Written by - Sam BW
Believe it or not, I’ve only been playing Magic since 2015, and only really seriously got into constructed a year later. Up until very recently, Legacy looked to be a format that was well outside both my wheelhouse, and my budget. However, due to my fascination with another eternal format, Canadian Highlander, I have been consuming a fair amount of decklists, articles and podcasts about a format with a similar power level and legality to Legacy. Enter, Lake of the Dead. Once I was made aware of the existence of this mono black powerhouse, it was only a matter of time. I had already put together a fairly competitive Mono Black Devotion deck in Modern, so it was a fairly easy conversion to swap Nykthos for Lakes and call it a day, but what else did the origins of magic have to offer? And what could I hope to gain by taking what is despite my best efforts, a tier 2.5 Modern deck and taking it up a notch to tussle with some of the nastiest decks MTG has to offer? The answers to these questions may surprise you.
3 Lake of the Dead
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
3 Cabal Therapy
4 Deathrite Shaman
1 Demonlord Belzenlok
2 Dread Wanderer
2 Gatekeeper of Malakir
3 Geralf's Messenger
3 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Liliana, the Last Hope
4 Phyrexian Obliterator
2 Relentless Dead
2 Collective Brutality
4 Demigod of Revenge
2 Gut Shot
4 Leyline of the Void
1 Surgical Extraction
(Lake of the Dead, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Swamp.)
Before we get into all that though, let’s break down the deck, starting with the mana base. As the name of this article implies, this deck is mono black, revolving around the titular card, Lake of the Dead. What the Lake allows us to do is make as much as six black mana on turn three, which allows for such explosive plays as a turn three Obliterator or two Geralf’s Messengers, or allows us to enact our other game plan, which i will get into later. Unlike the Modern version of this deck, having access to such drastic mana acceleration allows us to play almost like a combo deck, in that we can accelerate out a game ending threat well ahead of schedule, and hope our opponent doesn’t have the tools to deal with it. The solitary Nykthos is a nod to the Modern version, initially i had two in the list but drawing the second one feels awful, and is generally worse than Lake. It does sometimes have upside when the deck is just curving out though, and is almost certainly better than the fourth Lake. Urborg helps the deck out with otherwise clunky Nykthos draws, but also allows you to sac your Lake of the Dead to itself, something which is worth doing enough of the time that Urborg is a worthy inclusion over the 17th swamp. The biggest takeaway here though, is that even with 21 lands total, you can still sometimes flood out. I was initially running 24 lands in this deck, and i found that i was losing most of my games to drawing Swamp after Swamp. I feel i’ve found a nice balance with this iteration, but i wouldn’t be surprised if even fewer lands turned out to be correct.
(Phyrexian Obliterator, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Geralf’s Messenger, Demonlord Belzenlok.)
Legacy is a strange format. Decks have to be built in a way that they have reasonable outs to getting comboed out on turn one or two of the game, but weirdly not that many have reasonable outs to a solitary 5/5. For the same reason that the Big Fish, Gurmag Angler is tearing it up on the top tables in decks like Grixis Delver and Czech Pile, Phyrexian Obliterator is a tough nut to crack. Sure, it can be Fatal Pushed unlike Angler, but it can’t really be Bolted twice, not unless your opponent has six permanents just lying around up to not much. Aside from all the words on the card, Phyrexian Obliterator also costs 4 black mana, something which usually rules it out of appearing in decks, but not today. His best friend Gary, also known by his formal title Gray Merchant of Asphodel, loves the big guy. He’s also not too shabby next to the next card on our list, Geralf’s Messenger. Together, these three make up the Triumvirate of Terror, and strike fear into the hearts of Delver players everywhere. The Demonlord is a bit of an outlier, but he’s proven himself to be valuable. He’s just a big card advantage tool that also happens to be a 6/6 with flying and trample. Enough said.
(Contamination, Gravecrawler, Dread Wanderer.)
