[Premodern] Staples: Black (and a brief history of Premodern)

With the rising popularity of Pauper and Old School 93/94, it appears as though we have hit an age where Magic players are no longer willing to settle for the DCI-sanctioned Standard, Modern, or Eternal (Vintage & Legacy) formats.  Players such as myself are eager to use cards they have never seen before, remember fondly from their childhoods, or just take a break from competition.  With that being said, the new Premodern format looks promising.  However, I noticed that not a lot of decks are packing Black.  Therefore, today I take a look at the mono black cards that I think could impact the format.



According to Martin Berlin of premodernmagic.com, Premodern is a constructed format consisting of the cards printed from 4th Edition (1995) to Scourge (2003).  Essentially, it is comprised of Vintage and Legacy cards that were printed after the community-created Old School 93/94 format, but before the sanctioned Modern format.  It was invented in 2012, by Martin Berlin himself.  Since then, the format has been mostly confined to Stockholm, Sweeden and the banned & restricted list is maintained by Martin Berlin himself upon consideration of community feedback.  It’s not even listed on Wikipedia as Magic: the Gathering format among Peasant, Frontier, etc.

Personally, I see Premodern as a casual, nostalgic format which can be played competitively if you so desire.  I remember Standard during the Urza’s Block, during the Masques Block, and during the Onslaught Block.  I remember how the Tempest Block shaped Extended.  Now, some call Premodern a “solved” format because it has a finite card pool of which additions are never made.  The only changes to the format are made when cards are banned, unbanned, restricted, and/or unrestricted.  However, just two months ago, Pro Tour player Joel Larsson of Team Revelation, wrote on CFB that, “there are no real stock decks I can show you, but there is some innovation that has been performing better in our games between friends, all of them quite competitive players, and the latest tournaments.”  With a card pool of over five thousand cards spanning across eight years, there should be enough variety in top tier and fringe decks to make the format exciting.

Heck, the Old School 93/94 format has only two years worth of cards and there are at least fifty different deck archtypes.  Recently, at NoobCon X, 122 players from 17 different countries competed in a diverse Old School 93/94 metagame.  Video commentary can be found here.  A friend of ours, Dave Firth Bard (@dfirthbard) of All Tings Considered, shared his story here.  A similar future of the Premodern format is ours for the taking.  The First Premodern European Championships are being hosted by the FishliverOil Cup on Noctober 28, 2018 in Genoa, Italy.



Let’s start with the obvious trouble-makers.  One of the Premodernmagic.com sample decklists is a Survival of the Fittest decklist packing Mesmeric Fiend, Recurring Nightmare, Living Death, and Duress.  Even if you have been only playing competitive Magic since Ixalan in September 2017, you should at least recognize ONE of these cards, Duress, as a playable card.


The remaining decks pack star sideboard cards such as Engineered Plague, Cabal Therapy, and Coffin Purge.  Again, Cabal Therapy should look familar to every competitive Eternal player.


Mono Black Midrange/Control is a popular Pauper archtype in an incredibly fast format that sources a lot of its commons from the Premodern era, so that could also be a solid foundation from which to start.

With those two deck archtypes (and some others) in mind, let’s take a look at the Premodern-legal black cards.  Now, I’ll be straight with you, since 2004 I haven’t played with a single one of these cards.  I have never once played a game of Premodern.  This is just (a) a list (b) of mono black cards (c) in a vacuum that seem either (d)(i) powerful to me now or (d)(ii) were powerful during their respective fifteen minutes of fame.  Without further ado:


1. “Big Bodies” to earn 2:1s and/or to use as finishers.

Without Modern, the “pushed,” “busted,” cost-effective, whatever you want to call them creatures like Tarmogoyf, Death’s Shadow, and Bloodbraid Elf are not legal.  Instead, we have to show some of the less-loved big bodies some action.


Aku Djinn is a 5/6 Trample for five if you have been doing a good job killing all of your opponent’s creatures.  Grinning Demon, an ode to Juzan Djinn, but doesn’t have trample like Aku Djinn and may have a worse downside depending on what your opponent is playing, but Grinning Demon also has the option of just being a three cmc vanilla 2/2 if you are low on life or don’t have a for mana.  Phyrexian Scuta is also worth mentioning but the demon just might be strictly better due to the flexibility of the Morph mechanic.  Notably, the scuta is a zombie, so if you decide to make a “Creature Types Matter”/”Tribal” deck for Premodern: he should be on your radar.


Chainer, Dementia Master is the original The Scarab GodI recently wrote an article about how The Scarab God is pretty good.


2. Creatures that double as toolboxes, removal, and other ETB triggers.

Now that we’ve talked about the finishers, let’s talk about how we keep the path clear and help our big body get there.


You’ve got your “one-and-done,” “enters the battlefield” (“ETB”) and toolbox creatures, like Ravenous RatsPhyrexian Rager, and Withered Wretch (another Zombie!).


You could clear the path for the big guys with sweepers like Braids, Cabal MinionBane of the LivingThrashing Wumpus, and Plague Spitter.


Prowling Pangolin doubles as a sweeper or a big body if you’ve managed to keep the lanes clear.


Another zombie, Phyrexian Delver, shows up and brings a buddy, such as Nekrataal or Bone Shredder.  Five mana for two creatures and a kill spell seems pretty good to me.


There is no way we can talk about removal or ETB triggers without the Faceless Butcher himself.


