A Beginner's Guide to Mono Black Midrange
Dominaria United is in, and brought with it a slew of powerful cards into the Standard metagame. Though, it would seem most of those powerful cards are in Black seeing as all decks are running the color. Rakdos was a solid color combination due to the Vampire support from VOW, but with the new toys, we’ve seen Orzhoz, Esper and the classic Jund lists cropping up. Almost all of these decks are finding themselves in a midrange playstyle, and as such, I’ve decided to inspect and break down the most expensive of the tier 1 decks: Mono-Black Midrange.
A bit of Mono Black’s DNA is found in almost all of the other midrange lists that are operating at the highest levels. This would be a good place to talk about the elephant in the room: Liliana of the Veil. Printed back in the original Innistrad block, LotV is a powerhouse of a Planeswalker. Providing card advantage for any deck that can interact with the graveyard, and providing a discard and sacrifice outlet makes the card hyper-efficient at its low cost of 3 mana. This Liliana works well with your many discard payouts such as Tenacious Underdog and Graveyard Trespasser. The symmetry of the effect is all lost when moving cards to the grave is your primary game plan. Her -2 effect is less defining, but sacrificing helps when tokens and wider board states are a bit rarer in the current metagame. While it’s less back-breaking than your powerful Instants, Sorceries, and Lands being discarded, a repeatable forced sacrifice can help break mirror matches and punch through grindy control matchups. Her -6 is fun but will be rarely seen with cards like Voltage Surge and Flame-Blessed Bolt running around. Don’t plan around this effect, but prioritize your first two loyalty abilities to leverage value.
Liliana of the Veil is a powerful reprint into Standard, but she’s not the only Planeswalker living in Mono Black. Sorin the Mirthless is a stellar turn-four option that can protect your walkers or set up turn five plays. His +1 is an excellent card draw option with a negligible downside due to his -2 creating Flying 2/2’s with Lifelink. This helps protect your other walkers, while also giving your board presence despite having an empty hand. His -7 is just as unlikely as Liliana’s to trigger, and is hardly worth building to when his other loyalty abilities just offer more value. You have many more options to close out your matches, and ticking up Sorin to 6 only to eat a Void Rend or Invoke Despair can be enough of a tempo lost to bin an otherwise won match.
Midrange decks love to grind out value into the midgame, and close out with devastating boardstates. Evolved Sleeper is a powerful early-game option that scales well, and when your Planeswalkers are on board, Sleeper becomes your primary mana sink that eventually starts refilling your hand. Tenacious Underdog can punch through for damage or into your enemy Planeswalkers, and can be recurred with your excess mana. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse contends for your turn four play, but helps take the edge off of aggressive match ups while synergizing with late-game Reckoner Bankbuster engines. Midrange tends to mostly play itself, with your big decisions being between pushing your board advantage and responding to your opponent’s threats.
And your options to respond to those threats are plentiful indeed. The Meathook Massacre is still rising in price, and serves as a big game-ender when your opponent ever extends their board state. The persistent life gain effect is excellent for the drain from Sorin the Mithless, and also places mirror matches on a much tighter clock. The life loss effect is still felt in other matchups, but when your opponent is trying to leverage their health as a resource as much as you are, that extra rider on Meathook goes much further. Cut Down and Infernal Grasp are staple removal options that are cheap and hit many of the scariest creatures. For non-creature removal, Invoke Despair is Mono Black’s best card; you’re often going to hit high mana values, and a single Despair is usually enough to shut down your opponent to close out with your board state. Invoke Despair also comes out on turn five, and on the play this means you can catch most of the threats that will shut you out of the game.
Mono Black sideboarding is usually just adjusting your playsets of high impact cards: Meathook, Sorin, Liliana, and Reckoner Bankbuster come to mind. Duress always finds a place in Black sideboards, and against more aggressive options a Duress on the draw can cause them to miss the crucial window to kill before your threats settle in place. Some decks also have Junji, the Midnight Sky in the sideboard and rarely in the mainboard. While Junji can bring back removed planeswalkers or a Sheoldrid, I find it too slow in a highly contested 4-drop slot. Good luck to everyone interested in trying out Mono-Black Midrange!