This rendition of mono-black is at heart a midrange strategy (it is however capable of pulling non-interactive almost combo-like finishes with Gray Merchant of Asphodel), with powerful threats backed by disruption and card advantage. Consequently, it is both capable of killing an opponent quite quickly, or playing into the late game. One of the reasons to play this list over the more traditional Modern midrange decks like Abzan and Jund is that this deck goes over the top of those lists, with bigger more resilient threats and an almost inexhaustible supply of extra cards. It may be fair to say this list has a lategame that is among the best to be found in the format (arguably, only Tron casts spells of equal or higher power level with comparable frequency). It also has inevitability with Gray Merchant of Asphodel that other midrange decks do not possess.

As an aside, being mono-colour has the distinct advantage of not having to worry about colour-screw, painful mana, or Blood Moon. Targeted land destruction is in an equal vein made much worse.

The list was inspired by the mono-black lists of Theros block Standard. Thoughtseize into Pack Rat was a format-defining game-winning play; Gray Merchant and Underworld Connections provided guaranteed wins and long-term card advantage. While Thoughtseize into Pack Rat is not as broken in a format such as Modern, with better, more plentiful, and more efficient removal not to mention early threats quick and hard hitting enough than the inevitable Rat train can be too slow at times those cards in conjunction still retain much of their power, even if the Rat is, as it often proves to be, a turn five play. Newer cards like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Liliana, the Last Hope, and better mana in Modern enabling a splash more easily than in Standard allow the deck to deal with some of the major issues the old lists faced, while further offering a new level of resilience.

Being ground out of the game with recursive threats that fade send-to-graveyard removal is prevented by the card advantage engine that is Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, who also provides a source of recurring lifegain each turn to offset the pain from drawing cards, fetching, and resolving Thoughtseize. Fetchlands with Godless Shrine enable the splash of Fragmentize and Disenchant to deal with problematic artifacts and enchantments (the old lists, for instance, would often be entirely unable to race through a resolved Assemble the Legion) like Leyline of Sanctity from combo and Ensnaring Bridge from various unfair strategies. Liliana, the Last Hope offers an additional means of accruing card advantage while providing recurring removal; she ensures the list never actually runs out of threats, and can provide inevitability with buying back Gray Merchants. While the list does not have a way to win through infinite life combos and may get decked if the opponent survives the hand disruption to find answers to all the major threats and has dealt with both Lilianas to prevent recursion, it has enough disruption and threats to prevent such scenarios from being an overwhelming concern.

The deck has gone through several phases of testing to get where it currently is. As new cards are printed and the meta shifts, it will be updated to have the most powerful and versatile inclusions possible; but barring a shift so dramatic that the cards in the current format are simply made obsolete by more powerful printings, the core set of cards that power the strategy ought to remain the same. That said, some sideboard slots are certainly flexible, and even the main 60 need not be set in stone.


Took team to the quarterfinals with this list - I was on Modern:

I actually won my 5-8 bracket match (paired against the Lantern player in position 4, Gray Merchant for 19, then 23), but my teammates lost theirs, so we didn't make it to the semis.

Matchups were Affinity, Jund, GW Hatebears, Abzan, and Lantern (one opponent dropped). Won against Affinity and Jund; other two didn't matter, because teammates lost their games.

Comments View Archive

UBQRLQL says... #1

RingweMakil I'd like to hear your opinion on both of these: the matchup versus Merfolk and your sideboarding. I had the opportunity to do several testings on this MU and it seems to be slightly less favorable for our deck. They can put us on a fast clock while doing great on the tempo line (bounce, counter). I think it is kinda balanced overall but not too sure about my own point of view.

May 7, 2017 8:25 a.m.

RingweMakil says... #2

The two cards that make the Merfolk matchup the most difficult are Silvergill Adept (because each Merfolk is a threat, that demands a removal spell - this is always a two for one) and Merrow Reejerey (makes defense impossible). Also, Desecration Demon is unfortunately not the stone wall he usually is against aggressive strategies, because of islandwalk, and because of "free" creatures like Adept and Master of Waves tokens. Sometimes, Cursecatcher can slow the game down enough to buy the Merfolk player just enough time to steal the win.

Our best cards in the matchup are Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Damnation. In conjunction with Thoughtseize and other removal, Merfolk can be reduced to a pile of bad creatures. However, Vapor Snag can be a beating.

Believe it or not, this matchup is one of the reasons I wanted to play Lifebane Zombie. That card makes it possible to race, with the help of targeted removal. I've even considered Nightveil Specter as a way to block and grind out advantage.

Right now, my plan against the deck is disrupt, kill, and keep a Kalitas in play. I take out Pack Rat because it can't block too often, and is really slow in terms of offense. I take out Shadow of Doubt because it doesn't do anything; I take out Erebos, God of the Dead because paying life to draw cards while also paying mana is too slow, especially since it is difficult to establish the board state necessary to turn Erebos into a creature.

