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Present and Future Black Decks

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While typically associated with Red and Green, the Christmas season this year seems to be a nice time to play Black... Or more specifically Black and White. The most recent week's online deck results have shown a frankly surprising number of performing Black Standard decks! Many of which share some new technology; and heretofore unsung Constructed cards from Innistrad: Crimson Vow.

Let's start with arguably the list with the most, most recent pedigree, RANRANJINTIANCHIWHAT's brand spanking new Standard Challenge winning deck from 12/27.


If you blink, you might just miss it.

My own first scan of RANRANJINTIANCHIWHAT's list checked off longtime stalwarts Lolth, Spider Queen and The Meathook Massacre... Albeit fewer copies than I'd sleeved up myself in some months. Add to that recent mid-range Staples Sorin the Mirthless and Edgar, Charmed Groom // Edgar Markov's Coffin and you might mis-identify this one as another take on b-w Blood Money.

Only... There is no Blood. No Blood on the Snow; no Snow-covered Swamps for that matter! Sweeping comes from The Meathook Massacre only... And in this deck's case that is largely because it plays so g-d many creatures. Not your classic lambs to the slaughter types, either. Not the Shambling Ghast and Eyetwitch setup that we're so used to lining up for Deadly Dispute fuel. So no Blood... And also no Money!

Instead RANRANJINTIANCHIWHAT played more of an Orzhov take on White Weenie. No. That's not precisely right. While the wrong enemy color for purists, this deck has a very The Rock vibe. While RANRANJINTIANCHIWHAT played some of the White deck's most popular hitters - Luminarch Aspirant at the two; a solo PVDDR; one Legion Angel to get the party started - the deck mixes almost as many Black creatures for a unique flavor.

Graveyard Trespasser // Graveyard Glutton

Wondering where all the White 3-drops went? White decks so often win on the situational leverage they get out of the three... But RANRANJINTIANCHIWHAT switched it up for the Maximum Number of Graveyard Trespassers. Of course, Graveyard Trespasser is a ferocious creature to try to beat for any fair deck. Not only does it have a pernicious Ward ability defending itself, but the card is one of Standard's best racers, especially flipped into Graveyard Glutton.

Henrika Domnathi // Henrika, Infernal Seer

This Legendary Vampire gives its controller access to more twists and turns than the letter S. Any number of cards - Edgar, Charmed Groom; Edgar Markov's Coffin, Lolth, Spider Queen; Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity; and more - set Henrika's Innocent Blood-esque ability up at an advantage. And if you're facing off heads up against a single, otherwise unbeatable, creature, there are probably worse paths to victory than sacrificing Henrika herself.

The underrated play, though, is just flipping Henrika immediately and swinging the game for six or more with her hasty lifelink. She is typically more Mulldrifter, but don't miss Henrika's instant Baneslayer mode! This deck - and this card emblematic of this quite unusual take on Orzhov - is more than the sum of its parts. Henrika, Infernal Seer is one of several Glorious Anthem-like effects that can exploit the go-wide sub-theme of a new take with nine individual token generators.

Is this list the great White (and Black) hope for Standard? The Top 8 tells a hopeful story for fans of basic Swamp. RANRANJINTIANCHIWHAT took down two different hybrid Izzet Epiphany decks in Top 4 and Top 2... And maybe more predictably a Mono-Green in the quarterfinals. I say "maybe" not because Black control decks haven't been farming Mono-Green since rotation; but to reiterate that RANRANJINTIANCHIWHAT wasn't exactly playing a Black control deck. In the past we would have expected a Blood Money mage hiding behind Lolth tokens and bleeding out extra cards over and over while setting up Blood on the Snow and The Meathook Massacre over and over again... But this deck plays zero and three copies of those sweepers, respectively; implying victory had to come more along the lines of how Garfield intended.


In the same event we see a very different take on Black; Rakdos instead of Orzhov.

JESSMAN689 played a deck that was somewhat reminiscent of Black-Red Blood Money types coming out of Standard 2021, complete with a two-of complement of Lolth, Spider Queen over the emphasized quartet of Dragons... But there is plenty new to talk about here as well.

First off, shout out to Frost Bite.

I'm not really one for spot removal in my Standard Black decks. You might remember that back when I cracked my first Mythic once Wrenn and Seven was released, I said that one of the hallmarks of advantaged deck design was never falling back on simple one-for-ones. Every time the opponent removed one of my key threats with a Vanishing Verse heads up, I knew I was gaining a little bit of value.

But!

If you're going to play one-for-ones, Frost Bite is actually a pretty good way to do it. First of all, the card costs one instead of two (or more, like those maniacs with a Baleful Mastery). Secondly, it does a fine job of defending you, even in the Snow-less case that you're casting it first turn off of a Searstep Pathway. And on turn five, the most common Planeswalker you will be encountering probably has all of one loyalty. Might be an absolutely perfect mana hole-plugging complement to an Immersturm Predator.

Now most br Blood Money descendents are going to play eight 1-drops and four Deadly Disputes; but Blood Money was a strategy that came out of best-of-one on MTG Arena, and JESSMAN689 was playing a best-of-three event on Magic Online. Eyetwitch gets quite a bit worse in best-of-three (or rather, just doesn't have all its best-of-one oomph), so cutting that card along with a lower emphasis on sacrifice makes sense here.