Sutured Ghoul is prohibitively expensive, but could see play as a finisher in this sort of ETB-trigger-and-chump-fest of a deck if you can stall the game out long enough.  You could even build that deck around Tortured Existence and a bunch of “one-of” “Silver Bullets.”  Unsurprisingly, both of these cards combine well with another Zombie, Twisted Abomination.  Cycle the zombie early for a swamp, and then discard an unneeded creature late game to bring back that 5/3 booty.


Unearth and Oversold Cemetery would also help out with recycling ETB creatures.  Who needs spells when all of your dudes do the stuff that spells do!


3. Other creatures.


I think Undead Gladiator and Nether Spirit‘s mechanics could work alongside several of Black’s primary objectives: recurring creatures that get you more value or putting creatures in your graveyard.


I like Nantuko Shade and Knight of Stromgald in this format, too, as early threats and a way to use any unspent mana to speed up the clock.  I see them as threats in a slower, control deck rather than a Suicide or Midrange threat.


4. Removal

Okay, that’s enough about creatures.  What spells are going to cut it in this format?



Some former Extended and Standard staples of the past are sure to make a splash.  We’re talking Diabolic Edict, Smother, Snuff Out, Spinning Darkness, and Contagion.


We’ve already talked about Chainer’s Edict, but other Pauper All-Stars like Vendetta, Death Stroke, Innocent Blood, and Ghastly Demise are also sure to make appearances.


Finally, the mono black sweepers of the format are Mutilate and Pox.  Sorry, no Damnation.


5. “Suicide Black”

Suicide Black is a deck archtype which uses its player’s life total and creatures with downsides to take control of the early game and hopefully win before the other player can catch up.



The “little” guys in the deck aren’t so little.  You start the game off with a variety of high power and toughness creatures such as Carnophage, Erg Raiders, Hasran Ogress, Flesh Reaver, Wretched Anurid, and Skittering Skirge.  Their job is to hopefully get around your opponent’s chump blockers and wittle your opponent down to 12-15 before your opponent stabilizes.


Then, the big boys like Drinker of Sorrow and Phyrexian Negator take over the reins.  These guys are both five-power creatures for only three mana with back-breaking downsides if your opponent is playing burn spells or chump blockers.  However, if you’ve killed your opponent by turn five, do you really care if you had to sacrifice a Swamp and a Carnophage to get there?


If you get lucky, you can even power out one of the big boys on turns one, two, or three using Dark Ritual or a Priest of Gix.


Be wary, slower Black decks will sideboard in Stronghold Taskmaster and Urborg Shambler against opposing Suicide Black decks.


6. Megrim/The Rack Hand-Denial Decks


Megrim decks were very popular during Tempest Block and Extended.  It’s pretty hard to win when you are in topdeck mode and also facing a damage clock.  That’s exactly what Megrim and The Rack try to do.


Pox, Ravenous Rats, Duress, Cabal Therapy, Mesmeric Fiend make their second appearances on this list and are wonderful additions to this deck archtype.


There are also some new noncreatures making their debut: Blackmail, Funeral Charm, Mind Burst, and Bottomless Pit.


As well as some creatures, like Alley Grifters, Urborg Mindsucker, Dauthi Mindripper, Haunted Cadaver, and the obvious Hypnotic Specter.


I’m not sure why, but Order of Yawgmoth was always one of my favorite card arts.  Just a creepy, beady-eyed lookin’ metal scarecrow.


7. Reanimator



Entomb is banned, but you may be able to still run some sort of reanimator decks with Reanimate, ExhumeLife//Death, and Buried Alive.  Just pick a finisher from any color!


Edit: I forgot to add the Black creatures that make the best Reanimate targets!  Visara, the Dreadful, Avatar of Woe, and Spirit of the Night.


8. Other combo decks.


I’m not creative enough to come up with combos.  I’ve always been a creature guy.  But I’m sure one of you guys can figure out how to modernize the Patriarch’s Bidding deck archtype.


A Zombie Infestation Madness deck that turns unwanted cards into an army of zombies ruled its Standard format.  Maybe this can be revisited by drawing extra cards with Phyrexian Arena or Skeletal Scrying?


9. Land Destruction


Pox makes its third appearance on this list, in the Land Destruction deck archtype, alongside Rancid Earth and Choking Sands.  However, I don’t see it being a Mono Black deck.  Probably Rakdos alongside the plethora of Red land destruction available in this format (to be discussed in a later article!)



Thanks for reading.  Yes, I’m sure I missed cards.  Yes, I’m sure cards that I picked will end up being terrible.  If you read this far, consider joining our Discord and argue with me in real time!  I’ll even try to build some decks out of this crap.  At the very least, come in and tell me what color to talk about next!

Edit: Here are two sample decklists that we cooked up in the Discord.  And yes, I forgot about the scourge of the Tempest Block: Dauthi Slayer!

Mono Black Chainer Toolbox:

20 Swamp
2 Bone Shredder
3 Chainer, Dementia Master
2 Diabolic Edict
4 Faceless Butcher
4 Mesmeric Fiend
2 Nekrataal
2 Phyrexian Delver
4 Phyrexian Rager
4 Ravenous Rats
4 Smother
2 Tortured Existence
3 Twisted Abomination
4 Unearth

Suicide Black:

20 Swamp
4 Carnophage
4 Dauthi Slayer
3 Diabolic Edict
4 Drinker of Sorrow
4 Duress
4 Grinning Demon
2 Nantuko Shade
2 Priest of Gix
3 Smother
2 Spinning Darkness
4 Withered Wretch
4 Wretched Anurid

Also, what the fuck were the artists on when drawing these two cards?


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8 Comments on “[Premodern] Staples: Black (and a brief history of Premodern)

  1. Great article. If you delve into goldcards as an extra you get more of the fun things in the different categories you have mentioned!


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