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Mono-Black Cube, Take Two: The Cards

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Yay for Cubes! And yay for mono-colored Cubes, too!

I recently began to create and churn out a Mono-Black Cube, and I thought that I’d share it with all you fine folks in Magic Land. Creating a mono-colored Cube is an odd task, and I lay out the reasons why in last week’s article.

Lord of the Undead
In order to fight these issues, I have intentionally layered six draftable archetypes into my Cube:

  • Mono-Black Control
  • Suicide Aggro
  • Reanimation
  • Discard
  • Sacrifice
  • Zombies

Check out my Cube!

Now, for folks who read my StarCityGames.com column, you’ll know that I’ve had a Commander Cube for a couple of years now that I regularly update. I learned a lot of lessons from it.

One lesson was to add in cards that support multiple themes. If I can find a card that is useful in more than one of these archetypes, I’ll be in business.

Take Gravecrawler as a useful example. It’s a strong 1-drop for suicide aggro, it’s a Zombie card for that tribe, and it’s a creature that’ll come back again and again after sacrificing it to your engines. So whether you are using it with Phyrexian Plaguelord or Diregraf Ghoul or Lord of the Undead, it works in three different themes. That’s a great choice for my Cube!

And I want to find the Gravecrawlers of Magic—they make the Cube interesting by creating an intersection of archetypes that means people will fight over it. Once you’ve done a few Cubes, and you gain a feel for the metagame and environment, cards like Gravecrawler will change. If people fight over it and that increases the likelihood that it is picked early, what falls down the pick order that you might find? Are you willing to take Gravecrawler over a key card like Cemetery Reaper or Cabal Ritual?

Gravecrawler
Those are the sorts of cards I want to uncover. For example, I have some sacrifice effects with Mind Slash and Sadistic Hypnotist that work well with our self-sacrifice theme. Those elements also work with pro-discard stuff we’re bringing as well. Sacrificing that creature to Mind Slash can trigger your Waste Not or your Pawn of Ulamog—it’s your choice!

The way I started my Cube was to grab a bunch of black’s best stuff and cards I had lying around and then pull them out. Then, I grabbed cards from my archetypes to finish it off. Now that I had a list, I sat on it for a while, and then I came back and looked at the results.

My first list was a bit . . . interesting. I’m normally a casual and multiplayer player. So cards that are houses in multiplayer hit the lists. But this is a normal Cube—we don’t have time for the bigger stuff and multiplayer friendly-cards like Unnerve and such. After my first run through, I had seventeen 1-drops and sixteen 2-drops. Then, I rock twenty-eight 6-drops. That’s just wonky math. I had to move things around to accommodate my needs—that just didn’t make sense.

Have you ever gone back and looked at your first run through on a project like this and realized that you must have been drunk when you assembled that first list? Because only being drunk explains why I had pulled out Xathrid Slyblade for my Cube. I like the Slyblade as much as the next black enthusiast, but it’s not really a Cube card. Unless we have a Mediocre Cube! What’s really disturbing is that I’ve never drunk a drop of alcoholic drink before. So I couldn’t have been drunk. I don’t even have that excuse!

Abyssal Persecutor
Anyway, I began to pull out cards like Archetype of Finality, Hythonia the Cruel, and Scuttling Doom Engine. I would have cards on theme that were just too expensive. Havoc Demon has a great death trigger, so it suits the sacrifice theme. That’s the sort of logic that works in format such as Commander. But we need to drop it due to cost.

In went cards that I would otherwise never play. Abyssal Persecutor is one such swap. I loathe it. It’s a card I would never run in a casual deck. But it works in the Cube, and it’s a lot faster than the multiplayer-friendly Sepulchral Primordial. Since the Cube can sacrifice stuff as death nears, and it can rely on a big beater like it dying early and often to removal, it needs to be in the Cube. I had to rejigger my thinking in order to align it with the needs of the Cube.

Another example was Noxious Dragon. Hey look, it has a useful death trigger, and it’s not embarrassing as a 4/4 flyer. But for 6 mana? Let’s sub it out for Golgari Thug. It also has a death trigger, it’s a lot cheaper on the mana, and it has the fun dredge. It’s not a swap I’d normally make—I’m not a natural Spike—but I do need to highlight that aspect of me. So out came cards like Scythe Specter for Desecration Demon.

On another note, I had too many expensive spells. Joining those expensive creatures were cards like Nemesis Trap. Why do I run Plague Wind, In Garruk's Wake, and Decree of Pain? Even a deck with Cabal Coffers would prefer a Damnation to a Wake. I pulled the first two of them out, leaving in Decree since it can cycle for a cheaper cost and effect. Again, I went Spike and added in spells that should have been there all along, such as Reanimate, Mind Twist, and Cabal Ritual.

