^3 – Putting White Back on the Map

White Weenie is one of the most iconic archetypes in Magic’s history. It holds a special place in the hearts of many players; there’s a sort of “David and Goliath” feel when piloting any of its limitless incarnations. The deck has more than earned the analogy. During the “Black Summer” of 1996, Necropotence, arguably the most dominant deck to ever see play, was felled by none other than White Weenie at Worlds that year. In those 15 years since, aggressive White decks have remained an indelible part of Magic’s landscape, from the Cataclysm/Empyrial Armor deck of 1998 to Rietzl’s triumph in Amsterdam. The first deck I took to an FNM as a very intimidated 10-year-old featured a suite of prized Savannah Lions (It didn’t perform quite as well as the previous example; pilot error may have played a small part).

White Weenie is Bad

Yet, despite its storied past, White Weenie just does not perform well in a Cube environment. Generally speaking, most aggressive decks struggle against Control in Cube, and I’ve spent much of my time trying to adjust that imbalance. You can read about my suggestions for doing so Here and Here. However, despite the measures I took to give Aggro a boost, nothing could push White Weenie far enough. But why not? Didn’t you see that Black Summer thing? I mean, Necropotence, for Urza’s sake. The problem is that White Weenie, historically, has mainly seen success under only two conditions: when a hole exists in the metagame for it to attack at a very specific moment, or Wizards prints a uniquely powerful tribal strategy that uses overwhelming synergy to retain a perpetual position in the first tier.

The limitations this introduces for the archetype in Cube are clear: the metagame is already naturally hostile to White Weenie, while the restrictions created by a singleton format make the inclusion of a specific tribe nearly impossible. In Cube, you are forced to compete with the best sweepers, spot removal, and card advantage in the history of the game, which are all in plentiful supply. Almost everyone has access to these cards, and they are very difficult obstacles for a white drafter to overcome. Even green players, to whom card advantage is scarce (while sweepers and spot removal are non-existent) have creatures that trump yours anyway.

White Weenie’s game plan is very straightforward, and simple to stop if you put your mind to it. The only options typically available to the white aggro player are to play a creature or play a removal spell, and hope to knock the defending player off balance enough to sneak in the predictable big finish: Armageddon. Therefore, a Damnation, Doom Blade, and a Counterspell are the only requirements to foil your plans. Equipment can offer resiliency, but the most powerful of these cards are first picks, making it impossible to rely on seeing one. Every game essentially boils down to challenging your opponent to have a certain (common) combination of cards, losing if they do, and sometimes still losing if they don’t (Hello, Grave Titan).

Red aggro decks, by contrast, have a wide range of tools to sidestep the kinds of cards that tend to trip up creature decks. They have access to a plethora of burn spells that provide necessary reach when confronted with the kind of defenses most Cube decks present. Disruption like Molten Rain delays the big haymakers in the format, haste creatures render Wraths irrelevant, and cards like Sulfuric Vortex actually give the Aggro player the inevitability! All of this combined with Red’s blistering speed creates virtual card advantage, defined by the number of cards remaining in your opponent’s hand when their life total becomes 0.

On top of this, the very way the typical card pool in Cube is constructed discriminates against white aggro. Each color is divided into an aggro and a control subsection by default, to differing degrees. The difference of degree is the real key here- white is split right down the middle. Red and blue, on the other end of the spectrum, have a special place in Cube since almost all of their cards produce redundant effects.

In other words, if you crack a Cube pack and see Control Magic or Lightning Bolt, you want those cards no matter what your deck looks like. Furthermore, if your opening pack has four blue cards, whatever you take, you are content to have any one of those cards wheel. Wheeling a Chain Lightning is nice, but you’re always content to take a Fire Ambush instead. On the other hand, if you crack a pack and see Wrath of God and Elite Vanguard, those two cards might as well be in different colors for all the interest you would have in the two together. With some exceptions, this is the overarching cause of the power disparity between colors in Cube, and white gets the shortest end of the stick.

The combination of these factors leads to a situation where White Weenie is perpetually under-drafted, and cards like Soltari Priest are seen tabling with alarming regularity. When you see this trend with any archetype in Cube, you know there is cause for concern, and in my experience, it is a ubiquitous one with white aggro. That White Weenie is so often under-drafted would lead one to think that if you just move in, you’ll get all the cards and have a respectable deck. Yet (and this really speaks to the power-level of white aggro), that is often still not enough. Lastly, playing Steppe Lynx in a format full of exciting spells like Bribery and Kokusho can be a little underwhelming for many players.

