Building Black/White Control for Honolulu *43rd*

Chris discusses the Black/White Control deck that he piloted to a 43rd place finish at Pro Tour: Honolulu.

When you sit down to construct a deck, there are a wide variety of things you have to consider. What is the metagame? How do I kill my opponent? How does my opponent kill me? Do I want my deck strong versus aggressive decks or control decks? These are just some of the questions I asked myself when I was constructing my deck for Pro Tour Honolulu. I will tell you how I created my deck and sideboard through playtesting, deck analysis, and personal preference.

The first thing I had to consider was the format itself. Honolulu was going to be the first major Standard tournament with Guildpact. Knowing this meant I would have to construct a gauntlet of decks that were all very strong. I could not afford to have a weak version of any deck, or my results would be varied. The decks I decided would be the most popular were Greater Good Gifts, Zoo, Gruul, Eminent Domain, Mono Blue Control, Black/White Control, Black/White Aggro, Wildfire, Blue/Red UrzaTron, Heartbeat, and (of course) some sort of Rock deck. The difficult part was that Guildpact – and the advent of a format with seven dual lands — meant splashing for a third (or even fourth) color would not be difficult. This led me to believe there would be many hybrid decks at the Pro Tour. I always believed in an unknown format, the deck with the most powerful cards will win.

The deck I decided to play was Black/White Control. I came to this decision based on several reasons. There is always going to be a default aggro deck in any format, and I believe that a Black/White deck could contain and control any sort of aggressive strategy since it has the best removal in the format. The ability of key cards to gain life – in addition to answering threats – helps fill out your deck in case you miss your two or three casting cost removal spell. Amazing removal cards such as Mortify, Putrefy, Cruel Edict, and Last Gasp are complimented very well with cards like Wrath of God, Faith’s Fetters, and Devouring Light.

On the other side of the spectrum is the control matchup. I found that it was very difficult to gain card advantage with the deck if you are playing the long slow game versus control. Phyrexian Arena is the best possible card to combat a control deck. Most control decks have trouble removing enchantments in the first place, and if you back up your arena with disruption you have the ability to run away with the game. Black has always had great disruption, and in the current format I found that I would have many weapons in my arsenal to take on control. Cards like Castigate, Distress, Cranial Extraction, and Persecute can help you punish control decks for tapping out, and help you push through threats. Orzhov Basilica was another card that turned out to be extremely good against control by allowing you to keep up (and surpass them) in the mana war.

I was certain that this was the deck to play, with its ability to be extremely strong against any sort of aggressive or control strategy. However, the problem was finding the correct build.

This is the list I decided on for the Pro Tour. I will go over each card, the number of copies, and why I decided on playing them.

The land is pretty straightforward. The deck has a high curve, and you never want to miss a land drop. The Orzhov Basilica is a great asset to have, as it helps you get to six mana. Shizo and Miren are staples to any control deck. I opted not to run Eiganjo based on running five to seven legends, and the ability to get Strip Mined. You still need Shizo to get past Meloku, so the risk is acceptable. Orzhova, the Church of Deals does not look very appealing, but it is actually a very powerful card against control. Often, you find yourself in a stalemate or a topdecking race, and the Church allows you to make the most of your mana every turn. The synergy with Phyrexian Arena is great; it allows you to keep your life total high, and every control player knows that their life total is their greatest asset.

Kokusho, the Evening Star – The best win condition for the deck. I chose to run three, with the fourth in the sideboard. Most Black decks have a maindeck Cranial Extraction, so this allows me to diversify my threats. Kokusho, however, normally only has to swing once in order to kill an opponent.

Yosei, the Morning Star – I found that two was the correct number. Yosei creates a lockdown effect that can be extremely useful. This allows me a chance to drop another bomb, and ultimately win from there. The main reason I played two was because with Debtors’ Knell you can have a hard lock… if I have a Miren or House Guard as a sacrifice outlet. You gain the option to bring the dragon back each turn, and keep your opponent under complete control. If you have lost a House Guard – or transmuted it – you can bring it back with the Debtors’ Knell to ensure you create a hard lock on your opponent. If you have two Yoseis in the graveyard, you can bring them both back to create a soft lock. This, in tight spots, can give you the turns needed to win.

