Black is one of the more versatile colors in MTG Arena and can excel in a wide variety of formats, including mono black. Black can perform almost anything, but usually at a cost. Unless you are destroying creatures or deploying some threats of your own, you will likely have to pay life or sacrifice creatures.
However, this flexibility enables you to construct almost any archetype in black, particularly if you combine it with another color. In this guide, we will focus on building and playing a mono black deck, designed for Standard in MTG Arena.
Specifically, we will examine the MTG Arena mono black mid-range deck. So, let us dive into some Phyrexian fun!
Mid-range is aptly named – it’s not as fast as aggro, nor as slow as control. Instead, it sits between the two, hence its name. But how does mid-range win?
Mid-range wins by playing cards that provide immediate value as soon as they hit the board and by playing cards that exert significant pressure on your opponent. Unlike aggro, which relies entirely on pressure, mid-range takes a few turns longer to get going, but has much more potent threats once it does. This is precisely what our deck is all about.
Mono Black Mid-Range Strategy
Our MTG Arena mono black deck will have a top curve of seven mana. However, this is a bit misleading, and I will explain why shortly. Most of the cards in the deck will cost between four to five mana, which includes almost all of our threats and win conditions.
We will then round out our curve with some removal and card draw cards that cost three or two mana. The removal and card draw are included to help us deal with early threats, so that we can (hopefully) play our potent pressure cards on curve and wipe out our opponents.
Mono Black Deck List
Below is a list of all the cards in the deck. I will explain why each card is included. Fair warning, this deck is going to be expensive in terms of mythics and rares, but this is often the case. All of them are essential to our deck:
- Swamp x26
- Infernal Grasp x4
- Blood Pact x4
- Hero’s Downfall x4
- Infectious Inquiry x4
- Murder x2
- Phyrexian Obliterator x4
- Sheoldred, the Apocalypse x4
- Invoke Despair x4
- Phyrexian Fleshgorger x4
Since we are playing a mono black deck, we’ll only need one type of land. Mono-colored decks often run only basics or very few non-basic lands since they are less necessary. This deck runs only swamps.
However, you may have noticed something interesting. The conventional wisdom when building a 60-card Magic deck is to run 24 lands and 36 spells. Often, you pick your 24 lands, followed by 9 spells, and run four copies of each, and you are done.
This deck is a bit different in that it runs 26 lands, cutting back on two Murders to make room. This might seem like a minor detail, but it is crucial. The key cards in this deck cost four or five mana, and we need those extra lands to ensure that we can play our key cards on curve as best as we can. If we cannot, our deck becomes significantly worse.
Let’s take a look at our fancy schmancy mythics next. I know we run 12 of them in the deck, which can be challenging in MTG Arena, particularly for free-to-play players. However, I genuinely believe that these 12 are essential to the deck.
The first mythic I want to discuss is Phyrexian Obliterator. It is by far our best card and a key win condition. Phyrexian Obliterator costs four black mana and is a 5/5 with trample. Whenever an opponent deals damage to it, they must sacrifice that many permanents.
If played on turn four, it can often win us games on the spot (depending on the matchup). A 5/5 with trample on turn four can apply significant pressure on its own, but its ability is what makes it so potent. If your opponent blocks Phyrexian Obliterator, they must sacrifice permanents equal to the blocking creature’s power, which can include lands.
If this occurs early in the game, it may win it for us outright since their mana will be depleted. If they do not block, we deal five damage, which is equivalent to a quarter of their starting life total. Alternatively, we can save Phyrexian Obliterator for blocking purposes, effectively preventing our opponents from attacking in many situations.
Next up, we have Phyrexian Fleshgorger, which is another important card in our deck. Remember when I mentioned that our top curve is at seven mana, but it’s a bit misleading? Well, this is where Phyrexian Fleshgorger comes into play.
While it costs seven generic mana to play, it has a unique ability called “prototype.” This allows us to play it for just one or two black mana instead, at the cost of it becoming a 3/3 instead of a 7/5. This is an incredibly useful ability, as it means we can play a 3/3 creature with lifelink and ward as early as turn three, which can throw off the tempo of aggressive decks (which are typically our weakest matchup).
In addition to its prototype ability, Phyrexian Fleshgorger has other useful features, such as menace, lifelink, and ward (which allows us to pay life equal to its power to protect it from harm). It’s a strong creature that can gain us life while also being difficult for our opponents to remove. Overall, it’s a key card in our deck that helps us stay alive and stay in the game.
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse
Finally, we have Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. Sheoldred costs two black and two generic mana and is a 4/5 creature with deathtouch. Her powerful ability punishes our opponents whenever they draw a card by making them lose two life, while we gain two life for every card we draw.
If Sheoldred isn’t immediately removed, it can really start hurting our opponent and the life gain is also beneficial. Although not quite as good as Phyrexian Obliterator, if we can play Sheoldred on turn four, it can become another source of immense pressure on our opponents.
The first rare in our deck is Invoke Despair. It costs five black mana and forces our opponent to sacrifice a creature. If they are unable to do so, they will lose two life, and we will draw a card. Then, the same process is repeated for enchantments and planeswalkers.
This card provides incredibly versatile value. On one extreme, we cause our opponent to lose three permanents, of which are two types that black struggles to remove. On the other extreme, we make our opponent lose six permanents and we draw three cards (a solid deal for five mana). Any of the options in-between are also good, making this a card that we’re almost always happy to play.
The second rare in our deck is Hero’s Downfall. For one generic and two black, we have an instant that destroys a creature or planeswalker.
This is one of the best removal spells currently in Standard, and it will be instrumental in dealing with early threats and problematic planeswalkers. Having this powerful disruption in our deck is essential.
