Yes, I’m still alive – I’ve just been rather busy as of late. To make a long story (reasonably) short, I’ve now gone into business for myself as a freelance game writer and designer – and hence, much of my time has been spent either working or looking for work. But let me say that if you can get the work, freelancing is the way to go. Set my own hours, accept the jobs you want (at least, when you have a big enough clientele)… Yeah, I could get used to this.
By the way, if anyone out there has need of a freelance writer, feel free to drop me a line.
Accordingly, I haven’t been playing a whole lot of Magic as of late, and most of my Magic musings (such as”White weenie is still dead in Standard”) wouldn’t fill a whole column. However, my playtesting group has been gearing up for the upcoming Onslaught Block PTQs, and in addition to the usual suspects, we’ve got a few rogues, semi-rogues, and really out-there decks (Wizards/Endemic Plague, anyone?). Some are wonderfully cute but couldn’t beat a wet Kleenex.
Our take on B/W Control has shown the most promise. I find it hard to believe it’s nowhere to be seen among the top-tier Onslaught Block decks. It has all the tools to handle the current Tier I decks – Zombie Bidding, Goblins, MWC, Slide – but I haven’t seen a build that can beat those decks. That doesn’t mean I don’t think such a build exists. In my opinion, the right mix of cards hasn’t been found yet – the archetype is solid.
Brad Irwin, fellow Gambit Games co-owner and I have been working on a BWC build that we think is pretty solid. We started with Zvi Mowshowitz version from Brainburst (which wasn’t very good), removed the discard elements, added more removal, and with considerable tweaking we’ve got a deck that, while not exactly dominant, is competitive against all the current big hitters in Onslaught Block.
White Zombie (B/W Control)
4 Silver Knight
2 Withered Wretch
3 Graveborn Muse
4 Exalted Angel
3 Twisted Abomination
3 Exalted Dragon
4 Renewed Faith
4 Wing Shards
1 Cruel Revival
4 Akroma’s Vengeance
2 Decree of Pain
2 Unholy Grotto
2 Grand Coliseum
Similar to other control decks, it’s built for the long haul, with recyclable kill elements in Twisted Abomination and Eternal Dragon. In the early game, you have Silver Knight to handle Goblins, Withered Wretch to deal with Bidding-based decks, with Smother, Wing Shards, and Cruel Revival to pick off most threats.
As you can see, the build is rather Zombie-centric. The addition of Graveborn Muse has helped boost the deck from rogue-ish to potential Tier I. Worth an extra one or two cards a turn, the life loss generally doesn’t hurt too badly; in a generally slower environment, the more cards you draw, the better. And it’s a 3/3 body to boot, so it’s no slouch in the Red Zone.
So how does this deck fare? Let’s go to the tale of the tape!
This matchup goes about 60-40 pre-sideboarding, but the odds improve once you go to your full complement of Withered Wretches. Zombie Bidding needs a full graveyard to go off; that’s why we put the Wretches in there. If you draw an early Wretch with some free mana, you’ve dealt Patriarch’s Bidding an early blow. Keep those Soulless Ones small! Decree of Pain is an excellent card in this matchup, both as a cycler and especially when hard-cast, usually allowing you to fill up your hand and clear the board.
Of course, Zombie Bidding has Wretches of its own, so you need to play around those. Smother is your best weapon here.
The sideboarding strategy is currently to bring in both Wretches, taking out the dead Cruel Revival. If you fear Call to the Grave, Wipe Clean can come in, but that’s probably just overkill that can be handled with Akroma’s Vengeance. Head Games is an iffy choice – however, you don’t really fear the Bidding so much since your opponent’s Zombies won’t have haste, and you should (hopefully) have a Vengeance handy. By the time you can cast a Head Games, too, your opponent often has an empty or near-empty hand. However, if your opponent tries to slow play a bit to avoid your removal, then the value of Head Games increases. It’s a judgment call, and I wouldn’t fault anyone who played it one way or the other. This matchup isn’t a slam-dunk, but it favors the B/W player.
For the sake of truncating a few paragraphs, I’m lumping both Astral Slide-based and non-Slide-based decks under the R/W Control banner. This matchup is in the favor of B/W Control, primarily because R/W has trouble getting rid of your threats on a permanent basis. Silver Knights can only be dealt with non-combat via Akroma’s Vengeance or Wing Shards. Eternal Dragon can be brought back from the graveyard, and you have multiple ways to recur Graveborn Muse and Twisted Abomination. Meanwhile, you can easily deal with their creature-based threats – Smother for Silver Knights, Cruel Revival for Exalted Angels, Wing Shards for Akroma, Angel of Wrath, and Withered Wretch gets rid of their Dragons.
About the only way R/W can beat you is via Lightning Rift damage, and that’s hard to do with your Renewed Faiths. In six games (and I was running R/W and I consider myself a decent player, and we were backing up to correct possible mistakes – so I’m not going to use the”it’s a hard deck to play right” crutch), I beat B/W once through the Rift, because Brad didn’t draw a single Renewed Faith.
However, we discovered that after sideboarding, there was one card that B/W had no answer for: Decree of Annihilation. When R/W can drop an Exalted Angel (or better yet, Akroma), then follow that up with a cycled Decree, B/W just rolls over and dies. B/W is not a rush deck, and can’t usually enough damage through before the Akroma/Decree combo.