Obviously, a number of these problems are intrinsic, so how do you even begin to address the problem? The fact is, you can’t rely on common wisdom here. These are a few of the most drastic solutions I’ve seen:

-Just add more white cards: Many Cube builders feel tightly bound by unwritten restrictions, one of which is that each section should be the same number of cards. Color balance has nothing to do with literally making the number of cards exactly equal, and in fact, making white the biggest section is one of the simplest ways to adjust for the archetype divide discussed above. You could even scale each color by number according to the degree of its archetypal divide (For example: More white than black cards, more black than green cards, more green than red, and so on).

-Introduce duplicate copies of cards: This is almost the same as the above, as you are still strictly adding more cards, but you can make sure the extra cards are still powerful by just breaking the singleton rule. If your Cube has an extra Armageddon and an extra Ajani Goldmane, for instance, White Weenie becomes more and more enticing. I don’t like this particular move myself since I enjoy the creative restriction the singleton rule imposes, but if you just want to give this one deck a boost, I think your drafters will forgive your transgression.

Fixing White

-Cut the white aggro section entirely. Some Cubers blanch at this idea, and I don’t really understand why. I’ve seen it done with several Cubes and as long as you know the cards aren’t there going in, no one really seems to miss Isamaru. This creates some difficulties, as finding enough cards to fill in the white section without the vast number of aggressive cards that have been printed is quite the challenge. It’s certainly preferable to filling your packs with cards that no one wants to play.

-Make *#@% up: Now we’re talking. This is by far my favorite solution, and the one that people seem to have the biggest problem with. Of course, I understand the purist’s objection to this method. When you’re building a collection of the game’s best cards, it seems cheap to create cards that never existed. Part of showing off your Cube is pimping it out, and filling it with fake cards can take away from the bling factor. I’ve tried making cards out of whole cloth (back when I felt the planeswalker problem was solvable with new cards), and while the design exercise is fun, it does leave one wanting for a “real” game of Magic afterwards. So, I’m in touch with that particular emotion, and I’m here to say you can fix white aggro without jeopardizing the integrity of your Cube.

I’ve extensively tested all of the suggestions I’ve already mentioned, and was in the midst of discovering their various imperfections when I moved to the Bay Area. It was at that time that I heard about Jeff Huang’s Cube, and one of the most brilliant Cube innovations I’ve ever encountered (which I shamelessly stole right away). Remember when I said that White Weenie is only good under two circumstances, strength in a specific metagame or tribal synergies? Huang was the first I’ve seen to seize the second component of that equation, and he tapped into perhaps the most powerful tribe to see print: Rebels.

Huang recognized that the problem with white aggro in Cube is that it doesn’t really get a fair shake. Cube is supposed to be about playing with the best cards in the history of the game, but White Weenie’s best cards are tied up in linear tribal blocks, notably Lorwyn and Mercadian Masques. When you exclude these strategies from your Cube, you are essentially powering down white aggro to the benefit of the other colors. The addition of Rebels corrects this oversight in a surprisingly seamless way. All that is required are the Rebel searchers themselves, and adding creature-type errata to the cards you already have!

The engine of the Rebel deck is the Rebel searcher. Ramosian Sergeant, Ramosian Lieutenant, Ramosian Captain, Defiant Falcon, Defiant Vanguard, Amrou Scout and of course the big girl herself, Lin Sivvi are the most efficient. These cards should be extremely easy to pick up, as they are no longer sought after by anyone, even casual players. So if you’re hesitant to experiment with this, rest assured that it should be an extremely inexpensive move (Around $3.00 total).

Next, start errata’ing the creature-types of the cards you feel should fit into the Rebel deck. You can do this by writing on the card itself like Huang did, though if you’re like me that idea isn’t quite palatable. Instead, since my Cube is double sleeved, I simply printed labels and attached them to the inner sleeve. The card remains untouched and the illusion is very convincing.

The first cards to doctor up include almost all of the white creatures that are strictly beaters, like Savannah Lions, Knight of Meadowgrain, and the like. Once you’ve done that, you can start to get a little bit more creative, but be cautious. Remember that once you make these cards accessible by the Rebel searchers, they also become bullets, so avoid errata’ing cards that will only serve to frustrate players like Mother of Runes, Silver Knight, and Eight-and-a-Half Tails.

