Hello Awesome folks! I hope that your day has been going incredibly well today! Over the last two weeks I have been doing a deep dive into every color's mono-color pushing sorted by mechanic. Here is my Mono-White one. Then there is the Blue article last week that has multiple mono-Blue loving things. Both are long and in-depth.
Now we are in the biggest one of them all. In the first set alone, Black gave us Bad Moon, Frozen Shade, Nightmare and Drain Life that all got better the more Black you played. This is the most parasitic color ever. Get ready for a long list. The goal here is to reanalyze them with the huge number of dual lands and gold cards that can play with these. Ready?
We'll start with the fact that like Plains in White, Black does have some Swamp fetching as well, although much less. It's probably third best in ramping lands. Unlike some White cards, it doesn't ramp lands, just searches for them. Liliana is a four-drop planeswalker with a +1 to Tutor for a Swamp (any type, not just basics) and put it into your hand. Then she can -3 to -X/-X something where that is your Swamp count. Nice! Then her Shade also costs four, has an enter-the-battlefield (ETB) trigger tutors for a Swamp (any again) and puts it into your hand. It also pumps like a Shade. From mythic to common. This ability does exist in a few other places, but it's pretty small.
There was a cycle where landcycling debuted of common mono-colored dorks. They've never gone back to this ability in later sets, so we have just one Swampcycler. Cycle It early when you need a Swamp or drop it later when your mana is set. You can also cycle it and then Zombify it in a reanimation build getting both. Or you can run it in a self-discard deck triggering things like Archfiend of Ifnir. It's pretty strong in loads of places.
A key ability that is heavily played in Black decks are the mana making from your Swamps or other Black-tapping lands. The Coffers is one of the most played lands ever printed. Tap it, two, and then make a mana for every swamp you control, even nonbasics. It's a very powerful card and was played all over and dominated Standard when legal. It was made Modern-legal for that format. The Stronghold was recently printed and never made a sound in Standard. It taps for colorless, is three to tap, and then makes mana for your basic Swamps, not any, so it's more to use, less to get, but will always just tap for colorless, so that's fine and dandy, just like candy.
Another way to make that mana is Nirkana Revenant and friends like Bubbling Muck. These dorks will let your Swamps tap for two mana when you control them, which is brilliant for when you also control the Coffers or even the Stronghold. Also note that this will double your mana for each Swamp you tap, even nonbasics. It's also a 4/4 sized threat with the game winning pumpery. The Muck is a sorcery speed High Tide that also costs just one. This will let all Swamps tap for another mana, including your foes. Again, nonbasics here count loads.
Then we have a few ways to turn lands into Swamps. The Blanket is a three-drop enchantment that makes all "mana-producing" lands Swamps, so not things like Arena or Maze of Ith. Then that works four your opposing stuff as well. Then we have a load of Auras that can turn lands into Swamps, including this one drop Presence that turns the enchanted land into a Swamp and was in the first set. Put it on an opposing Cabal Coffers, Academy Ruins, Kor Haven or Gaea's Cradle to turn it into a Swamp, so it's opposing land control as well.
The most iconic lands into Swamps card is of course Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. It's not Black in color identity but I have to mention it here. All lands are Swamps, even non-mana producing ones. It's a better Blanket of Night that cannot be easily answered. It combined with Cabal Coffers above to make a ton of mana and most decks are built around that combo. Many Commander brews run both as well.
Turning Creatures and Lands Black
In addition to turning lands into Swamps we can turn dorks into Black. The Hour is just a one-drop enchantment that turns all dorks Black, yours and your foe's. This is great for some combos. Then Tears is a three-cost instant that makes a targeted dork Black, regenerate, and then +1/-1 - so it's a combat trick and an anti-Doom Blade style card that was pretty heavily played. We also have loads of Auras that give Black while also giving other bonuses like Grave Servitude and Sinister Strength. Again, that plays nicely with some things we'll see later in the removal section. It will also let you block feared and intimidated Black dorks.
We also have one instant that does both change lands into Swamps and creatures into Black. The 'Creep. This two-cost instant is pretty good at being a surprise out of nowhere when someone casts the later removal things on you to save your team. It's also a nice surprise out of nowhere with Cabal Coffers if you don't control Urborg, and it's Isochron Scepter-able. Nasty fun things commence here!
Every color offers landwalk of their basic land type as a form of evasion, from the rare Plainswalker to the common Islandwalker and the more common Swampwalker. There are loads. Then we have Green cards that can also walk you too. Swampwalk is the most reliable since people play Urborg we saw above, and give themselves and everyone else Swamps.
