"18 lands? I'm too old for that." -Willy Edel
I'm getting old too, but I still registered 18-land White Weenie in New York. My final record was 11-4, good for a Top 64 finish. I spent the days before the Grand Prix sightseeing and testing Standard, all of which gives me plenty of topics to write about today.
Visiting New York
A major appeal of Magic events, at least to me, is that it enables me to see the world. I enjoy exploring different countries, cultures, and wonderful locations, and since I still have a long bucket list, I’ve been dedicating extra time this year to traveling. Naturally, trips are best when combined with a Magic tournament, which is why I ended up in New York.
I had visited the Statue of Liberty before, but Martin Juza and Petr Sochurek (with whom I stayed during the week at Chris Mascioli’s place—thanks again for putting us up!) wanted to go there, so I joined them on their trip.
Although the Statue of Liberty was nice, I was more interested in seeing the 9/11 memorial and museum. I have a personal connection with that terrible event because I would have been at the Twin Towers myself if the planes had struck 2 hours later. Since I felt the impact of that day in Manhattan, I definitely wanted to visit the present World Trade Center site.
As for how that came to be, on the weekend before September 11, 2001, there was a Pro Tour in New York City. I had decided, along with teammates Victor van den Broek and Jelger Wiegersma, to stay for 2 extra days and do some sightseeing. Our plan on that Tuesday involved visiting the Twin Towers in the morning, but, well, we fortunately slept in, and let’s just say that the rest of the week didn’t go as we, or pretty much anyone else, had envisioned.
The 9/11 memorial, where the foundations of the original towers were replaced by pools with the names of the victims along the perimeter, was respectful and fitting. The museum had plenty of informative, detailed exhibitions, and I spent several hours to take it all in. It’s hard to find the right words for a place like this, but I’m glad I made the visit. To me, it offered a reminder that life is short and that there is only a limited amount of time to pursue the things we love.
One of the things I love is Magic, so I turned to the Standard format on the next day. There were plenty of deck options. RG Goggles, which I played at the Pro Tour, did not feel well positioned because it has a poor matchup against GW Tokens. The GW Tokens deck itself was a fine backup option, but I wanted to explore the format a bit more. The first deck I tried in the Magic Online Leagues was blue/white.
Blue/White Blink Flyers
This deck was built by Petr Sochurek. It features the powerful Eldrazi Displacer-Reflector Mage combo in the cleanest possible mana base. The deck also featured a number of flyers to pressure planeswalkers from the GW Tokens deck.
Petr was curious about my opinion, so I played a League with his deck and went 5-0. That's a good record, and the deck felt decent, but I still found a number of issues that I didn't know how to solve. Most notably, the power level on some cards, especially the 2-drop flyers, seemed low, and there was tension between a tap-out style game and a flash game.
There may still be something here, and it is worth pointing out that Jacob Wilson ran an alternative build of white/blue at the Grand Prix to an 11-4 record, but during testing, I moved on to the next deck.
This was quite the brew. It arose when I tried to construct the biggest, baddest Cryptolith Rite deck possible. Dragonlord Atarka and Dragonlord Silumgar appeared to be well positioned, especially given the popularity of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and the idea of turn-2 Cryptolith Rite, turn-3 Eldrazi Skyspawner or Catacomb Sifter, and turn-4 Dragonlord Atarka intrigued me. I wasn't brave enough to run the full 5 colors, so I avoided white and started with the build above.
This deck was a lot of fun to play, especially when opponents had absolutely no clue how to sideboard against me, and they got destroyed by Crush of Tentacles bouncing Dragonlord Atarka after sideboard. But cramming in everything in one deck had downsides as well: Between planeswalkers, Dragonlords, and an absolute minimum of 22 creature hits, my deck only had room for 2 Collected Company, which led my Czech travel companions to question my sanity.
I may have gone a little too deep with this build, but it did lead to that blissful feeling where you can choose how to win the game:
Over the course of several Leagues, my deck went through a number of iterations, at some point being super close to the version that LSV and Wrapter played (and let me tell you, blinking Dragonlord Atarka with Eldrazi Displacer is as great as advertised) but I wasn't able to get it to a point where the list felt tuned and powerful enough, so I looked further.
White Weenie Is Great
At some point, I asked myself: "What deck comes closest to Affinity in the current Standard?" The first answer I thought of was BG Sacrifice, where the Zulaport Cutthroat/Nantuko Husk math is reminiscent of Arcbound Ravager. But after some additional thought, I figured that the real answer, at least as far as playing style is concerned, is White Weenie. I like attacking, I enjoy the sequencing and combat decisions in aggro decks, and I also have a special place in my heart for lands in the sideboard.
Mono-White Humans with Needle Spires
I went 9-1 in Leagues, enjoyed the games, and knew that I had found my deck for the Grand Prix. I also figured, looking at the metagame developments, that many players would gear up against control and midrange decks, possibly cutting some sweepers and cheap blockers, which would weaken them against Mono-White Humans.
The above list is what I played at the Grand Prix, and most of it is pretty straightforward. One peculiar feature is Needle Spires in the sideboard with no red cards in the entire deck.
The idea, proposed by Pedro Carvalho, is that you want Gideon and/or Archangel of Tithes in many matchups post-sideboard, but you need more than 18 lands to be able to cast 4-drops. Even with Knight of the White Orchid and Thraben Inspector, you won't consistently find the fourth land on time if you only have 18 lands. You need at least 2 more.