Dimir House Guard – Two copies were included because of the transmute ability. They allow for a main deck Cranial Extraction, and give “virtual” additional copies of Wrath of God and Faith’s Fetters. They also allow for a complete and useful sideboard, with single copies of spells that are good against specific decks. This means that my sideboard is more effective against a large field.

Angel of Despair – This was originally the fourth Kokusho, but I decided I wanted different threats. The Angel is also a way to kill artifacts, enchantments, and any other permanent maindeck. This means I am not only relying on my Mortify, Faith’s Fetters, Wrath of God, or Last Gasp to take care of a problem. It also leaves me an out if any of those cards were a target of Extraction. Ultimately it is a very good card, but being that is costs one more than Kokusho you should only run one or two copies in a deck. I was never unhappy with having one copy.

Castigate – This was a card that required four copies. I was never unhappy to see this card, even late-game. Against aggro it always allowed me to get rid of upcoming threats, and it allowed me to gather much needed information about my opponents’ game plans. Aside from Phyrexian Arena, this is one of the best anti-control cards out there. It allows you to draw out threats, such as countermagic. Knowing as much as you can about your opponent’s plan is key in playing your cards right.

Orzhov Signet – This card allows you to accelerate into your four-mana drops, on which your deck relies. A key card versus aggressive decks – not so much as a turn 3 Wrath of God or Faith’s Fetters, but a turn 5 dragon which makes them cringe in their seats. This also helps you play your Cranial Extraction – against a deck that is also running Cranial Extraction — a turn earlier.

Phyrexian Arena – The most powerful card in the deck. Allowing you huge card advantage against any deck, this will almost always give you the upper hand. Though it is not great versus aggressive decks, you can still win with it in play. In most occasions, if arena goes unanswered you will win regardless. Ideally, you want to have multiples in play in case one gets Mortified. Game 1, versus decks with Mortify, I always Extract Mortify to protect my Arenas and Knells. This card is the deck’s engine and workhorse, creating another concrete threat.

Last Gasp – This slot was mixed-and-matched between more Fetters and Extractions, as well as other bullets for House Guards to fetch. In the end, the deck needs to be able to kill a creature before turn 3. You never want a Dark Confidant to allow them to draw a card, and you never want to be hit by a Hypnotic Specter before you can remove it. Obviously, having a two-mana removal spell versus beatdown decks is never a bad thing. In the case of playing against a control deck, I mostly used it as a Healing Salve effect.

Mortify – This is, perhaps, the best spell in the deck. The ability to remove a creature at instant speed is always great; combine that with enchantment removal, and you have yourself one of the best gold cards ever printed. This card allowed me a lot of versatility against staple decks in the format, such as Greater Good and GhaziGlare. Mortify is very important because there are several cards you must always kill, such as Greater Good, Phyrexian Arena, Debtors’ Knell, and Faith’s Fetters. Some players decided to run three copies of this spell, but I believe it deserves four.

Wrath of God – The best mass removal spell of all time. You can absolutely change the way an aggressive deck plays against you by playing Wrath of God. You slow down their tempo, and allow yourself to catch up and play your larger spells such as Kokusho. It is also the best answer for Meloku, because you never have to worry about the tokens. I thought that I would see mostly creature-based decks in Honolulu so I always planned for four Wrath of God in my final build.

Faith’s Fetters – This card was always handy against creature strategies. You are able to regain the loss of life you take from early creature attacks or Phyrexian Arena. When I managed to play two Fetters in one game, it always put me in a great position versus any creature deck. The Dimir House Guard allowed me to search copy number two or three. The fact that it can target any permanent made it an answer to other problem cards, such as Umezawa’s Jitte or Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree. Since there are a lot of legends in the format, I often found that I could force my opponent to remove his own Dragon Legend before he was able to play another threat with the same name. The only tricky part is playing this card against decks that play Bathe in Light or Flames of the Blood Hand.

Cranial Extraction – This single copy allowed me to completely disrupt most control decks’ game plans for the first game. With the two House Guards, I was always able to get an Extraction to use against a slow control deck. I found that most decks have trouble killing you if you extract away Yosei, Kokusho, Blaze, Mortify, or even Char. This also allows you the chance to search through their deck and know exactly what they are capable of doing to you. Ultimately, this gives you the upper hand by allowing you to make the most of your resources.

