(Hey, folks!  Cass here –

Monday was an exercise in frustration for me.  I’m not kidding when I say that I’m terrible at building mono-black, and after pouring over the suggestions and lists, I didn’t feel any closer to a good ending place.  Thankfully, Mr. Smith was in the same place, so I decided to let him take center stage. 

Nice guy!  Handsome and smart too…

Anyway, the main point is that I’m in a “sleeved up and testing” phase right now; I was able to get in some seat time last night, and some things are becoming apparent, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

In the meantime, Tyler (close friend to GDC and the inspiration for building Xiahou Dun to begin with…) has stepped in to dissect the situation and offer a great take on the list.  I’ll let his great writing speak for itself; in the meantime, if there are thoughts on narrowing things down based on what we’ve put up in the past few days, please drop me an email or post up in the ‘comments’ section. 

Without further ado…)

Dear GDC/DJ/Mr. Smith,
Xiahou-Dun, The One-Eyed (XD) is powerful card.
The problem is that black is the worst color in EDH,and with XD, you’re stuck with it. 
On top of that, XD provides a very difficult tension to work with when deck building.  Imagine for a minute you’re in MagicalFairyLand building a deck.  You put down your Cinnamon Whiskey and pick up your general options and see this:

Chuck Wallace, 1B

Legendary Human Bullfighter Creature

3/2, Unblockable

You also see this:

Steve Wallace, 1B

 Legendary Human Scumbag Creature

 1/2, Sacrifice Steve: Cast Regrowth 

 

Your options are clear here; build Voltron Chuck, or build MBC Steve.  Chuck aggressively takes shots and swings evasively while your deck holds up everyone else, or Steve aggressively recurs control elements while tickling the babysitter.  Here in the real world, however, there is no more Cinnamon Whiskey, and XD costs four and does both of those things, but not at the same time.  That’s right folks; evasive beats or recursive control right at your fingertips, but you must decide which one to pick each turn. 
Now, I’m sure you are wondering why this is a problem…just pick one and build the deck around it, right?  Except four mana is not aggressive enough to not make the best use possible of everything our general has to offer. 
XD ain’t got no strings, Bro.
Let’s go back to the other issue with this deck:  Black sucks.  In the history of competitive magic, what has black done?  It has provided the temporary mana acceleration of Dark Ritual and the life for cards trades of Necropotence and Yawgmoth’s Bargain  to ruin people’s lives with combo decks.  It has provided the one-two-three punch of Duress, Hymn to Tourach, and Pox to ruin people’s lives through disruption.  It has provided the second most powerful card in Vintage in Yawgmoth’s Will.  It has produced threats aggressive enough to beat Mana Drain at the cost of losing to Lightning Bolt with Phyrexian Negator.  It has put 9-mana white creatures into play on the first turn with Reanimate. It has exactly one good creature: Dark Confidant. It has worked really well in conjunction with other colors. It has a linear tribal deck that’s only good enough for Standard. 
None of these things are good in Xiahou-Dun Commander.  

What are we supposed to do with a schizophrenic engine/beater general and the worst color in the format?  Cry?  Give up?  Drink Jaeger shots?  Go for it anyways?
Can we build a deck that can put both of XD’s abilities to good use?  I think we can.  If we design a deck that maximizes opportunities to gain value from XD, but doesn’t rely on him to operate, I think we can make a deck that functions fairly smoothly. 
Let’s identify how we need to gain that value.  XD’s evasion can provide a win condition.  If we use other evasive creatures in conjunction with effects to pump up or otherwise enhance them, XD can be a part of that plan.  Equipment is often the go-to effect with evasive guys, but there are auras and one-shot spells as well.  XD’s recursive side works really well with a suite of silver bullets and tutor effects.  He can reuse a tutor to find another bullet, effectively answering any threat…unless it’s an artifact or enchantment.  (Welcome to playing black.)  What I’m envisioning here is maintaining control of the board through spot removal and sweepers, possibly targeted discard in case someone gets out of control, and grinding out the win with a suite of large, hard-to-block men.
Things we’ll need: 
-Large, hard-to-block men.
-Ways to make those men more effective.
-A recursion package for XD
-Silver bullets to cope with everything (except enchantments.)
-Tutors to find the appropriate bullets.
-A protection suite for our graveyard.
-Ways to keep our hand full – We are a control deck, after all.
-Mana manipulation:  Gotta have the swamps, bro
-Sacrifice theme:  Grave Pact makes the cut for sure.  Will anything else?

 

Welcome to my nightmare.  This is how I build decks.  I assign numbers to everything, and start filling slots.  To get started, I’m arbitrarily going with 42 lands that tap for mana.  We don’t want to miss any land drops so we’ll aim high, but we’ll come back to them later. 

