Now that Standard has rotated and Dominaria United cards are in play, black cards are assuming a position of utter dominance throughout the format. From aggro to midrange to even some controlling builds, mono-black MTG cards are everywhere, to the point that other colors are being left by the wayside as people live the dream of playing Mono-Black. Mono-black decks can be outrageously powerful when the stars align – think back to Mono-Black Devotion during original Theros, or Mono-Black Zombies after Shadows over Innistrad – and it’s back again, thanks to cards like Sheoldred, the Apocalypse and Liliana of the Veil.
Mono-Black decks have had some extremely strong tools thrown their way over the years, and many still see play in Commander, where the archetype lives on. Let’s count down some of the most absurd cards specifically designed to shine in mono-black lists.
10. Dread Presence
A personal favorite of mine, I used to cheat the mono-black requirement by playing this alongside Dryad of the Ilysian Grove so as to make all my lands into Swamps and reap the benefits. Chicanery aside, Dread Presence is a flexible (if somewhat fragile) threat that is excellent in any situation. It helps to stabilize the board when behind, draws you extra cards when ahead and if left alone for a few turns, will generally turn the tide in your favor. Just be sure to play it on turn five, when you’ve still got a land drop with which to follow it up – don’t leave that value on the table, for goodness’ sake.
9. Invoke Despair
Invoke Despair has been doing a lot of work since it was printed in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and is comfortably the most popular of all the cards in the Invoke cycle. Its casting cost asks a lot of you, and it pains me to see so many deck lists without the requisite 22 black sources, but with the rise of good old-fashioned Mono-Black Midrange, there’s no need to cut corners on mana. This card is so devastating against so many boards, or alternatively it’s a deal-six-draw-three if they don’t have anything going on. It smacks of Cruel Ultimatum in that it’s a difficult to cast sorcery that can quickly and completely turn a game around.
8. Phyrexian Obliterator
Speaking of difficult to cast, Phyrexian Obliterator goes even further than Invoke Despair (it wants 24 black sources!), and can only really be played in mono-black decks. Cards like this, along with Geralf’s Messenger or Ayara, First of Locthwain can’t really be put in multicolored decks, unless the second color is splashed off lands that can also produce black themselves. Obliterator is a massive threat that demands an answer – preferably a black one that doesn’t deal it any damage – but its power level is held in check, generally speaking, by its casting cost. Not that that’s much of a restriction for a mono-black deck!
7. Mutilate & Defile
There are quite a few cards that care about how many Swamps you (or your opponents) have in play. From Lashwrithe to Crusading Knight, counting up the Swamps on the battlefield has been around for a long time, and it’s put to extremely good use with Mutilate and Defile. In Mono-Black, Mutilate is a Damnation that can also kill indestructible creatures, which is a nice bit of upside, while Defile kills more or less anything on curve for just one mana. These aren’t exciting standouts, but in any mono-black EDH list worth its salt, they’re well worth including.
6. Crypt Ghast
Extort, as a mechanic, is especially strong in EDH. Rather than pay one mana to drain one life off a single opponent, extort in EDH gains you three life while draining everyone else for one. It doesn’t take much for a Commander player to put extort cards in their decks wherever possible, and when you’ve got an extort card that acts like a personal Heartbeat of Spring for all your Swamps? Oh baby. Unfortunately, Crypt Ghast is extremely fragile as a 2/2 and dies to just about anything, but all the same the massive spike in mana it can offer you in the late game is just bonkers, and makes it a must-kill target for your opponents.
5. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
But what happens when you’re playing cards like Crypt Ghast, Mutilate and Defile and still want to include utility lands? You want to play War Room, of course, and Bojuka Bog, and don’t forget Nykthos. Oh, and Reliquary Tower, and Rogue’s Passage, and… you get the idea. These cards don’t synergize all that well with any of the mono-black cards we’ve listed off today, but a solution is at hand: Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. By turning all your lands into Swamps, it removed any issues you might have with utility lands – as well as helping out with a couple of other key lands we haven’t quite come to yet!
4. Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Oh Gary, how we all miss you. Gray Merchant of Asphodel was an absolute all-star during his first tenure in Standard, as a centerpiece and often finisher in Mono-Black Devotion. People were very excited when a reprint came along in Theros Beyond Death: would Gary give a rousing encore performance, killing people from range or at least stabilizing boards as a 2/4 that gained you 10 life? The answer, of course, was no. Gray Merchant’s difficult second album was a total flop, however he retains a strong following in Commander, where he’s still one of the most popular cards in mono-black decks worldwide.
3. K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth
When it comes to commanders for your mono-black EDH list, it’s difficult to beat K’rrik. Sure, there are more specialized mono-black commanders such as Tinybones, Syr Konrad or Tergrid, but if you just want to jam black spells for fun and profit, K’rrik is here to help you do it. You can obliterate your life total to spew out your hand, thanks to his Phyrexian mana ability, and then he’ll help to make up for the lost life as a huge lifelinking threat! I know many mono-black mages argue that the only true choice for a mono-black commander deck is Yargle, and it’s difficult to argue against that, but I still put forward K’rrik as the best leader for your mono-black hordes.
2. Dark Ritual
Dark Ritual is a classic Magic card, going all the way back to Alpha. In ancient times, it was used to power out a turn-one Hypnotic Specter – a game-ending threat, back in 1873 – but even today it’s more or less an auto-include in mono-black Commander decks so as to cheat out threats ahead of time. I’ve had turn-one Phyrexian Arenas played against me, which wasn’t very fun, and I’m dreading the day an opponent goes Ritual-Sol Ring–Sheoldred to open the game. Or, worse, Ritual-Sol Ring-Dread Presence. What a nightmare that would be!
1. Cabal Coffers
Interestingly, the most iconic and powerful card for Mono-Black isn’t actually black themselves, although it does produce incomprehensible amounts of black mana: I’m talking about, of course, Cabal Coffers. This card, especially when combined with the aforementioned Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, can put even green decks to shame with how much mana it makes. As soon as a mono-black player has four lands out, Cabal Coffers plus Urborg turns a profit, and it only gets worse from there. There’s also the disappointing sequel, “we have Cabal Coffers at home”: Cabal Stronghold, which isn’t quite as powerful, but still helps to overload mono-black decks with mana, and once they find that Torment of Hailfire, you’re done for.