Right around the time of the Standard rotation last fall, a lot of people were high on Mono-Black Aggro, myself included. The deck, which aims to overrun opponents with cheap creatures backed up with efficient removal spells, was quite strong in Theros Block Constructed and gained Bloodsoaked Champion from Khans of Tarkir. However, it never panned out: Courser of Kruphix, Hordeling Outburst, and Drown in Sorrow started to dominate, and Bloodsoaked Champion doesn’t match up very well against those cards. Mogis’s Marauder helps to bypass blockers, but you can only play 4, and that wasn’t enough.
Enter Fate Reforged, which brought Mardu Shadowspear and Mardu Strike Leader. Both are aggressive creatures that can sidestep End Hostilities or Crux of Fate thanks to dash, but that’s not the most important part. Their key attribute is their creature type: Human. You see, Bloodsoaked Champion, Tormented Hero, Pain Seer, and Mogis’s Marauder are Humans as well, but before Fate Reforged, there wasn’t a critical mass of them. Now there is, and it allows us to exploit Obelisk of Urd. With an ideal draw, the Obelisk can come down as early as turn three, and it will make all of your creatures bigger than your opponent’s. In particular, the +2/+2 boost allows you to beat Courser of Kruphix, Hordeling Outburst, and other former nightmares.
Here is the list I would recommend for this archetype:
This list is based on Tomoharu Saito’s 20th-place deck from Grand Prix Memphis, although I made a few changes. Compared to Saito’s original version, I have -3 Hero’s Downfall, -4 Polluted Delta, -4 Bloodstained Mire;+7 Swamp, +2 Ulcerate, +1 Ruthless Ripper ,+1 Mardu Skullhunter, as well as a few alterations in the sideboard. I’ll explain these changes later.
So when should you pick up this deck?
If (most of) the following six statements are true for you, then Mono-Black Humans will be a good choice.
- You want a deck that is relatively easy to play. If you cast a creature every turn, turn all of your creatures sideways when possible, and play a removal spell on the first blocker you see, then you’re already playing the deck at 80% of its capacity. There are certainly some subtleties, of course, especially when making sequencing decisions with dash and doing math with Obelisk of Urd. But overall, this is an easy deck for a newcomer to Standard.
- You have a limited budget. The deck is dirt cheap to put together. The four copies of Thoughtseize in the sideboard are probably more expensive than the rest of the deck combined. If your budget doesn’t allow you to spend much on a Standard deck, then Mono-Black Humans is an excellent option.
- You want a competitive deck. Tomoharu Saito brought Mono-Black Humans to Grand Prix Memphis and finished in 20th place, one win away from Top 8. While no one is going to claim that this is the best deck in the format right now, it can certainly win its fair share of matches, even at the highest level of play.
- Your don’t expect to face a lot of Abzan Aggro. Abzan Aggro is your nightmare matchup. All of their creatures are bigger than yours—if they curve out with Fleecemane Lion, Anafenza, and Siege Rhino, then you’re not beating them with 2/1s and 2/2s, nor can Mogis’s Marauder bail you out—and they have access to Drown in Sorrow too. But if Abzan Aggro is not popular in your expected metagame, then that’s good news for Mono-Black Humans.
- You expect to play against slow, durdly, multicolor control strategies. Mono-Black Humans has a low curve and a blazingly fast game plan, so it preys on decks with painful mana bases or too many enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands.
- You like to have the surprise factor. Right now, Mono-Black Humans is still under the radar. Many opponents won’t know what’s going on, so you can surprise them with an unexpected Obelisk or dash creature, and they may not sideboard correctly against you.
The core Humans are:
Bloodsoaked Champion – The best 1-drop.
Tormented Hero – Another 2/1 for B, although it won’t return from the dead.
Pain Seer – The best 2-drop. It has synergy with Obelisk of Urd because you can tap it for convoke. There is the risk of taking 6 if you flip an Obelisk, but that’s still not as bad as flipping Draco to Dark Confidant (which actually happened at Pro Tour Valencia 2007).
Mogis’s Marauder – One of the key cards of the deck as it usually makes your entire board unblockable for one crucial turn.
The non-core Humans are:
Ruthless Ripper – It’s like a Human version of Typhoid Rats that can close out the game when your opponent is at 2. A 1/1 is not great against control decks, but it trades well against Polukranos and other midrange creatures, and this deck needs all the 1-drop Humans it can get.
Mardu Skullhunter – This is a super-fast aggro deck, so you’re not interested in grinding out little bits of card advantage, and 2 power for two mana is not great. However, if you want more Humans and you’re already maxed out on all of the other ones, then this is the next best.
Grim Haruspex – This is an option, but not in the deck because it’s worse than Mogis’s Marauder and Mardu Strike Leader, and you can only play so many 3-drops.
Tasigur, the Golden Fang – Not included because it’s too expensive. You don’t have blue or green mana to activate the ability either.
Tomoharu Saito played 3 Ruthless Ripper and 0 Mardu Skullhunter, but I went up to 4 and 1, effectively adding two Humans to the deck. The reason is that I view Mono-Black Humans in a similar way as Modern Affinity. You have Mogis’s Marauder and Obelisk of Urd instead of Cranial Plating and Steel Overseer, and you have Ruthless Ripper instead of Memnite, but the underlying idea is the same: You have an aggressive deck that is trying to exploit a critical mass of either black Humans or artifacts, so it’s important to have enough in the deck to turn on the synergy. Cards like Hero’s Downfall or Galvanic Blast are nice and all, but if you run too many, then you’ll risk draws where your Obelisks or Platings don’t do enough. So that’s why I added two Humans.
