Arena Boys Deck Guide: Mono-Black Control

It’s not often that the Arena Boys get involved with hard-hitting, name-taking, league 5-0ing decks. After seeing a ridiculous mono-black brew that managed to crush an MTGO league, however, we couldn’t resist. We’d been playing around with a Dread Presence/Scapeshift deck for awhile, but couldn’t make it work–after seeing the beauty in this list, however, we saw it as the perfect opportunity to get it done with Dread Presence.

Mono-black, out of all the colors, has the widest and most robust suite of both questions and answers, and there were far too many cards we wanted to play in this deck for us to streamline it. As a result, we took apart the deck piloted by A_Turtle, added all the usual Arena Boys one-ofs, and got underway.

Mono-Black Control in Standard

24 Swamp (339)
2 Cabal Stronghold
1 Massacre Girl
1 Vilis, Broker of Blood
1 Cavalier of Night
4 Dread Presence
2 Midnight Reaper
2 Ravenous Chupacabra
4 Yarok's Fenlurker
1 Isareth the Awakener
1 Josu Vess, Lich Knight
1 Liliana, Dreadhorde General
2 Golden Demise
1 Ugin, the Ineffable
1 Thaumatic Compass/Spires of Orazca
1 The Eldest Reborn
1 Command the Dreadhorde
2 Legion's End
1 Ritual of Soot
2 Cast Down
1 Vraska's Contempt
4 Treasure Map/Treasure Cove

Card Choices

The biggest and most obvious payoffs for playing mono-black are, of course, Cabal Stronghold and Dread Presence. It takes awhile to turn a profit off Cabal Stronghold, but it really does provide enormous amounts of mana once it’s online. Dread Presence, too, is a ridiculous value engine. It almost behaves like a planeswalker when unanswered, drawing extra cards or helping to manage the board.

Some of the support cards don’t require an in-depth explanation. Cast Down, Legion’s End, Vraska’s Contempt, and Ravenous Chupacabra are all excellent point removal spells. The sweepers are a bit weird–Ritual of Soot varies from being excellent to awful, while Golden Demise is a very deliberate choice in this deck. Between all the ways the list has to reanimate creatures (Cavalier of Night being the prime example), you actually don’t want to exile your Midnight Reapers or Yarok’s Fenlurkers. Plus, ascending isn’t too tricky (especially with Treasure Map), so often it’ll be a one-sided effect.

Speaking of Treasure Map, this card isn’t just included because of our longstanding love affair with forgetting to scry on upkeep. It’s a perfect inclusion in a controlling deck that doesn’t have a lot of other sources of card selection and helps to ramp towards big finishers like Liliana.

Finally, the rest of the one-ofs are just sweet cards we wanted to play. We will, of course, talk about how best to build the deck moving forward, and rather obviously a lot of these silly inclusions aren’t going to make the cut. Still, if you just want to have fun and muck about with cool black cards, there’s no reason not to include stuff like Vilis and Josu Vess.


Despite its relatively large complement of creatures, this deck is still a control deck. You can get on the front foot with Midnight Reaper beatdown, but fundamentally, you want to play a longer, slower game where you take over with late-game value engines like Dread Presence and Liliana. Broadly speaking, you’ll want to play defensively rather than aggressively.

For example, Yarok’s Fenlurker isn’t there as a Knight of the Ebon Legion-esque early aggro creature. It’s a 1/1 that sets them down a card, then either trades with an X/1 or soaks up some damage. Similarly, you shouldn’t look to deploy Dread Presence on turn four–save it until the next turn, when you can get immediate value by playing a Swamp before they can remove it.

Using removal, sweepers, and card selection/draw, you’ll want to survive to the lategame when big cards like Cavalier of Night and Liliana, Dreadhorde General can take over. You can use your life total as a resource relatively freely with this list, as both Cavalier and Dread Presence help to buffer it quite nicely. This can also lead to some massive Command the Dreadhorde turns.

Obviously, being mono-black, artifacts and enchantments can be a real issue. An unanswered Experimental Frenzy, for example, will be a tough card to beat. Broadly speaking, however, between powerful threats and efficient answers, between ample lifegain and raw lategame power, this deck isn’t dead in the water to anything.

Moving Forward

As we’re so close to rotation, it’s worth updating this list in two ways–one, making it a little more streamlined and focused, and two, ensuring it’ll be Standard-legal once Eldraine arrives. That means the loss of Cabal Stronghold, but as we showed in the video, you don’t often have things to dump huge amounts of mana into anyway. Treasure Map is a bigger loss, for sure, but hopefully the deck can survive without it.

Mono-Black Control

26 Swamp
4 Yarok's Fenlurker
3 Midnight Reaper
4 Dread Presence
3 Cavalier of Night
1 Massacre Girl
4 Dreadhorde Invasion
2 Liliana, Dreadhorde General
2 Command the Dreadhorde
2 Duress
3 Disfigure
2 Legion's End
2 Cry of the Carnarium
2 Ritual of Soot

We tighten up the suite of threats enormously here, going all-in on the best ones on offer: Liliana, Dreadhorde General, Command the Dreadhorde, and Cavalier of Night. There aren’t many small creatures for the Cavalier’s first trigger, but a 4/5 lifelinker is still no joke. Additionally, Dreadhorde Invasion is another versatile card that can either hold off big creatures with chump blockers, or pressure other slower decks.

I like adding a few one-mana spells to have something to do on turn five after casting Dread Presence. Against slower decks, you can draw a card and Duress them; against aggressive decks, you can kill a four-toughness creature by combining two damage with Disfigure. This plays much more towards the controlling posture of the deck.

Overall, however, I’m a little worried that without Treasure Map, Golden Demise, and Cabal Stronghold, the deck gets a fair bit worse. Then again, there are sure to be some sweet Throne of Eldraine cards we can find room for!

Speaking of–with the new cards pouring in, please send us any provisional lists you’ve got kicking around! We’re excited to start experimenting with the new set, so please help us out by sending in your Eldraine brews. The best way to do this is on Twitter: @thearenaboys!


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