In this article, I'm going through the most important of the black cards, classify them, and discuss their destination in decks where they see play.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel — the superstar of Monoblack Devotion. The drain effect is obviously great and has one additional upside that's less obvious: its ability to avoid Fog and damage prevention like Moment's Peace or Prismatic Strands, which is helpful in matches versus Tron or Boros. However, to use its full potential, our deck not only has to be heavy black but also full of permanents with black mana symbols in their cost, such as Cuombajj Witches or Chittering Rats.
Defile — Black's equivalent of Skred is harder to splash but doesn't deal damage, which is important in a few cases, for example to get around the regeneration of River Boa or Prismatic Strands.
Corrupt — Almost like the black Fireball, this payoff and the eponymous archetype, Corrupt Control, are almost forgotten, though the deck looks playable again with the addition of new cards. Corrupt requires a simple mana base mostly made of Swamps, so any color splash is hard to make work. Unfortunately, it doesnt go through damage prevention like Prismatic Strands.
Pestilence — my personal favorite. A board wipe that also deals damage to the enemy but also unfortunately to us. The card doesn't require such a strict mana base as others, but its potential only fully shines with a huge amount of black sources and a few specific elements included during deck building, like Guardian of the Guildpact and Pristine Talisman.
Evincar's Justice — an early-game sweeper that can transform into finisher due to its buyback cost. The least demanding element from the heavy black payoffs list, though it's best used on turn four in aggressive go-wide matchups, so it doesn't exactly work as a splash.
The biggest issue with these payoffs is that it's impossible to play them all together. Gray Merchant of Asphodel requests pernaments on board, most commonly creatures, while other cards from the list are themselves nonpernaments — except Pestilence, which actually punishes us for controlling vulnerable creatures. Defile and Corrupt require a straight Swamp mana base, so it's hard to even lightly splash white for Guardian of the Guildpact to use Pestilence comfortably. To use Pestilence and Evincar's Justice as finishers, we have to take care of our life points, predominantly with Pristine Talisman and Radiant Fountain. As you can see, most of these elements interfere with each other. These facts divide heavy black strategies onto two paths: Monoblack Devotion and Black Control decks.
|Monoblack Devotion by GeneralSCUD, Top 32 Pauper Challenge, October 24|
The most popular build among monoblack decks is a package of solid removal spells, followed up by creatures with strong enter-the-battlefield effects such as Chittering Rats or Phyrexian Rager, with Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Thorn of the Black Rose as cherries on top. Unfortunately, popularity does not always equal power, and MBD does not compare favorably with other midrange strategies.
|Black Control by PR0boszcz, Pauper League 5-0, October 14|
My own recent discovery, and proof that any control deck with the addition of Bonder's Ornament gets so much better. It's a mixture of early-game removal like Defile and Innocent Blood with late-game board clearers and damage dealing machines — Pestilence, Evincar's Justice, and Corrupt. The plan is simple: survive the early game with one-for-one exchanges and slow down your opponent. Then, find Bonder's Ornament or continue clearing the board with sweepers. When you have removed everything in the line of sight, and set your life total at a safe amount with Pristine Talisman, finish your opponent with a big Pestilence, Corrupt, or repeat Evincar's Justice a few times.
|White-Black Pestilence by PR0boszcz, Pauper League 5-0, August 26|
This archetype existed before Bonder's Ornament, but thanks to it, White-Black Pestilence gets significantly stronger. The deck is built around one of strongest synergies in the format, Pestilence and Guardian of the Guildpact. Protection makes the Guardian hard to remove, but the best part is it's not affected by damage from Pestilence, so we don't have to worry about leaving something on the battlefield to make Pestilence stay. Besides that, we have everything needed to survive to the point our synergy is settled — Castigate and several removal spells. With the slight splash of white, we can use powerfull white sideboard cards like Leave No Trace, Circles of Protection, or Lone Missionary.
Cast Down — This recent downshift, from uncommon to common, was immediately identified as one of the best removal spells in the format. There is no playable legendary creature in Pauper so its limitation doesn't really exist.
Gurmag Angler — best black creature finisher and fatty. It's often the queen we have to protect. Other creatures are no match for its body, and it's big enough to survive a single Lightning Bolt or Galvanic Blast.
Thorn of the Black Rose — black monarch enabler. Better be sure you are able to defend yourself from combat damage over the following few turns before casting it. Prepare your removal or set up a strong board with your own creatures.
Bojuka Bog — Okay I know, it might look like a little exaggeration. Trust me or not, Bojuka Bog is one of the strongest lands — *cough* Tron *cough* — in the format. The price for running one copy is negligible, even when we are not playing black at all. Exiling the graveyard can be crucial in a few matchups and will sometimes change the state of the game completely, especially versus strategies using the graveyard like Boros Bully or Tron.
Two partly black decks currently hold a place among the tier one. Blue-Red Skred transformed into Blue-Black Faeries, replacing such strong cards like Skred, Pyroblast, and Lightning Bolt with Cast Down, Gurmag Angler, Thorn of the Black Rose, and others, with a great success.
|Dimir Faeries by Oscar_Franco, Pauper Challenge Finalist, October 25|
Suffocating Fumes — This one is even sometimes present in main decks, due to its possibility of cycling, a recent replacement for Electrickery in almost every list. It might be one mana more expensive, but being able to avoid the previously oft-mentioned Prismatic Strands in the Boros Bully matchup, or Wrap in Vigor versus Elves is crucial.
Reaping the Graves — Great example of a card that does not find place in black decks, but is perfect when it comes to fight them or any other deck full to the brim with removal. Let your opponent load up the storm count with removal when playing Affinity, or do it yourself as Wonderwalls or Boros Monarch.
Chainer's Edict and Diabolic Edict — These two are the most popular (the first one is present in main decks too) though any other sacrifice effect qualifies for this category. Great as an additional removal versus aggressive strategies but also a precise answer against Bogles. Worth to remember that it can be useful versus blink strategies using Ghostly Flicker and/or Ephemerate.
Okiba-Gang Shinobi — An option mostly for midrange decks to deal with controls, its ninjutsu makes it uncounterable. It's still vulnerable to instant-speed removal. However, with every hit, those Rats increase our advantage significantly.
The second deck in tier one I mentioned previously is Boros Monarch, which recently changed to Mardu. Thanks to its strong mana base, it can easily splash black cards into the main and sideboard, such as Bojuka Bog, Suffocating Fumes, Reaping the Graves, and Okiba-Gang Shinobi.
|Mardu Monarch by Backoff, Pauper Challenge Top 8, October 24|
Heavy black payoffs often require specific deck building, such as black symbols of mana in the permanents you control, or life gain like Pristine Talisman. That makes it hard to mix them all together in a well working deck. On the other hand, black recently began to be used as supporting color as often as red, and there is no indication of this process to end. Black cards slowly replace red ones across all kinds of main deck and sideboards, as Suffocating Fumes took the place of Electrickery and Cast Down took over from Skred. Easily splashable payoffs fit very well into several relevant strategies in the current Pauper metagame, and one can find diverse black sideboard options in various archetypes, from aggro (Affinity) via midrange (Mardu Monarch) to combo (Wonderwalls). Black may not be the strongest of the colors, but it definitely has its own, important place in the format.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.