Mono-Black Control is a beloved archetype from the history of Magic, but one that can only be successful under the right conditions. It feels as though we’ve been teased over the past couple of years with printings like Dread Shade and Cabal Stronghold, but with Mono-Black only ever able to make the smallest of splashes in the competitive scene. With a couple of new printings in Core Set 2020, are we being set up for disappointment once again? It’s possible, but I suspect that this time may be different.
Dread Presence is exactly the payoff you want for a mono-colored control deck, and is the single card that I’m most excited about from Core Set 2020. Dread Presence is the perfect intersection of immediate value and long-term advantage. You can play it plus a Swamp right away on turn 5 if your opponent is ready with removal, or it can stick around and dominate the game if they’re not. It’s also the perfect intersection of card drawing and board control, since it can dig you to more action in a slow game or kill a creature and buffer your life total in a fast game. And of course, it incentivizes you to play with lots of basic Swamps.
For obvious reasons, Cavalier of Night is a powerhouse. If you have a disposable body, it packs the punch of a Ravenous Chupacabra. The difference is that instead of leaving behind a 2/2 chump blocker, you get a veritable Baneslayer Angel! Cavalier is both removal spell and win condition, and having a giant lifelinking creature incidentally built into your control deck is a big deal.
To take full advantage of Cavalier of Night, you’ll need some warm bodies (an unusual term when we’re talking about Zombies, Vampires, and Horrors), and ideally ones that cost three or less mana.
Mono-Black Control With Core Set 2020
25 Swamp (339) 1 Cabal Stronghold 4 Yarok’s Fenlurker 2 Dusk Legion Zealot 4 Dread Presence 3 Cavalier of Night 2 Arguel’s Blood Fast 2 Treasure Map/Treasure Cove 2 Moment of Craving 1 Cast Down 1 The Elderspell 1 Liliana, Dreadhorde General 1 Ugin, the Ineffable 1 Legion's End 3 Duress 1 Murder 2 Bolas's Citadel 4 Vraska's Contempt
The above deck uses Dusk Legion Zealot and the new Yarok’s Fenlurker to facilitate Cavalier of Night at the top of the curve. These are unassuming creatures, but each one offers card advantage, and these small advantages add up in major ways when you start to see Cavaliers entering the battlefield and dying.
Let’s not forget that War of the Spark Standard is a planeswalker-driven format, and finding yourself with an incidental 1/1 body to chip away at opposing loyalty or knock out a Teferi that went down to one loyalty can easily impact the outcome of games. Speaking of Teferi, I’ve designed the creature base to avoid creatures that can be profitably bounced, which is why you’ll notice an absence of Dread Shade, Isareth, the Awakener, and Doom Whisperer–even though these cards are quite powerful.
Finally, you get Bolas’s Citadel at the top of your curve. Although not a brand-new printing, I guarantee that Bolas’s Citadel has not realized its true potential just yet. In a deck like this one, focused on small-scale advantages and with plenty of built-in lifegain, it’s sure to be a game-winner.
Perhaps the single biggest weakness of playing mono-black is the inability to remove enchantments, with the key offender being Experimental Frenzy. Still, you can manage this problem with Duress, Ugin, the Ineffable, and possibly Grafdigger’s Cage out of the sideboard. The rest of the Red deck ought to be a cinch with plenty of removal capped off by the powerhouse Cavalier of Night.
Black was already home to many of the best removal spells and disruption available in Standard. With M20 bringing a couple of major payoff cards, and with access to tools for combating planeswalker decks, I’m excited to see if Mono-Black can finally become a relevant player in Constructed Magic once again.