This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series The Power of the Dark Side

By Phil, AKA BeltFedWeapon

Political power grows out the barrel of a gun.
– Mao Tse Tung


When I play Mono-Black in EDH, it is almost invariably a control strategy – MBC (mono-black control).  As such, I take the political leanings of Chairman Mao to heart when helming the deck.  I’ve said it in this series before – Mono-Black decks should take what I have coined the ‘boots on neck’ style of politics; once you make your move you use absolute brute force to subdue your opponents.  The politics is less about dividing and conquering or hanging back until you can take the lead, but rather fueling out threat after threat until your opponents cannot answer them anymore and the game spirals out of control for them.  This typically means ramping and taking your lumps early, but then stabilizing with a board wipe or some other control piece and growing a position of dominance from there based upon what your deck and commander does.  One of Black’s main strengths is ramp, so it almost always entails getting ahead on mana to power out your board presence.  You never take your boot off of your opponent’s neck once you put it there.


That introduction leads me to why we are here today:  Black, especially Mono-Black, has gotten a lot of powerful, yet mostly inexpensive, pieces in the past year or so.  As this is purposefully an occasional article, this is the perfect forum to go over those cards and shed some light on why they are so good in a Mono-Black EDH build.  You will see mention of some notable multicolor Black cards that go along with some of these new cards as well.


The Cheap Stuff


Most of the cards here are CHEAP – $3ish or less with more emphasis on the “or less” part.  There are a few key reprints as well.


Awaken the Erstwhile – Despite leading off, this may be the sleeper card of the list.  Mass discard is nothing to fear when you can leverage it better than your opponents.  This is not just for zombie decks.  Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, Tinybones, Trinket Thief are the obligatory MBC commanders. But there are others,  Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest and Korvold, Fae-Cursed King make quick work of your opponents when you deploy the Erstwhile.  Think about it: you probably lose somewhere around 3 – 6 cards, while your opponents lose 9 – 18 by the same math.  Having no grip and a stalemate of 2/2 zombies all around means your control strategy has begun.  It’s not for every MBC deck, as more powerful ones run Mindslicer, but it is still very good. 


Bolas’s Citadel –  This card is a house, and at $3.50 it is still a steal.  It burns through your life not to draw cards, but to put them directly into play (to include hitting your land drop, so don’t play that swamp in your hand!).  With sufficient incidental lifegain in Mono-Black (see my previous article on combating life loss)  It combos with Sensei’s Divining Top and Aetherflux Reservoir to just combo win outright, .and it’s an amazing combo to slot in as each card stands on its own as well.  And no, the reservoir is not dead by itself; you get that incidental life-gain, and even if you’re safely at 30 life with no easy way to get to 50, your opponents freak out and generally take out the reservoir rather than the actual key piece on board or hiding in your hand.


Burnished Hart – Recently reprinted, even the spikiest Mono-Black decks should consider running this land fetcher as your fast rocks get a near-instant payoff while you hold up mana for answers or parlay that into two more swamps.  Do you need to kill that early commander? Great, you use the mana to do just that.  If not, you put two swamps out into play instead.  ALL Mono-Black decks that aren’t in a competitive tier absolutely have the time to use and reuse this deer to ramp.  Remember, that swamp-based ramp is the game plan in Mono-Black and Burnished Hart does exactly that.


Cabal Stronghold – I have tested this card extensively.  Yes, while it is a poor-man’s Cabal Coffers, it is still worth the slot rather than just one more swamp.  Trust me on this.  In at least 80% of my games, it nets me more mana and I never feel like it’s short-changing my coffers.  In budget builds, it is an all-star.


Dead of Winter – With Kalkheim coming out, this card has already seen its price rise to the $3+ mark.  With snow lands making a serious comeback, I predict its power will be fully realized and its popularity (and price) will only go up.  This is a 3-drop board wipe in a color that likes having a lot of basic lands.  Making those swamps into snow-covered swamps literally has no cost to you – making this a virtually no downside 3-mana board wipe.  If someone is running Melting or the like, good on them – they got you with a bad, corner case card.  You’re still probably going to steal their lunch money in the game if that is what they’re sleeving up!  


Defile – This is the card that actually caused me to write this article.  THIS IS MONO-BLACK’S SWORDS TO PLOWSHARES I use this all the time, but I’ve played against any number of opponents on SpellTable who are sporting Mono-Black decks and the second I use it they go ‘ooooh, I gotta put this in my deck’.  You are already running a bunch of swamps inherently.  Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is also a card.  Early turns, this takes out a key utility creature.  Mid-game, it takes out a commander.  Late game, it’s taking out any threat you can target as that -X/-X is so key to schwacking indestructible creatures.  If you’re going to be playing Mono-Black, put this card in your deck, please.  At 1 CMC, instant speed spot removal, you cannot go wrong.


