That Old Black Magic

I’ve written before about my affinity (no pun intended, Magic players will get that joke) for Magic: The Gathering.  Be warned, today’s column is all about Magic.  If you don’t know anything about MTG or if you think it’s just a game for geeky kids, you’ll probably want to move on.  I’ll be using a lot of Magic terms and jargon, and I’m not going to take the time to explain it all.  So there.

Cabal Coffers; it makes absurd amounts of black mana

Back in the early 2000’s I was playing a lot of Magic.  I’m still playing a lot of Magic, but these days I play Magic Online.  Back then I

was hanging out in crowded card shops with kids about half my age playing Friday Night Magic.  My favorite deck to play back then was a little number known as Mono-Black Control.  The deck at the time (we’re talking Odyssey block here, after the release of Torment, also known as “the black set” was centered around keeping your opponent’s creatures at bay (or non-existant) with spells like Mutilate, Chainer’s Edict, and Innocent Blood while steadily building a mana base of a crazy number of swamps made more potent by the broken as hell Cabal Coffers.  The deck also used Mirari to copy devastating sorceries like Corrupt for the kill.  Once the deck’s key cards rotated out of the Standard environment, however, the archetype was all but abandoned.

It was never forgotten, however, and with each set released since those days that contained at least one powerful black spell, many wondered if the MBC deck would make a return.  The recent release of the Magic 2013 Core Set seems poised to make Mono Black not only once again possible, but perhaps even tournament-worthy, something that Mono Black hasn’t been in a long time.  2013 has gifted black mages with the reprinting of Mutilate, the black Wrath of God and offers an almost replacement for Cabal Coffers in Liliana of the Dark Realms.  It takes the newest Lilly a lot longer to get the mana engine running, but turning all your swamps into producers of BBBB is definitely worth your time.

Truth be told, Mono Black’s popularity with a subset of players far predates the popular deck of the Odyssey block days.  In fact, even when the game was in its infancy playing all swamps was a tactic for those seeking to abuse cards like Drain Life and Plague Rats.  In the days of Alpha and Beta, before the rules limiting decks to only four copies of any  unique card save basic land, a deck of 20 swamps and 40 Plague Rats was not uncommon at all.  As far as tournaments go, however, mono black decks were a rarity until after the release of Ice Age, when an a seemingly junk rare card suddenly took over the tournament scene and dominated the format (Standard was known as Type 2 in those days… sounds like diabetes to me) for almost a year.  That card was called Necropotence and the deck built

Necropotence: Look at all that rules text. No wonder no one thought it was good at first.

around it was almost unstoppable.  Necropotence was such a wacky card and so overlooked at first (“Skip my draw step!? Why the fuck

would I want to do that!!?) that by the time its abusive power was realized it took everyone by surprise.  Necro was reprinted in 5th Edition, but banned from competitive play altogether shortly thereafter.  Come to think of it, a lot of the cards that made up the Necro Deck’s backbone were either banned or rotated away never to be heard from again.  These included things like Dark Ritual (a longtime staple of Magic, it appeared in every “large” set from Alpha through Urza’s Saga before it was finally deemed too good for continued use), Hymn to Tourach (I loved that card, but have to admit, it was pretty broken) and Hypnotic Specter (the Hippie was nixed when Fifth Edi tion released – he was left out of a core set for the first time since Alpha, but made a comeback in Ninth Edition when it was deemed he would be considerably safer to have around without his three for one black mana making buddy Dark Ritual which traditionally allowed him to hit the table on turn one).

Necropotence is not likely to ever see the light of day again, and Magic has offered up many attempts at a “fixed” Necro in  the past, all of whiched proved to have too many drawbacks to actually see much play at all.  Avacyn Restored, however has given us Griselbrand, a Necropotence with teeth… and wings.  At eight mana total Grissy is a little on the costly side and he’s legendary which will make players limit the number of copies they use, but with Lilly making your swamps worth four times their face value, casting him and refilling your hand becomes mush more likely and much more fun.  Modern MBS decks may even take advantage of mana fixers like Solemn Simularcum and Gilded Lotus (also back in M13) to slide him into play a

bit earlier than he ought to arrive.

So, needless to say, as soon as I was able to get my virtual mitts on some of the M13 goodies I started putting together a few MBC builds

and testing them out on Magic Online.  I don’t know that I’ve found exactly the build that I like yet, but it has been fun trying to relive the glory days of MBC.  Of course not every card from the classic deck as a modern replacement, but the latest build I’ve been toying with has proven thus far to be quite enjoyable.



  1. ninetyninepercentgaming · August 10, 2012

    I’m really sorry if this is offensive, but I’ve never played. Interested in it though.

    Anyway, is this basically a more complex Yugioh – esque game?

    • Michael Triggs · August 10, 2012

      I’ve actually never played Yu-Ghi-Oh, so I couldn’t say for sure. I do know they’re both trading card games, but that’s about it. I imagine there are similarities, but I think Yu-Ghi-Oh is probably more akin to Pokemon than Magic. thanks for reading.

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