Hey there, Budget Magic lovers, it’s that time once again! A few days ago, a viewer named blibbits sent me a pretty spicy list—budget Mono-Black Burn for Modern! They said that they had played several leagues with the deck and eventually managed to go 5-0! The deck looked so hilarious (and apparently has at least some chance of winning some matches) that I knew we just had to try it. So, today, we’re heading to Modern to play some burn…but mono-black! Is it really possible a Mono-Black Burn deck can compete in Modern on a budget? Let’s get to the video and find out; then, we’ll talk more about the deck!
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Budget Magic: Mono-Black Burn
As its name suggests, Mono-Black Burn is a burn deck, except that, rather than being red like 99% of burn decks in the history of Magic: the Gathering, it’s mono-black! The deck has some sneaky ways to drain the opponent’s life total, plays a bunch of weird cards, and even has a surprising amount of incidental lifegain built into the list, which helps make up for the fact that black burn spells are generally less efficient than red ones.
Let’s start with the two most unique cards in our deck: Chancellor of the Dross and Soul Spike. Since our deck only has 16 lands, there’s essentially zero chance that we’ll ever hard-cast these cards. But that’s fine because we don’t need to spend mana on them to harness their power. If we have Chancellor of the Dross in our opening hand, we can reveal it and drain our opponent for three, essentially making Chancellor of the Dross a free Lightning Helix that can only hit our opponent’s face. Normally, having an uncastable card in our deck would be a problem, but there is where Soul Spike comes in. Rather than spending seven mana for it (which, again, is almost never going to happen), we can exile two black cards from our hand (like Chancellor of the Dross) to hit something for four damage and gain four life, making Soul Spike essentially the black Fireblast except costing black cards rather than Mountains. It’s also worth mentioning that together, these cards open up the possibility of winning the game on Turn 0. While the odds of it happening are something like 1 in 3,000,000, if we ever draw an opening hand of four Chancellor of the Dross and two Soul Spikes, we can win the game before it even starts by revealing the four Chancellor of the Dross to drain our opponent for 12 and then exiling the Chancellors to the two Soul Spikes to hit our opponent for eight mana, equaling 20 damage on Turn 0!
Backing up our free burn spells is a bunch of fairly janky black burn. Bump in the Night is the most efficient of the bunch, being literally a black Lava Spike. Technically, we do have one red source in our mana base so it is possible that we can flash it back. But again, with only 16 lands in the list, our odds of getting to six mana are pretty tiny. Gonti’s Machinations is another Lava Spike but a slow one since we need to take some damage to earn energy to power it up, although thanks to our mana base, we can easily lose enough life to turn it on in just one or two turns. Okiba Reckoner Raid drains for two for one mana and also eventually gives us a 2/2. Sovereign’s Bite is another Lightning Helix but with the traditionally black burn downside of not being able to hit creatures. Finally, Collective Brutality isn’t especially efficient—only burning for two—but it is flexible, potentially offering a Duress or creature removal. Plus, it gives us another way to discard uncastable cards like Chancellor of the Dross for value.
Next up, we have a couple of cards that can be card draw but can also burn the opponent. Most of the time, we are targeting ourselves with Sign in Blood to draw two cards, but if our opponent’s life total is low enough, we can force them to draw the cards and lose two life. Meanwhile, Sword-Point Diplomacy is weird. It can be a draw-three for three, which is good, or it can be nine damage for three, which is absurd. The problem is that our opponent gets the choice, which makes Sword-Point Diplomacy a lot worse than it looks. If your opponent has plenty of life, they can take damage and deny us the cards. If they are close to death they can choose to give us the cards and maintain their life total. That said, we’re playing black burn, and beggars can’t be choosers, which makes Sword-Point Diplomacy more than good enough for our deck.