As a result, overall, the matchup is draw dependent. I'm not yet certain of what exact tweaks to make to help the matchup, but I'm considering several options. I do like the discard, since Merfolk is synergy dependent. Obviously, the removal is fantastic as well. I dislike how draw dependent the matchup currently is, since it can feel like Merfolk just can't be answered sometimes by our cards if they have a great draw and we have an okay one (unlike, say, Burn), but there isn't a "hate card" for Merfolk the way there is for combo/affinity.

Also, for the most part, I tend to ignore Aether Vial, unless the opposing hand doesn't work without it, or is slowed down a lot without a Vial in play. Killing the creatures is a bigger priority.

May 7, 2017 4:52 p.m.

UBQRLQL says... #3

I take out 2 Rats, 2 Shadows and Erebos for 3 Damnation, 1 Brutality and 1 Pithing Needle. Although we play our own Mutavaults, shutting down the enemies' or Aether Vial can be huge (I ignore it most of the time as well though..).

I totally agree with you on every part you pointed out although I don't think Nightveil Specter does a good job. I even took Seize the Soul into consideration but decided it's not worth the slot. Trying to race the Fishies is not too bad especially with Islandwalk on our Mutavaults. But I don't play Lifebane Zombie and won't in near future.

I have nothing to add since you pointed out the most important problems against Merfolk. Islandwalk, Cantrip (Spreading Sea, Adept), redundant lord effects and counterspells combined with a low curve can be very scary.

May 8, 2017 1:17 p.m.

RingweMakil says... #4

UBQRLQL Seize the Soul, Lifebane Zombie, Nightveil Specter are all the options of a desperate man. The fact that we're even considering these cards for Merfolk goes to show how close the matchups can be. Although, I will say that double Desecration Demon is very very good.

I almost want to play Bile Blight, but it's really bad against Death's Shadow and Thought-Knot Seer decks. I don't even know what I'd cut for it.

May 8, 2017 3:19 p.m.

RingweMakil says... #5

I'm enough tired of Lingering Souls that I'm considering sideboarding Bile Blight. Bile Blight has always been a great removal spell; I played it extensively in my Dimir control list (now outdated and requiring updates), and was always impressed by its performance against Affinity, Burn, Merfolk, GWx decks with multiple Birds of Paradise/Voice of Resurgence, and so on. I declined to include it in this list because of Thought-Knot Seer and co., Death's Shadow, Tarmogoyf, Primeval Titan, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet ... you get the idea.

But despite the card no longer being maindeckable, it may still have its place in the sideboard. Its potential to be a blow-out for the cheap cheap cost of two is downright absurd, and I have to admit, I miss having clean answers to tokens (the aforementioned Dimir list also had Engineered Explosives and Black Sun's Zenith).

Yet, the edict is so important in the form of Geth's Verdict against otherwise impossible/difficult to kill creatures (Geist of Saint Traft, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Thrun, the Last Troll, Kira, the Great Glass-Spinner, Etched Champion, Slippery Bogle) that I am loath to go below two of; so, a non-removal spell would have to be the cut.

While I have enjoyed both Pithing Needle and Fulminator Mage, one of them might have to go.

May 9, 2017 2:12 a.m.

UBQRLQL says... #6

I played Bile Blight main deck some while ago but since my local meta decided to go all in on Tron, Death Shadow and such I swapped them entirely for Geth's Verdict. I often try to think out of the box but putting back in one Blight as 1-of sideboard card.. might be the right decision probably.

Personally I already took out Fulminator Mage after testing it because he felt like not enough impact overall (taking into consideration that it's only a single sideboard card). I Played with Stony Silence for a while which did not convince me as well. Maybe I'm just too picky about my valuable sideboard slots..

I can still see Bile Blight > Pithing Needle. Maybe I cut my Needle and Stony Silence for Bile Blight and Fulminator Mage as well.. but as you described those are indeed a desperate man's choices ;).

May 9, 2017 12:51 p.m.

RingweMakil says... #7

I struggled between taking out Needle or Mage for a while, before deciding to cut Needle. My reasoning was simply that I did not want to lose to land-based strategies. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Tron are the two that immediately come to mind (that is, you have to destroy these to get rid of their effect; I'm not counting Academy Ruins for this discussion because both Mage and Needle can take care of those effects).

Now, while Pithing Needle is fantastic against Tron, World Breaker, Karn Liberated, Oblivion Stone and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger are four different ways they have of dealing with it, and I really don't want my answers to be that vulnerable. Same with Detention Sphere, Abrupt Decay, Anguished Unmaking, Kolaghan's Command ... so, instead, Mage. I really really really REFUSE to lose to Tron. :P But also, practically speaking, while Pithing Needle is a better answer to more things, it is much more killable, and the potential for blowout is therefore larger.

