and Evolved Sleeper serve as one drops.
Concealing Curtains is an excellent early blocker that can transform into Revealing Eye for three mana. When you transform Concealing Curtains, you get to look at your opponent’s hand and select a non-land card to discard. Revealing Eye is a 3/4 with menace. This makes it an evasive threat that will require your opponent to block it with two creatures or remove it.
Evolved Sleeper is an under-the-radar star in Mono-Black. Its ability to grow throughout the game makes it a good mana sink at any point in the game.
Liliana of the Veil and Sorin the Mirthless provide planeswalker support. Each one presents problems for an opponent.
Liliana of the Veil typically forces an opponent to sacrifice a creature the turn she enters play. Then Liliana forces both players to discard a card with her plus ability. Many times, black players will empty their hand before using Liliana.
Sorin feels like an underutilized planeswalker. Typically, Sorin’s minus two ability to create a 2/3 vampire token with lifelink is selected to provide protection for him. Then you plus Sorin for card advantage. Getting access to two cards a turn can quickly lead to victory. When you get to seven loyalty and can ultimate Sorin, this usually is a game-winning move.
The Meathook Massacre has served as the premier black removal spell for a year. The spell gives each creature -1/-1 for each mana spent beyond the first two. In addition, The Meathook Massacre’s ability to give you a life for each opponent’s creature that dies and do one damage to your opponent for each of your creatures that dies tends to swing games to your advantage. In black mirror matches, you will sometimes see The Meathook Massacre played for two mana just to get the death trigger advantage or to shut down your opponent’s The Meathook Massacre’s death trigger advantage.
RESPONSES TO BLACK
Having a game plan to remove these threats needs to be part of your main deck and sideboard. When possible, use exile effects because Tenacious Underdog can use its blitz ability to return to play and black has several reanimation spells that show up in some builds of the deck. These are the best options in each color.
White offers good instant speed removal options to counter black threats.
Destroy Evil provides flexible removal. For two mana, you can either destroy an enchantment or a creature with toughness 4 or greater. Destroy Evil is an upgrade over Valorous Stance because you can remove The Meathook Massacre with it in addition to Sheoldred.
Fateful Absence is a two-mana instant that can destroy a target creature or a planeswalker. Fateful Absence is the best removal spell currently in white to answer blacks primary game plan.
Lantern Flare cost two mana to deal damage to an opponent’s creature or planeswalker equal to the number of creatures you control. You also gain that amount of life. Getting to gain life for removing an opponent’s creature or planeswalker can represent the difference between winning and losing against black.
March of Otherworldly Light costs X and a white mana to exile an artifact, creature, or enchantment. X is the casting cost of the card.
At sorcery speed, white has good options to destroy creatures. First is Banishing Slash. For two white mana you can destroy a tapped creature, artifact, or enchantment. The limitation of destroy a tapped creatures makes Banishing Slash less than an ideal removal spell, but its flexibility makes it an option against decks running enchantments.
By Invitation Only is removal for an aggro deck. For five mana, you get to choose how many creatures each side will sacrifice. Black usually only has a few creatures in play, so you can force your opponent to sacrifice their creatures and leave yourself with creatures in play to finish the game.
Depopulate is a traditional white board wipe. For four mana, you get to destroy all creatures when you deploy the spell.
Farewell can exile all artifacts, creatures, enchantments, and/or graveyards. The ability to chose what gets exiled gives flexibility to the spell, but the high mana cost might make it less likely to see play outside of dedicated control decks.
Vanquish the Horde can be a low-cost option to destroy all creatures. The spell cost eight total mana, but the cost is reduced by one for each creature in play. Sometimes making the effective cost as little as two mana.
Finally, Borrowed Time can exile any nonland permanent your opponent controls. This is one of the few white cards that can remove an opponent’s planeswalker.
White has a variety of options against black. The best options are Destroy Evil, Fateful Absence, and Borrowed Time because of the ability to remove planeswalkers and enchantments.
Blue does not offer much removal for permanents on the battlefield. Witness Protection makes an enchanted creature a 1/1 without any abilities. This can shut down black creatures well because they offer additional value when they are in play.
Fading Hope has seen significant play in blue decks because it returns a creature to your opponent’s had. This can have the impact of skipping your opponent’s turn when it is well timed.
