Liliana's Specter

Welcome back to Knight’s Booty.  I’m sorry but I don’t have a short story for you this week.  Instead I have a deck that I’ve been testing out in Modern that fills a gap that is missing in the current metagame.  Now the reason for designing this deck is taken from Chapin’s “Next Level Deck building” eBook, which I highly recommend to anybody who wants to take that next step.

See, if we take a look at the current metagame (using as our baseline) we are sitting in a very combo heavy environment.  Splinter Twin is sitting at 13.26%, with Melira Pod at 12.14%.  That’s only two decks and already we are covering a quarter of the metagame.  After that we look at UR Storm at 5.43%, Scapeshift at 4.15%, Ad Nauseum at 2.24% and after that it peters off.  So add all those percentages together and we are sitting pretty at 37.22%. Up from a quarter to a third of our current metagame is made up of combo decks.  Which when you think about it is pretty amazing really.

So how do we go about punishing this combo dominant metagame?  We could try going to go aggro and beat them to the punch. But most of the above decks are ready to “go off” by turn 3, and can aggro decks really beat that clock?  I don’t know, but even with the power of Zoo and Affinity I can’t be comfortable in saying that they have faster clocks.  And do we really want to try and compete with other aggro decks? I personally don’t.

So the next level up is control.  In which we have UWR and Hatebears as your big bad guys. Combined however they only take up 7.98% of the metagame.  Something is seriously lacking there, don’t you think?  Even if you add in UW Midrange you are only looking at 10.86% of the metagame being control decks.  This just doesn’t seem possible.  Especially when you have Esper control eating the standard environment alive.

So what does this mean for us?  It means that we can open up a whole new can of worms by moving into an area that is seeing very little love (control) and a colour that is notorious for it (black).  That’s right, I’m talking about Mono-Black Control, with a focus on discard.  But why discard you ask?

Because, just because.  Seriously though, if over a third of the decks you are going to be facing are combo decks, you can easily pick them apart by removing their combo pieces from their hand.  And aggro?  Back up your discard with removal, another thing that Mono-Black Control is famous for, and you can take control of the board as well as their hand.  Not to mention that the deck gets monumentally better whenever your opponent mulligan’s.  If their deck punishes them before the game even begins, then we are going to be in an even better position to win.

Now, that is not to say that the deck doesn’t have it’s weaknesses because it does.  It suffers in the fact that despite all of it’s abilities to disrupt the field and the hand, it can’t stop a topdeck.  It also stalls out late game with a lot of dead cards in hand.  But compared to the benefits, I am willing to overlook that little matter.

First off, the deck list as it currently stands:

The one card that it is missing is Thoughtseize, which can easily be put in place of Duress.  But only if you have that kind of money.  Now the one thing you might immediately note is that I am running a splash of Red in there.  This is because Black has no inherent artifact hate, or nothing that is cheap enough to warrant being included in the build.  But red does in the form of Smash to Smithereens, which in my past experience playing burn in Modern is a fantastic sideboard card.  And having immediate access to Red does give some interesting options if we ever wanted to include a devastating card like Blightning, or Rakdos Charm.  But I am focusing more on the Mono-Black version.

I want to talk about each card individually, but it will probably be easier if I break it down into each suite of cards, with the obvious Discard being the first.

First up is Inquisition of Kozilek.  This card is a very powerful discard spell as the name of the game in any deck that isn’t control based is speed.  Which means that cards are going to be cheap.  Tarmagoyf only costs two, Kitchen Finks costs three, Pyromancer’s Ascension costs two, and so forth.  So Inquisition of Kozilek has the ability to hit a lot of the cards out there that can cause problems.

After that I will address Duress.  It’s not Thoughtseize, that’s for certain, but it can come in handy where Inquisition can’t.  It can hit the higher costing cards, such as Splinter Twin, Birthing Pod, and Scapeshift.  But because it can’t hit creatures it loses playability.  That is the reason why I am only running a single copy in the mainboard, with more in the sideboard for when you do come up against decks like Twin, Pod, and Scapeshift.  It can be an easy swap out of Inquisition for Duress and you don’t set off your card balance.

Next is Raven’s Crime, which I am honestly thinking of upping to three copies.  The card is incredibly good in the late game when you’ve setup your win condition or are waiting to do so and you need to empty out your opponents hand.  It turns every late game land draw into another discard spell, and it works in conjunction with Smallpox when you will have to discard something.  I can’t tell you how many times I have been happy to have a Raven’s Crime in my graveyard and how many times I’ve been sorry to not have one.

Last, but not least in our spell slots for discard is Wrench Mind.  This is about as close to Hymn to Tourach as we will ever see again.  Sure, it doesn’t discard at random, but it is a straight up two cards for two mana.  And when you can play this on turn two after your opponent has already played a land or two, plus an early drop from their hand, it seriously wrecks your opponents game.  The earlier you can see this card the better your chances of victory will be.

