Last updated on April 6, 2021

Spawn of Mayhem - Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

Spawn of Mayhem | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

It’s time for yet another mono-colored Historic deck, this time around: Mono Black Aggro. A previously jank-tier deck (like colorless ramp), it’s now an excellent deck at just above a 57% win rate thanks to some of the “new” Kaladesh Remastered cards.

The main cards the deck really needed to become viable are Fatal Push and Scrapheap Scrounger. Both are giving it the flexibility in removal and recurring board presence. I’ve been a big fan of mono black decks for nearly 15 years now, especially the more recent devotion decks. Still, with the speed of the current Historic metagame, it’s been hard to set up and protect a board. This deck changes that.

It even has the old elements of mono black by spamming powerful creatures and trading resources, but the built-in graveyard revival is spot-on. I’m happy with how this deck evolved over the past few weeks, and I’m currently playing it in Mythic quite a bit. The deck is heavily underrepresented in the meta, but that might be for the best, so the Dark Mages among you can use the element of surprise.

The deck may not look as flashy as goblin decks pulling entire armies from the top of their deck or energy decks building cool combos. Still, simplicity and consistency have their own beauty. With that said, let’s have a look at the strategy and decklist!

Knight of the Ebon Legion MTG card art by Alex Konstad

Knight of the Ebon Legion | Illustration by Alex Konstad

The Deck

The Strategy

Mono Black Aggro is a “good stuff” deck full of all the best black cards in the format. We run almost every single value card there is, from removal to graveyard recursion. This deck is a greedy toolbox. It carries answers to a large variety of decks, and I simply love it.

Games generally take slightly longer than traditional aggro decks such as Gruul or mono red. Still, thanks to the lifelink and ability to control the board and opponent’s hand, you should be able to slow the games down enough to out-value many opponents.

The 1-Drops

Our 1-drop slots are Knight of the Ebon Legion and Serrated Scorpion.

The Knight speaks for itself with its powerful effect to grant itself a power and toughness boost. The deathtouch and +1/+1 counters can come in handy as well. On the other hand, the Scorpion is experimental. I was originally running Dread Wanderer in its spot. Still, the 3-mana cost on that card never mattered enough to make it a main-stay. So now I’m running a version that uses the Scorpion, but other cards may be viable.

The 2-Drops

This deck has a lot of great 2-drops. Most of them revolve around returning from the graveyard after board wipes or removal.

Both Scrapheap Scrounger and Skyclave Shade can return from the graveyard for just two mana. The Scrounger requires you to exile a creature from the graveyard, but you’ll usually end up with at least some in there. Skyclave Shade, on the other hand, is much easier to bring back since all it needs is a land to enter the battlefield during the turn you want to revive it.

Our third 2-drop, Gifted Aetherborn, is a sweet 2/3 lifelink deathtouch-er. Because of its 3 toughness, it tends to be able to attack unblocked. Dealing some damage on turn 3 is a great way to pay the spectacle cost of Spawn of Mayhem, allowing for an easy-to-cast turn 3 4/4 flyer.

The 3-Drops

There are several substantial 3-drops. While Spawn of Mayhem is a 4 CMC card, but you usually end up casting it on turn 3 so I’m including it here anyway. Suppose you don’t have any way of dealing damage to your opponent on turn 3 for some reason. In that case, we also have Midnight Reaper and Murderous Rider.

Still, I prefer to keep the Rider in hand as a removal spell. If you’re really in need of a lifelink blocker, though, you can always cast it. Regardless, you usually prioritize Spawn of Mayhem unless you expect a board wipe during your opponent’s next turn.

Midnight Reaper‘s ability to let you draw cards whenever a creature dies is great as well, allowing you to keep putting pressure on your opponent.

The 4-Drop

Rankle, Master of Pranks is our only “real” 4-drop. It’s a versatile card that can help you take over the game when it comes down. Thanks to most of our 2-drop threats being able to come back from the graveyard, you can use Rankle’s sacrifice ability almost every turn. You can always draw extra cards with our Master of Pranks to find lands or discard a creature to make sure you can trigger their effects.

The Instants and Sorceries

We’ve already covered that Murderous Rider mains as a removal spell with a creature attached as a secondary mode. This card is also our primary source of planeswalker removal in the mainboard, so be sure to save it if you suspect your opponent is running some.

The addition of Fatal Push to the Historic format has been fantastic. For just one mana, you can remove any creature with CMC 2 or less at instant speed. If a permanent left the battlefield under your control the turn you cast it, it can destroy any creature of CMC 4 or less, instead. It’s this latter effect that made me consider running a few copies of Fabled Passage. I’m worried that it might cause too many mana issues, though, so I haven’t tried it yet.

Thoughtseize is a format-bending turn 1 play. Not only do you get to remove a card of your choosing, but you also get info on what your opponent has in their hand. This is great to know when to expect removal or board wipes and play around those. Being able to snatch their key card from their hand early on can sometimes grant wins by itself (or forfeits by annoyed opponents).