Let’s break down the other 57.
7x Large Evasive guys – They’ll show up by the time we’re ready for them.  Off the top of my head:
 Stronghold Overseer – Shadow seems good.
Rune-Scarred Demon – He cantrips!
Reaper From the Abyss – Having this guy active will help to maintain control.  In my old version of this deck I found myself needing to recur and cast Damnation every turn just to keep everyone else off my back.  I couldn’t win until I had exhausted everyone’s resources or gained enough mana to recur multiple things each turn.
Butcher of Malakir – Flying Grave Pact.  Seems reasonable.  Will help with the above issue as well.
Ulamog, The Infinite Gyre – Our answer to enchantments. Can be sacrificed to protect our silver bullets as well.
Pestilence Demon – See Reaper from the Abyss.
Dread – He’s a nice rattlesnake, and hard to block!
6x Recursion Suite:  Dawn of the Dead and Corpse Dance will be your all-stars.  You will need them eventually.  Everything else just keeps you going until you get there.
Dawn of the Dead – Ready to take the same turn every turn?
Corpse Dance – This is why we need mana ramps.
Profane Command – This can loop every turn or more to take out some creatures or whittle away life totals.
Sheoldred, Whispering One – See how I snuck in a large-ish, hard-to-block woman?  Value!
Phyrexian Reclamation – This will tide you over until you find Corpse Dance.
Grim Harvest – Same here.
12x Bullets – We’ll talk about this one:
Sweepers!  Let’s go with Damnation and Mutilate for their low, low mana costs, and Decree of Pain for its all around awesomeness.  For spot removal I like Tragic Slip, Annihilate, and Corrupt.  Life gain is always worth it, and Corrupt doubles as a re-useable win-con.  Annihilate in recursion mode can be pretty impressive.  I’m always tempted to run Slay based on my local metagame, but I haven’t pulled the trigger yet…
OK…six slots left.  What can Black do other than kill creatures and search for things?  Not much.  Let’s toss in Shred Memory as an additional tutor (plus grave hate.)  Rapid Decay might be a good choice for grave hate as it can be cycled early and recurred later.  Suffer the Past is strong as well.  I support running graveyard hate.  Gate to Phyrexia gets the nod as an answer to artifacts.  Since Black can’t deal with anything else, let’s lean on Aether Snap vs. Planeswalkers.  It also takes out Kobold tokens, an effect we’re clearly all looking for.  Last but not least, I think Oblivion Stone goes in.  It’s not recurrable, but it’s very tutorable, and sometimes opponents cast Drought, Life Force, Karma, and Light of Day, and you just need to deal with it. 
So, in review:
Damnation – I got nothing.  It’s the best!
Mutilate – Indestructible this!
Decree of Pain – You know it and love it.
Annihilate – Kill Prime-Time and draw a card!
Tragic Slip – Kills Ulamog every time.
Corrupt – Secret Win-con.
Suffer the Past – Secret Win-con.
Rapid Decay – Try Again!
Shred Memory – Tutors for some really wonderful effects.  Also wrecks opponent’s lives.
Gate to Phyrexia – Not a bad card, really.
Aether Snap – A big finger to staples like Jace, The Mind Sculptor! (Notice I’m not suggesting Dark Depths…)
Oblivion Stone – Gotta have a reset button.
5x Pumps – I want to be able to staple one of these to a hard-to-block guy and just pound an opponent for a bunch.  I don’t want to be waiting around to grind out a win.
Strata Scythe – Go big or go home
Lashwrithe – Sneaky win-con!
Nightmare Lash – If your fiery horse has a fiery whip, he’s extra fiery!
Quietus Spike – If your friends don’t like losing to this, just lock down the game and attack everyone fourteen times with XD.  They’ll get over it.  (My group eschews the General Damage Rule)

Batterskull – Sneaky win-con plus life-gain!
6x Protection Package – To be fair, we have so much redundancy that we can tutor up anything over and over again.  We don’t need to preserve our graveyard in its bloated state; we just need to save our bullets from exile.  I’ve brought in the reshuffle suite, some of which will hate on opponent’s yards if we need that effect.  I also get nasty here and bring in some heavy hate.  Null Rod shuts down so many things in this game, it’s just brutal.  It will turn off our equipment, but it will often be worth it, and two of our pieces of equipment come into play attached to a guy.  Sadly, Damping Matrix and Cursed Totem turn off XD, so they’re no good.  I include Infernal Tribute as protection for our engine parts, not our graveyard.  Losing Dawn of the Dead to Return to Dust or XD to Spin into Myth is bad times for us, so let’s not let that happen.
Feldon’s Cane – Old School!
Thran Foundry – I used to play this in High School, ‘cause I couldn’t get any Feldon’s Canes!
Elixir of Immortality – The New Hotness!
Null Rod – Your local Karn, Silver Golem player will quit Magic and start aggressively drinking Mr. Boston Vodka.
Torpor Orb – This card stabs decks in the face so hard.  It only hits two of our creatures, but be aware, you may need that Ulamog….
Infernal Tribute – Save yourself from your Null Rod, Torpor Orb, Necropotence, Whatever.  Also turns swamps into cards.
7x Tutors – The only Commander based claim to fame black really has.  These are about as self-explanatory as it comes.  I assume you don’t have access to Grim Tutor or Imperial Seal; if you do, slot them in instead of Diabolic Tutor and Beseech the Queen.  Run Cruel Tutor if you like to live on the edge.  If you’re not living on the edge, you’re just taking up space.  I didn’t slot in Entomb here because I don’t want cards that need XD to be good; This deck is not about utilizing flashback or reanimator effects unless they are targeting XD.  Diabolic Revelation is a judgment call as well: This build doesn’t have a two card win combo to fetch with it, so I think other things are better.  If you run Leyline/Helm or Lich/Repay In Kind, go for it.

