Theros Beyond Death is looking to shake-up Standard by bringing back important mechanics and powerful gods. Normally, the first deck I construct for a new season is an update of Mono-Red, but because Mono-Red has not performed well in resent seasons I am going in a new direction with Mono-Black. Since the preview of Gray Merchant of Asphodel I have been thinking about how to take advantage of the return of Gary to Standard. Right now, black has some of the best enter the battlefield triggers in standard. This makes going Mono-Black one of the more interesting approaches to Theros Beyond Death season.

Here is my first take on the deck.

Theros Beyond Death Mono-Black

Cauldron Familiar
Knight of the Ebon Legion
Tymaret, Chosen from Death
Ayara, First of Locthwain
Nightmare Shepherd
Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Witch's Oven

Drag to the Underworld

Agonizing Remorse

Treacherous Blessing
Underworld Dreams

LANDS (23)
20 Swamp
Castle Locthwain

Elspeth's Nightmare
Drill Bite
Murderous Rider/Swift End
Noxious Grasp

Mono-Black Mid-Range looks like one of the best mono-colored strategies in Standard. The key to the deck is the enter the battlefield triggers that are on most of the creatures in the deck. Cauldron Familiar has been a key player in standard throughout Eldraine season. Gaining a life and draining your opponent of one life each time Familiar enters the battlefield played a key role in the Jund Sacrifice deck and will continue to do so during Theros season.

A key card in Mono-Black is Ayara, First of Locthwain. Her ability drains your opponent of a life and gives you a life each time a black creature enters the battlefield. Paired with the other creatures in the deck, Ayara can do several points of damage on a turn. In addition, she gives you the ability to sacrifice another black creature to draw a card. Over the course of a game, this will give you card advantage that will help move your game plan forward.

Two new cards that play well into the existing black strategy are Nightmare Shepard and Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Nightmare Shepard might be the best black card in Theros Beyond Death. For four mana you get a 4/4 flying demon that has one of the most powerful abilities in the set. When a nontoken creature dies, you can exile the creature that died to create a copy of the creature that is a 1/1 nightmare in addition to its other types. What this means for game play is that when a creature dies that has an enter the battlefield ability exiling it with Nightmare Shepard will bring a copy of it back that will activate the ability when the token enters the battlefield and potentially activate Ayara’s ability.

The decks finisher is Gray Merchant of Asphodel. When Gary enters the battlefield, it does damage to your opponent equal to your devotion to black and you gain that much life. Commonly in a Mono-Black deck, Gary will do six to ten damage the first time he enters the battlefield. Then if you have a Shepard and Witch’s Oven on the battlefield, you can sacrifice Gary to the oven and then bring him back using Shepard’s ability to deal hopefully the final damage needed to win the game.

The rest of the cards in the deck give you hand disruption, removal, and additional pinging damage. Drag to the Underworld might be the best black removal spell since Fatal Push. Typically for only two black mana you can kill a creature. It does not have the ability to kill a planeswalker, but that is why Murderous Rider/Swift End is in the sideboard.

For hand disruption, we have Agonizing Remorse. This is Thought Erasure in black. Casting this early in the game can disrupt your opponent’s game plan and advance your own. Finally, Underworld Dreams is an enchantment that does one point of damage each time your opponent draws a card. While this is not a kill your opponent quickly ability, it will help add damage that will drain your opponent’s life over the course of six or seven turns when it is paired with the creatures I discussed above. This might be the card that is the most easily cut for another card, but I remember the power it had early in the history of Magic.

The final enchantment in the deck is Treacherous Blessing. This enchantment draws you three cards when it enters play. The downside of Treacherous Blessing is that it does one damage to you when you cast a spell, but the life gain in the deck should offset this life lose.

Overall, I feel this is a fun Mono-Black deck that you can expect to see a version of on Friday nights. The question is will it be strong enough to reach tier one status.

Until next time, good luck finding your win condition and enjoy Theros pre-release weekend!