Blog Fanatic: The Weak in Review — A Year of White in Mirrodin Block

Ben has repeatedly taken Wizards of the Coast R&D to task for their failure to boost the power level of White, easily the worst color in Magic. White’s the worst color in Vintage, the worst color in Extended, the worst color in Onslaught Block, the worst color in Mirrodin Block, and arguably the worst color in Standard. How bad was White this past year? It was so bad that Ben devotes an entire column bemoaning the fate of his favorite color.

The prerelease for Champions of Kamigawa is tomorrow, September 18th. Unless you’re in a hurricane-torn part of the country, you’re in for a fun Limited set, judging from the spoilers on MTGnews.com. With the introduction of Champions Block, we usher out the era of Onslaught block in Standard play. Over the past year, a significantly small percentage of the good decks in any format contained White cards. As Dante said,”The third circle of Hell is like the color White after it got helped by the majority of R&D at Wizards of the Coast.” Fine, I admit I’m paraphrasing – there were a few choice four letter words liberally spread throughout the original quote. I’d have gotten it right, except I can’t translate from Latin very well.

Just how bad was White over the past year? There were seventy-six White cards in Mirrodin Block. These do not count any artifacts which include White in their activation costs. I’ve included all of these White-slanted artifacts in this article for argument’s sake. This adds another twelve cards to the White pool (Ancient Den, Angel’s Feather, Gold Myr, Healer’s Headdress, Leonin Sun Standard, Pearl Shard, Razor Golem, Soldier Replica, Sunbeam Spellbomb, Talisman of Progress, Talisman of Unity, Titanium Golem). This brings the White total to eighty-eight cards. How many of these cards saw tournament play in successful decks? Nine.

*Altar’s Light – Strictly a sideboard card in White/Blue/Green control in block.

*Ancient Den – Phased quickly out of Affinity decks the second Darksteel Citadel became legal. Unlike the other colors, White had zero to offer the Affinity deck – with one exception below (see Auriok Steelshaper). Green contributed artifact removal (Oxidize, Naturalize, Viridian Shaman), Red contributed creatures, direct damage and artifact removal (Atog, Shrapnel Blast, Shatter), Black contributed a creatures, removal, and a little card drawing (Disciple of the Vault, Moriok Rigger, Terror, Night’s Whisper) and Blue contributed card drawing and creatures (Thoughtcast, Thirst for Knowledge, Broodstar, Somber Hoverguard). As far as White was concerned, Affinity decks did not exist except as a victim to Onslaught block card Akroma’s Vengeance.

Auriok Salvagers – A late addition in Fifth Dawn which worked well with the many”cogs” – a.k.a. one-drop artifacts – in the block. This deck ended up doing decently well towards the middle of the Block Constructed season, only to fall to the wayside as people realized it was a really junky deck without the surprise factor.

*Auriok Steelshaper – The only White card to have any interaction in the Affinity deck, it only existed as part of a Japanese borne engine consisting of Skullclamp, Genesis Chamber, and Disciple of the Vault. Once Skullclamp was banned in Standard and Block, Auriok Steelshaper disappeared completely from the tournament scene.

*Leonin Abunas – Not that White ever played this – it was solely an include in Tooth and Nail when combined with Platinum Angel. In fact, a majority of the decks which ran Leonin Abunas couldn’t ever hard cast this creature!

Pristine Angel – A respectable kill card in Block control decks, this was essentially a Serra Angel with protection from everything for only an additional mana. It paled in comparison to other kill choices from Onslaught, including Decree of Justice, Eternal Dragon, and Exalted Angel.

Pulse of the Fields – The Pulse was quite possibly the best lifegain spell ever, and quite tournament worthy to boot. Pulse of the Fields worked quite well, though it became a little less effective once people caught onto the strategy of intentionally mana burning to keep Pulse from buying back. Still, one of the few good cards for White in the block.

*Raise the Alarm – Was this in a White Weenie deck? Of course not! It was a third of a combination deck consisting of Proteus Staff, Goblin Charbelcher, and token creatures. This deck flopped rather quickly, as everything worked too slowly and was hit by massive anti-artifact splash hate.

Sunbeam Spellbomb – It was in the Auriok Salvagers deck. That’s all for this Spellbomb.

