This entry is part 3 of 9 in the series The Power of the Dark Side

By Phil, AKA BeltFed Weapon

 

I found that I liked starting with a flavor text quote after the first two articles, so I should not have a problem finding something applicable for every article in the 20+ years of Magic.  I was looking through one of my decks when I found an applicable quote from a Black board wipe that is a pet card of mine.  Not using magiccards.info, can you name the card?

 

The feeble resistance of the flesh is over.  Phyrexia spreads its shadow over all.

 

When I’m playing one of my Black decks and it is humming along, I certainly feel this way.  There are generally two strategies I employ when playing a mono-Black deck in Commander.  Both are controlling, but one I call “boots-on-necks” and the other I call the “rope-a-dope.”

“Boots-on-necks” is pretty straightforward: explosive early turns where you’re the threat, ramping out a high powered, mana-intensive spell early or a board suppression card before everyone can deal with it.  Lightning Greaves on an Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre is a good example of the former and Infernal Darkness is an example of the latter (more on board suppression cards later).  

 

As the early annihilator just rolls up opponents and the “only black mana” clause on Infernal Darkness shuts down the non-black decks (especially the disenchant-type cards that can deal with the enchantment) you’re in the dominant position.  You never let off the gas and you show no mercy, targeting your biggest threat first because it always becomes a game of Archenemy.  Hence, you are placing your proverbial boot on your opponents’ necks and not letting them up.  “Boots-on-necks” -style decks generally set the pace and don’t have to worry about politics because they’re not necessary.

 

Overall, this is a proactive approach to victory – generally via mana denial and hand destruction – that’s empowered by your mana ramp.  This is also a riskier style, especially against really good decks, but I find it satisfying.  There’s an old adage in magic that there is never an incorrect threat, just an incorrect answer.  This style of control embodies that sentiment.

 

The “rope-a-dope” strategy, on the other hand, was what Mohamed Ali did to George Foreman in their famous “Rumble in the Jungle” match in 1974.  There, Ali purposefully hung back on the ropes and let the more powerful Foreman tire himself out before Ali came back to win the match.  

 

The rope-a-dope is a style that many players use in Commander where they’re in the game, but try to not be in the lead – hence keeping the focus off of them and having other people’s answers get used elsewhere.  Mono-Black can do this especially well by laying back and just ramping and putting out more resilient permanents like lands and enchantments.  You purposefully go light on the creatures because you’re waiting to deploy the juicier ones after you lay down the board wipe you invariably have in your hand via either natural draw or a tutor.  

 

Everyone else, however, loses more cards in the purge and now you are ahead in board presence and cards in hand.  The downside is that you can lose to fast decks and there is far more politics involves, which requires a deft hand.  

 

Without further ado, let’s continue the lists and start with mass removal.

Note:  the * denotes the card has some other kind of function or upside outside of what is discussed herein.

 

I) Mass Removal (Board Wipes)

 

Black is very good at the mass removal of creatures, colloquially called board wipes.  White is arguably the best color as it also has cards like Planar Cleansing to take care of all non-land permanents or cards like Phyrexian Rebirth  and Martial Coup  to give residual value, but Black is a very close second and again has the tutoring and card draw to really make it the stronger color overall.  It has multiple cards that take care of indestructible creatures and with its ability to ramp far better than white, you can pay for the more expensive cards that give you additional benefits like Decree of Pain  – a criminally underplayed Commander standout in my circles.

 

 

The embodiment of a Black card.  Cheap, unilateral, and it costs you life.  It really is the best board wipe in the format – better than Cyclonic Rift  in my humble opinion because of the low mana cost, even if it only kills creatures.  It wraps up Gaddock Teeg  like a champ, kills indestructible and hexproof/shrouded creatures, and is overall a beating.  Again, you should have a bit of lifegain in the deck to mitigate the downside.  I think of the additional life payment this way: if I am doing it right, I have a strong, controlling Black shell for my deck.  My opponents’ creature(s) had a fair chance of coming my way anyways, so the life payment is cheaper than creatures that would continue to attack you – dealing you more damage in total.

 

 

Honorable Mention:  Kagemaro, First to Suffer *

 

 

II) Discard

 

Black also almost nearly corners the market on discard strategies. Interestingly, the most expensive discard spells (monetarily) in other constructed formats are not nearly as good in Commander.  Thoughtseize may be an excellent spell in Modern, but its one-for-one effect in a multiplayer format weakens its efficiency considerably.  What we’re looking for is discarding multiple cards from one spell.   

 

 

This guy tops the list because it’s easy to have sacrifice creatures in Black; spammable tokens being the likely means.  Nest of Scarabs  is a great example of a new card one can build into an effective -1/-1 counter deck that turns out gobs of tokens and combos beautifully with Black Sun’s Zenith.  The beetles then feed the hypnotist.  Trading a measly token for two cards from an opponent’s hand is great since it is repeatable with this creature in play.  Combine the hypnotist being a sorcery speed sacrifice outlet for other effects like Gravepact  or an equipped Skullclamp  on a creature with at least 2 toughness, and your opponents are in for a beating as you are synergizing good cards on their own into devastating combos when put together.

