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Budget Magic: Mono-Black No Cat Archfiend Sac (Standard)


Håfa ådai, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Archfiend's Vessel is one of the most unique and interesting uncommons printed in a long time. On its face, it's just a 1/1 for one, but if we can get it into and back out of our graveyard, it exiles itself and rewards us with a 5/5 flying Demon. Our deck today is built to get Archfiend's Vessel into and out of our graveyard as consistently and quickly as possible. The rest of our deck is basically a Mono-Black Sacrifice deck, although one without Cauldron Familiar and Witch's Oven. The other huge new Core Set 2021 addition is Village Rites, which gives us a one-mana instant-speed Divination, assuming we're willing to sacrifice a creature, which is often an upside rather than a drawback in our deck since it gives us a way to get Archfiend's Vessel into the graveyard as early as Turn 2! How good is Archfiend's Vessel in Standard? Is Mono-Black Sacrifice better without Cat Oven?  Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Mono-Black No Cat Archfiend Sac

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The Deck

Mono-Black Archfiend Sacrifice is basically an Aristocrats-style deck. While most of our cards aren't that powerful in a vacuum, they all synergize together, which makes the deck's pieces stronger than its individual parts. Our primary goal is to turn Archfiend's Vessel into a 5/5 Demon as quickly as possible, although we can win without Archfiend's Vessel with our sacrifice synergies and grindy graveyard value.

Archfiend's Vessel

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Archfiend's Vessel is the centerpiece of our deck. Our main goal is to get it into the graveyard as quickly as possible so we can get it back out of the graveyard as a 5/5 flying Demon, which we can hopefully use to win the game in short order. We have several ways of getting Archfiend's Vessel into the graveyard and several ways of getting it back out of the graveyard. With our best draws, we can theoretically have two 5/5 flying Demons on the battlefield as early as Turn 3!

Getting Archfiend in the Graveyard

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One of the easiest ways to get Archfiend's Vessel into the graveyard is to hard cast it naturally for just one mana and then sacrifice it. For this, we have two options. Village Rites is an extremely powerful card, essentially being a Light Up the Stage for sacrifice decks by drawing two cards for just a single mana. Of course, sacrificing a creature normally is a drawback, but it is often an upside in our deck since it gives us a way to get Archfiend's Vessel into the graveyard and we have a bunch of other recursive threats. 

As for Priest of Forgotten Gods, it's our primary main-deck removal, allowing us to sacrifice two creatures to force our opponent to sacrifice one while also generating card advantage and making some mana. Just how good Priest of Forgotten Gods is mostly depends on the matchup. Priest of Forgotten Gods can essentially just win the game on its own if our opponent can't kill it and is playing a creature deck, but in other matchups, it just dies without doing much of anything. 

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Mire Triton is a surprisingly well-rounded card. It gains us life against aggro, and against decks with big creatures, deathtouch allows us to trade up for more expensive, powerful threats. The other big upside of Mire Triton is that it mills two cards, which is another way to get Archfiend's Vessel in the graveyard, while also generating card advantage in an odd way, with the help of our cards that put creatures into play from our graveyard.

Getting Archfiend Out of the Graveyard

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When it comes to getting Archfiend's Vessel out of the graveyard, we have a few options. Lurrus of the Dream-Den is the most straightforward, allowing us to cast Archfiend's Vessel (and most of the other creatures in our deck) from the graveyard. One of our deck's unique aspects is that rather than playing Lurrus of the Dream-Den as our companion, we're playing it in the main deck so that we can play the full four copies, rather than being restricted to just a single copy. It's that good and important to our deck. Meanwhile, Kaya's Ghostform can theoretically put Archfiend's Vessel into play from our graveyard if we enchant it before we sacrifice it, although more commonly, we can use it to protect Lurrus of the Dream-Den or Priest of Forgotten Gods from our opponent's removal. It's especially powerful with Lurrus of the Dream-Den since we can use Lurrus to keep recasting Kaya's Ghostform from our graveyard to essentially protect Lurrus of the Dream-Den forever. 

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Call of the Death-Dweller is our most explosive reanimation spell, potentially putting two copies of Archfiend's Vessel into play from our graveyard on Turn 3, giving us two 5/5 Demons, which should be able to close out the game by attacking in just two turns. Even apart from Archfiend's Vessel, Call of the Death-Dweller offers a ton of value in our deck, allowing us to reanimate Lurrus of the Dream-Den (which then allows us to immediately recast something else) or two sacrifice-fodder creatures to feed to Priest of Forgotten Gods.