Here’s where it gets interesting. As well as giving you the ability to deploy a big threat like Obliterator, this deck utilises an EDH staple, Contamination. For those unfamiliar, Contamination is a bit like Blood Moon, except it works on every land, not just non-basic ones, and it requires you to sacrifice a creature in your upkeep. This is what I meant by finding cards to kick this deck up a notch. In the Modern version of this deck, Gravecrawler lets you utilise your mana efficiently every turn and preserve your devotion to black. Here, it locks your opponent out of the game. All you have to do is have another zombie in play, then you can just keep sacrificing and recasting the Gravecrawler over and over, til whatever else you have in play beats them to death. Dread Wanderer lets you do a similar thing in the late game, but really just exists to make sure you have enough low cost zombies to pull this off reliably.
(Thoughtseize, Cabal Therapy, Deathrite Shaman, Dismember, Liliana of the Veil, Liliana, the Last Hope, Relentless Dead, Gatekeeper of Malakir.)
The rest of the cards in the deck are fairly self explanatory, but i’ll explain some nuance that i’ve come across piloting the deck in various tournaments. Thoughtseize and Cabal Therapy are there to give the deck a way to interact, both with the insane combo decks available in legacy, and with Force of Will and Counterspell out of blue decks. Cabal Therapy, another Legacy include, is a very good magic card, especially in concert with Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger. The king of Legacy, Deathrite Shaman, is not quite as good in this deck as he is in the top tier of the meta, but he’s still worth it for a number of reasons. The main reason is once you’ve blown up all your own lands with Lake of the Dead, it’s nice to be able to continue playing magic after that. Another good one is your Deathrites are usually just as good as your opponents if they’re playing fetch lands, which most decks are. And finally, Deathrite Shaman is the most common way your opponents will try to get out of the Contamination lock, so if you eat the land they target in response to them trying to produce mana, they’re out of luck there. I’ve had a number of people tell me i should be playing fetchlands in this deck to better utilise Deathrite Shaman, and I still feel like the deck uses him just fine. Feel free to suggest the way you’d optimise this deck though! I’m always keen to hear what people think. Dismember is the best removal spell mono black has access to, so no surprise it’s a four of. The pair of Lilianas are there for general utility, both having a lot of relevant modes against various decks. Interestingly i think Liliana, Last Hope might be better than LOTV in this deck specifically, as a way to accrue card advantage without getting hated out by Leovold is extremely valuable. That said, both are powerful and the split is definitely the way to go. Lastly, Relentless Dead is a very flexible creature in a deck made of largely zombies, and Gatekeeper is a removal tool that leaves behind a body for devotion and boardstate.
Not a whole lot going on here that’s too counter-intuitive, but worth explaining a bit anyway. Leylines and Surgical Extraction for Dredge and Reanimator, Collective Brutality for Burn, Delver and Snapcaster Mage decks, Languish for Elves, Gutshot for decks playing one toughness creatures, and Demigod of Revenge for any decks that you want to go fast against. Good option to side in against decks that aren’t as bothered by Contamination. It’s worth pointing out that the Leylines of the Void are especially good in this deck, as you can cast them on turn three if you aren’t lucky enough to start the game with them in play, and they add devotion to black.
Why Should I Play A Bad Modern Deck With A Few New Toys In Legacy?
First off, how dare you. Secondly, it’s pretty bizarre but the reason this deck doesn’t work in Modern is because historically black as a color doesn’t have great answers to artifacts. In Modern, decks like Affinity and Lantern Control make a mockery of your midrangey creature plan and either kill you or lock you out of the game on turn four. In Legacy, there’s not really a deck like either of those, because more powerful answers to artifacts exist, and more fast mana to get those answers into play also exist. That being said, this deck does have bad matchups. I’m not really sure how to go about it, but the sideboard needs some answer to Marit Lage, because otherwise this deck can not beat a Dark Depths basically ever. Any suggestions would be appreciated, I’m currently thinking of Geth’s Verdict or Diabolic Edict, but also not sure what to cut.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my first foray into the Legacy format! As always, feel free to message me on Facebook (Sam Bw) or post a comment asking questions sometime in the next two weeks and i’ll reply as soon as i see it. If anyone knows of any sweet cards with too much black mana in their CMC, i’m keen to try it out. And if anyone else gives the deck a go, tell me how you went! This deck is fairly budget by Legacy standards, so I hope some of you give it a try for yourselves. It’s a lot of fun.