September has been a busy month for Magic: The Gathering so far. The new Dominaria United set is out in the world, and Standard Rotation has once again arrived to take older MTG sets out of play. With so much change, Standard’s meta is ripe for a shift – and Magic Hall-of-Famer Frank Karsten reckons black decks could be entering a new golden age.
Karsten conducted a data-based study for MTG publisher Wizards of the Coast, and he shared the results in an official Magic post on September 8. “I analysed 224 decks”, Karsten says. “That’s not a large sample size, but it can offer a valuable first glimpse.”
Several results show black’s overwhelming popularity. Firstly, Karsten concludes the six most-played cards from Dominaria United use black mana – Instant card Cut Down; dual Lands Sulfurous Springs and Cave of Koilos; human Creature Evolved Sleeper; Phyrexian Sheolderd, the Apocalypse; and returning planeswalker Liliana of the Veil.
(Karsten notes the most-played cards overall were Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty’s Fable of the Mirror-breaker and The Meathook Massacre from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt. However, he says “this should not come as a surprise, as they were already prominent staples of the format before the rotation”.)
“These top six new-to-Standard cards paint a clear picture,” Karsten says. “In the early days of Dominaria United Standard, black is king, by a large margin.”
Karsten also ranked the decks analysed based on a points system that evaluated their power and popularity. After examining the top decks, Karsten says “nearly a third of the winner’s metagame is comprised of the same core of black cards”. Liliana of the Veil and Cut Down appear in six of Karsten’s top ten decks, and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is included in four.
The top fifteen is largely populated by decks that use black mana, with Midrange and Radkos decks seemingly coming out tops. However, there are some other colours rising to meet the challenge of the black decks – and Karsten has plenty of tips for taking them on.
“You could go over the top with a strategy that revolves around powerful non-Creature spells and Artifacts”, Karsten says. “This allows you to turn Mono Black Midrange’s removal suite into dead cards in game one.” “You could overpower them by putting Titan of Industry or Sanctuary Warden onto the battlefield on turn four or five,” he adds. “These creatures are too large to be swept by The Meathook Massacre, enter the battlefield with a shield token to shrug off Infernal Grasp, and bring along a token to sacrifice to Liliana of the Veil or Invoke Despair.”
“You could go under them with a hyper-aggressive strategy that contains the right evasive, recurring, and/or properly sized threats. You need to be able to bash through Sheoldred, the Apocalypse while not folding to The Meathook Massacre.” “This means that you may have to stray from more obvious card choices”, Karsten adds, “but I don’t think it’s impossible.”
As Karsten points out, “the first days of post-rotation Standard are rarely a good indication of how the format shakes out long-term”. This means plenty could change in future – but for now, black is spending some time in the light.