Of these eight cards above, three were parts of decks that were either neutered into uselessness/failed after a week or so of success, one was a one-of cantrip, and one was not run in any White decks! This leaves Pristine Angel, Auriok Salvagers, and Pulse of the Fields as the only three White cards really worth the paper they were printed on in the entire block.

Ah, but was not Mirrodin Block the artifact block, you ask? Did not all the other colors fail to produce playables as well? Good lord no! Only White is the albino stepchild of Wizards of the Coast.

Black (5): Barter in Blood, Disciple of the Vault, Promise of Power, Spoils of the Vault, Terror.

Blue (14): Aether Spellbomb, Annul, Assert Authority, Broodstar, Crystal Shard, Fabricate, March of the Machines, Override, Proteus Staff, Seat of the Synod, Somber Hoverguard, Thirst for Knowledge, Thoughtcast, Vedalken Archmage.

Green (7): Molder Slug, Sylvan Scrying, Tel-Jilad Chosen, Tooth and Nail, Tree of Tales, Troll Ascetic, Viridian Shaman.

Red (14): Arc-Slogger, Atog, Detonate, Electrostatic Bolt, Goblin Charbelcher, Grab the Reins, Great Furnace, Megatog, Molten Rain, Pyrite Spellbomb, Seething Song, Shatter, Shrapnel Blast, Slith Firewalker.

Well, I guess White did better than Black by three cards and Green by one playable. However, it was well outpaced by both Blue and Red. White wasn’t as bad as I thought? How could this be?

Oh right, I forgot to look at Darksteel and Fifth Dawn. False alarm folks!

Black (9 + 5 = 14): Chittering Rats, Cranial Plating, Death Cloud, Echoing Decay, Greater Harvester, Mephidross Vampire, Moriok Rigger, Night’s Whisper, Plunge into Darkness.

Blue (6 + 14 = 20): Condescend, Echoing Truth, Last Word, Serum Visions, Trinket Mage, Vedalken Shackles.

Green (9 + 7 = 16): Beacon of Creation, Eternal Witness, Joiner Adept, Karstoderm, Oxidize, Reap and Sow, Rude Awakening, Tel-Jilad Justice, Viridian Zealot.

Red (10 + 14 = 24): Barbed Lightning, Echoing Ruin, Fireball, Flamebreak, Furnace Dragon, Granulate, Magma Jet, Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], Shunt, Slobad.

(Also played: Talisman of Impulse and Talisman of Indulgence, if you care to include these in Red, Black and Green)

How did things go so wrong for White? Equipment is what went wrong. White’s main focus on this block was around equipment and equipment themes – most of the smaller White creatures in the block revolved around these newfangled artifacts. Unfortunately, equipment didn’t pan out as planned for White Weenie. Instead of having great decks revolving around Auriok and Leonin dudes wielding Bonesplitters and Swords of Fire and Ice, we instead got a smattering of Skullclamp brokenness. Equipment and White creatures just didn’t go well together, because multiple other colors had better weenies – Red still had all their goblins from Onslaught block, and Affinity had affinity creatures. Between the two, the White guys were outclassed. Now that goblins are gone, perhaps the equipment theme can be explored anew.

Granted, there’s a list of quite a few good White cards that just never got any attention in the current block, Standard, Vintage and Extended environments. All of these might eventually warrant playtest time based on the contents of Kamigawa block, so let’s have a look before we write off White completely.

Auriok Champion – A respectable weenie with three decent special abilities.

Bringer of the White Dawn – Originally slated for brokenness with Mindslaver, a White Bringer deck has yet to materialize in any format. [Though it has seen play in Tooth and Nail deck. – Knut]

Blinding Beam – A way for White Weenies to get through, and to hold off large beaters for a couple of turns.

Leonin Shikari – Only if equipment makes a comeback in White. So far, it has not.

Leonin Skyhunter – This dude’s ridiculously efficient as a flyer, but has yet to make any impact. A 2/2 evasion creatures for WW should merit some play.

Leonin Squire – Only in the Auriok Salvagers deck – and it hasn’t made a splash there, yet.

Leonin Sun Standard – A better Gerrard’s Battle Cry, though is that saying much?

Purge – Solid removal, especially if black decks take off post-Kamigawa.