Instead JESSMAN689 went with a newer Crimson Vow 1-drop:

Concealing Curtains // Revealing Eye

Concealing Curtains // Revealing Eye is actually the superior pure defender, especially if you aren't planning to sacrifice your blocker on turn two to build resources. Conditionally, it has more impact against opposing high power decks; and on the plus side, you get an actual offensive body that is difficult to block and can actually help you win the game. I would not be surprised to see this card gain traction in more mid-range and controlling Black decks.


Finally, let's look at CURSEDSEALSASUKE's 5-0 list from a League the same day.

This deck has some of the same new trappings as RANRANJINTIANCHIWHAT's Challenge winner... Namely four copies of Wedding Announcement headlining a very Crimson Vow-flavored White splash.

But Wedding Announcement is a little odd here, to say the least. Unlike RANRANJINTIANCHIWHAT's deck, which was all about creatures, CURSEDSEALSASUKE had a much more traditional take on Black or bw Control. Planeswalkers to take over in the late game; Edgar, Charmed Groom as a powerful and persistent source of both offense and defense... Tons and tons of sweeping.

Only... It's not the sweeping we're used to. Rather than four copies of Blood on the Snow backed by some number of The Meathook Massacre, CURSEDSEALSASUKE played Doomskar and Shadows' Verdict! This of course meant neither Snow-covered Swamp nor any Snow-covered payoffs.

It's hard to describe just how much you lose going from Blood on the Snow to Doomskar... Except that you get so much back against two-thirds of the high leverage White 3-drops. You just have to be a little more careful with the lives of your Spider Queens, I guess. But at the same time, previous problem cards like Old-Growth Troll become less problematic if you can exile them.

CURSEDSEALSASUKE's take is one of the most removal-heavy decks I've seen in years... seven sweepers and thirteen point removal cards backing durable threats and, again, Wedding Announcement. But Wedding Announcement in a low offense deck can actually buy you a lot of time, or put impatient opponents in the position of losing more and more creatures as they try, with futility, to get through. In particular, the sideboard's inclusion of Rite of Oblivion bears special mention. With Lolth, Sorin, and Wedding Announcement all providing fodder for flashback, that is a card that can really keep the pressure off while taxing an opponent's increasingly finite resources.

So those were some recent PRESENT takes on Standard Black. But what does the FUTURE hold?

There are two cards spoiled so far from Kamigawa Neon Dynasty that might make sense in some recognizable cousins to the present Black decks, and one that is going to absolutely crush.

Spoiler warning if you like to avoid leaks, as the first card I'm touching on has not been officially previewed.

If Takenuma, Abandoned Mire indeed provides untapped Black, it is going to be a nearly guaranteed one-of, possibly as a twenty-fifth land. Awesome for mirrors and attrition wars in the same way as Confront the Past, I would not be surprised to see this as a four-of in some builds. If you didn't play around the time of the first Kamigawa Block, Channel is a spell-like ability that can give Blue decks fits... Another feature that Black control might want to exploit. The card's downside is that the land is not Snow-covered, so a one-of is more likely to occupy an incremental land slot when deck-building. Conversely, we've seen multiple takes on non-Snow creature AND control decks just this week... In a non-Snow build, one Takenuma is essentially free to include.

Hidetsugu, Devouring Chaos

How do we feel about 4/4 Legends packing multiple abilities for four mana? I think this card might have more of a positive impact for Rakdos builds than Edgar did for Orzhov ones! The traditional Blood Money types are already full of creatures they don't care about losing! Sacrifice fodder, meet one more noble way to give yourself up for the cause. In a pinch (but where you are long on mana), Hidetsugu can dig you to your Blood on the Snow... Where you'll get back something great, anyway.

The Red ability is a bit of a red herring, I fear. The Black decks, for the most part, are short on instants, so you're not going to be in a position to leave Hidetsugu back on defense and still draw cards effectively while against White weenie or Mono-Green. Without something like a Sensei's Divining Top the upshot seems way too random to play at instant speed. And Izzet is going to fly right over it. Unchecked? Sure. On your own turn you will have an Outpost Siege that is beating the tar out of the opponent at the same time, which is of course fantastic. I just don't imagine games developing that way very often. Better than a one-of Orcus? Probably. Better than Immersturm Predator? Not in any current, recognizable, shells.

Atsushi, the Blazing Sky

Speaking of cards that might play nicely next to Immersturm Predator? How about another four-drop Dragon? I love Atsushi, the Blazing Sky. It's a sweet defender that you really don't mind trading with. It's a weird accelerator that works nicely with Deadly Disputes that are already in your deck, and is a pretty exciting permanent to sacrifice to Immersturm Predator itself the turn you are about to play Blood on the Snow. You might not believe it right now, but don't be surprised if you win a game by gritting your teeth, playing a second Atsushi, the Blazing Sky into your existing Atsushi, and hoping for the best come the next turn, whether it's from a burst of mana you needed or two desperate looks at the top of your library.

I don't think you want to go longer on either Hidetsugu or Atsushi than Predators, but there is a good chance they make better teammates than Lolth in a more creature-centric Blood Money.

Cha-ching, am I right?

LOVE

MIKE

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