Let's look at a few. The Horror is a three-drop 2/2 that Swampwalks with two power. But then it has another ability. When this dies? Each foe loses two life, so it's a winning condition in self-sacrifice brews and Aristocrats on a evasive beater. The Wraith is a 3/4 for five mana with Swampwalk and cycling two life. You can always cycle it if you don't need it or are trying to find an answer, and two life is nothing in the 40 life Commander format. Then you keep your mana in case you draw goods. And you can just cast it and swing away!
In the first set we had the Zombie Master himself! This three-drop 2/3 that gave all Zombies (not just yours) Swampwalk and regeneration. Nasty! And remember that you don't need a basic Swamp to be attacked unblockable with this stuff. And Whispering Shade is still a game winner in Swampwalk form. This four-drop 1/1 rocks Swampwalk to be unblockable and then pumps like Frozen Shade to win. Nasty combo here! Both got play at the kitchen table, and the Shade is a powerhouse.
Let's set aside the Whispering Shade and Nirkana for this duo. This duo of pumping also wants you to play loads of Black to make all of that mana for a real powerhouse. The best one ever printed was the Nantuko. Two mana? 2/1? It's already on curve. Then you can spend one to pump and then do a bunch of damage. It was heavily played when legal in Standard as the win con in Mono-Black Control. The Dungeon is, like the Whispering Shade, a 1/1 with evasion, this time flying. Much better with the blocking or the attacking. It's also a game winner, but easier to block with flying or reach. Nice combo, right?
Sacrificing for Value
A bunch of cards sacrifice Swamps or Black dorks for abilities. The Shaman is a 1/1 two-drop with two taps to sacrifice. The first will sacrifice a dork to pump any dork by +2/+2 for the turn, so that's a nice combat trick. Or you can sacrifice a Swamp for a lesser +1/+1 also an okay combat trick for limited, but not as strong in Commander. The Horror is a five-drop uncommon legal in Commander '95 that sacrifices a Swamp to regenerate a Black dork. Both suggest using Black stuff. Nice forgotten enchantment.
Check out this odd pair: Demon of Death's Gate and Strands of Night. The Strands are a four-cost enchantment that you can spend two and pay a pair of life, and reanimate a dead dork back onto the battlefield. Recursive, and the Swamp sacrifice is the only part that's a brake, and with Urborg? Or duals? That's possible in multicolored stuff just as much, and is a Commander staple.
The Demon can normally cost nine for an on-curve 9/9 with both flying and trample - double evasion. Then it can be cast for 6 life and then sacrifice three Black dorks like Serf tokens from Sengir Autocrat. The life loss on these two is pretty minor in here with our 40 life. The Demon is also powerful in Type Four with infinite mana and one spell per turn, so it's a turn 1 dork.
Removal and Damage
Check out this pair of burn spells. The instant is four to cost, and deals damage to a dork equal to your Swamp count. Then you can gain that life. Note that only works on dorks, not planeswalkers or players. Then the sorcery costs two more, can hit any target, and again you gain life and deal damage equal to your Swamp count. Nasty pair, and they play into the same theme. Obviously this damage pair wants you to commit to a high Swamp count in your mono-Black brew, but with duals and Urborg these are very playable with other colors. They also fit into lifegain brews, which are very popular on EDHREC!
Now let's turn to this removal suite. The one-drop is an instant that gives target dork -X/-X where that is your Swamp count, so on the first turn if you dropped a Swamp you can kill one-toughness things like Esper Sentinel or Birds of Paradise. After a few Swamps, this will kill any middle-sized dork like Hate Bears such as Gaddock Teeg. Then a few more and you are bringing down 6 toughness things like Consecrated Sphinx and Sun Titan all on a one-drop that let's you cast other things, I also love this on an Isochron Scepter.
Then we have the three-drop. This will sacrifice four dorks on arrival to the battlefield like the aforementioned Sengir Autocrat and his tokens. You can tap a Swamp to ping any target for a damage. Nasty! This is a win con and board clearing thing in one card. Good pair!
Check out this pair of four costs: Mutilate and Gloomdrifter. The first one is a sorcery that gives all stuff -X/-X until the end of turn where that is your Swamp count. It hits you too, by the by. It was heavily played in Standard when legal, and it answers indestructible dorks with the winnowing of their toughness. It's very strong in big Swamp brews where it's a brilliant Damnation variant. Then the second card is a four drop 2/2 with flying. If you have threshold on arrival to the battlefield than all non-Black stuff gets -2/-2. It's better than Infest since your stuff won't be killed. But you need threshold to make it work.
