Draft White

Before the Pro Tour, I quickly developed a viewpoint that white was the best color in the format, and the conversations I had the day before the event confirmed this. At my first draft, I dodged a fight over black in order to set myself up in white instead, and just as I was beginning to think I had made a huge mistake it became clear I was going to be rewarded. Then, in the second draft, with Chandra to the left of me and Chandra to the right, I opened a Patron of the Valiant, was passed a Thunderclap Wyvern, and never looked back.

At the time, I thought I had simply been placed into two white seats and managed to not botch the job, then drew well to compete a relatively easy 6-0 before my Constructed deck found its level of incompetence and got soundly and deservedly routed. When I compared notes with Sam Black after the tournament, I found we were on the same page despite a few disagreements. Watching the draft videos at the Pro Tour, however, convinced me that it would be worth sharing my perspective on the format and some of its key decisions.

The way to think of the format is as a cross between a core set and Modern Masters. There are 10 two-color archetypes, each with a distinct strategy:

White/Blue (Curve Out into Flying Attack)
White/Red (Cheap Aggressive Creatures)
White/Green (Renown)
White/Black (Enchantments)
Red/Black (Sacrifice Effects)
Red/Green (Monsters)
Red/Blue (Artifacts)
Green/Black (Elves)
Blue/Black (Graveyard)
Blue/Green (Well… actually… hmm…)

Unless you have a better idea than I do of what blue/green is doing, it’s best avoided, as it is composed of two shallow colors without a clear theme in common.

White has several big advantages over the other colors that push me toward a white-centered draft strategy.

Depth

In most white decks, I will happily play (in order) Topan Freeblade, Suppression Bonds, Celestial Flare, Stalwart Aven, Cleric of the Forward Order, Ampryn Tactician, Charging Griffin, Enshrouding Mist, Akroan Jailer, Knight of the Pilgrim’s Road, and Mighty Leap, although I’m hoping to cut the last two and probably trim the three before that.

Situationally, I am happy with Yoked Ox against aggression and renown, Kytheon’s Tactics when I am unusually aggressive or heavy on flyers, or Auramancer in black/white. Enlightened Ascetic is a solid sideboard card. I’m only actively unhappy playing Heavy Infantry and Grasp of the Hieromancer, neither of which is a huge tragedy. Every other color except red has at least seven cards I’m looking to not play.

Flexibility

Everything on that list works well with each of the color pairs: You have ways to get through for green, ways to work the enchantments for black, ways to complement blue’s fliers, or a curve to push through red’s aggression. You don’t have to know where you’re going, so you avoid “forking yourself” and having to commit to two colors.

If you watch Yuuya Wantanabe’s draft you see his plan working well and his deck was sweet, but he has to lock himself into black/red to get his synergies, and that kept him from being able to use all the sweet white cards passed his way, whereas if you look at William Jensen’s draft on his right, he could have done whatever he wanted to supplement his white cards if he’d opened differently.

2-Drops

White has by far the best 2-drops in a world where 2 is the most important point on the curve. Topan Freeblade to me is the best common in the set, and you can get Cleric of the Forward Order scarily late, which means you can often get three or more! Without white, you can play enough 2-drops to stay on curve, but you are going to have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to do it. I don’t mind a Maritime Guard, but when he’s the A-plan and Screeching Skaab is the B-plan, you’d better be blue/black and very on-theme, and there’s no upside if you catch the other guy napping. Shambling Ghoul is fine but on the draw he loses to Topan Freeblade, and Fetid Imp is all right but often quite awkward. I love me a Subterranean Scout, but it’s not made for playing on turn two and Mage-Ring Bully both gets eaten reasonably often and only blocks for one turn. Leaf Gilder is admittedly great, but stands alone and often needs to be first picked. So you get the advantage right out of the gate, especially if you’re rounding up Bonded Constructs. Not only do you use it to overwhelm opponents, you also take away one of their best ways to stop you—Bonded Construct is the forgotten blocking hero of the format.

With that foundation, you can play wherever the rares take you, and often have the advantage both early and late.

Not only has every draft I’ve won been with decks that are mostly white, but most of them I defeated another white mage in the finals. That’s not an accident.

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