I’ve been brewing in Modern, mostly unsuccessfully. But a few weeks ago, I went on a tear with about an 80% win rate over six Leagues on the back of a 15-0 run with a white-black deck.
While the deck ended up looking like some kind of W/B Jund deck, it started off as a prison deck based around Ensnaring Bridge.
I’ve been playing with this card ever since Modern was a format. In fact, I was one of only three players who registered Ensnaring Bridge at the very first Modern Pro Tour, and the only one whose deck was based around it (Matt Puls had a singleton Bridge in his Bant aggro-control deck and Mirco Villani had four copies in the sideboard of his Burn deck).
Here’s what I battled with at Pro Tour Philly 2011, a deck I pretty much brewed the night before the PT:
Last-minute deck building has worked out for me in the past but usually not at the PT level, and this time was no exception. I ended up going 3-7 in Constructed, only making Day 2 thanks to a 3-0 in my first Draft pod. The deck was targeted at the metagame of all the broken decks I was expecting, but like most last-minute brews, lacked tuning.
Eventually, someone (Zac Elsik?) cracked the Bridge code with Lantern, and more recently, susurrus_mtg has been racking up the trophies on Magic Online with a deck I would describe as Lanternless Lantern.
His deck must be really good against most of the field for him to win so much, because in my limited experience playing against it, it has been absolutely awful versus Blue-White Control. I only tried the deck for a few matches and gave up as I don’t really enjoy playing decks with lopsided matchups.
I had toyed with white-black in Modern before—not the token version, but a list based around planeswalkers—a Gideon Tribal deck if you will that also ran Liliana of the Veil and Lingering Souls. The deck was fine, but felt mostly like a bad Blue-White Control deck (what doesn’t, though?).
I decided to do something a bit different this time and lock people out with Ensnaring Bridge. Here is what I got to after a bit of brewing and a few Leagues of testing:
I decided to go with a Smallpox build in an attempt not to play cards that were too narrow. I think four Fatal Push is pretty much mandatory, but I didn’t want to overload my deck with spot removal against control decks or something like Tron.
While the deck wasn’t terrible, the synergy and the power level wasn’t quite there, and the deck lacked focus.
I wasn’t ready to give up yet though, and I stumbled upon Pelli’s list, which finished 7th in the most recent Magic Online Modern Challenge:
Pelli’s deck uses a proactive approach with Dark Confidant, which I really liked, but Smallpox didn’t make much sense to me, so I decided to cut them right away. The whole Smallpox package wasn’t especially bad for me in the Bridge version but felt underwhelming, and the odds of getting a turn-2 Smallpox with Flagstones of Trokair in play are extremely low—under 10%, I think.
I built my own version, and after playing 30 matches, here is where I’m at:
W/B No Smallpox
The list didn’t change too much over the course of the six Leagues I played. I cut down on Thoughtseize and Fulminator Mage, and added a Vault of the Archangel, a Cast Down, and the second Sorin, Solemn Visitor. You’re basically hoping to curve out 1-drop into 2-drop into 3-drop (into 4-drop if you’re very lucky) and hope that you can hold on to the early lead and push your advantage with Dark Confidant and/or a planeswalker.
So how is this deck better than Jund or Abzan?
First of all, you have better mana and can play a few more utility lands.
I decided to forgo Field of Ruin and play five manlands, as well as a Vault of the Archangel. The Vault will really shine against decks like Humans or Spirits, making combat a nightmare of them, assuming you have a few Lingering Souls tokens out. A single activation against Burn is usually game winning as well.
One of the main reasons I chose Mutavault over Field of Ruin is to be able to pressure Jace, the Mind Sculptor and maximize my chances of having at least 3 power worth of creature on the battlefield by turn 4. Reid tried the deck a bit before the last few Grand Prix of the season and he was a big fan of going up to four Shambling Vent, as well as swapping Mutavault for Field of Ruin, but I’m not sure I agree. You’re really hoping to curve out, and having lands enter the battlefield tapped reduces your odds of doing so. I’ve also really liked the flexibility of having both Shambling Vents and Mutavault out on the battlefield, and being able to pick which one I want to activate depending on how much mana I have available.
