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Budget Magic: $83 (40 tix) Modern Mono-Black Panharmonicon


Guuten takh, Budget Magic lovers! It's that time once again. We are sort of in that weird dead time for Standard waiting for the release of Aether Revolt to shake things up in a few weeks, so this week, we are heading to Modern again to play a card I've been trying to make work in the format ever since it was printed: Panharmonicon! Speaking of things I've been trying to make work for a long time. I love Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and in the past, I've tried to build a couple of Budget Magic decks around the card, but I always end up getting stuck on the fact that Phyrexian Obliterator—which is important for fueling Gray Merchant of Asphodel—is way too expensive for the series. So, this week, I once again started looking for a four-drop that could replace Phyrexian Obliterator in a Mono-Black Devotion type of strategy, when I realized that, with a bit of tweaking, Panharmonicon would be the perfect card. In some ways, it actually works better than Phyrexian Obliterator with Gray Merchant of Asphodel, since instead of just adding four black mana symbols, it doubles the number of black mana symbols on the battlefield by giving us two triggers! As such, this week we are playing a deck that's halfway a strange build of Mono-Black Devotion and halfway Panharmonicon. Let's call it Mono-Black Panharmonicon!

We'll talk more about Mono-Black Panharmonicon after the videos, but first a quick reminder: if you enjoy the Budget Magic series and the other video content on MTGGoldfish, make sure to subscribe to the MTGGoldfish YouTube Channel to keep up on all of the latest and greatest.

Modern Mono-Black Panharmonicon: Deck Tech

Modern Mono-Black Panharmonicon vs. 8 Rack

Modern Mono-Black Panharmonicon vs. UR Kiki / Exarch Control

Mono-Black Panharmonicon vs. Esper Narset

Mono-Black Panharmonicon vs. KCI Eggs

Mono-Black Panharmonicon vs. Standard Slivers

The Deck

The deck is actually really simple: we have all the main pieces of a normal black deck in removal, random discard, some Thoughtseize effects, and then some drain creatures to close out the game. However, all of our "spell" effects come stapled to creature to take advantage of Panharmonicon!

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In Standard, it's possible to make a functional or even good Panharmonicon deck that plays some underpowered cards simply because they are good with Panharmonicon, but it doesn't work this way in Modern because the format is so fast and powerful. As a result, we need to play as many good, standalone cards as possible but try to pick cards that are even better with Panharmonicon. Basically, in Standard, it can sometimes work to make below-average cards into good cards with the artifact doubling up their enters-the-battlefield triggers, but in Modern, we need to turn already good cards into great cards!

Of course, the way Panharmonicon works is the same in either format—whenever we cast a creature with an enters-the-battlefield ability, we get that ability twice instead of just once—and moving to Modern gives us a lot of powerful options to double up with Panharmonicon.

The Drain 

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While we occasionally win by beating down with creatures, our primary plan for finishing the game is draining away our opponent's life total with the help of Panharmonicon. Gray Merchant of Asphodel is the reason I built this deck to begin with, and it is—by far—the best card in our entire deck. With a Panharmonicon on the battlefield, it comes pretty close to saying "you win the game," often draining away 10 or even 20 life in one shot! It might seem like the combo of Panharmonicon and Gray Merchant of Asphodel is a bit "win more," but this seems untrue after playing the matches. There were several games where we won with Gray Merchant of Asphodel draining away our opponent's entire life total thanks to Panharmonicon that we would have lost if we had just cast a Gray Merchant of Asphodel without a Panharmonicon. In the mid- to late game, Gray Merchant of Asphodel is almost always the cards we want to draw the most.

Geralf's Messenger is one of those cards that go from good to great with the help of Panharmonicon. On its own, it drains for four life and reanimates itself once; with a Panharmonicon on the battlefield, it drains for eight life, and an eight-damage, three-mana burn spell is a pretty absurd card. Maybe the best part of Geralf's Messenger is that we can cast it on Turn 3 and play Panharmonicon on Turn 4, and then when it dies and comes back into play thanks to undying, we still get the double drain trigger. Plus, Geralf's Messenger is essential for powering up our Gray Merchant of Asphodel. A typical good curve for our deck can include two black mana symbols on Turn 2, Geralf's Messenger (draining for two, opponent at 18) on Turn 3, Panharmonicon on Turn 4, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel (draining for 14, opponent at four) on Turn 5! With this curve, all we need is our Geralf's Messenger to die and we drain away our opponent's last four life points, closing out the game!

Removal

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Gatekeeper of Malakir is another already good card that becomes a great card with Panharmonicon. If need be, we can cast it on Turn 2 just to have a creature (and some black mana symbols) on the battlefield. If we wait until Turn 3, we also get to Diabolic Edict away an opponent's creature, and if we wait until after we have a Panharmonicon on the battlefield, we get to kill two of our opponent's creatures, all for just three mana. The other important part of Gatekeeper of Malakir is that, unlike the rest of our removal creatures, it gives us a way to deal with random hexproof creatures (in case we run into Bogles or a Geist of Saint Traft deck) and doesn't actually target. While it has a weakness (Lingering Souls and other cards that make a bunch of tokens), the effect is unique and the Vampire is great in our deck.