Midnight Banshee is a six-drop 5/5 with wither, so damage to dorks is dealt in -1/-1 counters and shrinks them permanently. In your upkeep place a -1/-1 counter on each non-Black dork, yours too. Note that this will work well together as you can drop their size and then kill them with the upkeep trigger. Reiver Demon is an eight-drop 6/6 with flying. Evasion. If you cast it from your hand, bury all non-Black and nonartifact stuff, so in the right deck it won't kill any of your stuff but it should kill around 75% of your opponent's stuff. Again, note that this pair will keep your Black stuff around so it works well with gold stuff in multi-colored decks.
We have a card that was printed and animates Swamps. In this case this 3/5 Treefolk Shaman that costs 5 can tap. It's free, no mana used. Then you can turn two Swamps into 3/5 dorks. Note that this can be used on opposing things to kill them with a Mutilate. Also note that they aren't Black for Reiver Demon purposes. I really like this in toughness matters brews like Doran, the Siege Tower where this attacks and blocks as a 5/5 and then makes two 5/5s for the turn. It's very strong on defense. Nice little thing, right? I think so as well!
Every color has an Incarnation in their cycle. Filth will give your team Swampwalk while in your graveyard and you control a Swamp. You can answer it with normal graveyard removal since that's where it has those abilities. Also note that this is great in sacrifice decks, discard, madness, and more like cards that discard to draw in Red and Black with Blood tokens and then draw and discard in blue. We talked about how amazing this ability is in Commander - imagine giving it to your entire team in a hard to answer ability like this one!
In the first Kamigawa Block there was this cycle of one-drop enchant lands that take two to activate into a dork. Then when the dork dies, it comes back to your hand for another casting. In this place you get a +1/+1 pumpable Spirit of the 2/2 persuasion. Nasty fun things commence! This is awesome with cast triggers of enchantments and auras, but that's light in Black. It's not bad in Spirits and with a win con in an aura form. Yup!
Landfall is in every color, and there was a cycle of landfall that had an enhanced value for running it with a Swamp, giving us Guul Draz Overseer. This is a pricey 3/4 with flying that landfalls into giving your team a power boost if a normal land arrived and a double power boost if that was a Swamp. I know, not that great from the masses. But in a go-wide deck like Orzhov Tokens? Don't you, forget about this Vampire. The key issue here is the mana cost of 6, if it were 4? Not bad in Commander even with a minor ability.
Big Creatures and Big Tricks
From Nightmare to Korlash we have loads of Size equal to your Swamp count. Korlash is a four-drop, legendary for Command Zone purposes, and can be regenerated for two mana each time. The Mare is a six-drop with flying and then wins the game. They both are pretty good at the stuff.
Check out Nightmare Incursion, a Jester's Cap that Caps equal to your Swamp count. Search a library and exile that many cards. Many consider this a win con style card since you'll take out their win cons in a control match up or their answers to your win cons, or their best cards and then drop their deck size in a milling deck. It works in a bunch of places. It's often better than Denying Wind, which is way more mana for 7 cards total. They are also strong together in Dimir Control and Mill builds with Cabal Coffers for the mana. Nice pair!
Ever since Bad Moon Black has had creature pumping. Let's turn to a pair: Ascendant Evincar and Paragon of Open Graves. The legendary is a six-drop Vampire flyer and it gives all Black dorks +1/+1 (even your foes) and non-Black dorks -1/-1, so that's pretty compelling in a Black brew but it pumps around 20% of your foe's things and it's better in two color decks with multicolor stuff that includes Black. The non-legendary one is a 2/2 for four that gives your Black stuff the Bad Moon boost. And then you can tap it and three mana to give a Black dork you control deathtouch for the turn, so it's a double Black creature enabler.
Pitch and Free Cards
Obviously, the color with the best free and pitch cards are blue with Force of Will, Misdirection, Foil, Thwart, and that's just counters, then add in Gush and things. Here we have some strong removal options. The uncommon is a four-cost sorcery that gives all dorks of one creature type -1/-1 for the turn. It's very strong against small tribes like Soldiers, Elves, Wizards, and Goblins that go wide not tall. If you're tapped out, you can cast it for free by discarding a Swamp. The common is a four-cost instant that's a Doom Blade that cannot be regenerated. Tapped out or don't have three? Control a Swamp? Cast it for 4 life which is fine in the 40 life Commander.