Dread Presence – This card should be obviously good card draw in a Mono-Black deck.  Again – swamps!  Don’t forget that Myriad Landscape’s ability will trigger this guy twice.  Stronger decks that run fetchlands get two activations with him if Urborg is out.  Two activations in a turn kills most creatures while giving you incidental lifegain.


Expedition Map – Quite frankly the best Mono-Black reprint on this list.  It was needed as this card was creeping up in price.  Yes, it’s not a Black card per se…but this is THE way to find your coffers or urborg.


Feed the Swarm – If a card is a $1 common that is still in print, that tells you how good it is.  This card is amazing, giving Mono-Black (and Dimir, Rakdos, and Grixis) the ability to finally directly deal with enchantments.  The fact that it has the flexibility to cheaply deal with creatures makes it that much better.  I don’t feel bad at all when I burn it on an opponent’s creature that absolutely has to die.  


Geth, Lord of the Vault – disclaimer, this is my favorite card in Magic and the commander of four different deck builds at various power levels.  That tells you how much I like this card.  He is worth this hype, yet he is criminally underappreciated.  Geth really is that good and with multiple recent reprintings, his price has cratered.  There is no reason to not try him out in any Black deck that can generate serious mana.  Remember, Black can ramp, and ramp hard.  Geth has been called an army in a can and he is being undersold with that statement.. The thing that distinguishes him and makes him better than the more popular Chainer, Dementia Master is that Geth:

1) Nabs opponent’s artifacts – which is huge;  

2) If he dies, all the work he put in doesn’t go by the wayside – unlike Chainer; 

3) He doesn’t cannibalize your life – you are already doing that with the rest of the deck; 

4) You can leverage colorless mana; 

5) He feeds himself with his inherent mill; 

6) He is a wincon by himself with enough mana; 

7) Your opponents have no one but themselves to blame when you beat them with their own cardboard. 

8)  The best card in my deck becomes my opponent’s Seedborn Muse.  The facepalms are priceless.  Relatedly, when someone Bojuka Bogs their own graveyard it is an “achievement unlocked” moment.  We are here to have fun first, and win second.  Geth lets you do both.


Chainer’s one benefit of targeting your own graveyard and being less net mana intensive does not even come close to making up for the rest of what Geth does.   


Summing it up – Geth going ham is a sight to behold.  It is fun and sneakily powerful.  I hear talking heads like the Nitpicking Nerds or Command Zone talk frequently about “winning the game” if you can generate X amount of mana or the game “should be” over by turn Y.  While this is not wrong, I firmly believe this is overly simplistic with proper control strategies.  I see their gameplay or frequently hear stories of play patterns and I almost universally “where’s the board wipe?”  MBC’s whole plan is to cut your opponents’ Achilles tendons with a well-timed board wipe at the start of the mid-game and then when they’re in the woodshed, put them down like Old Yeller with something beefy, from cards like Torment of Hailfire to Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.  If they set you back, you board wipe again.  And again if needed until you bring the rest of the board to heel.  Geth is not an early play.  He is mid-game threat/bait or an end-game closer after your opponent’s morale and boardstate has been broken, they have fat graveyards, and you have a lot of mana to then leverage their good cards against them.  


Malakir Mire / Malakir Rebirth – Look at it ether way you want ; free land stapled, to a good reanimation effect, or a free reanimation effect stapled to an okay land.  Whichever way you lean, this is a good card you should consider as there is little downside here.


Manascape Refractor – what if I told you that you could have a second Cabal Coffers in your deck?  And no, that is not including your Thespian’s Stage, Vesuva, or Mirage Mirror.  Yes, it is the disfavored place of being a 3-CMC mana rock.  Yes, I know it even comes into play tapped!  It doesn’t matter.  When it can copy your Cabal Coffers, Cabal Stronghold, an opponent’s bounceland, their Gaea’s Cradle, or even a Strip Mine,  the low floor is overtaken by a ridiculously high ceiling.  Artifacts like Clock of Omens and Unwinding Clock only make that ceiling higher.  Try it out.


Snow-Covered Swamp – Get them while they are in print, abundant, and cheap.  There is virtually no reason to not get 30 of these.  Aside from all the other synergies mentioned above, Extraplanar Lens is a card you can leverage or take advantage of if you see it across the table from another serious Mono-Black player.  I have friends that run Snow-Covered Swamps just because of my lens.


Thespian’s Stage – Another copy of Cabal Coffers or any other decent land on the field?  Absolutely.  A cheap auto-include in Mono-Black.


Ugin, the Ineffable – Do not let the lesser Ugin fool you; it is a very good card.  It deals with any mono-colored permanent (including enchantments!) all while making your artifacts and Eldrazi cheaper.  It also protects itself and draws cards?  Good card is good, for Mono-Black and beyond.


The Not-So-Cheap


This list is relatively short as these cards are more obvious, as their price tags indicate, but they still warrant a mention.


Chromatic Orrery – You need the right build, but the color fixing and mana ramp can be worth the investment.  Geth is one of those decks.  The ability to untap it with a Voltaic Key and the above mentioned clocks will bury your opponents in your mana advantage.