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Shriekmaw] is insane with Panharmonicon, giving us what basically ends up being a two-mana, kill-two-creatures sorcery. While it can be bad in some matchups (if we happen to run into the mirror or against Affinity), since it can't kill black creatures or artifact creatures, if you look over the list of the most played creatures in Modern, this really isn't a major downside. If we happen to cast it for five mana, we also get a somewhat evasive body that can chip away at our opponent's life total or chump block while we are waiting to draw into our Gray Merchant of Asphodel to win the game. Meanwhile, Nekrataal is basically a bad Shriekmaw, giving us the same drawback of not hitting black creatures or artifact creatures but costing four mana instead of two. This said, it does work fine as a backup removal spell, and it's on curve with our other removal, giving us the opportunity to kill a creature with Shriekmaw on Turn 3, Gatekeeper of Malakir on Turn 3, and then Nekrataal on Turn 4. 

Discard

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Ravenous Rats and Chittering Rats aren't great, but they do work well with the plan of our deck. We have an extremely strong late game thanks to Panharmonicon, so our main focus is simply slowing down the game long enough to get the artifact on the battlefield. In the early game, Ravenous Rats and Chittering Rats disrupt the opponent a bit, making them discard a card (or, in the case of Chittering Rats, skip a draw step) while also giving us some cheap bodies to chump block with. Then, if we happen to draw them in the late game, they turn into Wrench Mind and (sometimes) a double Time Walk with the help of Panharmonicon.

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We also have some Thoughtseize-esque discard creatures in Brain Maggot and Disciple of Phenax. Brain Maggot is essentially a Ravenous Rats that lets us see our opponent's hand and pick the card we want to get rid of but with the downside that if our opponent finds a way to kill it (which isn't that hard, considering it's just a 1/1), they get the card back. In some matchups (where our opponent is light on removal), it works like a real Thoughtseize; in others, it's more of a Delay that keeps our opponent from casting a spell for a couple of turns, but both are fine, considering our goal is to stall things out until we get a Panharmonicon. Meanwhile, Disciple of Phenax is just a one-of because it is really expensive, but it does help power up our Gray Merchant of Asphodel by offering two black mana symbols, and it doesn't give the card back when it dies like Brain Maggot. Of course, both of these cards work well with Panharmonicon by doubling up their discard triggers, although Brain Maggot is still a bit risky because the opponent would get back both cards when it dies. 

Other Stuff

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I forgot to mention earlier that we have another finisher. If our Gray Merchant of Asphodel / Panharmonicon combo isn't enough, we can slam a Grave Titan, which is normally insane (offering 10 power and toughness split across three bodies) but somehow even better with Panharmonicon (giving us four 2/2 tokens along with the 6/6 Grave Titan). Not only does Grave Titan offer us a way to close out the game in short order, but it also gums up the board if we are behind and waiting to draw into a Gray Merchant of Asphodel to catch back up and hopefully win.

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Last but not least, we have Phyrexian Arena, which offers us a steady stream of card advantage while also adding two black mana symbols to the battlefield to power up Gray Merchant of Asphodel. In slower, more controlling matchups, Phyrexian Arena is the card we want to draw most of all, since it gives us the resources to fight through a lot of removal and counters. However, since we can gain big chunks of life thanks to Gray Merchant of Asphodel, in our deck, it is fine against more aggressive lists as well because the loss of life isn't a major concern.

Ultra-Budget Mono-Black Panharmonicon

To get Mono-Black Panharmonicon down into the ultra-budget range, we need to make a couple of big changes. Most notably, we cut the two copies of Grave Titan and the two copies of Phyrexian Arena and replace them with Phyrexian Rager (which actually does a pretty good budget imitation of Phyrexian Arena, especially with a Panharmonicon on the battlefield). Otherwise, we go down one Geralf's Messenger for an additional Chittering Rats and change around the sideboard a bit, and we are good to go. While I think these changes do downgrade the deck a bit, the main game plan of the deck remains the same, and even with these changes, it should work fine if you are playing in less competitive environments.

Non-Budget Mono-Black Panharmonicon

The non-budget build of Mono-Black Panharmonicon keeps the same foundation of Geralf's Messenger, Gatekeeper of Malakir, Panharmonicon, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel but gets to replace some less powerful support cards with extremely powerful options. For example, while we still keep a couple of copies of Ravenous Rats, we drop Brain Maggot and Disciple of Phenax for Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek. We also get Phyrexian Obliterator, which makes Gray Merchant of Asphodel even more insane, and Liliana of the Veil as another way to pressure our opponent's hand and board, and trim back on some of our creature-based removal (sorry Nekrataal) for a couple of Dismembers and Victim of Nights, which help shore up our issues against black and artifact-centered strategies. All in all, I think the non-budget build is a significant upgrade, but it's also a lot more expensive, costing seven times more than the build we played in the videos. If you are looking to make incremental upgrades, I'd start with Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek before moving on to Phyrexian Obliterator and finally Liliana of the Veil. Oh, one last thing: we also changed up the mana base quite a bit to include a couple of copies of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and four Mutavaults. This plan only works because of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth (and to a lesser extent, Liliana of the Veil, which lets us discard additional copies of the legendary land). So, don't run the mana base this way without the upgrades—you'll never be able to cast your spells.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As for the matches, this one was really frustrating. Technically, we ended 3-2, but in both of our losses, we were in positions where we essentially had the game won the following turn and had even cleared our opponent's hand with discard, only to end up getting top decked by the opponent, who then came back to win the game and match. The first time, it was a Cryptic Command to tap down our very lethal board (from our empty-handed opponent), and the second time, it was a Path to Exile to kill a Grave Titan (right after we cast a Duress to get rid of our opponent's last card in hand: Supreme Verdict). As such, it felt like the deck was better than the record indicates. With a little bit more luck, we could have been 5-0 or, at the very least, 4-1.

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.


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