Greetings and Salutations everyone, Unmistakable back here with another deck tech. This time around, I had a good hard think about what I wanted to write about. At the moment my decks are in a state of flux, having melted down two of my previous decks into two new ones; when I’m ready to unveil those I will, but for now I’d like you all to meet The Trial of the Underworld. It is a deck I mentioned a couple of weeks back in my Power Balance article, as an example of how decks should be tailored to the table you play at. However, while I give it as an example of a deck on the lower-power end of the spectrum, there’s no denying that it’s incredibly capable of locking games up. It’s higher-than-average mana curve enables a higher density of threats, meaning it can be slow to get off of the ground but is able to keep a steady stream of very relevant threats coming. Without further ado, let’s hop in.
This will be the biggest question I can see going through people’s heads when they sit down to read this. Why is Erebos the choice, especially when this time last week I had chosen Sheoldred, Whispering One as the commander for Mono-black control. I have elected Erebos for a number of reasons:
- He’s indestructible, one cast of him on turn 3-4 may well be the only time you ever need to cast him.
- He has a powerful passive effect that supports the game plan – it’s easier to grind life totals out when incremental lifegain effects such as lifelink are turned off (As somebody in a metagame with an Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, this is absolutely fantastic)
- He’s a draw engine. For an often draw-go playstyle, instant speed repeatable card draw is what helps smooth the deck out and ensuring constant availability of answers (or lands early game)
I’ll begin with the ‘Win Conditions’. Though the threats are often much more than enough to overpower a game, the Win Cons are the splashy ways of either ending the game, or swinging it violently in your favour.
Exsanguinate – The first win condition to be put into this build, Exsanguinate is the reason I’ve gone so far in on the fast mana plan. For the small price of 40BB, this card can instantly kill every opponent unfortunate enough to not gain any life before you dropped your commander. While the price may seem steep (Hell, it is) it is a lot more accessible if the maximum life total at the table is lower (You’re monoblack, life loss is a thing you do) and high amounts of mana is what this deck does.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel – My favourite card out of Theros block (Sorry, Erebos), for the longest time the Merchant of Death was my win condition in standard, and I’d been itching to use him again. There are a lot of difficult to remove permanents that give devotion such as the commander himself, Sorin Markov or Phyrexian Arena, and when your board gets out of control, this guy can descend to provide in excess of 30 points of life swing. Why was he a common again?
Profane Command – The final win condition is the most flexible. While it doesn’t kill multiple people, it can kill somebody and kill a threat, give you a threat back, or indeed give your board the ability to kill a second nonblack player. There is really no reason not to use it.
While not instant wins, these are the beasts that allow you to take the driver’s seat on what happens in game.
Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief – Doubling as removal, Drana earns her spot here as she often swings for upwards of ten flying damage. In a deck so capable of generating obscene amounts of mana, her ability becomes similar to the effect of Draining Whelk, presenting unconditional removal and a threat that gets bigger when it takes down valuable targets. When protected she dismantles board states and life totals with impunity.
Geth, Lord of the Vault – While Drana doubles as removal, Geth doubles as recursion. When fed mana, he can quickly deplete a creature/artifact based deck, presenting a Villainous Wealth-esque effect. All of this attached to a respectable, evasive body.
Grave Titan – The titans are understandable staples of each of their respective colours. Grave Titan churns out tokens that can be used in conjunction with other effects – he is often a high priority tutor target after Dictate of Erebos resolves for example – and also threatens to take anything that wants to attempt to kill it in combat with him.
Kokusho, the Evening Star – Once banned in commander, Kokusho made a place in this list by being a high priority target that can quickly turn the table on you. Kokopuffs is yet another evasive body that quickly chips away life totals, threatening an even BIGGER life swing if somebody has the nerve to deal with her. Bonus for dredging her back afterwards with a large Profane Command.
Lashwrithe – An unusual contender in the spot for ‘Game ending threat’, this can often hit the table as an 8/8 for 4, then attaching itself to the biggest threat on the board. With all of these evasive threats going around, Lashwrithe puts the table on a VERY short clock.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed – Featuring here without his partner in crime Triskelion, Mike hitting the board means you’re boardwipe-proof, hitting harder, and also being another of the intimidating (heh, intimidating) threats to be evasive in its application of damage to face.
Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath – The first Planeswalker in the list, Ob Nixilis is basically a walker of two abilities. Beginning with the first ability that gets used when he hits the field, His -2 gives you a French vanilla Kokusho for the measly price of 2 life. While this is barely worth it after the one usage, multiple uses can quickly overwhelm. This ability goes hand in hand with his +2, allowing him to indefinitely cycle the two abilities; including the life payment in a game with 2 or more opponents. The pain he inflicts upon your opponents can quickly add up as well, when you’re the only one allowed to gain life at all.
