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Cruel Control (Kinda)

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The current Standard environment is starting to settle down, with a few clear options as decks to beat. Although Journey into Nyx will most likely shake things up in a few weeks, a powerful deck made with those matchups in mind should be able to continue to do well after the new cards come into play, even when built on a budget. With the highly successful Esper Control deck relying on keeping a hand full of cards, enabled by Sphinx's Revelation, Rakdos's Return is a great tool for fighting it. Here's the list I put together to take advantage of the card.

The Demons

Master of Cruelties
On the surface, this is a pretty basic B/R control deck. However, Master of Cruelties adds something special: the ability to kill your opponent on turn five. This little control deck can potentially win a race against Boros Burn.

By casting Rakdos Keyrune on turn three, you can cast Master of Cruelties a turn early. On turn five, all you have to do is attack, putting your opponent to 1 life, and cast Rakdos's Return or Magma Jet to win the game.

In addition, Master of Cruelties can block and kill any creature your opponent sends at you, no matter how large. Even if it's a monstrous Stormbreath Dragon pumped up by Xenagos, God of Revels and given trample by Nylea, God of the Hunt, the Master can take it down before it deals any damage.

Desecration Demon has proven to be a powerful finisher in decks like these, coming down on turn four and presenting a huge blocker to the opponent. The sacrifice clause has proven to be not enough of a drawback to keep the Demon from being very good, especially in decks playing a high number of removal spells.

The Removal

Gild
Playing black and red gives you access to all the best removal. The only question is which spells you want to use. Dreadbore is the obvious choice, killing both creatures and Planeswalkers for just 2 mana. Its only downsides are its inability to kill Master of Waves and the fact that it's a sorcery rather than an instant.

Ultimate Price may by slightly more restrictive in what it can kill, but it does counteract both downsides of Dreadbore, killing Master of Waves and any other mono-colored creature at instant speed. This is particularly valuable if decks playing Stormbreath Dragon continue to do well.

Gild is an odd choice, but not only can it be picked up for less than a dollar, it gives you the ability to permanently deal with Chandra's Phoenix as well as the indestructible Gods. Although the amount of removal in the deck will often keep the Gods short of devotion, when one does become active, the ability to deal with it directly can be game-winning.

Bile Blight deals with early creatures quite well. It can slaughter several Pack Rats at once, and it's also among the few spells capable of killing the ever-present Mutavault. Magma Jet handles Mutavault as well, and although it's not as impressive when going up against Pack Rat, the scry 2 can help a lot in a control deck like this one. Since it can be directed at your opponent, it also serves as a finisher after you attack with Master of Cruelties.

The Rest

Rakdos's Return
Rakdos Keyrune accelerates your mana, letting you cast Master of Cruelties on turn four and boosting the number of cards you can hit with Rakdos's Return. It can also turn into a 3/1 with first strike, making it large enough to take down most small creatures on defense. It also presents a reasonable threat against control decks, forcing such an opponent to have an instant-speed removal spell.

Rakdos's Return can put your opponent far behind if you can get rid of all or most of his hand. Since the creatures in this deck have no protection, it can also be key to getting rid of all your opponent's removal spells, making sure your threats survive. Like Magma Jet, it hits the opponent for damage, and it can be used in combination with Master of Cruelties to win the game in one turn.

Underworld Connections has proven to be a valuable card in mono-black decks, giving constant card advantage while provided two extra devotion to black. Although this deck doesn't care about devotion, it certainly wants to draw some extra cards.

Read the Bones also fills that role, allowing you to scry 2 before you draw to make sure you're finding the cards you need. These two card-draw spells are crucial to keeping your hand full of removal spells against creature-based decks.

Playtesting

Mono-Black Devotion – Game 1

Read the Bones
I won the roll and starting things off with a Swamp. My opponent followed suit, and I played a Mountain on turn two. He cast a Pack Rat, and I killed it with Dreadbore before he could start making copies. My opponent cast Nightveil Specter and ended his turn.

I hit that with another Dreadbore before passing. My opponent cast Desecration Demon, and I exiled it with Gild. He cast Thoughtseize on me, taking my Underworld Connections, and used a Temple of Silence to scry.

I cast Read the Bones, drew a second Read the Bones, and cast that as well. I ended my turn. My opponent cast Underworld Connections and used it to draw a card. He played a Mutavault and passed the turn.

