Double Or Nothing: The Whitest Of Weenies

When a card like Savannah Lions – an icon from times past! – is bought back from the wilderness, I always wonder: Is it any good these days? If Mogg Fanatic came back, would we play it (of course – it’s a goblin)? If Serra Angel came back, would we play her? Oh, hang on. She is back… And she doesn’t see much airtime. So is White Weenie any good right now? I took my new White Weenie deck through three iterations, constantly trying to find a way to beat Wake…

I’ll start by offering my heartfelt congratulations to Wizards and The Sideboard staff for the coverage at Worlds this year. Every hour, I popped back to The Sideboard to check on the English National team’s performance, and the site was being updated pretty quickly, with lots of feature matches for me to soak up. With articles about the metagame, decklists, coverage of the drafts and pods, this has to have been one of the best-covered events Wizards has run to date – and I haven’t even mentioned the video footage that’s now available! It’s a little grainy, but the footage and commentary really made up for not being there. Well done, one and all.

I’d also like to spend a short time congratulating the English team, made up of Artturi Bjork, Michael Groves and Chris Clapton, on a fantastic comeback. They didn’t do so well on the first day, sitting in 44th place with only nineteen points. The second day was the start of their recovery, with a much better showing netting thirty-three points, pushing the team up to 23rd place with 52 points in total. Bettering themselves again on day three, a further thirty-five points pushed them up into thirteenth place and, although they were probably out of contention for the finals, they had a good shot at being one of the top eight teams in the world. The final day saw them beat New Zealand, Singapore, and Greece to finish sixth. Congratulations, boys!

So; white weenie. Since the spoilers for Eighth Edition went up, there has been discussion of what white weenie will look like. I’ve seen a few deck lists here and there but nothing really caught my attention. When a card like Savannah Lions – an icon from times past! – is bought back from the wilderness, I always wonder: Is it any good these days? If Mogg Fanatic came back, would we play it (of course – it’s a goblin)? If Serra Angel came back, would we play her?

Oh, hang on. She is back… and she doesn’t see much airtime.

So is White Weenie any good right now? Can it hold its own against U/G Madness, Wake, R/G Beats and Goblin Bidding? Randy Buehler seems to think that White will get better over time, but is White’s time here now or will we need to wait until Mirrodin, or the next block?

I started my experiment with a vanilla decklist:

Vanilla White

Creatures (28):

4x Savannah Lions

4x Silver Knight

4x Whipcorder

4x Exalted Angel

4x Deftblade Elite

4x Suntail Hawk

2x Eternal Dragon

2x Frontline Strategist

Other Spells (11):

4x Glorious Anthem

3x Wrath of God

2x Decree of Justice

2x Prismatic Strands

Land (21):

11x Plains

4x Flooded Strand

3x Windswept Heath

3x Secluded Steppe

I’ve tried to make sure we get a one-drop and a two-drop with twelve one-mana creatures and eight two-mana ones. The Frontline Strategist can be a one-drop – but his real purpose, like Prismatic Strands, is to allow you to let your opponents attack straight through you while you keep up the pressure. Angel is an obvious inclusion, as many decks without spot removal have to Wrath to deal with her, and Whipcorder and Frontline Strategist can pretend to be Angels all day long. Eternal Dragon gives us a little late game – not that we want one – and it can also find our third Plains if we’re really getting stuck.

I’ve always included a Wrath-like effect in weenie decks, whether it is Earthquake in Sligh or the real Wrath, as it is here. There are times when you need to start again, and Weenie decks have a habit of coming out fast.

I picked up a post-8th R/G Beats deck and started to play out a few games. If I saw a good mix of critters, a Glorious Anthem, and an Angel, the game was probably mine. If R/G saw enough burn, a Wild Mongrel and an Elephant Guide, I was in real trouble. Wrath vindicated its place a few times – but, all in all, I was losing a lot more than I was winning. The Decree helped me out a few times, and I found the Strand very useful indeed – but more often than not I wanted to see it in the bin, not have to spend three mana to put it there.

I also tried Glory out, and swapped the Hawks for Tireless Tribes to try to give me a little madness outlet. I often found them stuck in my hand and had to up the land a few more to twenty-three to get them out more reliably, decreasing the number of Windswept Heaths as I went. Once they were in the graveyard, I found they helped me to finish off an opponent but the three mana to use their ability was expensive in such a cheap deck.

The problem seems to be that, right now, Green and Red have better weenies that work better together. Their whole curve is better, especially their three- and four-mana spells. Wild Mongrel is no slouch, either. Combine this with their spot removal and white’s lack of it and you have a real problem.