Ob Nixilis, Unshackled – An excellent threat against combo decks, 4/4 flying trample that can feed on the death of others is pretty good for 6. However, he punishes tutoring brutally, including the more innocent land ramp but also forcing an exorbitantly high price for those looking to find answers to him; particularly due to the sorcery speed nature of most of the fairer tutors (No Vampiric Tutor, get out of here)
Pestilence Demon – Initially it was a toss up between putting this here and in win conditions; when fed enough mana, this demon can obliterate the board, life totals, your dog sleeping in the other room, everything. When given lifelink (Through, for example, Whip of Erebos), your life total when funnelling a lethal amount of mana into his ability is irrelevant, as you’ll often gain >4 life for each 1 you take. Easily worth the cost.
Reaper from the Abyss – An engine attached to an evasive body, Reaper allows you to double up on your removal spells, quickly diminishing the board even if it’s not you doing the killing. While the trigger not being a ‘may’ can be a disadvantage, enough of your threats are demonic in nature that it often doesn’t matter.
Sheoldred, Whispering One – Probably one of the more unfair threats in the deck, Sheoldred forces the other players into The Abyss, while granting you a reanimation effect in lieu of a sacrifice. While her ability of swampwalk seems often irrelevant, the presence of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in the deck, it reads much more similarly to ‘unblockable’. Given that this is on top of the immense pressure she puts on each of your opponent’s boards, she is one of the first general threats to be tutored for.
Sorin Markov – The final threat in this list, Sorin has a HEAVY reputation attached to him for good reason; his -3 effectively deletes a player when used in conjunction with Erebos’ denial of lifegain and a lot of the incidental life loss like Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath or Pestilence Demon. Once he’s hit and deleted one player, his +2 serves as repeatable removal, being a +2 allows him to get back above the threshold to reduce another player’s health to 10 if he lives that long. Absolutely Degenerate.
The big mana deck is only as good as its ramp, and the biggest section of the deck is its ramp suite.
Charcoal Diamond, Jet Medallion, Mind Stone, Sol Ring, Thran Dynamo, Unstable Obelisk – Your bog standard rock suite. I throw Jet Medallion in here as it effectively reads as a repeatable ‘Add 1 to your mana pool’ in a deck featuring all black spells. Shout out to the Obelisk for also being one of this deck’s many ways of interacting with noncreature permanents.
Burnished Hart, Solemn Simulacrum – Land ramp creatures; they provide a body and early presence in the game and even have the ability to give you value on the way out. The hart gives a free block on its way to ramping you, and the robot cantrips on death.
Caged Sun, Crypt Ghast, Extraplanar Lens – The mana doublers of the deck, these provide the biggest burst of excess mana straight away, and the resolution of one of these often kickstarts the game plan hard. Crypt Ghast makes more than up for being a creature by providing a source of Extort, too. While it may seem insignificant, the fact that extort hits all opponents and gives you life equal to the total rather than a flat one makes it pretty backbreaking in EDH.
Expedition Map – This may bring a weird look or two, and I’ve got one thing to say to that – Cabal Coffers. Or, if you draw that before then Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx or Crypt of Agadeem. It also grants access to the utility silver bullets in Ghost Quarter or Bojuka Bog. A pretty flexible piece of tech that I believe earns it place.
Liliana of the Dark Realms – Ah, the dark sheep of the Vess family. While the other Liliana’s may prefer to remain unassociated from this one, she has her place in this deck. A live draw early or late, she provides a steady flow of land when you need it, or can be an incredibly potent removal when needed. As for her ultimate, it might not be game winning, but with the amount of sinks for huge amounts of mana in this deck, it’s similar.
Magus of the Coffers – My second copy of Cabal Coffers, Slapping a Lightning Greaves on this is a sign of the end for a table. An effectual mana doubler, Cabal coffers (and the Magus thereof) are integral to the deck’s more explosive starts.
A control deck is nothing without its answers, and this deck is packed with them.
Corrupt, Tendrils of Corruption – These may seem overcosted, and they probably could be replaced by more efficient effects (Doom Blade might be alright) there are a few things going on with these. One, Corrupt hits players. Being the more expensive of the two, it also hits harder more often (though the same strength as Tendrils, for obvious reasons), and can serve to finish people off in a pinch. The lifegain is also not inconsequential here, as the sheer amount of effects that abuse your already inflated life total as a resource, giving yourself more life to funnel into cards is a great benefit.