Fulminator Mage is very much a low impact card. It is Rain of Tears, Stone Rain (proud descendants of Sinkhole, which at two mana is obviously broken); it is a necessary evil, however, because there are some decks that do game warping things with the help of their lands unless you kill the lands. The reason to play Mage over those spells is Liliana, the Last Hope's minus two.

May 9, 2017 1:56 p.m.

RingweMakil says... #8

Can confirm Bile Blight is fairly busted in the matchups in which it is good. It is another cheap removal spell against aggressive strategies, and is an absolute beast against Wild Nacatl, Goblin Guide, Elvish Mystic, Vault Skirge, Inkmoth Nexus, and even Snapcaster Mage. Obviously it has its uses against tokens, but a lot of its power comes from its capacity to just completely shut down the most aggressive draws from small-creature decks, because those draws involve multiple copies of the same creature.

It is a removal spell you can board in against Ux control to deal with Secure the Wastes, multiple Snapcaster Mage, Elspeth, Sun's Champion tokens, and Spell Queller. No other removal in the format does that quite so well.

The card has done well enough in these matchups that I'm considering going up to two copies, but that may be overkill.

Also of note, I have not at all missed Pithing Needle, and have loved Fulminator Mage. Another answer to manlands, Utopia Sprawl, etc. is just very very good, and also quite necessary. The loop with Liliana, the Last Hope is fairly nasty as well.

May 10, 2017 8:33 a.m.

UBQRLQL says... #9

Bile Blight is bonker in multiple ways because it performs very well against different archetypes. But on the other hand.. 4 sideboard slots for spot removal (if counting Collective Brutality.. which is nuts against many decks) as well as triple mass removal does not seem right. Although every single card deserves its slot I wonder whether this is the right path.

I agree to not cut Geth's Verdict but what's about the 4th Collective Brutality? I felt like after sideboard our matchup against burn is much in our favor. Collective Brutality is very good against elves as well but this matchup is much easier after boarding anyways. What decks desperately need a 4th Brutality? Abzan Company for sure. Combo? Maybe (wave @Giftstorm decks). But apart from that?

I know how insanely good Collective Brutality can be, especially with extra cards from Arena or flooded lands. Just gonna discuss this card.

Fulminator Mage is indeed a strong card but during the last period of matches I felt that I don't really needed him too much (none against Eldrazi Tron though :P). Maybe because I never ever had a chance for multiple land destruction effects in a single game.. I will see and at the end of the day I'll probably add him anyways.

May 10, 2017 2:22 p.m.

RingweMakil says... #10

At least nine hand disruption effects are necessary to have access to against control and combo. We may be able to fight burn/zoo without the fourth, but I would much rather have access to it than not.

I don't think the amount of removal we have access to post board is too much. This amount is actually necessary against affinity, merfolk, company, and zoo. In the matchups where Damnation is good you definitely do not mind seeing two copies, especially since there is a chance the first copy you see might get Thoughtseized/Thought-Knot Seered.

Fulminator Mage is without a doubt the narrowest of our sideboard cards. Not counting fringe decks like Ponza, Mage shines against Tron and Valakut, mostly. (It is also a very annoying threat for control decks to answer, by the way, because it will be a two for one unless it gets countered.) However, it is necessary enough for those matchups that I wouldn't cut it from the board.

May 10, 2017 10:57 p.m.

UBQRLQL says... #11

Phew.. had my worst FNM ever on friday. Going 1-3 with only winning against budget Allys.

First round against Burn. First match is always close against burn slightly favorable for them. Second match should be the opposite but since I drew 4 lands in a row.. he got me. 0:2

Second round against G/W Allys w/o Collected Company was kinda easy. Although he managed to lucky draw into Eerie Interlude in G2 protecting his team against my Damnation and got another nice topdeck afterwards with Kabira Evangel and swinging for lethal. 2:1

Third round against Bant Eldrazi. G1 went terrible. Turn 2 Thought-Knot Seer into Reality Smasher put enough pressure early on so I just did not came back anytime soon. I won the second game because he was kinda Temple screw.. Spot removal and Ob Nixilis did well jobs. Third game represents the way these decks can perform more often than they should. I Thoughtseize turn 1 into a crap hand with just 2 Eldrazi Temple. He drew into Thought-Knot Seer turn 2, into Reality Smasher turn 3 and another Reality Smasher turn 4. 1:2