Razor GolemRazor Golem is one of the best”White” creatures to see print in quite a long time. He’s, in a mono-White deck, a third turn 3/4 creature with quite a good ability. Why hasn’t Razor Golem seen play? It’s an artifact in an environment full of artifact hate, and he requires a major White commitment, which few decks are willing to give right now. It will be the cornerstone of any potential White Weenie decks in the coming year, if one emerges.

Retaliate – The new Wrath of God just doesn’t work well. You’re better off with a real Wrath of God nine times out of ten. Sitting back on four mana isn’t great, especially when some decks (Affinity, Tooth and Nail) can kill you on a single swing.

Roar of Reclamation – Tested in KCI decks and found lacking. It’s still an artifact Replenish, which gives it some credibility.

Rule of Law – If combo ever sees print again as a serious threat, Arcane Laboratory will naturally be a good card to run. For now, it’s strictly filler.

Second Sunrise – Saw minimal play as part of third turn Atog engine kills shortly after the release of Mirrodin. The anti-Wrath was promptly shelved. Second Sunrise can work as both a poor man’s Roar of Reclamation, or as an answer to mass removal.

Stasis Cocoon – An anti-Affinity card that would have seen play if White had ever been good enough to run in Block. Worth revisiting in the future against artifact-based decks should White emerge as a viable maindeck color.

Steelshaper’s Gift – This card would have been amazing if it had ever been legal at the same time as Skullclamp in either Block, Standard or Extended. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), this never happened, and so Steelshaper’s Gift waits for the day when it will have broken equipment to fetch.

Talisman of Progress/Talisman of Unity – Decent artifact acceleration, especially for the White/Blue deck. The White/Green deck is probably already running Vine Trellis or Birds of Paradise instead.

Tempest of Light – The Shrines from Kamigawa look to be playable, meaning that enchantment removal will be more valuable in this coming block. Previously it was passable against W/G and W/R Slide – although the only deck likely to be running it would be W/G or W/R Slide, in which case those deck ran Akroma’s Vengeance instead.

Test of Faith – I love the ability of this card, and I hope that future cards follow the Temper theme. This is the type of card that White Weenie would like to see more often – reasonably costed, with the ability to break smaller creatures through while powering them up for the late game.

Okay, so while White was easily the worst color in Mirrodin Block, you can see that Wizards put in the effort to make the color playable. This endeavor failed miserably, because the White artifact theme (Equipment) failed in comparison to the Blue, Red, and Green themes of affinity spells, artifact destruction, and artifact destruction. White lost the ability to easily destroy artifacts with Onslaught block, and this loss really came back to bite White in the butt during Mirrodin season.

There were also three cards, all of which saw some degree of play, which could have been designed as White cards. These three cards all fit White’s current philosophies as a color, and would have given the color a boost into respectability.

Skeleton Shard With cards like Argivian Archaeologist, Argivian Find, and Ritual of Restoration, White has established a theme of salvaging artifacts. Blue and White reflect each other in this way – Blue creates and searches for artifacts (Fabricate) whereas White finds the artifacts of civilizations past and restores them to working order. It would have been nice to give White the recursive artifact creature Shard, which saw some play in Black/Red decks during States last year. The Shard combines a lot better with Wrath of God effects than with Death Cloud, which strips away mana.

Silent Arbiter – Is there any more White a card than this one? White could have used a guy for the mid game to stop the weenie rush, and Silent Arbiter provides that body. Unfortunately, he’s way too vulnerable as an artifact creature. As a White creature, he would have been able to hold the fort against most early games, and then stalled in races between Pristine Angel/Exalted Angel/Eternal Dragon versus smaller guys.

Platinum Angel – Wizards wanted a flagship artifact angel for the block, and it became Platinum Angel. Compare this to Luminous Angel. White’s the color of angels, but yet the best angel in the block belongs to all of the colors. This was played a lot in Tinker variants and Tooth and Nail, but not very much so in White decks. White’s theme is about staying alive and the such (see Worship, Sustaining Spirit, and a billion and a half White lifegain spells), but yet this card wasn’t White. Thematically, I understand this. For the sake of White, what White needs, and what White didn’t get in this block, Platinum Angel should have been a White card.

Next week I’ll be taking an extensive look at Champions of Kamigawa! It’s a can’t miss fiasco of epic proportions – at least the Vintage predictions! Be there!

Ben can be reached at [email protected]. He is still taking reader questions for his reader mailbag week at that address – write to him today!