A Guide to Mono-Black: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Become the Monarch in Pauper

The biggest immediate change the Astrolabe ban presents to Pauper is the removal of Jeskai Snow as a ubiquitous best deck lurking everywhere. Jeskai was the most popular, successful, and played deck in the format and it cannot survive without the dirty snowball to fix its mana and synergize with Kor Skyfisher.

Kor SkyfisherArcum's Astrolabe

On the surface, the change doesn’t directly impact many other decks outside of Jeskai. Sure, Tron will need to retool, but it was fine before Astrolabe (in the Daze/Gush meta, no less) and will likely revert to its previous form. I expect to see a lot of the other established decks roaming free on MTGO in the coming weeks.

Before the ban, I got reacquainted with my Pauper spirit animal: Swamp.

It’s a funny story. I had been working on Mono-Black and jumped into a league with my unfinished brew by mistake. I hadn’t purchased Thorn of the Black Rose yet and only had a six-card sideboard and still managed to 3-2 the league! I continued to tune the list and strung together an extremely attractive streak of 4-1, 5-0, and 4-1 and all in the Astro meta, where Jeskai is an unfavorable matchup!

Mono-Black is likely in a great position in the immediate aftermath of the bans. It tends to have a lot of strong matchups against the bulk of decks likely to see more play (excluding Tron). Today, I’ll walk you through my 75 and the basics (18 Swamps) of going back to black.

Mono-Black in Pauper

18 Swamp (339)
4 Witch’s Cottage
3 Cuombajj Witches
4 Chittering Rats
2 Phyrexian Rager
1 Crypt Rats
2 Thorn of the Black Rose
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
2 Disfigure
1 Divest
1 Duress
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Unearth
4 Geth’s Verdict
2 Chainer’s Edict
2 Wrench Mind
4 Sign in Blood
4 Defile

3 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Diabolic Edict
1 Evincar’s Justice
1 Nausea
1 Crypt Rats
1 Thorn of the Black Rose
3 Banehound
1 Rancid Earth
1 Duress
1 Syphon Life
1 Spinning Darkness


Some things may need to change based upon upcoming trends in the meta on the heels of Snow’s exodus, but I’m confident the core of the deck is more than serviceable in the interim.

One area Mono-Black shines (or, ominously glows to be more accurate) is consistent mana production. Witch’s Cottage far exceeded my expectation in terms of usefulness in the archetype. In my Throne of Eldraine review, I said Cottage would likely compete with Barren Moor and Bojuka Bog for nonbasic slots, but in practice I’ve found Cottage to be the all-star of the crop. It was a quick jog from trying the first Cottage to packing a playset!

Entering the battlefield untapped on turns 4+ is an unparalleled upside, allowing for turn four Thorn of the Black Rose or a double-spell turn built around Sign in Blood drawing another two-drop. Cottage also caps out the possible number of Swamps on any board, which is pure luxury in a deck packing a full playset of Defile.

I’ve also seen Mono-Black lists playing Corrupt. Corrupt lists tend to play fewer creatures, witch (Okay. I’ll stop doing that) seems counterintuitive (but actually isn’t) in decks packing Cottage. Here’s why:

Thorn of the Black Rose

Thorn of the Black Rose is the TRUTH. The card is powerful but tricky to master. I’ve had mixed feelings about the card, because sometimes it is awesome and sometimes it is undeployable if an opponent can steal the crown.

Mono-Black’s creatures are not robust or evasive (they are walking 2-for-1s), which makes it challenging to outflank creature heavy decks in combat. It’s also a viable strategy to kill everything that moves and slip a Thorn into play and use Cottage to rebuy Thorn if the opponent can somehow front an offensive and take the hat. In the Mono-Black mirror, everything hinges on who ends up with the crown last and so maximizing ways to steal it is the central theme of almost every game. Both decks have an abundance of removal, which makes it difficult to become the Monarch without directly deploying a Thorn.

You may also have noticed I’m maxed out on Geth’s Verdict and only play two Chainer’s Edict. I have a simple explanation:

The Monarch Token

You can draw instant-speed removal from being the Monarch and play it immediately. The instant-speed aspect is also extremely important for interacting with a slew of popularly played spells and lines of plays:

EphemerateSpellstutter SpriteNinja of the Deep Hours

The flashback of Chainer’s has a lot of value, but so does playing at instant speed and so there’s tension about what is more important. I’ve gone with flexibility, as the Monarch tends to provide an abundance of raw card advantage.

The last area where I’ve spent ample tuning time is on the one-drops:

DivestDuressNihil SpellbombUnearth

Unearth is still a great card that creates powerful sequences via slain Chittering Rats and Ragers, or can rebuy important removal creatures such as Cuombajj Witches against red-white or Crypt Rats against Elves. I’ve also found that with Cottage added to the mix I’m less reliant on needing spells to be only gas or threats, since the land insulates us from whiffing for long.