Dictate of Erebos – A fantastic card, the dictate often stops the game still until it can become dealt with. While Grave Pact is the more efficient choice, I find paying the extra mana to give it flash is better for a blindside to mess with board states and create potential blowout situations.
Fleshbag Marauder, Shriekmaw – Creature-based removal spells, these are in the deck primarily for their interaction with the creature recursion effects. Occasionally leaving behind bodies is a bonus, and looping the Fleshbag turn after turn with Sheoldred, Whispering One is more pressure than most creature decks can deal with.
Go for the Throat, Hero’s Downfall, Malicious Affliction – Spot removal, I chose flexible options while keeping them mana efficient. Go for the Throat is more flexible in my meta than Doom Blade, and the potential for doubling up the bang for your buck pushes the Affliction over the top. Hero’s Downfall’s ability to kill a ‘walker is its main use, as Karns, Ugins and the like are very present in the meta.
Scour from Existence – While VERY expensive, this is probably one of black’s only ways to deal with noncreatures at instant speed. Gaea’s Cradle got you down? Nope, gone. Rest in Peace keeping your yard in check? Not anymore. Darksteel Forge/Nevinyrral’s Disk lock on the stack? You bet it’s symmetrical again. A necessary evil, it has been there when I need it most, and will continue to be.
Silence the Believers, Tragic Slip – While it could be argued these are spot removal spells, I figure they require special mention as they deal with targets unconditionally and can hit through regeneration or indestructible, whereas the others couldn’t.
Sudden Spoiling – The unsung hero of the removal suite, this has a diverse number of uses that can often buy you the time you need to push through. Previously it has shut down Splinter Twin, frozen a Deadeye Navigator mid-combo, and allowed an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to be taken down by a bear. Couple all of this with Split Second, and you’ve got yourself one impactful panic button.
I’m setting the board wipes apart here, as there are often reasons that you’d prefer one over the others.
Black Sun’s Zenith – Unconditional once you reach a large amount of mana, this card is a great choice because 1) it self-recurs, 2) it’s modular in its size. If there is a commander with a big toughness that you’d rather not see back in the command zone, you can instead choose to kill his board and severely cripple bigger targets. Examples of this are leaving a Brago, King Eternal or Derevi, Empyrial Tactician with 0 power to mute their abilities, or shrinking a Maelstrom Wanderer without sending it back for a recasting.
Crux of Fate – All pretence aside, Damnation would be better here, but is omitted for budget concerns. In certain narrow situations it can be preferable (such as wiping out everything but Kokusho, the evening Star for example) but largely it is a go to board wipe.
Decree of Pain – Rarely hardcasted (but great when it is), this is often an instant speed, uncounterable (bar a Stifle or two) Infest. This is often a desirable effect, it prevents death by Splinter Twin and mops up any dorks or utility creatures that wouldn’t be worth using a removal spell on.
Living Death – In with the wipes as a splashy board altering effect, but rarely ever a wipe. Great when used shortly following a drop of Bojuka Bog, playing this with Fleshbag Marauder and Shriekmaw in the graveyard can often lead to you coming out on top in the resultant board state.
Mutilate – This is for when you just need EVERYTHING to die. More efficient in its -X/-X than the Zenith, but also unmodular, this can easily become an untargetted morbid Tragic Slip to everything on the board; breaking through Shroud, Indestructible and regeneration effects. Its symmetrical and will reset you as well, but as you’re the one pulling the trigger you often have a plan for the aftermath.
As is the case with most black tutors, they are all unconditional (except Beseech the Queen, which is unconditional after a while), there are one or two notes to be made:
Liliana Vess – A sorcery speed Vampiric Tutor that trades speed for lack of life loss, this planeswalker hopes to become a tutoring engine. The discard is usually irrelevant in multiplayer, but the tutors can paint a big target on her head from the start. Make sure the first target protects her unless you have a distinct line in mind.
The rest of the tutors (Beseech the Queen, Diabolic Tutor and Increasing Ambition) are largely the same in function. If I were looking at extending the budget on this deck, Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor would also be here. Largely your first tutor target is Cabal Coffers, then interweave removal and threats to taste. The beauty of a black tutor suite is the flexibility it offers.
Bloodgift Demon – While not a fantastic card in itself, it’s a steady flow of cards stapled to a decently bodied flyer. I personally have yet to have the pleasure of using the Demon targetting an opponent to kill them, but it’s a nice (albeit narrow) option to have available to you.
Disciple of Bolas – A tremendous value creature, Hitting anything higher than a 3 power creature is fantastic. Failing that, there are plenty of token generators in the deck to give you value for relatively little effort.
Phyrexian Arena – Bloodgift Demon 2.0, this is a difficult to interact with permanent that cranks out an incredible amount of value at any cost. An undeniable black staple, there is no reason not to have it.