To fix the deck, I tried dropping a few things: The Strategists, Strands, and a Wrath went in order to add in Pacifism and Wing Shards. I found that the deck became much more defensive, as you always want to keep three mana back for a Shards if you have it, whilst your opponent can attack and only lose one creature. Pacifism worked well against Wild Mongrel – but, once again, it gave me the feeling that I had to sit back on defense. Maybe that’s how you beat R/G…

Next up, I played against Jeroen Remie version of Wake from Worlds. I wanted to see what the best control deck in the format would make of White, especially with four maindecked Wrath and three maindecked Moment’s Peace.

If I had an aggressive start with a Lion, a Knight, and an Anthem, then they had to have a Wrath pretty soon or I won. Moment’s Peace helped, as you’d expect, and if they cast Mana Leak on a 2/2 on turn 2 it could make all the difference. Once they get to six mana, you have to be really lucky to survive.

This is a far cry from playing against Weenie decks of old, because today’s decks are not really scary. You can’t burn them out, as R/G Beats can. You can’t combo-kill them, as Goblin Bidding can. Most importantly, though, is the fact that you can no longer cast Armageddon when they’re tapped out. Buehler’s reason for knocking Armageddon out of Seventh and keeping it out of Eighth is that they’re weakening blue enough to make casting big spells possible. From what I’ve seen at the moment, it’s only working in Onslaught Block, where the control decks look nothing like those of old. Randy said that if blue stays weak and people still don’t play big spells, they’ll look into bringing something like Armageddon back – so I wouldn’t keep your fingers crossed.

I looked long and hard at what I could do to redress the problems I was having against Wake – and all I could do really was drop a Wrath or two, hoping that Prismatic Strands would save me from an end-step Decree, and drop some 1/1 guys for more 2/2 guys instead. Nothing really worked. Nothing I could do would give me the win, apart from really good draws and overcommitting my ground forces and hoping they didn’t have a Wrath. Oh, for an Armageddon!

With this in mind, I came to the conclusion that White needs help and dropped by its ally Blue for inspiration (no pun intended). A well-placed Mana Leak, much like Circular Logic in U/G Madness, will stop a turn 4 Wrath and can win a game all on its own. Unsummon, as Jeff Cunningham has proved without a doubt, can turn around your opponent’s tempo and easily deal with any Elephant Guides your opponent may be trying to kill you with.

This also gives us valuable sideboard resources like Stifle, more counters, Callous Oppressor, Hibernation, and maybe even Upheaval!

I started by upping the mana curve to take into account the new colour requirements, and mixed up the creatures a little as follows:

White/Blue Aggro

Creatures (23):

4x Savannah Lions

4x Deftblade Elite

4x Silver Knight

4x Whipcorder

4x Spiketail Hatchling

3x Exalted Angel

Other Spells (14):

4x Glorious Anthem

3x Wrath of God

3x Unsummon

4x Mana Leak

Land (23):

12x Plains

4x Flooded Strand

3x Island

2x City of Brass

2x Skycloud Expanse

With Silver Knight, Whipcorder, Glorious Anthem, and Wrath of God in the deck, you have to keep a high number of Plains in it – but given that our new blue spells only need one blue mana, we might be able to get away with it. I was a little unhappy about losing Prismatic Strands, but you really don’t have space for too many spells.

My first few games against R/G Beats played out much better than the mono-white version of the deck had. I lost a game when I didn’t see any blue mana and couldn’t Unsummon a Wild Mongrel with a Guide on it, and I still seemed to be emptying my hand a lot quicker than the R/G player. Maybe one or two Deep Analysis, much like the Quiet Speculation version of U/G Madness and the Punisher decks, might just be the answer? That would also allow us to play just one Prismatic Strands, with more in the sideboard if we felt we needed them. Unsummon and Mana Leak performed their functions very well, although in this matchup four Unsummons and three Leaks would probably be better.

I still found that I was losing more than I was winning – but the deck was performing much, much better, and so I moved on to Wake.

My first game was, for want of a better word, perfect. First-turn Lion, second-turn Knight, third-turn Glorious Anthem with a Spiketail Hatchling and Mana Leak in hand. I snuck the Hatchling out to slow my opponent down a little more and kept the Leak back for the inevitable Wrath. It stopped the Wrath, and I nipped in for the final eight next turn. Perfect.

The next few games didn’t go as well, but I won about half of them because my counters were stopping important spells. More importantly, I was winning when I went first. Dropping spells on turns 1 and 2 that make a five-turn clock is very important. If they can stop the second 2/2, they have a much better chance of winning. I did find my hand filling up with Wrath of Gods – which are essentially useless because they’re not going to have creatures until it’s too late for you anyway most of the time – and so these could become something else. (Although what else, I really couldn’t tell you. More 2/2 guys, perhaps? Some sort of permission or control like Envelop? Maybe Deep Analysis?)