The next section I am going to address is the removal suite, but first I need to talk about a card that fits between the two, and that is Smallpox.  I don’t quite know how I feel about the card itself.  It is very punishing to both players, but usually more so to our opponent.  I mean I love the card.  It has performed amazingly well in the early game against decks like Storm and Pod.  As an aside, it is a fantastic turn two play against Pod as it removes two sources of mana available to them, and slows them down significantly.  Storm is another matter, in that they need three mana to “go off”, unless they get a two mana “god hand”, and using Smallpox to slow them down to a crawl can hurt them more than it will us.  Like I said earlier, we can discard a Raven’s Crime to it or any excess discard spells that aren’t doing us any good.  And we are running a minimum of creatures so there is very little chance that we will be hurting our board state.  Again, I love this card, but when I read it in a bubble it makes me cringe.

Now onto the removal suite.

 Victim of Night is the first one up, and it can kill just about anything.  In the current metagame there aren’t many Zombie creatures, nor are there Vampires or Werewolves.  So there isn’t much that it can’t take care of, plain and simple, and because we aren’t worried about colour restrictions we can carry the two black in it’s mana cost with ease making it a superior choice to Doom Blade.  There is only one other kind of creature that this can’t hit and that is one who has protection from Black, but we have a spell to deal with that.

Geth’s Verdict is the answer to “protection from black” and furthermore Hexproof.  Now I’ve talked about Hexproof in a previous article and it is probably one of my favourite all-time decks to play.  So I know how much of a pain in the butt it can be.  Now, when I was regularly playing pauper and running Hexproof the worst thing in the world I could run into was Mono-Black Control because they had the one answer that could get around that restriction and that was Geth’s Verdict, because they were targeting me and not the creature.  So unless your opponent is going to side in Leyline of Sanctity, you can be pretty sure that Geth’s Verdict will take care of what Victim of Night can’t.  Oh, and it also hits your opponent for one life to boot.  And yes you can kill your opponent with it, even if there are no creatures on the board, so it is never a dead card.

The last card in our removal suite replaced Doom Blade and has tested out fairly well so far.  Sudden Death.  It is more expensive, but it can do some things that a lot of removal cards can’t.  It can take out creatures that are indestructible to start, as long as you can get their toughness down to four or less, which means that a few of the newly printed “gods” are even threatened by this card.  And there is no fear about not being able to kill most creatures, because outside of Tarmogoyf and a pumped up Hexproof dude, there aren’t any creatures currently being run with more than four toughness.  Four is the magical number in Modern because it can beat Lightning Bolt, and Sudden Death can go above that number.  Now the last thing about the card, and by far it’s the most important aspect of it, is that it has an ability called Split Second.


This mechanic deserves it’s own little section.  Split Second is a fantastic ability and a powerful one that isn’t utilized often enough in my opinion.  First off I want to ask you a question.  Have you ever been playing against a blue player and tried to kill their Delver of Secrets only to have them Counterspell or Mana Leak your spell?  It sucks doesn’t it?  Well because of the way Split Second works the spell can’t be countered.  You see as long as the spell with Split Second is on the ‘stack’ no other spells or abilities, that are not mana abilities, can be played.  Meaning no counterspell.  And furthermore it can disrupt a combo like Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin.  if by some chance they managed to land Twin you can kill the creature in response and they don’t have the opportunity to make their infinite army, nor can they cast a counterspell to prevent it from happening.  The same goes with Pod and the infinite combo of damage and life gain through a sacrifice outlet.  You can kill the outlet before the chain has a chance to go off and by doing so at least buy yourself some time.  It can also affect Affinity, a deck I haven’t mentioned yet.  Normally if you were to kill their powerhouse Arcbound Ravager they could sacrifice a bunch of artifacts to it to make it’s Modular ability huge and then when it died they could just redistribute them anywhere they wanted.  Well, with Split Second they don’t have that option and Ravager just straight up dies.

After our removal suite we throw in a splash of utility with Sign in Blood.  A good little pay two life draw two card spell.  Or at least that is how it is read most of the time.  And it is a good payoff.  Late game it can let you dig for the answers you want or need and early game it can simply refill your hand after annihilating your opponents.  Not to mention that because it reads “target player”, you can use it to finish off your opponent as well.  And a lot of players out there will agree that there isn’t much out there that is more disgusting that being killed with a Sign in Blood.

Now a deck wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t have creatures.  Well, that’s not entirely true as there are creatureless decks out there, but this isn’t one of them because if we ran only discard and removal we would easily lose any ground race.  Now we aren’t running a lot of creatures, but the ones we are running have an immediate impact on the game.

Ravenous Rats is the first one that I’m going to address, and it is the weakest one by far.  We are paying two mana for a 1/1 body that isn’t good for a whole lot other than chump blocking.  But it can chump block like a champ!  What’s special about him is that when he enters the battlefield he makes your opponent discard a card.  It’s not random, but it’s still something.  So early or late game this creature can disrupt the hand, clog up the board for a turn, or maybe even eek out a few points of damage on the attack.