The core spells are:
Obelisk of Urd – The card that the deck is built to take advantage of, so you need 4.
The remaining options are:
Hero’s Downfall – It kills everything, but three mana is a lot for this deck.
Ulcerate – It doesn’t kill everything, but it sure is mana-efficient.
Boon of Erebos – You could play it instead of a removal spell if you expect over 25% U/B Control.
Thoughtseize – It’s nice to snag a sweeper after sideboard, but in game one it just distracts you from your primary plan of curving out with creatures as quickly as possible. You need to keep up the pressure!
Hall of Triumph – Worse than Obelisk, and you don’t need more than 4 of that effect.
Tomoharu Saito played 3 Hero’s Downfall and 0 Ulcerate, whereas I run 0 Hero’s Downfall and 2 Ulcerate. In my opinion, this deck cares more about mana efficiency than about having a catch-all answer against everything. One of the easiest way to lose a game is by failing to draw a third land and being stuck with too many 3-drops and Obelisks in hand. The swap from Hero’s Downfall to Ulcerate helps mitigate that.
My mana base is simple: 21 Swamp. I don’t have Radiant Fountain or Nykthos because you want to be able to reliably cast two 1-drops on turn two. I also don’t think this deck is interested in a splash color—Chief of the Edge would be nice to have, but it needs 4 Caves of Koilos, 4 Mana Confluence, and 4 Temple of Silence. You don’t want to take that much pain or slow yourself down with tapped lands.
Tomoharu Saito played 22 lands with 8 fetchlands. I only play 21 lands with no fetchlands. I cut a land because the deck really cannot afford to get flooded. You can still easily win games where you’re stuck on 2 lands for a long time, but you rarely win the games where you draw 5 or more lands early on. Moreover, my version has a lower curve than Saito’s, and I have the 22nd land in the sideboard for matchups where you bring in Herald of Torment or when you’re on the play.
Regarding fetchlands: I don’t think the life loss is worth it. Deck thinning is insignificant, and turning on delve for Murderous Cut from the sideboard is only a minor bonus.
Murderous Cut – Against big green monsters like Polukranos.
Herald of Torment – Sometimes opponents board a ton of removal and Obelisk is no longer good. Sometimes opponents have too many black creatures and Mogis’s Marauder gets much worse. And sometimes opponents have no creatures, so Bile Blight is useless. In those situations, Herald of Torment allows you to tweak your deck.
Swamp – When you bring in Herald of Torment or when you’re on the play, you want to go up to 22 lands.
Sign in Blood – Against control decks with lots of sweepers, you’d rather refill your hand than to add a 4th creature to the board. And in a small number of other matchups, Sign in Blood also allows you to take the control role.
Pharika’s Cure – Not currently in my deck, but deserves a mention. If you expect a lot of mono-red aggro, you can add this instead of Dark Betrayal, Ulcerate, and/or Sign in Blood.
The Best Cards Against Us
These cards either kill your creatures at an efficient mana point, are big blockers for a low mana cost, or sweep your board on turn three.
Cards You Are Happy to Face
These cards are terribly slow, cost too much mana, and don’t help against an onslaught of 1-drops.
Tips and Tricks
- Tormented Hero enters the battlefield tapped, so avoid playing it on the same turn as Mogis’s Marauder or Obelisk of Urd. Tormented Hero doesn’t benefit from haste, and it won’t help for convoke.
- Don’t forget about Bloodsoaked Champion in your graveyard. It’s there—get it back!
- Mulligans: Mull any hand with 5+ lands, any hand with 1 land and fewer than three 1-drops, and any hand with no 1-drop or 2-drop. If you’re in doubt, then keep if you have Obelisk or Marauder and mulligan if you don’t. I’m sure there are exceptions, but this covers 95% of the cases.
- Generally speaking, only dash Mardu Shadowspear or Mardu Strike Leader if it’s the last card in your hand or if you want to play around a sorcery-speed sweeper. Otherwise, just cast it the regular way and develop your board.
- You can Bile Blight your own Tormented Hero if your opponent is on 1 life.
Matchup and Sideboard Guide
Games often play differently depending on your opponent’s exact deck composition and depending on whether you’re on the play or on the draw. So some small tweaks are always worth making, but I’ll offer guidelines nonetheless.
On the play
On the draw
On the draw, Obelisk can’t save us from Drown in Sorrow, and their blockers come down one turn sooner. So I morph into a slightly more controlling deck, aiming to use spot removal spells, discard spells, and deathtouch creatures against Siege Rhino and eventually bestow Herald of Torment on Mardu Strike Leader to take over.
Post-sideboard, they’ll typically add Drown in Sorrow, so don’t commit more than 3 creatures to the board if you can help it. If you see multiple Jorubai Murk Lurker and Tasigur in game two, then consider adding back some Murderous Cuts.
As I mentioned, this is not a good matchup, so you’ll have to get lucky.
On the play
On the draw
On the draw, forget those Obelisks and Marauders. Instead, I’m attempting the good-old switcheroo: 15 cards out, 15 cards in. You morph into a semi-control deck where your plan is to trade for their creatures in 1-for-1 trades and eventually take over with Herald of Torment. Not sure that’ll actually work, but it’ll surely catch opponents off-guard.
Their late-game is miles better than yours, so try to rush them as fast as you can.
Typically, the player who is on the draw takes the control role, and there will be a lot of 1-for-1 trades. You don’t sideboard anything.
This matchup is just like the one against R/W Aggro/Control.
We get additional ways to break up their “combo” and they don’t have much to board in against us.
I would be surprised if Mono-Black Humans ends up winning a Grand Prix anytime soon, but it’s a fine deck, and when you draw well you can beat pretty much everything.