So why Needle Spires over the more traditional Plains or Westvale Abbey? Plains is bad because if you run too many Plains, then you flood too much. Westvale Abbey is mediocre—it will rarely turn into a 9/7 because the 1/1 tokens are too small to matter, and because it doesn’t help cast Knight of the White Orchid. Needle Spires, as Pedro told me, "gives you some flood insurance that comes out quicker, is a threat that stays in play under Languish, and beats hard with all the pump in the deck. The mana is obviously iffy to activate it at times, but the upside is very, very real."
I definitely won at least one match with the creatureland at the Grand Prix while the damage from Battlefield Forge hasn't cost me a game yet, so I was happy with the inclusion.
At Grand Prix Tokyo, Takaya Saito made the Top 8 with a similar list featuring Shambling Vent. So he had a similar idea, but I still prefer Needle Spires because it attacks for more damage. He also had Anguished Unmaking in the sideboard, but I don’t like running spells with only 8 sources of that color, especially when its effect is the same as Stasis Snare in most of the games.
Cards I Didn't Play
Rather than “analyzing” Dragon Hunter and Expedition Envoy in detail, let me give you some insight into the cards that I did not have in my deck. My testing started with Bradley Robinson's White Weenie list from the Top 8 of Grand Prix Toronto, which contained several cards that I ultimately removed.
This card does not line up favorably against sizable early blockers like Sylvan Advocate. Even if you manage to connect with it, Consul's Lieutenant is too easily bounced by Reflector Mage. Against those cards, Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit lines up better, so I prefer the 2/2 in this slot.
Bradley Robinson ran 1 Gideon and 19 Plains in his main deck. I prefer to either present an 18-land deck without 4-drops or a 20-21 land deck with multiple 4-drops. A halfway approach misses the "synergy" between expensive spells and additional lands. It's like playing a deck with 1 Splinter Twin and 1 Pestermite. You're better off with one of the extremes. And I like to present the most aggressive configuration in game 1.
Flying is great—I was really happy with Gryff's Boon against all the Cryptolith Rite and Collected Company decks—but these 3-drops felt underpowered. Vryn Wingmare can delay Languish by a turn, but that's a super narrow situation that only occurs on turn 3. Bygone Bishop can yield value, but it's slow and expensive. I found myself never really boarding in these flyers, so I cut them from the deck.
Silkwrap is not great because you want the sideboard removal slots to be able to deal with Archangel Avacyn, Kalitas, etc. You don't need extra removal spells in the mirror match. Stasis Snare is all you need.
Should This Deck Mulligan a 1-Land Opening Hand?
When you only have 18 lands, 1-landers come up frequently. I wasn’t sure about this at first, but I found that the deck still needs at least 2 lands to operate smoothly, and finding a second land after keeping a 1-lander can take a while. In fact, with the scry mulligan rule, a 7-card opening hand with 1 land is often worse than a 6-card opening hand obtained by removing any nonland card from the original.
There are exceptions—for example, I would keep Plains, Kytheon, Dragon Hunter, Town Gossipmonger, Gryff’s Boon, Thalia’s Lieutenant, and Declaration in Stone on the draw because the upside is high and you still have a shot even if you never draw a second land—but I’ve mulliganed most 1-land 7-card opening hands.
I’m still not 100% confident on the best sideboard approaches, but I can share what I did during most of the tournament.
Some general guidelines first on which cards to cut:
- Since the deck contains so many 1-drops, you can always safely remove a few Savannah Lions, generally a split between Dragon Hunter and Expedition Envoy to play around Reflector Mage and Declaration in Stone.
- Anafenza and Anointer of Champions are other flex slots that you can cut without hurting the overall strategy of the deck. Especially when boarding in Hanweir Militia Captain, which is great against decks with few removal spells, you should cut at least 1 Anafenza for curve purposes.
- If you really don't know what to cut, you could always go down to 17 lands on the draw, but that does feel a little risky.
I don't think you want 4-drops against them. You won't beat them in the late game even with them, and they don't have Languish or Kozilek's Return to make Gideon a valuable threat. Just focus on aggression.
Cryptolith Rite Decks
On the Play:
On the Draw:
Generally speaking, I like being more aggressive on the play and more controlling on the draw. This plan illustrates that nicely.
Control or Ramp Decks
The amount of removal spells you want depends on their list so you should adjust accordingly, but against decks with 3-4 Kalitas and other creatures, you need those removal spells.
On the Play:
On the Draw:
Based on my online testing against Petr Sochurek and my matches at the Grand Prix, where my combined match record is 3-3, I'd say that this matchup is even, and the games are typically quite close.
The correct sideboard strategy is still unclear. Marcelino Freeman, who played nearly the same deck list to the same record in New York, told me that he felt GW Tokens was a good matchup, and he never boarded in more than one 4-drop against them. Pat Cox also liked this aggressive approach. Meanwhile, Olle Rade, who took down the Swedish “fake” Nationals with the same list, told me that he really liked my 4-drop plan against GW Tokens, and I was very happy with Archangel of Tithes against them at the Grand Prix.
I'm not going to claim that Mono-White Humans is the most inherently powerful deck in Standard. That honor belongs to GW Tokens. But Mono-White Humans is competitive, it's a good choice for players who enjoy aggro decks, and the creaturelands in the sideboard help make the matchup against sweepers favorable.
Going forward, I would considerSecure the Wastes in the sideboard. Takaya Saito had those in his sideboard in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Tokyo, and they work quite well alongside Gideon and Hanweir Militia Captain. To open up a sideboard slot, an Anafenza or Anointer of Champions in the main deck could be replaced by a Hanweir Militia Captain or Stasis Snare from the sideboard.