Only a day after the conclusion of the Season Grand Finals, just like after the Players Tour Finals, new bans were announced, meaning whatever I had to say about the decks I played in either tournament became rather obsolete. The Standard format has completely changed and whatever testing we had done became mostly useless.
Historic hasn’t been impacted quite as much. The suspension of 《Omnath, Locus of Creation》 shut down one deck (Omnath Ramp), and some of our testing still remains relevant.
Today I want to talk to you about a deck I tested and almost played at the Grand Finals: Mono-Black Suicide.
At the last minute I decided to play the Team Deck, Sultai with White.
4 《Fabled Passage》
4 《Indatha Triome》
4 《Zagoth Triome》
4 《Breeding Pool》
2 《Watery Grave》
1 《Overgrown Tomb》
1 《Temple Garden》
1 《Drowned Catacomb》
1 《Glacial Fortress》
-Land (28)- 3 《Hydroid Krasis》
4 《Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath》
2 《Yasharn, Implacable Earth》
4 《Growth Spiral》
3 《Aether Gust》
2 《Essence Scatter》
1 《Mythos of Nethroi》
3 《Extinction Event》
4 《Nissa, Who Shakes the World》
Even though I managed to go 4-1-1 with it and secured a spot in the top 8, I felt bad not to have tried my chance with my baby.
How it came to be
I’m not quite sure but I think I stumbled upon a deck with 《Scourge of the Skyclaves》 while I was ranking up at Platinum level with Mono-Red Burn. While the deck I was playing against had obvious flaws, I thought the card had a lot of potential and decided to build a deck around it.
It took me a lot of tries, a few hours of testing and suggestions from my Twitch Chat to end up with the following version:
2 《Blood Crypt》
2 《Godless Shrine》
2 《Overgrown Tomb》
2 《Watery Grave》
4 《Ifnir Deadlands》
3 《Castle Locthwain》
-Land (23)- 4 《Dread Wanderer》
4 《Knight of the Ebon Legion》
4 《Vicious Conquistador》
4 《Scourge of the Skyclaves》
4 《Murderous Rider》
4 《Spawn of Mayhem》
The Suicide Squad
The hidden lines of text of 《Knight of the Ebon Legion》 (KotEL) are that it triggers at the end of your turn if ANY player lost 4 life on that turn, and that includes you. In this deck, it’s fairly common to cast a Knight and have it grow right away.
One common occurrence is to play a one-drop on turn one, then play an untapped Shockland on turn two (let’s just say 《Blood Crypt》), play 《Thoughtseize》, and cast KotEL. You lost 4 life, it becomes 2/3 right away, which usually ends up in games where it snowballs as early as turn three when it’s paired with a 2/1 on turn one.
Later on, you can also combine a Shockland and 《Murderous Rider》 to lose 4 life.
《Spawn of Mayhem》 was a powerhouse in Standard (remember I already played that bad boy earlier this year), it’s probably just as good in Historic. Set aside the fact that it hits hard and fast, it also works towards your strategy of losing life.
With you losing life to pump your KotEL and Scourges, you’ll be likely to be on 10 life very quickly and able to add counter on the Spawn almost right away.
《Scourge of the Skyclaves》 is a little harder to set up, but it’s cheap and can grow to epic proportions. When you’re on the play, there shouldn’t be any problem for you to play it early and start snowballing. This deck is all about snowballing. If it enters the battlefield as a 2/2, it can very quickly become a 6/6 or a 10/10. You should be able to manage your life total to match your opponent’s so the Scourge keeps growing turn after turn.
It’s a build-around card, but once I finally found that build, I fell in love with it.
To be able to actually cast 《Scourge of the Skyclaves》, you need your opponent to be at less than 20 life. The best way to do that is to attack early with cheap beaters:
My early versions (and the ones I was testing for the GF) didn’t include 《Vicious Conquistador》. I didn’t actually think that card was worth consideration until it was pointed to me. Indeed, being able to ping your opponent for 1 even if they have a blockers make all the difference when it comes to deploying the demon.
When they know they have to remain at 20 to keep you from playing your best card, they will make some unintuitive plays that will foil your plans, like blocking your first attack with a 《Gutterbones》 with a 《Pelt Collector》 or a 《Llanowar Elves》 for example. That play doesn’t work with Conquistador.
Also, keep in mind that the ping can pump your Scourge before damage when they both attack.
The Support Tools
《Thoughtseize》 is an obvious auto-include in most black decks, and I would play 8 here if I could. Looking at your opponent’s hand, planning ahead, discard their sweeper or good card AND losing two life? What’s more to ask for.