 

 

Close second.  So. Very. Good.  It’s rather underplayed, however, and less corner case than Sadistic Hypnotist  as it can go in any mono-Black deck that ramps well… and they all should be ramping well.  Black and Black-Green decks get to 5BBB very easily.  As a card that costs 8 mana, you want the card to have an impact, and this one does just that.  I personally like to remove the divinity counter on the most dangerous opponent’s draw step once they draw.  This really sends a message when you skip over another player or two first to specifically deny the dangerous opponent their draw while letting the other players have a pass this turn.  Queue the sad trombone sound.

 

 

Honorable Mentions:  Words of Waste, Painful Quandary *, Lilianna’s Specter, Syphon Mind *

 

III)  Mana Denial/Land Destruction/Stax /Conversion  effects

 

Due to the social contract in EDH, another powerful and underused aspect of Black is its ability to negatively impact your opponent’s land base.  Most commonly, this is land destruction (often called LD) and is an aspect of the color pie that has shifted away from Black (and green) and now moved almost exclusively to white and red.  For years, however, Wizards printed a number of Black cards that destroyed lands.   

 

A mana denial and/or LD strategy is great when regularly facing down an opposing Cabal Coffers  or Gaea’s Cradle  or also when working a stax strategy.  I find that pinpoint removal of strong lands is fair, while mass LD is what makes people unhappy.  With stax, you first aim to destroy opponents’ permanents to the point that the stax effects overtake their resource accrual and start to destroy their lands.  By using LD with stax, you can stunt an opponents’ mana base and thus growth, starting the stax pain that much quicker.   

 

Pinpoint LD is also a great way to get out ahead of your biggest threatening opponent in a stax deck. As you may have inferred, I also lump in mana denial through theft, lands not untapping, and converting opponents’ mana base to only generating Black mana in this category.  The latter is especially effective and disheartening to opponents and is not played nearly enough in mono-Black control strategies.  

 

 

While not truly black, this is especially effective as a part of an LD package in the fiercest deck when combined with Crucible of Worlds as you have the space in a mono-black deck to not have every land card be a swamp despite wanting black’s swamp-based mana doubling effect.  When your LD is also solely found in your mana base, you have more room for spells.

 

 

These are very unique Conversion-like cards that force all mana generated by lands to make only black.  Think about that…you turn off the other 4 colors and unless they have mana rocks, opponents can only really cast artifacts and most Eldrazi if they are not in black.  Even if they do a have a signet or two, that color fixing only represents a couple of pips and is a serious constraint on their ability to generate colored mana.  The 4-color decks that are so popular right now absolutely weep at these cards.  

 

The real insidiousness comes from the fact that this strategy takes away the colors that generally can answer these enchantments.  Still, I consider it “fair,” because neither outright destroys their lands, both have an upkeep cost, and the ability to get a green or white mana out of a mana rock to cast a spell that kills enchantments is not unheard of if they have the card in hand (or a hand at all – see previous section above).  

 

While this strategy does not hinder other heavy Black-based players, I generally trust my deck to keep up while also playing the politics angle to garner their favor; most of the time it is as Black brothers-in-arms taking out the Blue-based players first.  Infernal Darkness is a great card and criminally underplayed. It costs around $2!  I prefer it not only because you don’t need a Bitterblossom or Reassembling Skeleton to keep the enchantment around, Contagion constrains lands back down to generating one Black mana – and we don’t want that as much when we run ramp in the style best suited for Black when it is based upon swamps making extra mana – which in turn help keep Infernal Darkness on the Board.  The life is almost inconsequential.  

 

Contagion’s upside is that is more of a combo card, it never goes away once you have the combo out, and the combo pieces are useful for other things as well.  Pick your poison.

 

 

These are great effects that you can leverage in two ways.  First, Black-based ramp heavily features mana rocks.  Winter Orb doesn’t care about them so you can generate more mana while everyone else is constrained.  Secondly, those doubling effects on your swamps makes them work a little harder, even if it is only one extra mana.  

 

What about Static Orb you ask? It keeps rocks tapped down, too, after all. That’s where Clock of Omens comes into play.  You tap it and Static Orb  (or Winter Orb) down to turn it off at the end of the opponent’s step before your turn so that you get your full untap step while ideally untapping a Mana Vault, Basalt Monolith, or a Grim Monolith with the Clock of Omens’ effect.  

 

Yes, you could use Relic Barrier or the like but Clock of Omens makes the ‘payment’ a benefit with these orbs.  It’s also ramp that you combine with other artifacts that don’t normally tap as part of their use like equipment, Caged Sun, etc. to also untap rocks during your turn that generate mana.  You’re ramping while also constraining your opponent’s mana, all in one card that’s easily tutor-able and cheap to deploy.  

 

 

BB to nuke an opposing coffers or Gaea’s Cradle?  Sign me up.  It also was reprinted in Eternal Masters, so you don’t have to pay $40 for an Unlimited copy anymore!

 

 

Honorable Mention: Rain of Tears, Rancid Earth, Icequake, Choking Sands

 

That about wraps it up for part III.  Black does many things well and some of them are unique.  If I’ve left anything off, be it mechanics or cards, let me know.  I’m a student to the color and I’m always looking to learn more.  Next time, in part IV, I’ll wrap up Black’s biggest strengths.

Series Navigation<< The Power of the Dark Side – Part IIThe Power of the Dark Side – Part IV >>