Judgment is supposed to be the set that fixes white. I’m skeptical about whether or not that goal will be realized; it’s too early to tell what sort of repercussions Judgment will have on Standard.
Everyone is talking about Quiet Speculation.
Or how Cunning Wish breaks – or at least bends – blue.
But what about white?
At this stage, I think talking about the best post-Judgment decks seems premature. But I think one can outline with reasonable probability what sort of threats will be prevalent once the new cards become legal. Looking at Standard as a whole, here are some of the trends I envision:
1) Deadly Enchantments:
2) Creatures that are difficult (or impossible) to destroy with damage:
3) Punisher spells that may be Constructed-caliber:
4) Incarnations wreaking havoc from within the graveyard:
5) The rise of white/green decks – a stretch of the imagination, I know:
I’ll look at these sequentially, devoting this perspective to white. Next time I’ll do green, then red, moving around the Magic color wheel. The grand finale – most appropriately – will be blue.
Once we have an idea of how white can fight a Judgment world, I’ll address a much larger question. Is there a primarily white deck that is viable?
But first let’s see what white has to offer in the way of answers, starting with an effect that the color of Angels and Knights has always reigned supreme in…
Don’t get caught with your pants down; Judgment has some nasty enchantments. At the top of the list is Solitary Confinement, which can totally shut down the majority of Standard archetypes. Telekinetic Bonds, Mist of Stagnation, and Elephant Guide are also potentially powerful. Once Judgment is legal, chances are that enchantment removal will become mandatory in your sideboard and perhaps even necessary in the main deck.
W, Instant, Invasion Uncommon
Destroy target enchantment.
Once popular during the Fires of Yavimaya/Saproling Burst era, if you’re playing white/green beatdown this is a great utility card. At one white mana, it’s also the cheapest enchantment removal in Standard.
It’s a classic. Although artifacts aren’t very popular right now, Ensnaring Bridge and Static Orb do appear now and then. One copy of this in the sideboard is a must in any blue/white deck that packs Cunning Wish.
1W, Instant, Planeshift Common
Destroy target enchantment.
Draw a card.
My favorite spell for the job, since it replaces itself, generating card advantage. And you can Cunning Wish for this too. But this column is about White. Funny how Blue always wants to be in the spotlight…
White’s flavor of creature removal is unique – it comes in three varieties. Removing creatures from the game, outright destroying them, or paralyzing them with a local enchantment. Although the narrow scope of these forms of removal is a drawback (think of the flexibility in red’s assortment of direct damage spells), white’s form of removal is perfect – even ideal – against the phantom creatures.
Beyond the phantom issue, creature removal is also essential for white’s ability to cope with the myriad mid and late game fatties that green can play. Once you go over the two-mana casting cost, green’s creatures are so much better. Without removal, white will simply lose.
Sadly, this is the closest thing to Swords to Plowshares right now. Only being able to destroy attacking creatures (think Vengeful Dreams and Chastise) isn’t good enough; White Weenie needs to proactively cast removal spells and force through early creature beats. Pacifism solves major problems that include the likes of Roar of the Wurm, Spiritmonger, and Phantom Centaur.
1W, Instant, 7th Edition Uncommon
Destroy target creature with power 4 or greater. It can’t be regenerated.
The rival to Pacifism. Although Reprisal’s scope is narrower, you gain instant speed and real (not Disenchantable) removal. Unlike Pacifism, Reprisal is also an elegant answer to Nantuko Monastery. Still, it can rarely target Wild Mongrel, which will be a rampant threat as long as Odyssey is legal.
It sure beats the crap out of Desert Twister. If you opt for a white build that splashes black for Spectral Lynx, Vindicate is a must. Although – like Reprisal – Vindicate can cope with Nantuko Monastery, haste creatures are another matter entirely. During the early game, Vindicate is also an efficient form of disruption. Playing an efficient creature on turn two and following it up by Vindicating an opponent’s land is a solid opening, especially when mana bases are so tight these days.
Wrath of God
2WW, Sorcery, 7th Edition Rare
Destroy all creatures. They can’t be regenerated.