Rounding out the non-lands in our main deck are perhaps my favorite card in the entire deck, in Sleeper Agent, and also the black Searing Blaze, Soul Reap. Sleeper Agent looks pretty bad. It’s a one-mana 3/3, which is great. The problem is we need to give it to our opponent when it comes into play, and then our opponent will lose two life each upkeep as long as it stays on the battlefield. Since we don’t have any blockers, this means that Sleeper Agent actually says we take three damage a turn (from being attacked) while our opponent takes two. This sounds like a bad deal, but it’s actually super strong in our deck since so much of our black burn also gains us life. We are more than happy to take three as long as our opponent is taking two because we can gain back that life while they likely can’t. If we have Sleeper Agent on Turn 1, it often deals six or even eight damage to our opponent, which is ridiculously efficient. Basically, while Sleeper Agent reads pretty bad, it’s basically the mono-black Goblin Guide, except our opponent never gets to draw extra lands. As for Soul Reap, it’s essentially the black Searing Blaze, assuming we can cast another black spell during the same turn. We get to destroy a creature and hit our opponent for three, making it a great way to deal with the biggest threats in Modern while also forcing through some extra damage!
You might have noticed that the deck comes in a bit above our normal budget at $147 in paper. This is because of the mana base, which plays four fetch lands, a Blood Crypt, and four Silent Clearings. The idea of the mana base is twofold. First, Silent Clearing helps protect against flood, while Blood Crypt lets us flash back Bump in the Night and our fetch lands find Blood Crypt and also help us lose life to turn on Gonti’s Machinations. Honestly, I’m not sure most of this is necessary. With just 16 lands (with four that we’ll likely sacrifice to draw cards if we start to flood), we’re just not getting to six mana with any consistency to flash back Bump in the Night. Planning for that possibility seems unnecessary, so Blood Crypt can go. Without the Blood Crypt, the fetch lands become less important. As such, we can cut these cards for more basics and more Horizon lands in Nurturing Peatland (giving us another land that can help turn on Gonti’s Machinations), which will not only likely improve the deck but also bring the total cost of the deck down to around $90—comfortably in the budget range.
One more thought on the mana base: 16 lands really scared me. While it is true that burn decks don’t like to flood out, if you look at red burn decks, they typically play around 20 lands. While we didn’t have too many issues with mana screw during our leagues, mathematically, we’re going to draw zero- and one-landers fairly often. I’d be much more comfortable with the deck having 18 or 20 lands, especially if those lands are [Nurturing Peatland]], which we can turn into cards if we do happen to flood. Next time I play the deck, I’m going to make the changes we discussed: cutting the fetch lands and shock lands and trimming back on Sword-Point Diplomacy to get up to at least 18 lands, with Nurturing Peatland taking up most of those slots.
Record-wise, we technically finished 2-3 in our league with the deck, but that really undersells just how close we were to winning another match or two. Against both Amulet Titan and Living End, we were essentially one turn or one card short of lethal when our opponent comboed off for the win. With a bit more luck, we could have easily been 4-1 in our league. Basically, even though we finished 2-3, the deck felt way more competitive than I expected, and if you hit the right matchups, I could easily see how a 5-0 would be possible.
That said, it does seem like fast combo decks are an issue for Black Burn. The deck felt great against fair decks like Izzet Murktide and Grixis Death’s Shadow, but we were just a tiny bit slow against decks like Amulet Titan and Living End that can essentially win on Turn 3, mostly because our black burn spells are less efficient than red ones. So, unless we draw our free burn spells, we tend to end up about one spell short of winning before our opponent can combo off. I’m not sure what the best way is to solve this problem. Maybe more hate cards in the sideboard? Maybe Thoughtseize? Regardless, it’s worth keeping in mind that fast combo decks are tricky matchups unless we run really well or our opponent runs poorly.
So, should you play Black Burn in Modern? With the mana base changes we discussed, I think the answer is yes, assuming you’re looking for something spicy, unique, and semi-competitive. Is black burn as strong as red burn? I don’t think so, but it is a lot better than you’d expect and has the ability to win a lot of games in a hilarious way!
Getting Black Burn down to $50 is super easy: you simply play an all-Swamp mana base. While this does make Gonti’s Machinations a bit less powerful, I think it’s still good enough (our opponent will likely be dealing us damage to turn it on).
Finally, our non-budget build doesn’t get many big changes—mostly sideboard and mana base updates. The good news is that the non-budget build is still pretty cheap compared to most Modern decks, coming in at just $316!
Anyway, that’s all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.