In a jungle filled with Trolls, Wandering Emperors, Parhelions, Cats, and Spirits, Tergrid’s lantern showed the path to the top 8.
The last time I brewed a decklist that got me this was at a local Nationals, but even then I thought it would be harder now to make a deck that would survive the guillotine of gauntlets that dominated the pioneer format. Imagine a format where you have the Magic’s most efficient spells with some of Modern’s most effective creatures and powerful Planeswalkers and you have a ruthless playground to test your deckbuilding skills.
The inspiration for this deck was actually mono-green devotion and its ridiculous mana engine. As an old-school player, this reminded me of Cabal Coffers but since it’s not legal in Pioneer we will opt for the next best thing, Cabal Stronghold. Good thing Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is legal and from there it was only a matter of which cards can take the most advantage from all that surplus mana. Torment of Hailfire, which was one of my favorite cards from recent sets, was the linchpin that helped architect this 75-card shell I piloted at Vertis North RCQ.
The deck possesses the natural qualities of a mono-black control shell, comprising a suite of spot removal, sweepers, selective hand disruption, and a small but resilient win condition, supported by a simple and straightforward mana base.
The king of discard spells, Thoughtseize, gives you the necessary intel to know your next moves. Control decks need to know where and when to allocate their resource to cut their opponents off from playing their game. Go Blank’s power comes not from the discard but from wiping the opponent’s graveyard. With almost all decks in Pioneer having some way to interact with their graveyard like Kroxa in BR shells, Dig Through Time in UW shells, Cavalier of Thorns in Mono-Green, and Parhelion in Greasefang decks, it’s never wrong to mute the opponent’s graveyard at any point in the game. Thought Distortion, despite a 1-off in the deck, gives you that edge against mirror control decks, taking away most of Pioneer’s control win conditions like Teferi and Shark Typhoon, and get rid of any counter magic that will prevent you from doing your thing.
For our removal, Fatal Push was a no-brainer addition because it answers a lot of early to mid-game targets when faced with any creature-based decks. Eliminate has been a very underrated removal spell despite having the capability to kill very large threats like Steel Leaf Champion and Old-Growth Troll, to killing Narset or Kiora. Hero’s Downfall is your catch-all answer that’s non-conditional and at instant speed.
I like Bontu’s Last Reckoning as a 1-off because I always like to have a panic button. Early game aggro players that commit all their threats hoping to close the game quickly get severely punished which buys you a lot of time to build up and take over the game even if you don’t untap your lands the next turn. Shadows’ Verdict was a last-minute swap, taking Languish’s place, because I felt it was better positioned to ensure nothing comes back. Greasefang decks have a reanimator package, while Humans have Extraction Specialists who can sometimes win the game all on their own. Ensuring you won’t redo all the removal you did early in the game helps you conserve your removals for the late game.
Erebos’s Intervention is my flex spot but didn’t regret having it on the mainboard. Gaining a bit of life, even just 3-4 points, can be the difference between a win and a loss. Especially against very aggressive decks that have direct damage spells, you will want some ways to reverse your life totals slightly and be in a much more comfortable position to fight the long game without being one burn spell away from death. Its graveyard removal function also comes in handy, at instant speed, to keep a certain cat stay dead.
Now on to the juicy part, Tergrid. Tergrid is a unique finisher because she is both an activator and a facilitator. The creature side makes Thoughtseize, Torment of Hailfire, and Invoke Despair even more powerful because anything the opponent sacrifices or discards goes to you, functioning as a facilitator. Her lantern side is an activator, giving you the means to trigger his front side in case both cards meet on the battlefield. But take note, the lantern side has this ability to untap itself and deal 3 more damage (or force the opponent to discard another card) for as long as you have the mana to pay for it. With Cabal Stronghold offering you a ton of mana to sink into the lantern, you can activate the lantern 3-4 times with one stronghold out, and 5-7 times if you got two strongholds out.
The last two cards that perhaps need a bit of explaining are Bontu and Massacre Girl. I’ve been recommended to use Kalitas, Sheoldred, or Graveyard Trespassers to name a few as a potential creature package. I gave them some thought but opted for these two cards because of 2 things: Menace and a functional ETB benefit.
Bontu is a very resilient creature that’s very hard to keep dead. In pioneer, where the most used removal spells are either exile (e.g. Declaration in Stone and Farewell) or cheap (e.g. Fateful Absence, Dreadbore), you need something that is low maintenance and self-sustaining. Bontu can only truly die if it never touches the battlefield. Apart from countermagic, you will always be guaranteed he comes back time and time again. Another tech worth noting is that in the late game, you will have surplus lands you can pitch to Bontu without affecting your mana production thanks to Cabal Stronghold. Having two Bontus rotating with each other (when a dead one is tucked 3 cards deep, you play a second Bontu and sacrifice 2 permanents ensuring you draw into the tucked Bontu next turn) presents massive pressure to the opponent to always have blockers, draw into removal, or else they get stomped by a 5/6 menacing creature that will always often trade positive.
Massacre Girl is just magical. Coming down against humans for example wipes their board very cleanly. The same goes with Mono Green, Spirits (if it resolves), and stops the Cat-Oven for that turn or else risk wiping their own board clean.
All our creatures also have Menace which has a subtle synergy with our game plan of removing as many permanents from our opponent’s board as possible. Fewer blockers mean our creatures can attack through and shave even more life. If the enemy doesn’t die from Torment, our creatures will close the gap.
In our sideboard, Duress acts as our fifth Thoughtseize coming in to fight Control decks on the draw. There’s no better start against control than knowing what hand they kept.
Leyline of the Void is purely for the cat decks and occasionally works well with Lotus Bloom decks. I don’t necessarily board this in against Greasefang decks because what you need to answer is Greasefang, not necessarily the Parhelion.
Noxious Grasp solves that Greasefang problem, and can even remove Parhelion itself (it’s a while creature after all). But this card can also kill Teferi, Kiora, Cavalier of Thorns, Korvold, all Humans, and all Elves.
An additional Thought Distortion comes in against UW based decks because you always want to make sure the turn you play Torment is the last turn your opponent will see.
Feed the Swarm is our answer to Leyline of Sanctity. Don’t try to kill Shark Typhoon with this because it will hurt. A lot. But if the situation calls for it, go ahead. In case you see Enchantress decks, then this card offers you more removal.
Liliana. Most decks use her on the mainboard but we only bring her in when we really need her. Usually, against draw-go decks, I like bringing her in because it forces the opponent to commit or risk shaving their hands and losing their resources while we uptick towards halving their permanents. If they commit, then our removals will have a target. Good to note that she’s also a removal magnet and sometimes acts like a fog forcing creatures to swing at her only for you to sweep the board the next turn.
I really love how the deck plays out. You can feel almost dirty when you steal 4-5 permanents thanks to Tergrid or deal 9 damage with his lantern. If you like to play something that is both powerful and fun, get the cards from Block 101 and sleeve them up for your next FNM.
Till next time, keep brewing!