Grim Tutor – Make a pricey 3-drop tutor available to the masses for a fraction of its prior cost by printing it in a core set?  Amazing.  Masterstroke.  It doesn’t make up for the Walking Dead Secret Lair, but I’ll give WotC credit where it is due, and it is due here.


Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools – A brilliant card from Commander Legends, he is good as a partner commander or in the 99.  Again, you need the right build, but this card protects itself, draws cards, and threatens an ultimate that should give everyone pause.  Note that he doesn’t need to survive his ultimate activation for him to come back out and then use his +1, likely sacrificing his partner or by cutting a deal with another player to get their commander back.


Ugin, the Spirit Dragon – A much needed reprint.  An amazing control piece that you can wield deftly.  With luck, you have rocks and other colorless sources that stick while the worst offending enchantments and creatures are gone, and permanently if not a commander.


Yawgmoth, Thran Physician – The granddaddy of bad guys in Magic.  Even more so than Nicol Bolas if I do say so myself.  Granted, this card depicts him before he became the father of machines, but this is still a very powerful card.  At the head of a deck or in the 99, the right build that focuses on aristocrat sacrifice and lots of tokens and/or recurable creatures like Gravecrawler and Bloodghast make Yawgmoth pop off.  There’s a lot of power to harness with this card; and in different veins.  You can pursue -1/-1 counter strategies and planeswalker/proliferate as well if you want.  In any case, I recommend getting a copy before he goes above the $20 mark; I don’t feel like this is a card that will get reprinted.  


Opposition Agent


I hope you don’t think that I forgot this amazing card.  There has been a fair amount of discussion since this card was spoiled, but there has not been a definitive discussion on how good this card actually is.  I am here to defend this card and convince you to run this in any meta that uses tutors and not feel guilty about “breaking the game” or somehow this card shouldn’t have been printed as some claim.  That is some Blue mage rubbish and jealousy if I’ve ever heard of it.


Opposition Agent – This was my chase card in Commander Legends.  You read the card and you go, “Oh, that’s good.” No, no. It’s not just good, it is amazing.  It operates on four different axises.


  1. It is what it is: a gotcha card.  At flash speed, you get a decent body for the cost and deny your opponent their tutor target.  From fetchlands to Demonic Tutor andTooth and Nail, this card is a great counter effect.

  2. Don’t forget that you just don’t deny your opponent their card(s), you get to use them against the board as well.  That right there is a three-for-one; a body, a counter, and a steal.  The stronger the tutor, the better Opposition Agent becomes.  Your opponent has no one to blame but themselves for the cards they run.  This card is garbage in low-powered metas, but you don’t run it there.  You run it to counter a tutor for a combo or other very strong plays.  This level of play absolutely warrants this very fair amount of interaction that denies other players the power to tutor – a very Black concept if you think about it since Black is the best color at tutors and whose mechanics tends to exclude other colors more than the rest (hello! – this series!).  The grumbling I hear about this card generally comes from Blue and Blue-Green players not liking how the tables have been turned on them.  Welcome to what everyone else has been suffering from at the hands of your Mana Drain for 27 years.  Blue has unfairly benefited from bias from WotC’s design since its inception and they are simply unhappy that Hullbreacher, which was printed in the same set, has some competition. 

  3. Its 3-CMC cost on your deck’s mana curve is another factor in its favor.  3 mana is a nice spot for instant-speed removal, a counter if you go multicolored, and a great place to suit this creature up with cheap equipment like Sword of the Animist or Skullclamp.  You know your other high-powered opponent’s decks have to deal with this or you are the only one tutoring, so why not draw two cards to further the value?

  4. That last line speaks to this point – Opposition Agent has to be dealt with.  Creatures are easily killed, and at two toughness it doesn’t take much.  What that means though is that this card is still both fair and requires yet another card to answer it.  We are up to a 4-for-1.  If your opponents do not have an answer, they could very well lose as their fetchlands, green land-based ramp, and tutors are all not nerfed but nullified.  There is no way they are using those cards while this card is out.  It is hard to quantify what plays don’t happen because you control an unanswered Opposition Agent, but it does have a statistically significant effect to your benefit in this regard.  Further, it is a creature in Black means that it is easily recurable.  I took my fetchlands out of the strongest Geth deck just as a defense to my land drops.  I look for it being milled away when Geth gets to work to unexpectedly ”get” opponents with their own Opposition Agent.  So. Damn.  Good.


I own six Opposition Agents and I would happily get six more.  This card is both an answer and a threat, and the best card Black has received since Torment of Hailfire if you skip other recent noteworthy cards like Bolas’s Citadel, Defile, and Yawgmoth.


So that’s it for now.  This has been a comprehensive update and thorough analysis of recently [re]printed cards that work excellently in EDH Mono-Black decks and I hope you were able to take something away.  As always, tell me what I missed, expand upon my analysis, or refute my claims.  I am open to topic suggestions as well. Until next time! 

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