I felt it was important to squeeze “actual one-drops,” (since we can’t realistically play Unearth on the first turn unless our opponent Divests) because turn-two Sign in Blood is an important play when our hand lacks a third land to deploy a Rat or Rager.

I like a spread of different effects so I don’t flood on a narrow cards in game one. I like the flexibility and information of Divest and Duress. I would have played the fourth Spellbomb in my sideboard anyways so a spread like this not only gives us an easier curve and enhances Sign in Blood, but also frees up more sideboard room.


Sideboard cards tend to fall into basic categories and function as hedges against specific types of strategies, but there is a surprising amount of overlap among the cards we want.

I would describe the categories as:

  • “Anti-Control”
  • “Anti-Burn”
  • “Sweepers”

When I’m boarding “anti-control,” I’m generally trying to generate card advantage, or more importantly interact with whatever powerful angle matters the most, which varies from matchup to matchup. For instance, against decks that loop or flicker, if we can’t break up their recursion, we’re dead meat. Against other black control decks, if we can’t sustain the Monarch. We’re as cooked as a witch’s frog stew.

The matchups are less about fighting to attrition and more about containing the enemy while plinking and plunking chip damage. If you can keep decks like Tron, Jeskai (or whatever blue decks replace it), and Mono-Black from going off, you can harass them with your creatures and interactions long enough to create windows of opportunity.

Nihil Spellbomb

We can interact with a lot of the combos and loops via removal, but the one that will always get you is Mnemonic Wall and Pulse of Murasa.

They are specifically trying to assemble this combo because it beats Mono-Black, but Spellbombs are a great way to cover their best tactic. It also goes without saying that making a third land drop and not falling into a bottleneck is extremely important in a matchup that is going to go long. You can always cycle these off in a pinch to dig.

One of the interesting tactical innovations I’ve made exploring my 75 is overlap between anti-Burn and anti-control package.

BanehoundSyphon Life

These cards would be terrible against midrange decks like Jeskai or RW Monarch, but they are interesting against both Tron and Mono-Black. Banehound is a fine card to pressure Tron and is certainly better than Cuombajj Witches. Against Mono-Black–a matchup 100% about fighting for the crown–it is a cheap haste creature that is difficult to account for and can swing the game. Everything dies to Edicts, so it’s a one-mana buffer.

Syphon Life is a great way to win a game when you are drawing two cards a turn. It beats Fog locks. It keeps your life total high, which is also annoying to Tron decks up against the clock and planning to win with Mulldrifter beatdown.

While Banehound has some applications across other matchups, they are primarily in the mix for Burn. Mono-Red is a matchup I’ve found challenging. The key is to survive long enough to deploy Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Typically, if he makes it to the party Mono-Black will win.

We need things to help bridge the gap from turn one to turn five and Banehound does a nice job. It’ll likely gain at least a life and trade with a burn spell.

Pristine Talisman

I also tried Talisman, which is the other card I see as competing for the job. The problem was I would use it to win game two, and they’d Smash it to Smithereens in game three for a gross amount of value. I’m not sure what the best package is in the abstract, but I do like the way Banehound synergizes with my chip damage plan and has utility across matchups. Talisman feels more like a better maindeck card for a Corrupt or Orzhov Pestilence build.

Crypt RatsNauseaRancid EarthEvincar's Justice

Sweepers are a must against decks that can insulate against our Edicts with lots of small creatures or tokens. Specifically, Elves and RW Monarch are the primary targets. A lot of decks that are soft to spells like Electrickery or Nausea will bring in Enchantments to buff toughness:

Spidersilk Armor

I’m cool with running one Nausea because it can be such a backbreaker for getting out ahead of Elf decks, but I tend to spread out into more reliable mid-game sweepers to maintain high impact. I really like the singleton Rancid Earth, because it’s such a backbreaker when it lines up against RW’s bounce land. It’s also a sweeper against their tokens. It’s worth noting that Nihil Spellbomb is extremely good against Boros Monarch as a way of dealing with their many flashback spells, but specifically Prismatic Strands.

Mono-Black is a solid deck and choice for the upcoming format and presents a ton strategic card choice going forward. There are multiple ways to build and tune the main deck and sideboard, and I fully expect to make adaptations based on what I see and play against going forward. At the very least, today’s article should provide a solid baseline from which to start thinking about building and tuning your own list, or, a baseline for understanding how the deck works and what to expect when you play against it.

I love playing the Mono-Black deck. It’s my favorite archetype in the format and I approach each new Pauper meta with the perspective “I’m going to play Mono-Black until there’s a good reason not to.” Well, the meta is reset and unsurprisingly here I am back in Black!


Scroll to Top