The Dark Side of Peasant Magic
If someone asked me what the best color in PEZ, even Magic in general, was I would have to answer, without any hesitation, "Black!!!" Black tends to be the most represented color in PEZ tournaments, the color boasts 4 different builds all of which have cleared into Top 8 competition and I can't think of a tournament without multiple Black decks making the break. Even so, Black seems to be misunderstood. I think a large part of this is due to the fact that all 4 decks behave a little differently, win different match-ups, but are generally lumped together. Let's take a look at some of the best decks in PEZ.
MBC: Coffer King
Mono-Black Control, in PEZ, is often linked to my favorite deck, Coffer King. MBC is separate from other Black builds because it places almost no emphasis on Creatures. You can always tell an MBC deck because of its signature card Pestilence backed up by Cemetery Gates and lots of Drain Life. I have talked about and played this deck a lot but this year some additional tweaking has been done (although I doubt I will play it since I'm looking for a change of pace):
The deck is much tighter than before with more 4 of's which gives the deck a little more consistency. Every year, the deck has placed more reliance on Pestilence which is the absolute MVP of the deck. With mana acceleration it deals with creatures of almost any size and it is a win condition as long as you have even the slightest life lead. The key change in the deck is the inclusion of Dark Ritual. This card was needed to assist against the newest decks: Elf Clamp and Affinity. Without the Ritual the deck was about a turn too slow at stabilizing.
The match-up's for this deck are generally good. Against Burn this deck is an auto win. Contrary to popular opinion, White Weenie, even with Hallow, is a favorable match especially after bringing in Stench of Decay. All other creature decks are also pretty easy to beat. Stompy and Affinity are both rougher matches because they are able to lay down multiple large threats before you can lock down the game with Pestilence. Snuff Out is a great help coming in from the Side Board. There is one match-up that you can't beat, however. The clock is simply too slow to beat a FrozenTides deck and while the Side Board could be devoted to winning the match-up, too many slots must be tasked to beating White Weenie, Stompy, Affinity, and the Mirror to provide more than 4-6 slots against Tides.
MB-LD: Mono-Black Land Destruction
I had been a firm believer that Land Destruction simply wasn't a viable theme for PEZ. Too many of the builds were fully functional on 3 or fewer lands and it usually took Land Destruction about 3 turns to start constricting the mana supply. That is why Red Land Destruction is generally weak, but with access to both Sinkhole and Dark Ritual the same isn't true of Black. MB-LD is, of course, always easy to spot since all builds run about 20 Land Destruction effects.
I should point out that all the MB-LD builds seen in the Top 8 so far have included Sengir Vampire. This is a great card for massive beat down but the introduction of Chittering Rats provides a creature that must be included in this build. If you want the massive Sengir Vampire in this build, drop the Rain of Tears for the Vampire and the Abominations for 2 Despoil. Also, many players have included Strip Mine in the Uncommon slot but Rain of Tears is probably a better choice since the deck needs to hit its land drops more than it needs cheap ways to blow up lands. Lastly, many of these builds include Black Vise. The loss of synergy with Chittering Rats is minimal but dropping the Tutors is devastating to a deck that must control both creatures and land.
Although Weenie decks pose a threat, Crypt Rats and Rancid Earth help this deck stabilize early. Even so, this deck remains weak against the multitude of mono-colored aggressive decks but it is helped by the introduction of an increasing number of control and combo builds in the format. It gives MBC fits, unless they draw Gates early, but the deck has problems handling the other Black builds. MB-LD lives or dies by its ability to draw land and the control it needs so most matches are controlled by how this deck flows and not by what the opponent's deck is doing. One thing that MB-LD does have in its favor, however, is the number of multi-color builds present before the break.
MB-A/C: Mono-Black Aggro/Control
As I have had to find out the hard way, these decks function best when you don't get fancy and you keep it simple. You can always tell when you are up against Aggro/Control when you realize you have no cards in your hand. Ravenous Rats are another good indication of what is to come.
The secret to this deck is actually the Unearth. This card allows you to trade creatures or to blow up the Rats without slowing down at all. Almost all games start with the opponent discarding at least 1 card and this is followed by a second turn creature. There isn't much else to say about playing the deck, it is pretty simple, although Skeletal Scrying should be used as soon as possible and you shouldn't wait to completely refill your hand.
As with the other decks, MB-AC has mostly positive match-ups. Just as with MBC, the Burn match-up is almost an auto-win. Against fast aggressive decks it is a little less dominant but against anything with mediocre speed or against control and combo it is deadly. Some players may find that main deck or side boarding Ostracize can help against creature builds. Affinity decks generally have a good match-up against MB-AC as do decks with early fat like Stompy. Just like MB-LD the game will depend on your ability to be assertive early, if first or second turn discard doesn't materialize it is mostly wasted for the rest of the game.
While all the decks so far had some strong control or disruption element, Aggro-Black includes a minimal amount of disruption, just enough to put the opponent about a turn behind. Instead, Aggro-Black has the maximum chooses to use maximum clock acceleration. You can always tell Aggro-Black when the first Enchant Creature is thrown down on something with evasion or when they Paralyze a creature instead of blowing it up.
Obviously, this deck has a slightly faster creature rush than the other Black decks. Of course, with little control available in the deck, it needs a fast start. Even so, the deck packs much more evasion than almost any other color and the pump of the Knights and Bats combines with the classic power of Unholy Strength to produce a quicker win. Although the deck plays Unearth, it is less critical for this deck than for other Black decks because you don't have to resuscitate anything after exploding Crypt Rats or Pestilence. Unearth is simply insurance to guarantee that you always have an attacker available. Paralyze is also a card that should be used carefully. It is amazing in the early game but don't cast it unless they have a creature that can block something you have on the board or if they have a creature that gives them the better clock.
I have tested this version of Black less than any other so I can't give a perfect breakdown of the match-ups. Still, the deck appears to be solid especially in a slightly more control oriented PEZ environment.
All of these decks can certainly be modified to a greater or lesser extent. I think that Black may well develop additional decks as well. Most likely they will abuse Consume Spirit/Drain Life, Skullclamp, or Carrion Feeder. Also, some thought has to be given to the side board. Some great choices include Snuff Out or Vendetta against Fat, Stench of Decay against Weenies, Disciple of the Vault is awesome against Affinity, Consume Spirit is amazing against Burn even if it is for a minimal gain, and additional cheap discard is great against Combo, Control, and Burn.
You may have noticed that I mentioned Affinity quite a bit. If you have read my last few articles you know I have been working on it - a lot. Maybe too much. The deck itself is, to me, clearly not the dominant deck in the format. It is, however, exceedingly fun to play, solid, fairly consistent (in builds with enough land), potentially very fast, and very popular right now. I expect to see it at Gen Con, if I can go, and I may even play it myself. Don't get blinded by this - make sure that your deck and sideboard can beat the PEZ decks that we have seen over the last few years. That is the best chance you have to win.
Jason Chapman - email@example.com
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