Last updated on April 6, 2021
Lurrus of the Dream-Den | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak
It’s been a tough rotation for Mono Black. Before Standard rotation, we had an abundance of mono black devotion decks taking top spots in events, but these were overshadowed by Uro-focused ramp decks and haven’t made a comeback since. Some die-hard players love Mono Black and have actively been looking for ways to make the deck viable again.
One of those lists is Mono Black Aggro. A surprisingly quick deck that also incorporates some cool draw engines in the form of Hateful Eidolon, Lurrus of the Dream-Den, and various -X/-X auras to remove creatures on your opponent’s side. This deck’s main weakness is planeswalkers and enchantments because it lacks the removal to effectively deal with these permanents. Still, with a meta-game that is dominated by Gruul, rogues, mono green, and mono red, this deck has plenty of favorable matchups to turn your average win rate in your favor.
For those of you that follow my YouTube channel, you probably saw my take on Mono Black a while back where I pulled off a 7-0 win at an event pre-Kaldheim, but the deck I’ll be looking at today has a few different elements in it, mainly Egon, God of Death. I’ve seen similar decks pulling off 60 to 64% or higher win rates in a large pool (100+) of games. I personally tend to dismiss such high win rates as outliers, but even then, it is impressive. So let’s take a look at it.
The strategy plays out like most decks with a robust offensive curve. What makes this deck great is the fact that it can push out tremendous amounts of damage early on thanks to Demonic Embrace and Egon, God of Death. The enchantment especially can turn a simple 1/2 Serrated Scorpion into a massive 4/3 flying creature as early as turn 3. Having a 4/3 flyer available in the early game is pretty much on par with what Gruul is doing right now.
Since we have a lot of subtle sources of life gain like Hateful Eidolon, Mire Triton, and the death trigger of the aforementioned Scorpion, this deck is great at pushing you slightly out of reach for the turn 4 kill that many of the top tier aggro decks rely on. Having an abundance of removal spells also helps to slow down aggro opponents.
Being paired up with decks like Azorius control is nearly an auto-loss, though. Still, the sideboard is full of goodies to give you an extra boost against decks that don’t rely on creatures to push themselves over the finish line.
We have several amazing 1-drops in both creatures and auras.
First of all, we have our generic aggro engine: Serrated Scorpion, a nice 1/2 body with some built-in burn damage on death, and Hateful Eidolon, a fantastic 1-drop that lets you draw a card whenever you remove an opponent’s creature with one of your Dead Weights or Mire’s Grasps, but also when a Demonic Embrace creature on your side leaves the field.
The Eidolon combos nicely with Lurrus of the Dream-Den, since those -X/-X auras count as permanents so you can return one to the battlefield with Lurrus every turn.
Egon, God of Death also has a backside: Throne of Death. I’ll talk more about it during Egon’s segment.
- It pushes you outside of lethal range on turn 4, thanks to the life gain;
- It fills your graveyard with creatures and enchantments to bring back to the battlefield with either Lurrus of the Dream-Den or Agadeem’s Awakening, or to play Demonic Embrace from the graveyard;
- It has deathtouch, so it can theoretically remove one of your opponent’s creatures.
Aphemia, on the other hand, is a great 2/2 generator since we put so many enchantments in the graveyard. Especially with the backside of our 3-drop, Egon, God of Death.
We’ve already discussed Lurrus extensively, so let’s jump into discussing Egon, God of Death right away. This card is fantastic. It’s likely to stick on the board being a natural 6/6. On top of that, we tend to fill our graveyard rather quickly, so exiling two cards is hardly a cost. If your opponent can manage to remove it early on, it unfortunately can’t be revived with Lurrus of the Dream-Den. However, you can always play the long game and bring it back with a well-timed Agadeem’s Awakening.
Egon plus Demonic Embrace is almost an instant win. It’s pretty funny that this card has deathtouch as its keyword, seeing as a 6/6 should be able to naturally destroy most creatures as-is.
Sometimes Egon’s backside can be pretty useful, turning our dead creatures into a source of card advantage. Great if your board somehow got destroyed and you want to make a comeback. Most of the time, though, you don’t want to use the backside since a 6/6 like this is just too powerful.
For our 4-drop slots we have Rankle, Master of Pranks.
Rankle is a solid card with a bunch of triggers when it deals damage to the opponent. It helps to leverage the combo potential of Lurrus of the Dream-Den even further by attacking, sacrificing Serrated Scorpion, and then bringing it back with Lurrus.
