Magic, But Cheaper: Black Aggro

Join ServoToken as he breaks down one of Pioneers classic archetypes, Mono Black aggro. MBA has been a pillar of the format since the start, and can be made relatively cheaply while still being able to expand into a full and rich list that offers fun and compelling gameplay.

An Oldie (But not that old)

Over the years, certain archetypes spring up and take hold as permanent fixtures in the overall Magic zeitgeist. You have your more traditional strategies that have been around since the beginning, such as Burn, Elves, and Blue-based control; all known decks that people have spent a lot of time building their personalities and Magic careers around. Meanwhile, other decks and strategies hold less prominence even though they may share similar levels of history. Today, we’re looking at one of the lesser-known archetypes in the game, but one that’s been around since at least 2001 with varying levels of popularity. Let’s dive into Mono-Black Aggro.

The Deck

Mono Black Aggro (MBA) is an aggressive beatdown deck that looks to win by overwhelming its opponent’s removal with cheap and recursive creatures and vehicles. The deck’s core focus is to assume the beatdown role from turn one without caring too much about what’s going on on the other side of the table. Black aggro is a deck that looks to capitalize on mana utilization, never having a turn without something to do to impact the board. Originally the deck packed many more singularly impactful creatures to help finish the game, but as the format has evolved, it moved more solidly into the creature swarm strategy.

The Beatdown

A fair number of the cards in this deck fill the same role and functionality. Bloodsoaked Champion, Dread Wanderer, Gutterbones, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Tenacious Underdog all load up on the recursion plan and enable the later game plays of constantly being able to suit up with a team of beaters. All of these creatures are slightly above the curve stat-wise, either being a 2 power one-drop or 3 power two-drop. Knight of the Ebon Legion helps to round out the one-drop suite, and while not recursive it provides some bonus utility in acting as a removal spell or generally becoming huge over the course of several turns. Rounding out the creature suite is Spawn of Mayhem, the deck’s singular surviving member of the “finish them with a giant powerful threat” plan. Spawn makes it easy to close out a game by taking to the skies while delivering uncounterable chip damage through its ability to help the deck punch those last few points through any defensive measures an opponent may have been able to set up.

The Interaction

Black Aggro, like most black decks, makes sure to never leave home without some form of main deck interaction. Fatal Push is the obvious star of the show when it comes to premier black removal in Pioneer as the cheapest and most efficient removal in the format. Heartless Act, Infernal Grasp, Eliminate, and Power Word Kill can all find their way into the deck as well depending on expected meta games and player preference. These removal spells help clear the way of unruly blockers and other creatures that may put a damper on the overall gameplan. Cards like Thing in the Ice, or any creature that presents a threat that’s become too big or too dangerous to race effectively such as Winota, Joiner of Forces or a suited up Sram, Senior Edificer all need to be removed by these cards. Having access to premium removal spells such as these really help the overall power balance of the archetype, and keeps things on an even playing field where Black Aggro can then turn the tides with their superior mana utilization advantage.

The deck also generally packs some number of discard spells. Some obvious includes are Thoughtseize to Dread Fugue or Duress. These spells are used to combat strategies that are looking to play the Stack, or those that are fast enough to not worry about our beatdown aspect.

The Utility

Because MBA is a mono-colored deck, it has the wiggle room to slot in some additional utility between its flex slots and its mana base. The vehicle package helps the deck play around sweepers and sorcery speed removal while maintaining its ability to beatdown above the curve. The new Unlicensed Hearse is a tremendous inclusion into any creature based strategy as a threat that both disrupts opposing game plans and becomes a massive must-answer threat over time. Mukotai Soulripper also plays into the deck’s main recursion gameplan while being a slightly more evasive threat. On the topic of evasive threats, the deck also typically loads up on creature lands for similar reasons as it does with the vehicles. Mutavault, Faceless Haven, and Hive of the Eye Tyrant have all found their way into the deck at one point or another, and provide even more of that difficult-to-interact-with beatdown. Lastly, the deck never leaves home without some number of Castle Locthwain in the mana base as a means to fill back up on cards should a game go late and opposing graveyard interaction knock the deck off of its main game plan.

How does it play?

Over the handful of years that Pioneer has been explored, MBA has had its moments of both shame and glory; usually corresponding directly with the amount of exile based removal going around the format at any given time. The deck is extremely consistent and capable of stealing wins from anyone not prepared for the dinky creature onslaught, while also being able to overwhelm anyone looking to take on aggression by way of one-for-one removal. Where the deck struggles is against the likes of UW control, where one Farewell is enough to effectively restart the game for the MBA pilot, as well as decks like Phoenix or anyone else playing Thing in the Ice and / or Anger of the Gods. The deck is an excellent choice for those looking to develop their on-board combat assessing abilities as it frequently finds itself in a position where critical analysis of the current board state and proper threat assessment are enough to sneak a win through a rickety defensive line. The deck may pick up in popularity and overall meta share as things shift back to the more midrange oriented style of play as well.

That’s all for this one! MBA was one of my first competitive decks back during Theros standard, so the archetype will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s typically an excellent budget choice, and a fun deck to play regardless of its overall positioning, so I was excited to see the patrons vote for it. If you’re a member of the PlayingPioneer patreon, make sure you keep an eye out for the next poll as well for what we’re gonna cover next! But until then, remember; stay safe, play smart, and thanks for reading.

  • Darren "ServoToken"


    ServoToken has been playing competitive magic since 2011, spending a majority of that time living in the shoes of a player on a strict budget. After investing a lot of time learning how to make the best of a bad situation, his goals today are to spread those lessons to the often-ignored population of Magic players who can’t afford to drop a car payment on a new deck every couple of months. His mantra is that “You don’t need to play mono-red to do well on a budget”. These days, you can typically find him deep in the archives of Scryfall searching for new cards to brew around or making tweaks to the Pioneer Budget deck spreadsheet on his unending mission to bring his favorite format to the people on the cheap.

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