John Larkin said after Day 1 that he had a deck that would surprise the field, and he didn't disappoint. Drawing inspiration from Nicolas Olivieri's Osaka Beatdown Blue Black, Larkin's deck is an aggro deck whose creatures double as disruption. Two weeks ago he scored himself an invite to Pro Tour - Houston with it, demolishing the competition. That was all the confirmation he needed to play it this weekend. It served up a 4-1 performance that let him draw his way into the Top 8.
The heart of the deck is Rancid Earth and Braids. Quiet Speculation has tempted blue-green into more mana-hungry designs, and against a sluggish draw the opening of Earth and Braids is hard to beat. Never mind the fact that in Osaka the Mono-Black mirror degenerated into a battle over Rancid Earth and Braids. Larkin's deck catches Mono-Black with their pants down Game 1.
The next big factor is Jon Finkel. With other creatures to stand in the way of Chainer's Edict and Innocent Blood, Shadowmage Infiltrator is free to churn out the card advantage. He works overtime against blue-green, where he's virtually unblockable, save for opposing Mongrels. It seems like the only black creature out there is Nantuko Shade, and he rarely hits the board early. Except, of course, in this deck.
Here, they're right at home in a tempo plan. The opponent's creatures won't be able to block in the face of untapped black mana, and once it's through the player is free to use that mana to play more spells.
In an environment where point removal goes unused, Mesmeric Fiend can be crippling. It's Coercion for two, except that it can smash face on the side. That goes double for Faceless Butcher, who handles Roar tokens like nobody's business. It also helps to keep a struggling opponent on the back foot while pouring on the offence.
So though the deck's creatures may not be as exciting as Blue-Green's, but the fact that they attack the opponent's resources more than makes up for it. And unlike spells, they can punish a sluggish draw from the opponent. Aether Burst and Chainer's Edict exacerbate this, resetting the opponent's board and making an early Braids all the more like Game Over. Midgame they push damage through setting up situations where Finkel can get through unblocked for the remaining few points.
The board contains a lot of matchup-specific answers. Coffin Purge stops random Wonders from making the race unwinnable. Cabal Therapies and Ichorids shore up the match against Mono-Black Control. Shambling Swarm works against opposing Braids's, and also comes in alongside Innocent Blood and Persuasion against blue-green when this deck is drawing, trading for Rancid Earths and Braids's.
2002 Worlds (OBC): U/B Braids