Read the Bones, Sign in Blood – A standard source of black card advantage, the fire-and-forget 2 cards for 2 life sorceries help us find what we need early game, and can often enable shaky opening hands through the ability to search deeper, sooner.
There are only two spells whose sole purpose is reanimation; though Sheoldred and Living Death belong here. If the situation calls for it, these can be tutored up to taste.
Victimize – Quite possibly my favourite budget reanimation spell, it is not very difficult to construct a situation where the sacrifice clause is irrelevant. A Zombie token, Kokusho, Solemn Simulacrum, anything with Mikaeus, the Unhallowed on board, the list goes on. On top of that, it presents a double reanimate for 3 mana, at which time you could recur 10+ mana’s worth of creature. While entering tapped hurts, Sheoldred doesn’t need to be untapped to be intimidating.
Whip of Erebos – Originally a token inclusion for flavour reasons, this enchantment-artifact-thing has proven its worth. First, the passive ability is huge in this deck. When there are several effects eating at your life total, the ability to swing your evasive threats to net some lifegain works wonders in increasing your longevity. It is also, as i mentioned earlier, pretty filthy as a combo with Pestilence Demon too. Not only does it make the demons effect one sided by healing you the point it deals to you, you also suck up an extra life for each other creature/player hit. Per activation. Oloro, Ageless Ascetic and Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice can eat their respective hearts out – this is the only type of lifegain for me. As for the activated ability, an activation of this can range from ok to great – the exile clause negates on death effects like Kokusho, the Evening Star and Solemn Simulacrum, but they at least get a free lifelinky swing. When that 4 mana is bringing back afforementioned Pestilence Demon, or Gray Merchant of Asphodel, then you may want to excuse yourself to catch a cold shower. While a powerful artifact, it is often only dealt with incidentally by a wipe, as there are many better targets in the format. Great inclusion.
Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots – These didn’t really fit anywhere else, so I gave them their own section. In a deck with so many creatures that grind out incremental value such as Sheoldred, Whispering One, or Magus of the Coffers, these little sets of boots can easily assist in closing a game out. Good for tutoring against particularly spot removal heavy decks, these are at least worth consideration.
Now, as a preface to this, I am aware of the subpar choices made in this decklist. This is a deck of self-imposed limitations for when I play people who hate on infinite combos or people who are new to the format, with precons and such. As a result, I restricted my budget, only really splurging on Cabal Coffers/Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Sorin Markov and Sheoldred, Whispering One. The rest of the deck is pretty cheap, and I shall cover my first stops if I were to go into overdrive with improvements below.
However, allow me to reiterate; despite budget constraints, it does what it was built to do, and it does that well. A typical game flows: Ramp fairly hard, Cast Erebos on turn 2-4 (most often 3 with a turn 2 rock), then dig for a mana doubler. This can be through his ability, the other draw spells in the deck or a tutor suite, but the doublers are what make the deck run smoothly. Once one of those is online, beging churning out threats and more mana doublers quicker than your opponents have answers for. If you’re dealt with too quickly, the deck can fall back on a control plan, keeping the board under wraps until the other players run out of answers. The high curve of the deck make mulligans pretty rough, though a good rule of thumb is to keep as many mana sources as you can, unless its something dumb like 6 lands. The commander being a draw engine, it is pretty easy to find live draws once Erebos is online.
These have been at a point of contention for me for a while, and each have their place in the deck should you wish to persue a similar deck idea.
Sanguine Bond/Exquisite Blood – A reasonably cheap infinite combo (moneywise, 10 mana is a bit steep for my tastes), this didn’t make the list purely because I didn’t want to include infinite combos in the deck. Despite this, both pieces are excellent for the Erebos deck, as all of the incidental life gain/life loss the deck deals become a lot more potent, and increase the pressure you provide.
Gauntlet of Power, Nirkana Revenant – these are the two pricier mana doublers; if someone were to be looking for a way to make the deck smoother, this would be one of the first places to look. Two more chances to blow up your mana production, having increased redundancy can reduce the deck’s reliability on tutors.
Demonic tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Grim Tutor – the list goes on. Though these all read – the more efficient tutors. When I said redundancy on mana doublers increases the smoothness, this is the other way to go. The more efficient tutors can act as literally any other card in your deck, and with all of the black ones being unconditional, there is no limit to the targets. While expensive, the flexibility added by these spells can not be understated.
That’ll do me this week guys, feel free to leave feedback. As was mentioned earlier in the week, we have a facebook feed online now, so if you like this and want more be sure to like that. Thanks for reading, unmistakable out.