Our final sorcery is Agadeem’s Awakening. A reliable revival card that doubles up as land. A great card to keep in your hand when you’re flooding out.

Rankle, Master of Pranks MTG card art by Dmitry Burmak

Rankle, Master of Pranks | Illustration by Dmitry Burmak

Mulligan Rules

The mulligan rules for Mono Black Aggro are as follows:

  1. Make sure you have two castable creatures, preferably including a 2-drop that can return from the graveyard if destroyed; if you have a Spawn of Mayhem and a clear path to damage and cast it on turn 3 with its spectacle cost, feel free to keep the hand as well;
  2. Make sure you have three lands (Agadeem’s Awakening counts as a land), but if you spot a Lurrus of the Dream-Den, make sure to play it on turn 1 to avoid it being Thoughtseized;
  3. Make sure you have at least one removal spell and preferably a Thoughtseize.

Since our deck operates as long as it can curve out, use your best judgment on rule 3. Against some opponents, you won’t need removal early on, but this will become apparent in game two and three.

Sideboarding

Some Extra Removal

Our first sideboard tech is Duress. While Thoughtseize is usually enough to remove threats from your opponent’s hand, having Duress can help to double up on the control package. You generally side this in during grindy matchups.

Situational 2-Mana Removal

Next, we have two cards in the 2-mana slot: Legion’s End and Noxious Grasp. These are situational removal cards that can be sided in instead of Gifted Aetherborn. In case you’re up against a matchup that requires all five, you can always cut a Skyclave Shade as well. I personally like Legion’s End since it can exile an entire horde of tokens and give info about your opponent’s hand at the same time.

Anti-Wincon

Necromentia is a great card to remove your opponent’s win conditions. It’s handy against decks that run late-game cards like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Lost Legacy is an excellent alternative in this slot, so feel free to use whichever one you prefer.

Problematic Exiles

Finally, we have a couple of Vraska’s Contempts. Four mana is pretty steep in Historic. Having this available as a means to exile problematic cards like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger can help you win games, though. Be sure not to add this in matchups that can win on turn 3.

Tips and Tricks

Keep in mind, to get +1/+1 counters on your Knight of the Ebon Legion, any player needs to lose four or more life during your turn. Dealing damage to yourself is a perfect way to trigger this. Deal damage to yourself with Agadeem’s Awakening, Spawn of Mayhem, Thoughtseize, or Rankle, Master of Pranks to achieve this.

Another trick is to use Thoughtseize on my own hand to get a creature in the graveyard to use as a resource for Scrapheap Scrounger. It’s a horrible play in terms of card value, of course, but sometimes it’s necessary.

Next, sacrificing one of your creatures with Rankle, Master of Pranks is a great way to activate the Revolt side of Fatal Push. Finally, while we’re on the Rankle subject, keep in mind that letting each player draw a card deals one damage. So you can occasionally actually get lethal by activating this ability. Always add up extra damage to your calculations if you have Rankle on the board.

Honorary Mentions

I already mentioned Dread Wanderer. There are some other cards I’d like in the deck but don’t have space for. Some of these are cards like Blast Zone as a removal source. I’m personally afraid that if we include the Zone, our Castle Locthwain copies may end up having to be played tapped. You could experiment by taking out a few Castles and replacing them with Blast Zones, but I personally haven’t had the time to test it.

As for the sideboard, we don’t run much graveyard hate. Sure, Vraska’s Contempt helps to get rid of creatures like Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, but we don’t have any hard graveyard hate. Adding a Bojuka Bog might help, but again, this could harm the mana base.

Since we can’t run cards like Grafdigger’s Cage, Soul-Guide Lantern or Tormod’s Crypt are both great options.

Time to Wrap Up

Murderous Rider

Murderous Rider | Illustration by Josh Hass

It used to be that the only successful action I’d seen among mono black decks were those using God-Pharaoh’s Gift. I haven’t seen that deck in action for quite some time now. This may be because of the amount of graveyard hate in the format.

This deck is fantastic, though. It has just enough removal and recursion to go toe to toe with the other top tier decks. Personally, I’d like to include a devotion element and bring in Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Still, with the power creep of the recent year, I’ve found that card to be just slightly too slow.

Regardless, the deck is very similar to its same iteration over in Pioneer. If you play and enjoy the deck in that format, it plays similarly in Historic. I’ll do my best to find more mono-colored decks to cover in these guides soon. The next one will likely be mono green elves, but if you prefer mono white or mono blue, please let me know down below!

If you have any questions regarding the decks I showcase, feel free to ask as well. I read every comment and do my best to reply whenever possible. You could also head over to our Discord for a longer chat and download Arena Tutor to track your wins.. With that said, thank you for reading, and see you all in a few days with the next one!

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