Check out this pair. Contagion is the debut pitch card for this color. It costs five, puts two -2/-1 counters on two dorks or one dork, whichever you want, so that's removal and a combat trick too. Then you can exile a Black card and pay a life to cast it for free. Sickening Shoal is a X instant that costs double Black to start. It gives target dork -X/-X until end of the turn where that's your mana spent. This gets around traditional regeneration and indestructible. Then you can exile a Black card from your hand to pay X for its mana cost. That way you can discard Sengir Vampire to -5/-5 an opposing dork. Nasty pitch pair.
We have a pair of discard effects that care about your Swamp count to get some good stuff. The Sludge is a five-cost sorcery that hits a foe for discards equal to your Swamp count, which is usually a Mind Twist for their entire hand, and this also got a lot of play during Standard. The Toll has your foe reveal cards equal to your Swamp count and then one gets discarded. On turn one, they choose what they discard if you control a Swamp and then cast the Toll. This gets better the longer the game goes on.
Don't forget about Corrosive Mentor! This 1/3 uncommon for three mana gives all of your Black dorks wither, which we looked at above in Midnight Banshee. It also gives it to itself so you can hold back, and play keep away. Got it? It's pretty strong in any Black creature deck. Sound good? I think so too!
Black ETB and Devotion Effects
We have one dork that triggers when a Black dork enters the battlefield - Ayara. She can tap and sacrifice a Black dork to draw a card. No tapping or anything, so she is really strong at the top of an Aristocrats or Sacrifice deck. Then when she or another Black dork arrives your foes lose a life each and then you gain it. That's a win con. She really cares about Black dorks and thus will have some fun things happening.
Now let's turn to chroma and devotion to Black that cares about Black mana symbols. Devotion to Black is actually pretty heavily in Black and pretty heavily played in Commander. Blight-Breath Catoblepas is a six-drop common 3/2 that on arrival will force a targeted dork to get -X/-X equal to your devotion to Black. That's key removal on a dork that gets around indestructible. Umbral Stalker is a seven-drop X/X where X is your Black symbol count. It's a base 3/3 on a naked board, and gets better as you control more mega Black things.
Abhorrent Overlord is a seven-drop 6/6 flyer with an ETB ability and then makes a 1/1 flying Harpy equal to your devotion to Black. Nasty! It's pretty heavily played in Commander. Erebos, God of the Dead is a four-drop 5/7 that's a creature with enough devotion. Then you can get an indestructible, your foes cannot gain life, and then you can spend two mana and two life to draw a card, so he's a Greed in Commander form. He's also pretty heavily played as well.
Check out our final pair of devotion cards. The Zombie is one of the most played cards in Commander. It drains life from your foes equal to your devotion to Black. Then you gain all of the life drained, so in a four-player game with devotion to Black of 5, you'll gain 15 and they'll take 5. It's a win con and mass life gain spell in one.
The sorcery is a five-cost too - this time you'll draw X cards, and lose X life, where that's your devotion to Black. That's just nasty good, since you can easily refill your hand with a devotion of 5 or 6. I love it with a Commander with three or four Black mana in its cost since you know you've have a baseline of 3 or 4 cards drawn, making it better than Ancient Craving. Nice pair to end this section with.
In a recent set there was an ability that gives an extra ability if you spent enough Black mana to cast something. Three of these are printed, we'll look at these that are very playable in Commander. The Gift is a five-cost sorcery that lets you Zombify a dork from your graveyard with a +1/+1 counter to pump it up. Then the adamant is to self-mill four. Great in reanimation decks and self-mill ones. The Fruit is a three cost that draws two, loses two, and then you make a Food token if you spend three Black for it. It's your typical Sign in Blood spell with a boost. Both are very playable in Commander especially since they have enhanced abilities.
Black Mana Matters
Even in the first set we had Black mana will matter spell: Drain Life. This two-cost sorcery deals X damage and gains you X life where X is the Black mana you spend in addition. You can't gain more life than the toughness of the dork. Consume Spirit is a two to start X spell just like the Drain, and then you deal X damage and gain X life where X is the Black mana spent to cast it (and you cannot spend anything else). And check out Crypt Rats! This three-drop 1/1 uncommon can deal X damage to every player and dork but only spend Black mana for that X, so that limits it. It's mass removal and big fun stuff like a Pestilence on legs. Love it loads here!
Reanimation and Cost Changes
Now let's turn to three reanimating cards. The Ghoul is a five-drop 4/1 that cannot block. After it inevitably dies, you can return it to from the graveyard to your hand if you dropped a Swamp. The Horror is a four-drop 3/1 with haste that can swing all day long on a foe, and at the end of each end step, sacrifice it. Then in your upkeep you can exile a Black dork from your graveyard to return it for free for another card, which lets you cast your spells this turn. Hiding it in the graveyard protects it from sorcery speed removal like Vindicate or Wrath of God. Good pair!
