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Mono-Black in Pauper


Over the last few years I’ve played and talked about a myriad of great decks in the Pauper format. This includes such great archetypes as Burn, Boros Monarch, Affinity, and, my personal favorite, Elves. Yet, despite covering so much ground I’ve rarely talked about the deck that launched me into the format: Mono-Black Control.

Coming off a break that lasted about a year and a half, I looked to one of the last formats I actively played, which was Return to Ravnica and Theros block Standard. At the time, I had been playing a lot of Mono-Black Devotion and liked the idea of continuing to use Gray Merchant of Asphodel for absurd late game value. Mono-Black Control offered this and so much more.

The way the deck plays is quite simple. Control the board long enough that you can build up a board state with creatures and build into a major Gray Merchant life point swing. Cards like Cuombajj Witches and Chittering Rats help this by pinging away small creatures and screwing up your opponents’ draws while simultaneously adding to your devotion count. Phyrexian Rager helps get you more card advantage and gives you a solid body to attack with. Lots of small removal spells help you clear the board from different angles while Sign in Blood and Barren Moor’s cycle ability help you dig further through your deck to finding key cards you need to lock things up.

The cool thing about Mono-Black Control is that there are a number of ways to utilize it. The list above focuses a bit more on removal spells and bettering your Gray Merchant play. Some of its card choices, like Unearth to bring back value creatures like your Rats or Ragers, or Corrupt as an extra finisher, are a bit unusual. Many other lists run cards like Dead Weight, Thorn of the Black Rose, Pestilence, and the heavy hitter of the format, Gurmag Angler.

No matter how you play the deck, though, you may find yourself quite amazed at the cost. As of this past Sunday, this is the value of the above list:

Yeah, you’re reading that right. You can take this list online and build it for less than $5. Some versions cost more but they usually run more Oubliettes, Pestilence, and the Thorn, all of which cost a bit online. The deck became much more affordable due to recent online promo printings of both Chittering Rats and Cuombajj Witches. You may see the disparity between prices in paper and wonder what’s up with that. The answer is, at its core, these two cards:

Chainer's Edict

Oubliette is the real heavy hitter here. Released only in Arabian Nights, the unusually complex Journey to Nowhere-like effect is exceedingly rare, even for a common. As such, its demand in not just Pauper but formats like 93/94, Commander, and Cube has raised its price astronomically. While Mark Rosewater has stated a reprint is likely in the future, especially with the increased popularity of the format, we still don’t have one and it remains to be seen if we’ll get one anytime soon. Regardless, the originals will always hold value. If you pick them up now, you’re unlikely to lose much value while also having the sweeter looking version when a reprint does inevitably come along.

The other culprit is Chainer's Edict. An essential spell to chop down your opponent’s field, you can find budget options in the other Edict-style effects in the format. This includes Diabolic Edict and Geth's Verdict. Cruel Edict, despite being printed in Portal Second Age at common, was never put out as a common on Magic Online and isn’t legal in the format. None of these truly compete with Chainer's Edict, however, as you can flash that spell back. Unlike many other cards in the format, however, Chainer's Edict is one of the rare cards that was never actually printed as a common in paper Magic, seeing its downgrade in the Magic Online only Vintage Masters set. As such, along with being an iconic card from Odyssey block Standard, it commands a fairly high price.

Both have reasonable budget alternatives but nothing truly replaces them. Despite being more valuable in paper, the deck still only costs about $100. Many Standard decks just starting to make waves now in a post-rotation world cost multiple hundreds of dollars. That’s multiple times the cost of this one Pauper deck with numerous strengths that, most importantly, doesn’t rotate. That means you can keep playing this same deck for years and years to come, every so often adding some newer cards, like when Dusk Legion Zealot hit the scene earlier this year with Rivals of Ixalan. While the deck has largely fallen in popularity from its heyday, it still makes quite a showing, like it did in last week’s Magic Online Challenge event.

So how does the deck fare against the format as a whole? In certain metagames it’s amazing. Do you have lots of Elves? Mono-Black will make short work of them. It will do much the same with the many fliers flitting about in Mono-Blue Delver. It tears apart Bogles and Heroic decks with Edicts effects, along with the easily disrupted Izzet Blitz and Inside Out Combo lists. It even has solid removal to take down many of the creatures in both Stompy and Affinity.

The unfortunate this is the deck doesn’t stand up well to the control and midrange style decks that evolved since its glory days. For a while, facing off against Dimir Teachings was bar none the most miserable matchup you could imagine, as they’d stop many things that you’d do. Izzet Delver handles a lot of your on board threats better than its Mono-Blue cousin and Boros Monarch handles things with similar ease. Tron decks laugh at it, having taken the control game to a whole new level with the rise of the many Flicker builds. Even Burn benefits greatly from you regularly casting cards like these:

Sign in Blood
Phyrexian Rager

You often spend life to further your plan, meaning Burn has more opportunities to kill you. In addition, their low creature count makes it difficult to effectively utilize some of the life gain in your deck such as Tendrils of Corruption. Also, by the time your biggest life swing hits the table in the form of Gray Merchant, your opponent has likely already fried you.

Against these decks, your sideboard helps greatly. Duress hits numerous cards but is rough against creature-based decks. Nihil Spellbomb can exile graveyards before they get out of hand while Syphon Life gives you some repeatable life gain to combat Burn. One of the biggest silver bullets you have is Choking Sands. This card lets you take out Tron lands in an effort to cripple their gameplan and make it harder to bury you.

Choking Sands
Rancid Earth

That land destruction element even helped spawn its own breed of Mono-Black Control:

Much like Mono-Black Control, this version’s goal is to shut down the opponent and build up to a big finish. Rather than doing it by going all in at their creatures, you focus on attacking their mana bases. Since many decks rely on lands that come into play tapped, this is even better against many. Nothing feels better than taking out a Boros Garrison or Dimir Aqueduct after they return a land for it. The deck does have ways to take out some creatures, like Chainer's Edict and Befoul, and it also has a conditional sweeper in the form of Rancid Earth, but the main focus is still resource denial. This deck even briefly spawned a Dimir version that was very much the same but utilized cards like Recoil and Fade Away to hit the opponent’s board with even more brute force.

In the end, no matter how you play Mono-Black, it’s always going to be a great option for exploring the Pauper format. I picked it up in the days of its waning popularity and still had an amazing time taking down league match after league match, grinding toward bigger and better decks. You can do it too, mowing down anyone and anything that gets in your way. Until next time, may your Gray Merchants always hit for lethal.