Demonic Tutor – I wish they had printed Beastly Tutor during the ‘Demon Prohibition’.
Vampiric Tutor – If I were to run Entomb, I’d cut this for it.  Neither puts the card in your hand.
Beseech the Queen – Cut this for Grim Tutor so you don’t have to tip your hand!
Diabolic Tutor – I prefer Eight Edition non-foil for this slot.
Demonic Collusion – I like to discard two huge guys and search for Corpse Dance.
Liliana Vess  – Remember, this is a tutor – not a discard spell.
Increasing Ambition – I like flashback.  Someday I’ll build a Flashback-themed EDH deck.
7x Draw Spells – This is why we sneak in some life-gain.  Whether you’re Harmonizing with an Ambition’s Cost or refilling every turn with Necropotence, it hurts.  Staff of Nin could be sweet here too, as well as the Phyrexian Arena Demon that I can’t remember the name of.  (Bloodgift Demon – DJ) Oh yeah…Harvester of Souls too.  Leave Seizan, Perverter of Truth at home, though; our opponents don’t need our help. 
(This is a deep corner of black’s catalogue.)

 

Ambition’s Cost  – Get the 9th ed. Foil!
Ancient Craving – Remember when these were 25 cents?
Phyrexian Arena – This is the first card you put in your black deck.
Necropotence – Infernal Tribute is your friend.
Syphon Mind – Play four player games!
Promise of Power – Sneaky win condition!
6x Mana Enablers – I went with passive boosts rather than mana rocks.  Null Rod needs to shine, and it doesn’t shut off Medallions or Gauntlets.
Caged Sun – Pumps your men too!
Gauntlet of Power – See above.
Black Market – This thing is bonkers!
Jet Medallion – Very non-threatening, considering what it does.
Nirkana Revenant – Sneaky win condition.
Liliana of the Dark Realms – I knew I’d find a home for her!
Grave Pact – Here’s your sacrifice theme!  This card is really the 13th bullet.  It keeps your opponent’s board empty, much like Reaper from the Abyss.  (In fact, The Abyss could fill the same role here…for a lot more money!)
42x lands that produce mana – You want a lot of swamps to fuel Nirkan Revenant, Caged Sun, Mutilate, etc.  I’d recommend at least 30.  Let’s try 32, and see what happens.
32x Swamp
10x Non Basic Lands – We’ll be wanting Cabal Coffers, and Petrified Field to get it back.  Bojuka Bog is always worth running.  I’d slot in Strip Mine, Wasteland, and Tectonic Edge to protect your Coffers from opposing Strip Mines, and to take out Maze effects.  High Market, PhyrexianTower, and Miren, the Moaning Well will help protect XD from tuck and steal effects.  To round it out, I like Volrath’s Stronghold as one more way to take the same turn every turn. 
So:
Cabal Coffers – This deck doesn’t need Urborg.
Petrified Field – Also recurs Wasteland effects.
Bojuka Bog – Run more graveyard hate!
Strip Mine – This is what I like to call a “Staple”
Wasteland – This is the most expensive card in the deck.  RunRishadanPort to control maze effects or another swamp if you don’t want to spring for it.
Tectonic Edge – Better than Ghost Quarter.
High Market – I certainly hoped this would be in FTV:Realms.  Who knew?
Phyrexian Tower – You won’t even mana burn anymore!
Miren, The Moaning Well – I’d put Diamond Valley here, but it doesn’t tap for mana and costs $100.
Volrath’s Stronghold – Also an answer to other Volrath’s Strongholds.
That should add up to 99.  My track record on that is a little shaky – see Vaevictis Asmadi, but give or take a card and you’ll get there.  This guy is not too expensive as far as EDH decks go, so you should be able to swing the Stronghold, and skip the Wasteland if you’re on a budget. 
I feel this could be a pretty strong contender too.  It has a lot of power, and a lot of flexibility.  The trouble will be fighting the ‘Archenemy’ game that will always ensue after your opponents realize you can recur Damnation every turn, and getting your engine online in time to matter versus a straight aggro deck. I left out any discard effects, because I’m not sure they’re very good against anything that’s not hard combo; I could be wrong, or your metagame could be different than mine.  Mind Shatter is tutorable with Shred Memory, so you may want to run it.  In fact, all of the bullets could/should be adjusted to your metagame.
It really highlights the deficit black has, though.  Every good card in black does one of three things:  Tutor for any card, Draw one card for one life, or kill creatures.  In a format as hell-bent on complexity as Commander, a little versatility goes a long way.  Black is a popular color in two or three color brews because its cards are very good at what they do, and the other color(s) can add the utility. 
I hope this build can make the best of the card pool and stomp a few faces.  Good luck!
àTyler