Do you recall when Dominaria United released and everyone got excited about Liliana of the Veil? Pioneer was overrun by various monoblack builds for a couple of weeks. Of course, then the grim realities reasserted themselves, and most players went back to Rakdos Midrange, which had proven superior before and proved superior again after the addition of Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. That's basically been the status quo on the black midrange front ever since. But now it's been challenged, in the Challenges on Magic Online, naturally.
It was no isolated incident either. On January 14 a monoblack design entered the playoffs as the number one seed, and a very similar version finished ninth one day later. The only somewhat new element both shared was running three copies of Misery's Shadow. But the most curious element they had in common was a full playset of Sign in Blood. The deck eschews weaker two-drops in favor of a simple plus one in cards, as well as going up to 26 lands.
Signing your name in blood can be costly. You don't want to open on Thoughtseize, Ifnir Deadlands, Sign, and Swift End against any red deck. But having played a bunch of Pioneer's monoblack experiments in the past myself, I see the appeal. Without extra card draw, the back and forth of trading resources—discard, removal, creatures—often left a gap to bridge before the real payoff could kick in: Invoke Despair. The sorcery remains one of the most powerful things one can do in midrange battles. And that's the game black is playing, whether the opponent wants to or not. When you strip them off their unfair key card or stop them from reaching critical mass, a lot of Pioneer decks end up playing a fair game after all, just badly.
That's been the recipe for success of Rock, Jund, Rakdos all along, across the formats and ages. Rather than building an army/board/hand, the color of disruption and destruction brings everyone down to its own level, never better exemplified than when Liliana makes each player discard. Then, it goes for the kill, however messy. This instance, for instance, loves sitting across from an empty-handed or tapped-out opponent with Sheoldred in play and casting one final Sign in Blood, targeting them this time to take their last 6 life.
"Ready to sign the result slip? Doesn't have to be in blood."
|Monoblack Midrange by LizzieBus, Top 8 at Pioneer Challenge, January 14|
|Monoblack Midrange by Edel, 9th at Pioneer Challenge, January 15|
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