This deck runs Dead Weight and Mire’s Grasp as removal but Demonic Embrace as a massive buff spell for our creatures. Since the Embrace can be cast from the graveyard, you’re almost certain to be able to turn one of your creatures into an even more powerful version of itself.
Mogis’s Favor can double as a removal card or creature buff depending how you play it. It combos nicely with Hateful Eidolon for card draw, but can also give our 2 toughness creatures (Eidolon as well) a massive buff in power. This card’s versatility is excellent.
The Instants and Sorceries
Village Rites is a great source of card advantage against decks that try to remove your creatures. Getting two cards in return for one creature is an amazing deal. On top of that, you can use this card as a counter measure against Claim the Firstborn or the popular The Akroan War. Having your opponent snatch something like Egon, God of Death is devastating otherwise.
Malakir Rebirth is in the deck because it helps us protect our creatures, especially Lurrus of the Dream-Den when it comes down. Make sure you have a spare mana available when you play an important creature. Alternatively, this card can function as land. You might have noticed that the deck is surprisingly light on them so having cards like this that can come down on turn 2 is pretty nice.
Agadeem’s Awakening is one of those cards you’ll rarely use as its sorcery side, but there are those games that keep dragging on where an X=3 or X=4 on this card can turn it entirely in your favor.
Finally, we have Bloodchief’s Thirst, a flexible removal card dealing with both creatures and planeswalkers. The latter does require the kicker cost to be paid, at least in Standard, where there are no 2CMC planeswalkers.
Aphemia, the Cacophony | Illustration by Lucas Graciano
To mulligan with a deck like this, you need the following:
- Three sources of land. It’s okay to count Malakir Rebirth and Agadeem’s Awakening as land sources as long as it means you can curve your other plays properly;
- Either a 1- or 2-drop and a 3- or 4-drop;
- At least one removal spell.
A great hand already has a full combo in it for Hateful Eidolon or a 1-drop with Demonic Embrace. You need to judge each hand individually and think how it can pro-actively disrupt your opponent’s game plan.
The sideboard has a bunch of neat cards in it. They’re mainly aimed at either graveyard or control decks. You generally don’t want to sideboard when facing aggro decks since we’re already optimized for those types of matchups. Against creature-light control decks, take out the removal auras and bring in the tech I mention.
Cling to Dust and Soul-Guide Lantern are our main techs against graveyard strategies, mainly Dimir rogues and Rakdos aggro. Keeping your or your opponent’s graveyard empty and drawing a card or gaining some life is very useful. The Lantern won’t do much against rogue decks, though.
Discard and Mill Protection
Skyclave Shade is another piece of tech against decks that force you to discard or mill. Being able to bring this back is excellent, especially if you cast it for its kicker cost. It also combos decently with Mire Triton.
Duress is used against control decks to have a means of stripping board wipes and removal out of their hand early.
Finally, we have Call of the Death-Dweller, yet another option against control decks to return your creatures from the graveyard.
There are two cards I particularly like in Mono Black, and those are Thieves’ Guild Enforcer and Grimdancer. These are both valuable creatures. You could theoretically take out some of the Malakir Rebirth or Demonic Embrace copies in favor of these.
You could also abuse cards like Gray Merchant of Asphodel in combination with Ayara, First of Locthwain to build a devotion deck. This type of deck isn’t strong enough to compete in BO3, but it’s a viable option for BO1.
Duress | Illustration by Steven Belledin
Mono Black Aggro is surprisingly good. It’s plagued with poor matchups against control decks which is likely why it’ll never be an actual tier 1 deck in the current format. Still, using it on ladder or events, you’ll be able to pull off some impressive win rates. I’ve won far more games than I lost with it.
I hope we get more access to hasty threats because there’s quite a lot of removal in the game. Our blocks also tend to do little against Gruul since half our deck can’t block Brushfire Elemental and get overrun by Kazandu Mammoth and Lovestruck Beast.
The deck is underrated and should be on people’s radar, though. Don’t try to play the long game when facing a deck like this. Mainly if your strategy revolves around creatures. If Standard were slightly slower, just one turn slower, we’d be able to see Gray Merchant of Asphodel in action much more. I love Gary as a card, but it is what it is! Let’s make do with what we have.
With that said, I hope this article was useful to you and hope to hear your thoughts down below! You could also hop over to our Twitter or Discord for some longer discussions, if that’s more your style. And be sure to check out our free MTGA tracker, Arena Tutor to completely level up your game. I’ll see you in the next one!