The original creature sweeper is still very good. Pressure your opponent to overextend and drop this bomb. Then you can recover quickly with a fleet-footed white army. Although Wrath becomes dead weight against Monoblack Control and Goblin Trenches, the threat of Spiritmonger, Roar of the Wurm, and other undercosted fatties makes a solid case for putting it in the main deck.
Creatures of the chosen color without flying can’t attack you.
This is a very different sort of creature removal. While it is totally inappropriate for White Weenie decks, it is a powerful tool for another archetype: Blue/White Permission decks.
Odyssey block presents pure control decks with a serious problem: The need to counteract several threats (Call of the Herd, Ichorid, etc.) with a single card. Judgment’s Genesis presents similar problems, since it can bring back an endless hoard of creatures from the graveyard. One Moat deprives an entire color of its ability to attack with non-flying creatures (with the notable exceptions of Wild Mongrel and Spiritmonger). But again I digress on a blue tangent…
Handling Punisher Spells:
Clearly, Judgment ups the power level of punisher cards significantly. I dare you to compare Browbeat and Breaking Point with Longhorn Firebeast. Book Burning may make an appearance as well, since it provides red with threshold on turn two. And that works nicely with Baby Shiv – otherwise known as Fledgling Dragon. Put all this together, and it looks like Punisher and/or mono-red decks may see a surge in popularity.
There’s also Flaring Pain to consider, a very anti-white sideboard card that punches through Circle of Protection: Red, Sphere of Law, and protection from red creatures; that its flashback is cheaper than its regular casting cost makes it even better. Nevertheless, white still has several unfair enchantments that wreck red.
Aegis of Honor
W, Enchantment, Odyssey Rare
1: The next time an instant or sorcery spell would deal damage to you this turn, that spell deals that damage to its controller instead.
Take a moment and let it sink in: This is a ludicrously good sideboard card. Aside from making your dome burn proof (even versus Urza’s Rage), it totally punishes (bad pun intended) anyone who casts a punisher spell. Simply take the damage to counter the spell’s effect and then activate Aegis of Honor to reflect the damage back to the caster.
The key is that Aegis redirects rather than prevents damage, which allows you to work around Flaring Pain. It also gives white’s traditional defensive theme an offensive edge – a concept that Wizards R&D should use more often (hint, hint).
2WW, Enchantment, Invasion Rare
As Harsh Judgment comes into play, choose a color.
If an instant or sorcery of the chosen color would deal damage to you, it deals that damage to its controller instead.
This has similar applications to Aegis of Honor, including its immunity to Flaring Pain. On the plus side, you don’t have to pay mana to activate Harsh Judgment. However, it only protects you against the chosen color, and by the time you can get it on the board it may be too late.
2W, Enchant Creature, 7th Edition Rare
All damage that would be dealt to you is dealt to enchanted creature instead.
Two major synergies – I guess you could call them defensive combos – come to mind. First you can slap it on a creature with prntection from red and Pariah effectively reads”you are immune to red mages.” But let’s take it a step further in applicability. Imagine you have Glorious Anthem and the phantom creature in play. Play Pariah on said creature and congratulations! You are now immune to all sources of damage from any color.
3W, Enchantment, 7th Edition Rare
If you control a creature, damage that would reduce your life total to less than 1 reduces it to 1 instead.
Attacking the Graveyard:
There is little in terms of options here, but what you do have is the fastest way in Standard to remove an entire player’s (as well as your own) graveyard from the game…
White’s not good at getting to threshold anyway – so who cares if you lose your own graveyard? At two mana it can slip past counters, and it’s the best possible answer to Quiet Speculation. But think of all the other cards that get nailed: threshold spells, flashback spells, Incarnations, Advocates, Psychatog, Grim Lavamancer, and Yawgmoth’s Agenda. Morningtide screws with a lot of decks.
Coping with the rise of White/Green:
What if white/green becomes popular, thanks to Anurid Brushhopper and Nantuko Monastery? Both of these guys are fat! One is undercosted and can disappear while the other one can’t be countered.
2WW, Creature – Nomad Horror, Torment Rare
Attacking doesn’t cause Possessed Nomad to tap. Threshold – Possessed Nomad gets +1/+1, is black, and has”2B, TAP: Destroy target white creature.” (You have threshold as long as seven or more cards are in your graveyard.)