Unsummon saved a creature from a Wrath I couldn’t stop, but would also be better as something else. Syncopate, maybe? This matchup is all about the first four turns; if you can get a good, aggressive hand and stop the Wrath and one Moment’s Peace, the game may well be yours.

Once again, though, even though the deck is performing better than before, it’s not really fast enough. It really needs another, better threat than Deftblade Elite – useful as they are – in the 1cc slot. Perhaps a 2cc flier would be useful, raising the curve but providing more evasion.

With more evasion (2/2 fliers and Suntail Hawk) we could try out Curiosity. While Odyssey Block is still in, Standstill may also be a good choice, especially given the number of one-mana drops we can play. I threw the following deck together and tried it out:

Curious White

Creatures (22):

4x Savannah Lions

3x Suntail Hawk

3x Beloved Chaplain

4x Whipcorder

4x Spiketail Hatchling

4x Exalted Angel

Other Spells (15):

4x Mana Leak

4x Glorious Anthem

3x Curiosity

4x Standstill

Land (23):

10x Plains

4x Flooded Strand

4x Island

3x City of Brass

2x Skycloud Expanse

I increased the amount of blue mana a little to make casting early Standstills and Curiosities more reliable. We’ve lost a few of our good 2/2 bodies in favor of fliers, and I’ve also only dropped one more creature for an extra spell so that we can still play four Anthems and Mana Leaks, but add in the Curiosity and Standstills. When we play against R/G Beats, we’ll probably sideboard out the Leaks for Unsummon anyway.

Once again, I teed off against R/G Beats. Now, with the power of the creatures lowered on average, the Glorious Anthem becomes much more important. A Curiosity left on a flier or Beloved Chaplain for more than a few turns can hand you the game, allowing you to counter important spells and recast creatures to allow you to keep up with losing yours to their burn and as chump blockers. Angel is the second most-important card – maybe even the most important. Even so, if R/G Beats gets its characteristically fast start you’ll have trouble holding on, especially once a Chaplain or Angel has bitten the dust. Once again, I think that boarding will help a lot, with the Leaks coming out for Unsummon.

Standstill is situational, as you’d expect: Drop a flier, cast Curiosity on it, then a Lion and another critter followed by Standstill, and you’ve probably won. Get the creature burnt after only drawing one card and let them cast Wild Mongrel before you get Standstill on the board, and you’re not going to want to cast Standstill at all. The deck’s lack of removal or bounce really shows – and so perhaps the Leaks should be main deck Unsummons after all?

Finally, I played a few more games against Wake. Wake’s lack of spot removal in the early game often meant an early Curiosity would draw me three or four cards. Every Standstill that I got on the table was an advantage – as long as my attacking force was in the air. Otherwise, a cycled Decree took good care of them. I found that I started winning just over half of the games. Sometimes I’d get a good start and an Anthem. Sometimes I get fliers and Curiosity and a Wrath would only lead to me playing out three more creatures, leaving me plenty of gas to cope with a second Wrath.

Even so, Wake is obviously the better deck. If they survive the early game in good shape there is very little you can do other than hope and pray. They have more counters and, post Wake on the board, are in much better shape to pay three mana for your Mana Leaks than you are for theirs. Spiketail Hatchlings are almost useless past turn 5, other than as 1/1 fliers – and we know how useful they are.

The good news is that this deck now lets us play Stifle in our board, and we have access to all of White’s enchantment removal too. We can add one or two Wrath effects back in to kill Angels if we really need to.

Back to my original question: Is White’s time here now or will we need to wait until Mirrodin, or the next block? Well, it looks like we’re going to have to wait until Mirrodin. All of the decks above lose very little when the Odyssey Block rotates out, whilst Standard loses Wake, U/G Madness and the bulk of the cards in R/G Beats. I wouldn’t play any of the decks listed here in a serious tournament but I’d suggest that they form a good basis for White and Blue/White Weenie decks in a test gauntlet – they’re certainly in mine for now, if only to give me something to tinker with, and something different to play when I’m bored of playing Wake.

If I were going to concentrate on a deck for a creature-heavy field, I’d look at the White/Blue Aggro list above. Wrath of God and Unsummon give it the tools it needs to beat back a rush… But it needs something to push it over the edge. In a control-filled metagame, I’d start with the Curious White listing. It does have the tools to beat Control, but needs a little more power to do it – perhaps dropping the Chaplains and putting in something bigger. Silver Knight could be bought back in. Maybe Dawn Elemental deserves a test ride?

I’m not the biggest fan of White Weenie, but I’ll be glad if I start to see it back in Standard after such a long time in the wilderness. Much like Goblin-based decks, it’ll always be around in some form; it just remains to be seen if that form is good enough to compete.


Jim Grimmett

Team PhatBeats