So how do we fix this gaping hole in the deck? If we can’t fix it, the deck would have to go to the wayside. Head Games was already included in our sideboard, and it’s extremely effective against R/W Control – but it’s not a permanent answer.
And then it hit me: Stabilizer. That’s the answer.
“What,” you are probably saying to yourself,”are you thinking, Dave? You’re running a deck with over ten cycling spells, and you depend on those landcyclers to smooth out an otherwise iffy mana base. You crazy, Doctor Jones, you crazy!”
Bear with me, though, for there’s a method to my madness. Now, there’s no way I want to drop a Stabilizer on turn 2. However, by turn 5 or 6, I should have gotten the mana I need – and that’s when I want to drop the Stabilizer! Crazy, yes… Like a fox! (I hope). Wandering Jew no longer, we’ve found the promised land.
R/W has no way to deal with Stabilizer other than Akroma’s Vengeance – and in casting it, the R/W player will hopefully take out several of their own permanents as well. In combination with Head Games and Wipe Clean coming in from the sideboard, you close that hole-big-enough-to-drive-a-Mack-truck-through and you make the R/W matchup much friendlier.
As I’ve been working on this article for the past few days, I’m seeing more and more R/W decks go to the single maindeck Decree of Annihilation. That maindeck Decree makes the R/W matchup go from favorable to iffy. If R/W draws the Decree, they will usually win given their higher mana base. If they hard-cast the Decree, then you are really screwed.
This may be the best matchup for the deck. There is so much removal in B/W Control and given that your threats come back from the grave and theirs don’t…Well, suffice it to say, we like this matchup.
What you have to be careful of is that MWC has a much, much higher mana base, and can power out big threats quickly, like a massively large influx of Soldiers from Decree of Justice or a hard-to-deal-with Jareth or Akroma. Basically, you want to hoard your removal, parcel it out as need be, and force the MWC player to expend their removal on your recursive threats. Sideboarding is fairly straightforward, taking out Silver Knights for Wipe Clean and Head Games. If Decree of Justice and Astral Slide seem problematic, Stabilizer can come in as well.
Now it gets troublesome. Goblins not only put you on a short clock, but have this rather annoying knack of topdecking things that either have haste or can’t be easily dealt with via Smother or Wing Shards. Silver Knights, if they come out, help immensely, but Clickslithers can basically treat them like a speed bump. If you make it to turn 6 with ten life or more, you’re in pretty good shape. Otherwise, the scoop phase may be near. Having the mana to either cycle Decree or Pain or hard-cast an Exalted Angel is critical in this matchup, so sometimes you have to take the early pain to landcycle and get what you need.
Sideboarding for this matchup has been the trickiest part. You know that Sulfuric Vortex and Rorix Bladewing are coming in. You’ll want as much removal for him and Clickslither as possible, so in comes the extra Cruel Revival, even if it does cost five. To combat the early beats, however, we tried Infest, which was too slow and had the nasty tendency to kill your defenders as well. We tried a number of options but eventually settled on Wall of Hope. At the very least, it slows down the early beats and buys you an extra turn or two, even with a Vortex in play. Against Goblins, every extra turn is critical. Wipe Clean comes in for those pesky Vortexes.
The matchup, in our testing, skews about 65-35 in the Goblin favor’s pre-sideboard, and we’ve gotten in to about 45-55 in favor of the Goblin deck post-sideboard. It’s a matchup we’re continuing to explore.
The same as above, but now you have to worry about the possibility of Smother and maybe Cover of Darkness. But other than that, it’s played the same, and a post-Bidding cycled Decree of Pain is brutal against this deck. Wipe Clean comes in from the sideboard after the first match, and you go to a full complement of Wretches as well, as Bidding doesn’t work well with an empty graveyard.
Game one, your Silver Knights, which are nigh-unkillable, can carry the day, forcing the Bad Form player to race you with burn and Rift damage. You’ll want to be sure to keep a Vengeance in your hand if a Form of the Dragon comes down. Both decks will transform considerably after sideboarding. Bad Form will most likely bring in Thoughtbound Primoc, Rorix Bladewing, and/or Menacing Ogre. For this reason, I don’t advocate taking out too much of your creature based removal – Smother can go, but keep the Wing Shards and max out the Cruel Revival count. You’ll also want to bring in Wipe Clean and/or Stabilizer.
Given the low mana base of B/W Control, what scares me is Misguided Rage. Combined with Lay Waste, those two cards can set back your mana development two critical turns or more. My advice is if you end up getting hit by Misguided Rage, sac a creature. You need the land more than a Knight.
Against most other funky rogues we’ve been testing, this deck wrecks them. Crushing the Tier II’s is always a good sign.
The main concerns I currently have with the deck is the potentially shaky mana base – twenty-two lands feels a bit low, even with all the mana cyclers, and the deck likes have access to double black and double white early in the game. I’m beginning to feel that twenty-four lands may provide better balance.
The Cruel Revivals might be deleted from the current build, depending upon how much Zombies are in the current environment. Against any non-Zombie deck, having that kind of spot removal that can hit Clickslither and Exalted Angel can be a lifesaver. Against Zombies, however, it’s dead. I might add two more landcyclers in their stead. This will be more of a metagame choice.
Is this deck truly optimized? Not yet. Will it be, in time for the September PTQ in Portland? I hope so. And if anyone has any ideas, I’m more than happy to listen.