After the rat we have Liliana’s Specter, a flying rat one could say?  She does the same thing as the Ravenous Rats, in that she forces your opponent to discard a card, and sadly she also shares the same toughness quality seeing as she is only a 2/1 body.  But she does have flying which can help gum up the air if you need a easy blocker there, or she can fly over anything on the ground that is waiting to eat your face.

The last creature to enter into the fray is a personal favourite of mine, and he is none other than the Chittering Rats.  Yes, another rat.  But he is a good rat.  Well, for a common he is a good rat.  Correction, he is a great rat!  I mean, he is below the power curve of being only a 2/2 bear for three mana but when he enters the battlefield you Time Walk.  Not familiar with that card?  It’s an old card that was printed only up to Unlimited and it is banned in everything, except in Vintage in which it is restricted.  Because it gives you an extra turn for two mana.  That’s powerful, no matter what stage of the game you are in. An extra turn?  Hell yes, I would love to take two turns in a row!  It can be a huge tempo shift!  But now you are asking  how does the rat give us an extra turn?  Well when he enters the battlefield he forces your opponent to take a card from their hand and place it on top of their library.  Effectively making them ‘re-play’ their previous turn.  This is even more effective when you have already chewed apart their hand with your suite of discard spells.  And it’s even more effective when you work it into our “win con”.

Shrieking Affliction.  A single black mana for an enchantment that will punish our opponent for playing their hand out too fast, as Aggro decks are known to do, and reward us for emptying out our opponents hand.  The best part about this enchantment is that if you can empty their hand entirely, and this is if they do not have card draw in their suite of spells (but nobody runs Divination), then there is an almost guaranteed six damage over two turns, in which they either allow the clock to continue or they buff up their hand in hopes that they can outlast the effects of the Shrieking Affliction.  This of course only works if you don’t draw up into one of our many spells that force our opponent to discard.

Now, you might be asking yourself why we aren’t using something like Liliana’s Caress (a strictly better Megrim).  Well because with the way that our deck is designed we don’t want our opponent to have any cards in hand, and in order for Caress to affect our opponent they have to have those threats.  Once we get our opponent into “topdeck” mode, he is simply going to play out whatever cards he draws into without fear of taking the two damage from the Caress.  Making it a dead card on board once we are done destroying their hand.

And the last card to make it into the deck is one that I’ve been experimenting with as a real late game kill card, and that is Haunting Echoes.  See, the deck will regularly go into the late stages of the game with ten and twelve turn games, as we either wait or dig for our win con or beat our down slowly with creatures.  What this means however is that we will usually be filling their graveyard with a ton of cards, either from hand removal or board removal.  Now imagine if their graveyard is full and you are now both playing the top deck game and you pull Haunting Echoes.  You cast it targetting their graveyard and suddenly their deck has shrivelled down to almost nothing but basic lands.  I’m pretty confident that at that point your opponent won’t have enough answers in their library to deal with you.

Sounds fair enough, doesn’t it?  Well, I’m not done yet.  I’m going to do something that I don’t normally do and go into the sideboard.

If you go back and look at the list there is red splashed in there, and I think I said something about Black not having any inherent artifact hate.  A simple splash of Smash to Smithereens works to alleviate that problem, and this card is good against several decks.  Obviously you want to side it in against Affinity and Pod, but you can also use it in the fringe match ups where Aether Vial shows up, as in Merfolk and G/W Hatebears.  The other card that isn’t in the main board is Leyline of the Void.  An enchantment that gets around Abrupt Decay and can destroy several different decks at the same time.  Storm is one of the key matchups as both Pyromancer’s Ascension and Past in Flames require the graveyard in order to function.  That’s not to say that a storm deck can’t “go off” without them, but you would be smart to mulligan into seeing this in your opening hand.  Another big deck that it can come in against is Pod.  It shuts down the infinite damage and infinite life combos, and forces them to move into a mid-range beatdown deck.  Not the best of solutions, but it makes the matchup very playable.  The last one I’ve added in is a personal preference in Echoing Decay, which is fantastic against tokens, but it really should be traded in favour of Infest or another “sweeper” type effect.

And so there you have it.  A deck that is reasonably affordable compared to other decks that are in the metagame right now (I mean, come on… Pod is almost $2100?) and is suited to fight a lot of the popular decks.

Until next time,

~ Gerald Knight

Extra Booty: Now this is purely speculation, but there is another reason why I am investing in building this deck and that is because of a card that is being released in M15 which I think can put this deck over the top.  Waste Not.  The community designed card.  For those of you who haven’t heard about it or don’t remember what it does, it is a two cost black enchantment that has three different effects when an opponent discards a card, depending upon the card type.  A creature card will net you a 2/2 zombie token, a land card will net you two black mana, and if they discard anything else you get to draw a card.  All said and told I don’t know how this card wouldn’t be a beast in the deck and I am planning on pre-ordering at least four of them.