Our first uncommon card is Infernal Grasp, an instant that costs one generic and one black mana and destroys a target creature at the cost of two life. Although it damages us and cannot destroy planeswalkers like Hero’s Downfall, it only costs two mana.
This is a great removal spell for our deck, as it helps us disrupt aggro decks and buy time to play our powerful threats. Even if our opponent plays a fast 2/2 creature with haste, taking two damage once from Infernal Grasp is a reasonable tradeoff to avoid taking more damage from that creature in subsequent turns.
Next up is Blood Pact. This instant card costs two generic and one black mana and allows us to make target player draw two cards and lose two life. In Standard, this is solid card draw for black. The fact that it’s an instant is another advantage as it gives us the flexibility to play it at our opponent’s end phase, leaving mana open for removal on their turn if we need to deal with a threat.
This card has great potential for utility, and while we are almost always going to target ourselves with Blood Pact, there may be occasions where our opponent is at two life, allowing us to use it to get a cheeky kill.
Finally, we have two copies of Murder in our deck. For the cost of one generic and two black mana, we have an instant that destroys target creature. Although it is a strictly worse version of Hero’s Downfall, it is an uncommon card, making it easier to obtain.
We include it in our deck for redundancy, but we have cut two copies to add two extra swamps. The reason for this is because Murder lacks the flexibility to deal with planeswalkers that Hero’s Downfall has, nor does it have the advantage of costing only two mana like Infernal’s Grasp.
Our only common is Infectious Inquiry, which costs two generic and one black mana to cast. It’s a sorcery that lets us draw two cards at the cost of two life and gives each opponent a poison counter. However, in our deck, it is a strictly worse version of Blood Pact.
Unlike Blood Pact, Infectious Inquiry lacks flexibility as it cannot be cast as an instant and cannot target opponents for a surprise kill. Additionally, the poison counter is irrelevant as we have no way to get our opponents to ten.
Nonetheless, having redundancy for card draw is still advantageous. With Infectious Inquiry, we have eight sources of card draw in the deck (twelve if we count Invoke Despair, although that one is less reliable). Without this redundancy, we would frequently find ourselves in topdeck mode, which is a position no deck wants to be in.
How to Play a Mono Black Deck in MTG Arena
Let’s delve into playing our deck in more detail, beginning with the mulligan. As previously mentioned, our main concerns are being overwhelmed by aggro decks and not having enough mana to play our four and five-drop threats on curve or close to it. Therefore, our priority is to have an opening hand with three to four swamps, ideally four.
Although we can risk going as low as a two-land hand if we have our removal spells or Phyrexian Fleshgorgers, even then, relying on drawing a third land can be dangerous. I strongly advise against keeping a two-land hand that only has our three-drop card draw and not removal or Fleshgorger, as that is even more precarious.
How to Beat Aggro & Control Decks
The playstyle of this deck is generally straightforward. Our goal is to apply pressure on our opponents and win by playing our early threats, namely Sheoldred, the Apocalypse and Phyrexian Obliterator, which I have emphasized since the beginning of this guide.
This strategy remains consistent throughout the game, but we may need to adjust our approach depending on whether we are facing aggro or control decks.
Versus Aggro Decks
The MTG Arena ladder heavily incentivizes aggro decks, which are the types we need to be wary of, especially in matchups. If an aggro deck draws well, we may get blown out early, and there is not much we can do about that.
However, assuming that doesn’t happen, our priority should be defense. We need to play Fleshgorgers for their prototype cost as early as possible, hold up mana for removal when we have it in hand, and keep Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, and Phyrexian Obliterators back as blockers.
When facing aggro, we should avoid playing Blood Pact or Infectious Inquiry on turn three if we have removal in hand. These spells will cost us two life, which can be significant against an aggro deck, and will prevent us from dealing with a threat our opponent may play on their turn.
If we just attack all out with our threats as soon as we get them, we may lose the life point race and die. Even though our creatures are bigger, they are slower, and that alone may not be enough.
In the aggro matchup, Phyrexian Fleshgorger becomes our MVP. While Phyrexian Obliterator remains the best card overall in our deck, being able to play a blocker that gains life on turn three can effectively disrupt our opponent’s game plan.
Versus Control Decks
Against control decks, it’s advisable to take the opposite approach. If you have a Sheoldred, the Apocalypse or Phyrexian Obliterator in hand on turn four, it’s best to play it, even if your opponent has two or three untapped islands.
While there is a chance that it will get countered, it’s essential to keep in mind that they have a limited number of counter spells in their deck. If you hold back and never play your threats, your opponent will still be holding up the counter spells, so you won’t gain any advantage.
Moreover, any control deck worth its salt is designed for the long game. Winning the long game against control is difficult, but you can gain an advantage by getting a threat past their defenses early and pushing it. Although it may seem daunting to force them to use their counters, doing so will ultimately lead to more success than not playing your threats for fear of counter spells.
In the control matchup, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is our MVP. One of the most popular control decks in Standard right now is mono blue, relying heavily on counters and bounce spells as their only means of control. By playing Sheoldred early, we can make it difficult for the opponent to get rid of her. This is especially punishing against mono blue, which runs a lot of card draw.
Against Izzet control decks, Sheoldred’s five toughness makes her resistant to burn spells if she gets through a counter. While Sheoldred is vulnerable to kill spells in Dimir control, we should still force those kill spells early and pressure our opponent for a win.
Join the High Ground!
There you have a guide to building a mono black deck in MTG Arena. We hope you find success with this deck and enjoy playing it! If there’s something you think we can improve on, let us know in the comments below.
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Good luck top decking!