Finding the right card for the Cube, even when it means pulling my drunken, casual-friendly mess, is an important part of embracing the format, the fun, and the core of the project.

Vampire Lacerator
And that’s why I’ve tried hard to embrace the cross-archetype cards that are out there. Because of the archetypes, different power card have different ratings. Suicide Black cares a lot more about Vampire Lacerator than it does Cabal Coffers. Zombies wants Death Baron over Liliana of the Dark Realms or Necropotence, and control wants Damnable Pact or Crypt Ghast over Reanimate.

What else made the cut? We needed cards that fight against certain archetypes. Take discard. If you have a deck that wants to force its opponent to discard, it needs a few things. One, it wants people to have card-light hands in order to trigger things like The Rack. Then, it wants discards to slip through since you have Megrim and Waste Not cards to trigger.

With all of the discard that black naturally has, plus the enhanced discard support for this archetype, people will quickly run out of cards. How do you fight against discard?

Well, I looked at a few ways. One is to run card-draw. In fact, I dug into card-draw that becomes better when you are devoid of cards, such as Fool's Tome and Loreseeker's Stone, as fun ways to fight discard. That’s one way to fight it.

Another is to run the occasional permanent that is spell-like but that can be played to keep it out of the touch of discard until needed later. Font of Return, which can be played as early as turn two, is a good example of this.

Cursed Scroll
Then, I added in a few cards that are better when you have few to no cards in hand—cards like Blood Scrivener, an efficient 2-drop beater. Cursed Scroll hits for 2 damage 100% of the time when you have just one card in the grip. Ensnaring Bridge can punish a discard player by forcing yourself to have too few cards for them to attack and win the game. You can run a Grafted Skullcap against them.

Meanwhile, you can run some of these cards in a discard deck as well. And don’t forget unusual support like Bargaining Table, which can be quite cheap to use if your discard is on point.

So discard is one archetype with a lot of support for ways to fight against it. And all of the various archetypes have the same questions arise, with similar results in the Cube. We have tools to fight reanimation, for example. What about aggro? Every 3-drop (or less) in the deck can be handled by an Infest. So the Drown in Sorrow that the deck sports can be used early. Black has a ton of mass removal—I’m not overly concerned about it finding those tools.

In fact, I’m more worried about aggro getting through. In a Cube that runs a ton of targeted and mass removal, how do you win? What about aggro versus control? We need a few tools to fight, some midrange, some earlier. What can I grab to stop or curtail the massive amount of removal that black has?

Well, we could include something like Soul of New Phyrexia to give out some indestructibility. In fact, why not run Eldrazi Monument as a top-end tool? We can also have Darksteel Plate as a counter to the massive quantities of removal out there.

And for this task, I really like Undying Evil as a drafted card in a quick, full-throttle aggro deck since it just costs 1 mana to play; plus, you bring your creature back a little better than before.

Lightning Greaves
I also pushed the speed of my guys with a triad of shadow creatures in order to get in one or three hits. Lightning Greaves might take away a precious turn two, but it creates a mana-free way to protect and speed up every subsequent play. I even found a place for Stillmoon Cavalier since it can swing through virtually any defense and is protected from a lot of black removal. In fact, I included both Sword of Light and Shadow and Sword of Feast and Famine to give aggro an anti-black Equipment that will keep it going.

And so on it goes. Finding cards that can fight against the various archetypes is important to me as well.

Therefore, the specific card choices for this project came down to finding cards that supported multiple themes, making sure there were tools to help fight various themes out there and, most importantly, having me embrace my Spike side and accept the need for cards like Mind Twist or Desecration Demon. It’s not easy, but it’s worth doing if I want to make the Mono-Black Cube work.

One of the fun parts about the project was including awesome cards such as Smolder Initiate, Staff of the Death Magus, and Odylic Wraith as really powerful cards. Shoot, check out the nastiness of Filth in this Cube!

So now that you’ve seen the Cube and read a couple of articles on it, what are your thoughts? What should make the cut? What have I missed, and how can I strengthen it?

Would you like for me to post updates here on the Cube in my articles on GM? I could make this an occasional but regular thing if there’s a lot of interest out there. Anyways, thanks!

Appendix

In case you don’t like checking out the visual spoiler of my Cube over at CubeTutor.com, here is the cut and paste of my actual Cube in its current iteration. Enjoy!

Mono-Black Cube | Abe Sargent

Enjoy!


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