Other Stuff

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Rounding out our deck is a parade of one-drops. Gutterbones and Serrated Scorpion both work extremely well with our sacrifice plan, Gutterbones because it can return itself to play each turn (making it a semi-combo with Priest of Forgotten Gods) and Serrated Scorpion due to its draining death trigger. Meanwhile, Knight of the Ebon Legion isn't great to sacrifice, but it is extremely aggressive thanks to its pumping ability and because it grows as we deal damage to our opponent. We can occasionally win games like a weird sort of Mono-Black Aggro deck, where we simply play multiple copies of Knight of the Ebon Legion and Gutterbones and beat our opponent down before they have a chance to recover.

Playing the Deck

Mono-Black Sacrifice is really good at grinding out value over the course of the long game while also offering the ability to pick up fast wins with Archfiend's Vessel Demons or multiple one-drops starts. Perhaps the biggest challenge in playing the deck is figuring out what sort of game plan the starting hand offers. Some hands are built for the long game, with card advantage and Lurrus of the Dream-Den to recur threats, while others are purely aggressive. This means deciding on a game plan for each game is important. Things can go wrong in a hurry if you play an aggro hand for the long game (or a long-game hand like an aggro deck). Playing some games with the deck to get used to the various game plans is probably the easiest way to learn. 

As for Archfiend's Vessel and the Demon it makes, this is somewhat matchup dependent as well. If we're playing against a deck with Teferi, Time Raveler, it is often better to avoid going all-in on an early Demon because the opponent can just bounce it with Teferi and undo all of our work. On the other hand, making a 5/5 flyer or two as quickly as possible is one of the best things our deck can do against removal-light ramp decks or aggro decks like Mono-Red or Mono-Black. 

It's also important to realize that our deck can afford to sacrifice creatures aggressively to things like Priest of Forgotten Gods and Village Rites. Even creatures that don't have any specific synergy with the graveyard, like Knight of the Ebon Legion, are often worth sacrificing since our deck has so many ways of getting creatures back into play from the graveyard. 

Finally, make sure to count up the damage you can deal. I was surprised at how quickly you can drain an opponent out of the game with cards like Priest of Forgotten Gods and Serrated Scorpion, especially with Call of the Death-Dweller and Lurrus to keep recasting Serrated Scorpion from the graveyard. Something like Priest of Forgotten Gods sacrificing two Scorpions into untapping and using Call of the Death-Dweller to reanimate the Scorpions and sacrifice them again to Priest of Forgotten Gods ends up being 12 direct damage without attacking at all. Lines like this can be easy to miss if you're not looking out for them, especially in games when you are on the aggro plan.

Wrap-Up

All in all, we went 3-2 with Mono-Black No Cat Archfiend Sac, which is a fine, if unexciting, record with a budget deck. That said, it is worth pointing out that both of our losses were to decks looking to turbo into Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, which is basically straight-up unbeatable for our deck. In general, our deck is really good at fighting through removal and sweepers since our creatures keep coming back from the graveyard, but since Ugin, the Spirit Dragon exiles everything, there isn't much we can do to get back in the game. In theory, if we get a very aggressive hand, we can win before Ugin hits the battlefield, but our grindy long-game hands usually aren't fast enough. It might be worth changing the sideboard specifically to fight Ugin since our deck felt really solid in all of the other matchups. More discard or Sorcerous Spyglass could help to solve the problem.

Speaking of the sideboard, Heartless Act felt pretty bad as our sideboard removal spell. We played against GW Counters, which is a deck where we really wanted more creature removal, but Heartless Act was basically a dead card. It might be worth trying something like Grasp of Darkness or Murderous Rider instead. 

In general, Mono-Black No Cat Archfiend Sac felt like it was strong enough to win a lot of games in Standard and rank up on Arena, outside of our problems beating Ugin. With a few changes to the sideboard to delay Ugin by just a turn or two, we might be able to swing those matchups in our favor since we were often very close to winning when Ugin hit the battlefield. Archfiend's Vessel felt really solid. At its worst, it gives us a 1/1 for one to sacrifice; at its best, it just wins the game by giving us a 5/5 flier on Turn 3. If you like sacrificing things for value, I'd definitely recommend Mono-Black No Cat Archfiend Sac—just be sure to dodge those Ugins!

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Getting Archfiend Sac down to $50 (and 12 rares) is pretty easy. We drop Knight of the Ebon Legion for Whisper Squad, which is even better than Knight with our sacrifice plan but worse when it comes to our backup beatdown plan, and turn Castle Locthwain into more Swamps. Losing Castle Locthwain really hurts. Having a source of card advantage on a land is extremely powerful, especially in a deck with a lot of cheap spells that runs out of cards fairly quickly. Going without it is probably fine for casual play, although I wouldn't want to play without Castle Locthwain in a tournament.

Non-Budget Archfiend Sac

No non-budget list this week. Archfiend Sac is one of those decks that just happens to be inexpensive, even in optimal form. Apart from maybe turning Heartless Act into Murderous Rider, the deck is good to go as-is!

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. 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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