The manlands synergize well with both Sorins as well, which brings me to my second point.
This deck gets even more value out of Lingering Souls than a deck like Abzan does. You get to play more planeswalkers than just Lilianas and while the Sorins don’t have the raw power of Jace, the Mind Sculptor, they can feel as busted at times in combination with your Spirit tokens and can take over a game. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad can increase your clock by a lot with its -2 ability or help you survive, stall the board, and grind an opponent out with its +1. I’ve also used his ultimate multiple times to seal a game. Even though I can’t say as much about Sorin, Solemn Visitor’s ultimate, his first ability is extremely strong and just one use can swing the game in your favor in many matchup. His +1 has been so good for me that I decided to add a second copy despite pretty much never using either of his two other abilities.
I’ve been tempted a few times to go toward a more token oriented build, but I think that would make the deck too one-dimensional and the extra disruption cards really shine in matchups like Storm or Blue-White Control.
Like Jund, you don’t have any great matchups but you don’t have any terrible ones either, and you can adapt your 75 if you expect a certain metagame. The deck has been a ton of fun to play.
Most of the main deck card choices are fairly self-explanatory except for maybe Fulminator Mage. While it is not great against everyone, it’s never going to be completely dead. It’s a card I wanted four of in my 75 and I felt like it’s the card that made the most sense to have in the main, but depending on which decks you expect to face, you could have a Kambal or two in the main for Storm and Burn, or even something a bit more narrow like Ensnaring Bridge and move the Fulminator Mages to the board.
As far as the sideboard goes, it’s pretty much filled with all-stars: Rest in Peace, Stony Silence, Kambal, Duress, and Collective Brutality. I went with a Bridge/Damnation split against the aggro decks to make it more difficult for them to sideboard and play against the deck. I’ve been happy with that choice so far. The one Death Cloud is experimental and it’s been much better than another Damnation at times but also much worse at others. If I had a few more slots, I would fill them with more of the same: a third Stony, third Kambal, extra Cast Down and Liliana, the Last Hope, etc. Maybe a second Vault of the Archangel as well. I also wouldn’t mind giving Darkblast a shot.
I’ve only played against each major deck a few times so this is still rough. I’ve been boarding out Sculler in matchups where I bring in Damnation but it’s possible that you want to keep at least some in for curve purposes and because it plays well against Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Keeping in all of the Thoughtseizes might be suspect, but having a turn 1 play is important and keeping the curve low is important with Ensnaring Bridge. Whether I’m playing U/W or another deck, I still haven’t quite figured out if I want a copy of Stony Silence against Humans or not.
Vs. Blue-White Control
Vs. Hardened Scales
This seems like a tricky matchup to sideboard in and the very reactive approach could be way off. This was one of the matchups where Death Cloud really shined.
Vs. Mono-Green Tron
Vs. Bant Spirits
Vs. Hollow One
Flameblade Adept always makes it tough to sideboard against Hollow One. You don’t want to leave too many cards like Fatal Push or Lightning Bolt against the deck because you have very few good targets for them but at the same time, you have to respect the red 1-drop, so I like Collective Brutality as a hedge and leave in two Fatal Push as well. Liliana of the Veil might seem underwhelming but I feel like you get to edict one of their big guys way more often than you would think, especially when you disrupt their good draws with discard spells.
It will take a bigger sample size to figure out if this take on white-black can achieve tier 1 status but the initial results are promising. The_Smasher even used one of my initial lists to place 15th out of 354 competitors in an online PTQ a couple weeks ago. Hopefully, more people pick up the deck and we can collectively compile a well-oiled machine that can go to toe-to-toe with the top decks in Modern.