Black in Control Decks

Black is a frequent player in control decks, usually paired along with blue or occasionally white.  As standard turns further and further away from blue, and black keeps getting more and more appealing control cards, black is poised to usurp blue in the current standard as the control color of choice*.

To see black’s strengths and weakness, let’s explore its ability to play upon the principles of control.

1: Card advantage: This is typically black’s stumbling point.  While black has a long tradition of (usually good) card draw in exchange for loss of life, there are rarely more than 2 such cards in standard, and a similarly small number in extended.  Black also has access to discard, which is an excellent and often overlooked means of card advantage.  The downside of this is that, if an opponent is out of cards (such as aggro decks often hope to do), discards become dead cards in one’s hand, and thus card disadvantage.  However, discard is a vicious tactic against control decks and many combo decks, meaning it’s a good fit for the right meta, or as a sideboard option.  Recurring cards from your graveyard can often be a source of card advantage, and  Black has a tradition of sweepers of various quality.  Infest is currently black’s best sweeper, and is only good against certain decks, but can generate massive card advantage if played right.    Finally, black has big, efficient creatures in exchange for drawbacks.  Being able to block and destroy your opponents creatures, or simply make them irrelevant on the battlefield, is an often overlooked source of card advantage.

2. Answers.  If you want to answer your enemy’s creature, black is the color to do it.  Black is even decent at killing cards with protection from black, via edict-styled effects.  After this, however, black starts to have issues.   Black doesn’t have any answers to artifacts OR enchantments once they hit the board, and the same is true for instants or sorceries.  Cards like Duress can answer these cards, and nonspecific discard can occasionally force these cards into an opponents graveyard where they belong.  Control decks as a rule have trouble with planeswalkers, and while blue can counter a planeswalker, and white can oblivion ring them, black has only the very specific Vampre Hexmage to lean on.

3. Finishers.  Black has plenty of big creatures, often with evasion and some sort of protection.  Malakir bloodwitch, Ob Nixilis, or even Vein Drinker are all great monoblack finishers.  And one can’t overlooks a large consume spirit.

4.  Tempo obstruction.  Typically, the process of answering your opponents threats is enough to slow down their clock long enough for you to bash them with a finisher, but not always.  Luckily, black typically has the most relevant life gain: that which also kills your opponent’s stuff.  A good tendril’s of corruption or consume spirit can buy you lots of time against an aggressive deck.

So, black has the tools it needs to fill out control docket all on its own, but there are lots of “buts”.  One needs to find a good suite of removal spells that manage to cover all of your bases, as black kill spells tend to have conditions.  Inability to deal with artifacts/enchantments can often push monoblack out of a format, or force it to splash a different color.  Sometimes infest is simply not enough.  Also, when faeries where rampant in standard, black’s shortage of instant speed removal was damning.

Monoblack also is in the odd bind of having the creature removal to beat aggro decks but do poorly against many control and combo decks, and the hand disruption to really mess up many control decks, but can be dead against aggro.

Smart sideboarding can help you alleviate this, having an anti-control build and an anti-aggro build, post board, with your maindeck being a hybrid of the two.

Stay tuned for next time, when I meddle with the monoblack control tools of standard.  You know, unless I change my mind

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