Now that you’ve opened the creature-type can of worms, you can feel free to tinker in other areas as well. Huang Rebelized Kazandu Blademaster and Hada Freeblade, and made them trigger on Rebels instead of Allies. I took Wizened Cenn, Captain of the Watch, and Cloudgoat Ranger and made their effects involve Rebels instead of Kithkin/Soldiers. I even dipped into off-color Rebels to add a little surprise factor. The furthest I was willing to go was to errata Oblivion Ring to Tribal Enchantment – Rebel, but don’t feel like you have to stop there. I know LSV has been prodding Jeff for some time to make Thirst for Knowledge a Rebel, though I don’t think he’s caved on that one yet.

Once I made these changes, I realized they addressed all of my concerns. For the purists, the cards are practically unchanged from an aesthetic standpoint. Creature-type is about as relevant as the artist to a Cube card as far as game play is concerned, leaving everyone else’s games unaffected. The Rebel searchers themselves add an incredible amount of resiliency to the White Weenie deck in an efficient card advantage engine. Now the White Weenie deck finally has a trump aside from Armageddon: In a board stall, they are always favored to take over. This also gives the White deck some much needed trickiness as they are now interacting at instant speed. Lightning Bolt on my Accorder Paladin? I’ll Rebel up a Kor Skyfisher and pluck it from danger! You play Grave Titan? I’ll Rebel in Chameleon Colossus at EOT! Best of all, you now have a realistic plan against Wraths and Counterspells beyond drawing well. If your opponent stems the blood flow with a Wrath of God, suddenly now you can recover all of your board presence with Lin Sivvi alone. Artifacts and enchantments get an important power check when you can search out Leonin Relic-Warder or Duergar Hedge-Mage. And, as an added bonus, UW Fish gets an incredible boost, as Counterspells play very well with the Rebel searchers.

For those who might be concerned that this plan creates an isolated archetype in the draft, similar to infect in Scars limited, fear not. The only cards that are specific to the Rebel deck are the searchers themselves, and to a lesser extent Wizened Cenn. The rest of the cards were already in your Cube any way, and now you can finally find a suitable replacement for cards like Kor Firewalker which create the same problem, only in reverse. I’ve even seen people use the searchers outside of the Rebel deck. For instance, Matt Nass recently drafted a deck powered almost entirely by Knight of the Reliquary. When he asked for my opinion on his 23rd card (with an Oblivion Ring in his deck already), I suggested the Defiant Falcon sitting in his sideboard. It was an unorthodox inclusion, but it streamlined the deck in a way that would not be possible otherwise, without a black tutor.

Lastly, you can correct power level issues for cards that you are on the fence about. If you have a card with a unique effect that you want in the Cube but feel needs a little push to see more play, try making it a Rebel! For instance: In Cube, Aether Adept is “strictly” worse than Man-O’-War, since its creature type is totally irrelevant. We can now follow through on the spirit of the card by making its creature-type actually matter. There’s a lot of flexible design space here, and I think you’ll find they make tweaking the Cube much easier.

After making this change to my Cube, I was shocked to discover how balanced the archetype is. White Weenie is now a powerful, fun archetype that regularly posts good results (people even fight over it! Gasp!), yet it remains entirely beatable. Wraths are still excellent if not as back breaking as they once were, and some underappreciated cards like Wildfire (The best anti-Rebel card) or Arc Trail gain new value. The truth is, there is very little you can do that could make White Weenie too powerful, so it’s difficult to overshoot the mark. In the end, the most important part of Cube construction is ensuring that your drafters enjoy themselves, and after the first time you Rebel search for a Mirror Entity to attack for lethal, I think you’ll love it as much as I do.

To give you an idea of what the Rebel deck looks like in practice, here’s one of the lists I drafted from my Cube in a recent 8-man:
1 Ramosian Sergeant
1 Figure of Destiny (Rebel)
1 Mother of Runes
1 Elite Vanguard (Rebel)
1 Goldmeadow Stalwart (Rebel)
1 Defiant Falcon
1 Amrou Scout
1 Kor Skyfisher (Rebel)
1 Wizened Cenn (Rebel)
1 Kazandu Blademaster (Rebel)
1 Knight of the White Orchid (Rebel)
1 Accorder Paladin (Rebel)
1 Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
1 Mirran Crusader
1 Spectral Procession
1 Ranger of Eos
1 Reveillark
1 Glorious Anthem
1 Honor of the Pure
1 Ravages of War
1 Path to Exile
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Chrome Mox
1 Rishadan Port
1 Wasteland
1 Mutavault
15 Plains

Happy Cubing.

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