March of Swirling Mist phases out X creatures. Where X is the amount of mana spent to cast the spell. March has seen limited play but is an effective blue spell that can prevent your opponent from attacking you and gives you the ability to attack your opponent while his creatures are phased out.
Rona’s Vortex was one of my Top 10 cards from Dominaria United. You can cast it for one blue mana to send an opponent’s creature back to his hand or you can kick it for three more mana to put it on the bottom of your opponent’s library. The kicker ability makes this better than most spot removal spells because your opponent must go through their entire deck to get access to the card again.
Consuming Tide is the closest that blue comes to a board wipe. Four mana returns all, but one permanent for each player to its owner’s hand. This has the effect of resetting the board and giving you a chance to rebuild your side of the board before your opponent can.
The best answer that blue really has for black spells is to counter them before they make it onto the battlefield. We have seen a Mono-Blue Tempo deck develop over the last week around Haughty Djinn. Should this deck truly become a significant part of the overall metagame, then we might see a shift away from black midrange and control decks to more aggro decks.
Red has limited options when it comes to dealing with black threats. Red can use spot removal to deal with some creatures and planeswalkers, but it has no way to answer an enchantment. Flame-Blessed Bolt is red’s best way to deal with Tenacious Underdog because when it dies it is exiled instead. This prevents it from reentering play with its blitz ability. Flame Discharge is a scalable removal spell. Flame Discharge deals X damage to target creature or planeswalker and does an additional two damage if you control a modified creature. The current makeup of red decks has several ways to modify a creature, so getting the two additional points of damage should be a regular occurrence.
Kami’s Flare deals three damage to target creature or planeswalker. It also deals 2 damage to that permanent’s controller if you control a modified creature. Having modified creatures is an important part of red’s game plan against any deck.
Lightning Strike and Play with Fire gives red the ability to deal damage to any target. Each one can answer a low toughness creature or planeswalker spell that has low loyalty.
Rending Flame is red’s only answer to Sheoldred. It deals 5 damage to a target creature or planeswalker.
Voltage Surge deals two damage to target creature or planeswalker and if you sacrifice an artifact Voltage Surge deals 4 damage instead.
Burn Down the House deals 5 damage to each creature and planeswalker. It gives red its best option to deal with black’s board presence but does not see much play because red decks want to go fast to win games.
Light Up the Night deals X damage to any target and an additional point of damage if it targets a creature or planeswalker. It might become necessary to play cards like Light Up the Night to have a chance to kill Sheoldred or a planeswalker with high loyalty.
Strangle deals 3 damage to a target creature or planeswalker.
Finally, Temporal Firestorm like Burn Down the House deals 5 damage to each creature and each planeswalker but gives you the option to protect one or more of your creatures and/or planeswalker for two additional mana per target. Should a viable Jeskai deck develop this would make Temporal Firestorm a viable option for the deck.
While red has a variety of removal options, few can effectively deal with blacks’ threats. The fact that most of these spells are at sorcery speed limits red’s ability to deal with black threats.
Green offers a variety of playable removal options, but Green has seen a decline in play sense rotation.
Bite Down and Master’s Rebuke deals damage equal to target creature you control’s power to target creature or planeswalker you don’t control.
Bouncer’s Beatdown is one of the best removal cards against black permanents. First, the spell cost two less to cast if it target’s a black permanent. Then it deals X damage to target creature or planeswalker, where X is the greatest power among creatures you control and if it dies it is exiled.
Broken Wings and Crushing Canopy can destroy an enchantment or creature with flying.
Duel for Dominance, Prizefight, and Tail Swipe are fight spells. Where one of your creatures deals damage to one of your opponent’s creatures and that creature in return deals damage to your creature. Tail Swipe is the cheapest and can have a boost when you play it during your main phase.
Return to Nature can destroy a target artifact or enchantment or exile target card from a graveyard.
Tear Asunder exiles a target artifact or enchantment. If it gets kicked then you can exile a nonland permanent.
Spinning Wheel Kick offers the ability to target multiple creatures and/or planeswalkers and deal damage to them equal to the power of a target creature you control. Spinning Wheel Kick has not seen much play but might be a good way to deal with black threats.
As standard continues to develop, expect decks to have more answers for blacks. This should open standard to more deck variety, but decks will have to specifically plan for black matchups. Otherwise, we will continue to see black decks dominate the format at least until the release of The Brother’s War.
That’s it for this week. I’ll see you next time!