After having banned several combo decks into the realm of unplayable, Pioneer is still not quite free of combo decks. Wilderness Reclamation, the shenanigans that was the Jeskai Lukka deck from Standard, and Niv to Light are rearing their ugly heads hoping to take over where just a few months ago was the seat of Dimir Inverter, Lotus Breach, and Mono White Devotion, here we go again. If these decks do to take over, will Wizards wait another 6 months before remembering the format even exists and they should be regulating it to keep it fun and balanced? Anyway, today’s deck is an aggro deck, Mono Black Aggro. Since it’s an aggro deck, let’s start at the bottom of the creature curve and work up from there. In the 1 mana slot: Bloodsoaked Champion, Dread Wanderer, and Knight of the Ebon Legion wait to inflict some heavy damage. Bloodsoaked Champion and Dread Wanderer are both 2/1s. Not exactly a Goblin Guide, but very close. The only downside is that the Champion cannot block and the Wanderer enters play tapped. Both creatures are able to reanimate themselves which is pretty good against decks that run quite a bit of removal spells. Knight of the Ebon Legion, one of the best creatures to be printed into Standard within the last few years, has a great combat trick built in. If you pay 3 mana, you can turn it into a 4/5 with deathtouch and if it connects with your opponent, it will get a +1/+1 counter from its other ability which triggers if an opponent lost 4 or more life that turn. This card can really punish slow decks and just snowball into a massive creature that is hard to deal with. Of course having the other 1 mana creatures be 2/1 also helps to put counters on the Knight.
Moving into the 2 and 3 mana slots on the curve, Mono Black Aggro uses Scrapheap Scrounger, Skyclave Shade, a new card from Zendikar Rising, Gifted Aetherborn, and Murderous Rider. Like the Bloodsoaked Champion and the Dread Wanderer, Scrapheap Scrounger can reanimate itself. It’s also a 3/2 which stays above the creature curve on the vanilla test. Skyclave Shade functions similar to Bloodghast. A card that sees a play in Modern, usually in Dredge decks, Bloodghast is a 2 mana 2/1 that cannot block but it can reanimate itself when you play a land and it has haste as long as on opponent has 10 or fewer life; a very aggressive card that would be right at home in this deck if it were legal. Skyclave Shade is the next best thing. It’s a 3/1 for 2 mana and it also cannot block. Its landfall ability allows you to only cast it from your graveyard rather than virtually reanimating it for free, but with the ability to recast it you have the option to pay its kicker cost, which is an extra 3 mana so 5 mana total, and make it a 5/3. In some cases, this might be better than Bloodghast. Gifted Aetherborn is a 2/3 for 2 mana and it also has deathtouch and lifelink. Murderous Rider is the only 3 drop creature in the deck so I threw it in here. A 2/3 for 3 mana is not great when looking at the vanilla test. However, it does have lifelink which slightly helps redeem the creature part. The best part is that it doubles as removal thanks to its Swift End adventure portion. It’s not a great removal spell, but it does hit planeswalkers which have been running rampant since War of the Spark. The biggest downside is that it costs 2 life in addition to the 3 mana. When you factor that into the card, it’s actually overcosted. It’s the equivalent of Hero’s Downfall with a you-lose-2-life clause tacked on. Sure, playing the creature can get your 2 life back, but in my experience, most of the time you’ll have a better card in hand. Honestly, I have been torn over this card since it was spoiled.
Now for the top of the creature curve, the deck uses Rankle, Master of Pranks, Spawn of Mayhem, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Rankle is a 4 mana 3/3 with haste and flying, not bad. When Rankle connects with your opponent, you can choose to activate some additional abilities; each player sacrifices a creature, each player discards a card, and/or each player draws a card and loses 1 life. This can really hinder decks that either don’t have a lot of card draw or don’t play a lot of creatures. Choose carefully because whatever abilities you choose will affect you as well. Spawn of Mayhem is a 4/4 with flying and trample for 4 mana, already a great creature. However, you can cast it for 3 mana, if you can trigger spectacle by causing your opponent to lose life. The only downside is that it deals 1 damage to each player at the beginning of your upkeep and then once you are down to 10 or less life, it gets a +1/+1 counter during your upkeep which can cause it to snowball like Knight of the Ebon Legion. Kalitas usually hangs out in the sideboard, but feel free to mainboard him if you want. A 3/4 for 4 mana is not too bad even with lifelink. When one of your opponent’s nontoken creatures dies, it gets exiled and you make a 2/2 Zombie token. You can also pay 3 mana and sacrifice a Zombie or a Vampire to give him two +1/+1 counters. If I had to choose only one as a curve topper, it would be the Spawn of Mayhem.
The removal package is very simple: Fatal Push and Heartless Act. Of course you can also use things like Grasp of Darkness and/or Feed the Swarm. Feed the Swarm is better off in the sideboard since you lose life equal to the target’s mana cost. I would certainly bring it in against decks that use enchantments for combo pieces like Wilderness Reclamation and Fires of Invention. I’m also going to throw Thoughtseize in this portion because it acts like psudo removal when you can get a card out of your opponent’s hand. Most of the time, I would not try casting this on turn 1 against combo. While it is good and disrupts your opponent’s hand, combo needs to be kept in check somehow and I think waiting for the midgame, when your opponent should be ready to play a piece of their combo, is better than turn 1. I’d suggest focusing on your board presence first and then use Thoughtseize to help protect your creatures and/or prevent your opponent from playing a combo piece. The optimum time would be after your opponent’s 3rd turn.
The shell of Mono Black Aggro should look like the following:
Bloodsoaked Champion x4
Dread Wanderer x4
Knight of the Ebon Legion x4
Scrapheap Scrounger x2-4
Skyclave Shade x2-4
Gifted Aetherborn x2-4
Murderous Rider x2-4
Rankle Master of Pranks x2-3
Spawn of Mayhem x2-4
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet x2-3
Fatal Push x3-4
Heartless Act x3-4
Castle Locthwain x2-4
The only problem with aggro decks is that they often run out of cards to play and find themselves top decking in the mid to late game. Black has access to a good number of card draw spells so if you find yourself wanting more card draw other than Castle Locthwain feel free to look around, but I warn you that there is usually a cost other than mana as is fitting for black.
Another option for this deck that could be viable is replacing some of the higher costed creatures, probably Rankle, with Lurrus of the Dream Den. Not as a companion, just as part of the deck. This way you can cast your smaller creatures from the graveyard without having to use too many resources on their own reanimation abilities. If you do this, you can also throw in Mire’s Grasp which gives the enchanted creature -3/-3 and it basically becomes a removal spell that you can cast over and over again or to debuff a huge creature that is giving you a hard time.
Standard certainly has its problems when an overpowered deck easily takes over the meta, but having a format where the majority of the decks fall under one archetype, especially one that does little to interact with the opponent, is just as, if not more unhealthy. There is nothing wrong with combo decks existing in a healthy meta, but when you play in a sanctioned event and every deck you face is a combo deck, even different combo decks, it’s not fun. I would argue that Pioneer does not have enough answers to combo decks, at least no good answers at the moment. I don’t know if Mono Black Aggro can keep these rising combo decks in check, only time will tell. Anyway, that wraps up Mono Black Aggro. What deck do you want to see next? Let me know in the comments down below.