I cast Rakdos's Return for 6, making him discard his hand and dropping him to 11 life. My opponent activated Underworld Connections and cast Thoughtseize, going to 8 and taking my Bile Blight. He attacked with Mutavault and passed the turn.

Desecration Demon
I played a land and passed back. He charged in with Mutavault again, cast Nightveil Specter, and ended his turn.

I cast Read the Bones, cast Desecration Demon, and passed the turn. My opponent cast Gray Merchant of Asphodel, draining me for 7, and then sacrificed it to tap the Demon and attacked for 2 with Nightveil Specter, dropping me to 1 life.

I played a land and passed the turn. My opponent moved to combat and activated Mutavault in order to sacrifice it to tap the Demon. I killed it with Magma Jet before the Demon's trigger resolved. My opponent drew a card with Underworld Connections, cast another Nightveil Specter, and passed the turn.

I cast Bile Blight to kill the Specters and then attacked for 7 with my Demon. I cast Master of Cruelties and ended my turn. My opponent drew a card with Underworld Connections, cast Desecration Demon, and passed the turn.

I sacrificed Master of Cruelties to tap his Demon, and I attacked with mine for the kill.

Game 2

Pack Rat
My opponent led with a Swamp, and I played Rakdos Guildgate before passing the turn.

He cast a Pack Rat on turn two, but I shot it down with Magma Jet.

My opponent played a Mutavault, cast Underworld Connections, and ended his turn. I cast Read the Bones and passed.

He cast Desecration Demon, and I played a land and passed the turn.

When he attacked with the Demon, I cast Ultimate Price to kill it. He cast Pack Rat and passed the turn. I killed the Rat with Bile Blight, and he drew a card with Underworld Connections during my end step.

On his turn, he drew another card with the Connections and hit me for 2 with Mutavault. He passed the turn, and I cast Rakdos's Return for 4, making him discard his hand.

He drew a card with Underworld Connections and then cast Thoughtseize, taking my Desecration Demon. He attacked with Mutavault again and passed the turn. I played a land and passed back.

My opponent drew a card with the Connections and attacked with Mutavault, which I killed using Magma Jet. He cast Desecration Demon and passed the turn. I exiled the Demon with Gild and passed back.

Gray Merchant of Asphodel
My opponent drew another card, played a Temple to scry, and cast Nightveil Specter. I killed the Specter with Dreadbore and ended my turn.

He activated Underworld Connections again and cast Whip of Erebos. I played a land and passed.

He used the Whip to return Desecration Demon, hitting me for 6 before passing the turn. I cast a Desecration Demon of my own, and he drew a card with the Connections during my end step.

On his turn, he drew another card with Underworld Connections, cast Pack Rat, and passed. I moved to combat and hit him for 6 with my Demon. I cast Dreadbore on the Pack Rat, and he made a copy in response. I cast a second Desecration Demon, and he made a second Pack Rat during my end step.

My opponent drew a card with Underworld Connections, made a Pack Rat, and cast Gray Merchant of Asphodel, dropping me to 3 life. The pair of 3/3 Rats attacked for the win.

Game 3

Magma Jet
I opened with a Rakdos Guildgate, and my opponent played a turn-one Thoughtseize, taking Underworld Connections.

I played another Guildgate and passed the turn, and my opponent played Mutavault before passing back.

I played a Swamp and cast Rakdos Keyrune. My opponent played a Swamp as well and cast Underworld Connections.

I cast Desecration Demon and passed the turn. My opponent drew a card with the Connections, played a land, and ended his turn.

I attacked with the Demon, and he killed it with Hero's Downfall. I cast Master of Cruelties and passed the turn. My opponent activated the Connections and passed back.

I went to attack with Master of Cruelties, and he killed it with another Hero's Downfall. I cast a second Master and ended my turn. My opponent drew an extra card, cast Nightveil Specter, and passed the turn.

I exiled the Specter with Gild and attacked with Master of Cruelties, putting my opponent at 1 life. I cast a Magma Jet to finish the job.

Wrap-Up

The large number of removal spells in the deck can keep it in the game for a long time, as the first game of this match proved. On the other hand, Master of Cruelties can end the game on the spot if given the chance, as we saw in Game 3.

This combination of offensive and defensive power makes for a mean package, leaving your opponent unsure whether to prepare for a long, grinding, removal-slinging game or a sudden Master of Cruelties that leaves you with one turn to find a removal spell. If you're looking for a control deck that can also pick up a free win every once in a while, give this one a shot.


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