Though white is not a color that zooms to threshold, with a little splash of black mana (and play Spectral Lynx while you’re at it), you have a removal stick to reckon with. Plus, assuming you have threshold, a 4/4 for four mana is excellent (especially by white’s standards).
For the same cost as the Nomad Horror, you can play this Angel and alleviate having to splash for black mana. The Voice can easily fly over Green’s grounded armies and hang back on defense. Nevertheless, I feel that two power for four mana is pretty poor for a deck that needs to be aggressive and outrace Upheaval.
As shown above, White has the remarkable ability to deal with all of Judgment’s new threats. But who cares if there aren’t enough tournament-caliber cards to build a viable White deck in the first place? Well…
The weakest color in Standard may finally be able to return to its roots: I’m talking about White Weenie. I’m sure most of you are very familiar with the archetype, but for those who aren’t here’s a quick review of the fundamentals with (no longer legal) examples. White Weenie depends on four concepts:
1) Efficient creatures (Savannah Lions)
2) Creature Pumping (Crusade)
3) Creature Removal (Swords to Plowshares)
4) Disruption (Armageddon)
White can still perform all of those functions, but to a weakened degree across the board. Many people argue that white still has playable weenies, and it’s the lack of items two through four that hurts the archetype. I’m not one of those people. White’s arsenal of creatures is still fundamentally weak compared to the good old days. They don’t have the evasion of Tempest (shadow) or the card advantage of Mercadian Masques (Rebel recruiting).
At the same time, the bar for efficiency in fat creatures has raised significantly. Ernham Djinn used to be a beast; now, compared to the likes of Phantom Centaur, Spiritmonger, and Shivan Wurm, it’s a wimp. There is, however, hope in Judgment.
White’s best one-drop after Suntail Hawk – even though the two toughness is anecdotal, and the special ability is only useful in the mid-to-late game when you have nothing better to do with mana. Alas, an inverted Savannah Lions can’t compare to the original, but it’s the best you get for one mana these days.
1W, Creature – Cleric 1/1, Odyssey Uncommon
Protection from creatures
Yes, the power-to-cost ratio is bad for White Weenie. Yes, non-Flametongue removal still smokes this guy. But I’m foreseeing the popularity of phantom creatures, and the little Chaplain can stop them all (or any non-protection from white creature) dead in their tracks, or attack right past them.
Probably the best two-drop available in the armada of the (not so) mighty color of damage prevention and defense, the Archer is a fine complement to Phantom Nomad, leaving you with eight creatures that can kill opposing bears and live to talk about it.
Another creature fighting for the two-drop slot. Whether or not you play the Lynx will probably be determined by whether or not you splash black as a support color. In an environment heavy with green fatties and tokens (think Quiet Speculation and Roar of the Wurm), the Lynx is quite strong.
1WW, Creature – Nomad Mystic 2/1, Odyssey Rare
Protection from black and from red
Threshold – Mystic Crusader gets +1/+1 and has flying. (You have threshold as long as seven or more cards are in your graveyard.)
I’m not especially pleased with any of these three-drops, since they all have a poor power-to-mana ratio. The Mystic Crusader is probably my favorite of the bunch since it has evasion in the late game, is difficult to remove, and can attack for three. Pianna is annoying because she’s a Legend and meets a quick demise to Call of the Herd and Firebolt – but do note that the Nomad Captain has excellent synergy with Bird tokens. The Lieutenant is online for airborne attacks immediately, but I find his special ability too passive for aggressive decks.
This is another department where white continues to be strong. You just need to keep your white guys in play. Glorious Anthem may cost one more mana than Crusade, but at least it can’t backfire in the mirror match.
1W, Instant, Odyssey Common
Target creature you control gains protection from the color of your choice until end of turn. Draw a card.
This is one of the few playable instants in white’s dilapidated arsenal. The tricks with this card are endless; gain card advantage when burn is hurled at your guys! Make a one-for-one trade become a two-for-one trade! Or you can just Shelter up a guy to run past blockers. Similar to Beloved Chaplain, the ability the flexible uses of this card on both defense and offense make it very useful. In an absolute worst-case scenario, you can always cycle it for 1W as long as there is a target.