Round 4 against G/B Tron. I kept a nice hand with Shadow of Doubt and 2 lands. Got stuck on 2 until it was too late sadly. Karn into World Breaker did not let me come back. Second game I had to mulligan to 5 but managed to start with Extirpate + Ghost Quarter. Sadly my opponent played Pithing Needle on turn 1 against Ghost Quarter (which I did not even played on my turn). This game took quite some time and somehow I could handle one Karn Liberated into Extirpate, Fulminator Mage + Extirpate on his Tron piece and survive 1 attack from Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Sadly I did not draw any Phyrexian Arena in either games. I even survived his Oblivion Stone and although Erebos did a huge job I could not win the game. Leaving me with 0:2

So that was my sad 1-3 experience and I felt like I did no mistakes at all. Maybe I should have mulliganed the 2-land hand earlier but apart from that the deck sadly underperformed. On the other hand winning against Burn on G1 would have paired me against different types of decks. The metagame breakdown was as far as I remember (only first four decks in correct order): Jeskai Control, Valakut, Grixis Delver, Boros Burn, Naya Burn, Shadow Jund, UB Faeries, GW Ally, BG Tron, Bant Eldrazi, Abzan Elves and me on MBC.

Thought people might be intrested in a small FNM tournament report with underwhelming results ;).

May 21, 2017 8:16 a.m.

RingweMakil says... #12

My last three FNMs with the list, by contrast, were very good. Two x-1's and one undefeated. You definitely had a flood of unfortunate games (flood against burn, Damnation protection + pro. black against G/W, insane topdecks from Bant Drazi, mana screw against Tron), which can happen, but I doubt that is because the deck is unable to perform. Sometimes, what "should" be just never happens. Tough luck, mate!

May 22, 2017 4:12 a.m.

UBQRLQL says... #13

You're probably right and I simply had a bad day. Except that I lost to Bant Eldrazi and Tron Eldrazi the last time as well and it feels so bad. Either these pilots are just absurd lucky or I am very unlucky against them. But it feels like they topdeck insanely strong cards every game..

I will do more tests with this deck because I really like it so far. Although I brew a bit a red splash instead of white. Last 2 tournaments I did not board any white cards at all. Against artifacts I boarded in some Disenchant effects which I did not draw into and did not really need in the end either :D.

May 22, 2017 10:30 a.m.

Shleptar says... #14

Gray Merchant of Asphodel is so good in that deck. Would it be worth running 3 or 4 of them, maybe for the rats? (erebos is my favorite card, thanks for giving me inspiration to try out this deck)

September 15, 2017 7:20 a.m.

RingweMakil says... #15

Shleptar I'm glad you like it, give me a shout out if you have more questions you'd like to address!

As for playing more Gray Merchants - it's a terrible topdeck on an empty board state, and it's very bad in your opening hand. It's something you want to draw mid-late game, not an engine you want to rely on consistently on turn five. Modern has very good removal, and you probably won't have the necessary board state to be worth playing a Merchant. Merchant is good when it drains for five or ten, not when it's Highway Robber.

September 16, 2017 4:46 a.m.

Shleptar says... #16

@RingweMakil thanks man. Do you have any tips on how to run this deck on a budget? Are Vampire Nighthawk's strong enough to fit in here as a replacement for some pricey cards like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet? I was also thinking about running Phylactery Lich with maybe some Darksteel Axe's, but I tend to make decks slower and more on the control side where i don't think black shines the best.

September 16, 2017 8:18 a.m.

RingweMakil says... #17

Shleptar This deck is unfortunately dependent on the exact cards it plays in order to perform even reasonably well. Without the constant lifegain engine that is Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet a lot of the other cards become too painful; Kalitas being unboltable and creating value even when killed and stopping sacrifice combos and so on is also not something any other card I'm currently aware of does.

You could perhaps play cheaper removal than Fatal Push, but again, my hunch is that would make the deck too slow to curve out to perform as efficiently.

While black can be a very controlly colour when attached to a colour like blue (UB is a fairly classic archetype throughout all of MtG history) or in some cases white/red/green (RBx, especially Grixis; or BGx, especially Jund; or BWx, especially Esper) value/control, the type of black I am playing does not fall under that category. This is classified as a mid-late game midrange deck, since as much as it is reactive, it also has a fairly strong proactive plan to end the game.

I'm curious about Phylactery Lich. Is this an EDH card you've been testing for a while?

September 16, 2017 2:58 p.m.

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Compare to inventory
Date added 9 months
Last updated 7 months
Exclude colors URG
Splash colors W

This deck is Modern legal.

Cards 60
Avg. CMC 2.83
Tokens Liliana, 2/2 Zombie, Nixilis
Folders Mono Black , Black, Modern inspiration, MODERN XXX, Modern, Modern inspiration, Modern, Modern Decks, Modern Reference, Other Decks, See all 17
Top rank #46 on 2017-04-04
Views 6864