Skull Collector will finish this section. You can regenerate this for two mana. Then in your upkeep you can Raise Dead a Black dork from your graveyard to your hand. Nice card advantage over time, and strong in self-mill decks where you can bring back and then recast your best dead or milled dork. It's very strong and note you can recur gold dorks in a two-color deck. Love this thing's power loads!
We have two cards printed that will turn your Black symbols into Phyrexian mana: K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth and Defiler of Flesh. The Command Zone-legal one gives you a lifelinking 2/2. Also when you cast a Black spell, you put a +1/+1 counter on this to get life gain. Then the Defiler is a four-drop 4/4 with menace that Phyrexian mana's only Black permanents not all spells like the first one. It's strong here!
Card Flow and Tutoring
We have a pair of cards that care about drawing Black things and then tutoring for Black cards. The sorcery is a four cost that forces someone to discard and then draws a Black card from the top five cards of your library. Nice card flow. The instant costs two and then can Demonic Tutor for a Black card with mana cost equal or smaller than your creature count in your graveyard. Nasty instant-speed Tutor option!
Check out this pair of card revealing fun times. The one-drop is 1/1 which can spend one, self-sacrifice and reveal Black cards to exile that many cards from a graveyard. That's very strong if someone has graveyard abuse or is recurring with a Volrath's Stronghold or Academy Ruins and you can take out their recursive stuff at instant speed. The four-drop is a 2/1 with reveal X Black cards and then -X/-X a target critter. Nice creature removal on a stick that remains. The Seer is a four-drop 1/1 that tap for three and then reveal Black cards to -X/-X something, which is great repeatable removal over time! Nasty here!
Now let's turn to Black cast triggers, starting with Merrow Bonegnawer. The Merfolk is a one-drop 1/1 that taps to have a player exile a card from their graveyard of their choice. Then you can untap it by casting a Black spell. Staff of the Death Magus has two triggers for Black cards and Swamps to gain life.
Purraj of Urborg is a legendary first striker when you attack and can get a +1/+1 counter when any player casts a Black spell and you spend a mana. It's also legendary for the Command Zone. Smolder Initiate is a 1/1 for one that forces a target opponent to lose a life when anyone casts a Black spell and you spend a mana. Nice damage over time on an-curve dork.
Unique Costs and Library Manipulation
We have an Imp that was printed that hurts anyone that casts a non-Black thing. Even you. This three-drop 1/2 rocks flying with a smaller body. When that non-Black thing is cast? Lose a life! Nasty win con, but on a relatively easy-to-answer creature. Urborg Stalker is a four-drop 2/4. If a player has something under their control other than a Black thing or a land, they are pinged for a damage in their upkeep, you as well. This is a great pair together!
This four-drop 3/3 will play with the top card of your library revealed. That's not great for giving away info. If it's Black? All Vampires get +2/+1 and fly, including this. This is a great Vampire Lord for pumping and giving flying in your color and it's pretty heavily seen in that tribe, especially since Vampires are pretty common at the kitchen table.
One key way to make you want to play Black mono-colored is to run cards that have high Black casting costs but low mana costs, like the next set of cards. Dread Shade is a three-drop 3/3 that costs triple Black and has the Shade pumping ability attached to it. It's a game winner in mono-Black. Phyrexian Obliterator is a classic Black four-drop that's a powerful 5/5 trample. When a source would deal damage to it, they sacrifice that many permanents, so people won't block it in combat or burn it for removal. They also won't play Blasphemous Act style removal things either since they don't wanna get hit. This is heavily played in Mono-Black Commander and kitchen table brews.
Infernal Contract draws four for just three, but you lose half of your life. This was in Portal as Cruel Bargain. Geralf's Messenger is a three-drop triple=Black dork with a 3/2 body that enters tapped and your foe loses 2 life on arrival. Then it has undying, so it comes back once as a 4/3 with another tapped status and another two life loss. It's a Zombie for that tribe and then is a Kitchen Finks style card. It's gotten play in Standard and Commander alike.
The former enchantment was originally in the first set, showing how this concept was always in print. Your life drops to zero. Did you gain life? Draw that many cards! When you are dealt damage, sacrifice that many permanents. Then you don't lose for loss of life. This is almost an alternate win con in the first set! The latter enchantment draws you a card and lose you a life each time a dork of any team dies. That's nasty card flow here and is also pretty heavily played in Sacrifice Matters and Aristocrats brews.
And there we go! So...what did you think of my deep dive? Did you like it? Forget about something? Inspired to build a new deck? Let me know!