Debtors’ Knell – Despite its very high casting cost I decided to run two copies, because it tends to end the game in two turns if they don’t deal with it. You now have the ability to stop your opponent untapping by returning Yosei every turn. You have diversified your options, and Knell brings you a limitless amount of threats at your disposal. This decreases the effectiveness of their removal. In the mirror match, I decided that extracting Mortify was the best choice because then my Knell could go uncontested. If you can protect this card, you can ride it to victory every time.

I really like my sideboard. I was able to go up to four copies of certain spells that I found to be very crucial in any given matchup. I felt I used all fifteen sideboard cards very efficiently, without sacrificing cards I could use for some of my bad matchups.

It was very important to go up to four copies of Last Gasp, Cranial Extraction, and Kokusho, the Evening Star. These cards are essential when you side them in, and you always want to draw multiple copies of them. The single copies in my sideboard were very useful to me in testing, and kept so through the tournament. Night of Souls’ Betrayal was a huge card against White/Black Aggro, as it shut down a huge number of threats. It also made all the two-power creatures slip down to one-power, forcing them to overextend in order to win. Giant Solifuge was a common sideboard card that was brought in against me, and this enchantment allows me to keep the 4/1 creature off the board without taking any damage. In general, it was a very versatile card – coming in against (amongst others) Glare decks, and decks packing Genju of the Spires.

Since most decks shared a common color, I started testing Persecute and realized I could hit three to five cards against everyone including Zoo. This was an amazing card against slower control decks, and decks that play Tidings. Nightmare Void was included in the deck to combat UrzaTron decks because they are so threat-light you are able to change your game plan to simple disruption every turn. Hinder is the best card against Nightmare Void, but at the very least it forces them to use one of their three-mana counterspells.

Against slower decks with lots of creatures, Ink-Eyes came in to lock the board down. Most decks in the format cannot kill Ink-Eyes after he hits play, so he is a great asset to have in the long game. Bottled Cloister was the best card in my sideboard. Most decks cannot remove an artifact in general, and it is almost an auto-win against the White/Black aggro deck. The artifact protects your hand from any source of hand disruption, and can have the added bonus of protecting a single copy of a card against Cranial Extraction. You can sideboard this card against any deck in the format, but based on which deck you play depends on what turn you can play it on. The Cloister can always be the last card out of your hand so if they do remove it, you have not lost any card advantage. I sided this card in eighteen times during the Pro Tour.

With so many powerful enchantments and artifacts in the format, I decided I needed additional enchantment and artifact removal… so I included two copies of Terashi’s Grasp. It is very important to kill Phyrexian Arena and opposing Bottled Cloisters. I think the common consensus was that not many decks would run Grasp, and I specifically played them in order to kill Cloisters. By doing so I was able to Mind Twist my opponents several times.

Pithing Needle rounded out my sideboard, to help fill in any holes I may have in a large field. Besides the basic targets of Greater Good, Jitte, Drift of Phantasm, and Sensei’s Divining Top, I was able to lock down Orzhov Ghost Council very well. The Needle is not totally dead against Owl decks because it is a low casting cost drop, and can shut down Mikokoro, Center of the Sea.

My sideboard allowed me to address a large number of threats in general, which I felt was very important for a large field of players.

Overall, I was very happy with the deck and the sideboard during the Pro Tour. I think there are a few small things I would change if I could do it all over again. I still stand firm that I made the correct deck choice for Hawaii. The deck preformed how it was suppose to perform, against both aggressive and controlling strategies. The hard work I put into this deck was personified with its performance of 43rd place in Hawaii. I think it says a lot when you test for a certain format, and your deck performs the way it preformed during testing.

The metagame is always changing, so with every passing hour a deck can go out of date. The best you can do is to prepare yourself the best you can, and know your deck inside and out.

I will close with my new decklist that I will be playing during the Team Standard Season. This is the current version, but I will always be searching for ways to improve upon it.

Thanks for reading.

Chris Woltereck