The removal suit can definitely change. I’m not a huge fan of either 《Bloodchief’s Thirst》 or 《Heartless Act》 in general but they are a necessary evil. Your mana is tight and you can’t afford to spend too much mana on removal.
You don’t want to play too many creature removals either and adding situational spells like 《Eliminate》 will make the deck worse. 《Murderous Rider》 completes the removal suit while providing a creature in case you need one.
《Swift End》 has a lot of synergy in the deck, and the Lifelink ability on 《Murderous Rider》 allows you to gain some life back in case if you fall too low. Losing to your own 《Spawn of Mayhem》 is unfortunately possible.
With 16 one-drops, 《Demonic Embrace》 is a trump card when the board is stalled and you need to take it to the air. Paying 3 life usually won’t be a problem if you have to play it again.
The Mana Base
Being Mono-Black doesn’t mean there isn’t a tough choice to make here with the mana base.
《Ifnir Deadlands》 is amazing in this deck. With 23 lands, it’s not unlikely that you end up activating it to kill a critter (way more often than you might think actually). But we’re more interested in the other ability, the one where you pay a life to add black mana. This is probably the hardest card to handle in this deck, especially on Magic Arena.
With your opening hand, and depending on the matchup, it’s very likely that you want to play the Desert first and start paying life right away to cast your first creatures, even if you have a 《Swamp》 in hand. Getting lower on life early to match your opponent’s life total will determine whether or not your Scourge survives combat, or is able to deal lethal later on in one turn. Same thing goes for 《Spawn of Mayhem》 that can very well be a 5/5 on turn 4.
Keep in mind that Arena will always tap it for colorless if you cast a spell that requires generic mana and will not give you priority at the end of your opponent’s turn if you only have a Desert untapped (in case you want to lose a life at that point). You need to set a stop then. You also need to go in Full Control if you want to lose life to cast a spell.
《Castle Locthwain》 is a fine addition and provides a way to lose a big chunk of life at once. It usually becomes relevant when you just played a 《Spawn of Mayhem》 and want to go down to 10 during your upkeep to add a counter.
If you’re already on 15 for example, have two cards in hand and a Desert, you can tap desert for black (14), use Castle to draw a card (14-3=11), lose a life from Spawn (10). If you’re ahead on the board and not facing lethal, this is often a winning play.
We talked extensively about the Shocklands. Eight of them is very much arbitrary, it feels like it’s the sweet spot, but seven or nine could be correct too. With 16 ways to self-inflict pain on turn one (along with 《Thoughtseize》), you shouldn’t be too worried about being on 20 for too long (for the Scourge’s sake).
Why no 《Agadeem’s Awakening》?
It seems like the perfect fit!
《Agadeem’s Awakening》 was in my early versions but it never delivered. Ever. For three reasons.
-You never cast the spell. In more than 100 games, I never cast it. Most creatures have built-in reanimation anyway.
-3 life is too much. While you want to lose life, you don’t want to lose too much either if you need the mana. It would probably have been better in the deck had it been 4 life, so it could trigger KotEL on its own.
-It’s not a Swamp. While you could find a reason to play one in the deck and overlook the first two reasons, the fact that it doesn’t make your Castle come into play untapped is the deal breaker. 《Ifnir Deadlands》 is already a non-Swamp land, and it’s miles better than the Awakening as a card. Your deck needs to curve out and adding a risk to not do that for a very marginal upside is just not worth it.
Does the deck work?
You might be wondering: but doesn’t your life total actually matter? Why are you hitting yourself so hard, aren’t helping your opponent?
The answer is: not really. Against control matchups or slow opponents, your life total is rarely relevant. If they start attacking with animated lands from Nissa and you can’t deal with the Planeswalker, it doesn’t matter if you’re on 10 or 18, you’re probably losing anyway.
Against aggressive strategies, you don’t necessarily have to hurt yourself. They will do the job for you. Don’t ping yourself with Desert, play your Shocklands last. Just play your cards differently.
So yes, the deck’s synergy is very functional and I believe it’s in contention to be one of the best decks in the format.
You have weapons to deal with most decks. The Sideboard above is just a suggestion (the one I’ve been running as of late). You might want to add another 《Leyline of the Void》 as Rakdos Arcanist and Mono-Black Gate decks could be troublesome, if you think your meta has too many of them.
You will have problems against some versions of Jund running 《Act of Treason》 and some other niche decks like Mono-White Death and Taxes; but you’ll be obliterating any kind of slow control decks, because you’re way too fast for them and have way too much disruption.
The games themselves are fun to play and quite tricky at times. You’ll see!
In any case, I hope I made you want to try the deck!
Thank you again to everyone who supported me at the Grand Finals, and I hope I’ll bring back the trophy next time.
Until then, take care,