1WW, Enchantment, 7th Edition Rare
Creatures you control get +1/+1.
Unless you want to also pump up Anurid Brushhoppers, Mystic Enforcers, and Wild Mongrels, play this instead of Divine Sacrament. Serving the same role as the classic Crusade, Glorious Anthem is especially good when it makes phantom creatures immune to damage. It also has excellent synergy with Battle Screech. Can you tell I like that card?
Disruption has always been in short supply for the color of purity and goodness. White misses Armageddon more than any other card retired from 6th Edition. Without disruption, your opponent gets to draw cards leisurely and play his or her own game unmolested. White is chronically weak in this area; I can literally only think of four spells that are worthy, and two of them have gold borders.
W, Instant, Planeshift Rare
Kicker W (You may pay an additional W as you play this spell.)
Target player can’t play spells this turn.
If you paid the kicker cost, creatures can’t attack this turn.
It’s card disadvantage, but it helps you force key spells past counters and it delays players for one turn from using sorcery-speed removal or putting a blocker in the way, allowing you another attack phase, which is hopefully all that you need.
All right, it’s only half white… But Meddling Mage can beat down and disrupt at the same time. Throwing the Mage down turn 2 against Tog and naming Aether Burst or Repulse changes the game drastically. It’s like having counterspell built into a creature. All you have to do is name the right spell…
I already mentioned this one in the removal section above. It’s the ability to destroy lands early in the game that qualifies as disruption.
4W, Sorcery, Invasion Rare
Each player chooses from the lands he or she controls a land of each basic land type, then sacrifices the rest.
It’s a sad replacement for Armageddon, but it’s also very underrated. Imagine playing this against Swamp/Coffers Control Black; it wrecks them. And people are playing more nonbasic lands in Standard than every before, so casting Global Ruin as soon as you have five mana often works just as well as Armageddon.
And Ernham Djinn is back. Anyone remember ErhnamGeddon?
I also talked about this one above. But as a reminder:
Incorporating the four key concepts, here is what a post-Judgment version of White Weenie might look like:
Obviously, I chose the black rather than red splash. I have some good reasons: First and foremost, Flametongue Kavu is amazing, but its nonwhite nature lacks synergy with Battle Screech. Spectral Lynx not only helps flashback Screech, but it also keeps Roar of the Wurm tokens at bay while the Birds go to war in the air.
Vindicate is the most versatile card in terms of white disruption. It will never be a dead draw, and it teams up well with Global Ruin. With a little luck, you’ll even have a Swamp in play when you Ruin the board.
The two copies of Pianna are like playing extra Glorious Anthems – and at the same time, she’s Screech-friendly. Note that all the creature spells cost less than four mana. That’s because the game plan is to hardcast Screech and flash it back on turn 4. This also explains relatively high land count. Battle Screech lets you win on turn 5. Here’s how:
Turn One – Plains, One-Drop
Turn Two – Plains, Two-Drop, attack for 1
Turn Three – Plains, Glorious Anthem, attack for 5
Turn Four – Plains, Battle Screech, flash it back, attack for 3
Turn Five – Attack for 13
Keep in mind that you could play Pianna instead of Glorious Anthem and still goldfish in the same amount of time. The redundancy in one-drops and two-drops maximizes the probability of drawing the five-turn kill. Winning on turn 5 is only one turn later than Frog in a Blender… But is it fast enough?
I haven’t included a sideboard due to the ambiguous metagame – but since this version of White Weenie isn’t dependent on threshold, Morningtide fits in nicely, as would additional copies of global ruin. And Execute or Slay are nice substitutes for Vindicate against aggressive decks like the mirror match and R/G.
Is White Weenie going to become suddenly viable after Judgment? My intuition says not quite, but without the time for extensive playtesting it’s difficult to say. However, it’s clear that Judgment gives this old (and ailing) archetype a significant boost.
What seems more certain is that white could possibly become the best support color available once Judgment is legal. Its ability to handle the powerful cards in Judgment – from Genesis to Solitary Confinement and Browbeat – is unrivaled. What the color lacks in raw power, it makes up for in answers.
Next time, I’ll look at green, rotating around the color wheel and ending with blue – justly or unjustly, the best color in Magic.