Drafting White/Black in CCB

Anton Jonsson is widely considered to be one of the best drafters in the world, so when he writes about Limited, you best take notice. Today Anton provides a masterclass in how to draft what he considers to be the best archetype in CCB Limited, complete with the theory behind why this archetype works. Draft noobie or wisened veteran of the Pro Tour, this article has something for players at every level.

When I wrote my Nagoya tournament report, the idea was that I would follow that up with a few strategy articles. Ted wanted me to write dilemmas or similar for Betrayers, but I declined since I knew I wouldn’t get much chance to play with Betrayers before the Magic Online release (the local Magic scene in Umeå, Sweden isn’t exactly that big). So nothing happened for a while, but now that I have had sufficient time to play with the new set I figured I would share some of my experiences. More specifically, I am going to talk about the archetype which I feel is the strongest in Champions/Champions/Betrayers boosterdraft; White/Black Spirits.

So what makes this archetype so good? And what changed? In triple Champions draft the most powerful archetype was probably Red/Black or maybe the Dampen Thought-deck and its offspring. Both these decks got a lot worse with one less pack of Champions though, Red/Black is still one of the stronger decks but more so because of the strength of Black than the strength of Red. And the Dampen Thought-deck is all but dead. It’s still possible to draft weird Splice-decks but a lot of the time they just wont come together like they used to.

At the same time, White gained more from Betrayers than any other color. The whole Samurai-theme admittedly got a bit weaker, but we aren’t looking for Guys With Swords in White/Black. If you look at the top commons in White in Betrayers you will notice a theme, they all seem designed to stall the game (and in the case of Waxmane Baku, stall the game and then open up for a lethal alpha strike). Now, everyone seems to be talking about aggression, tempo and beatdown these days, and yes there are inherent advantages to being the aggressor, but these advantages are not impossible to overcome. In fact, White is perfectly suited to do so. Also, “tempo” is not something that is exclusive to aggressive decks. It’s just that when defensive decks are ahead on tempo, the result is somewhat different. When an aggressive deck is ahead on tempo it pushes to win the game, while a defensive deck that’s ahead on tempo is just making it harder and harder for the opponent to mount a comeback.

To further explain why I think Black/White is particularly strong as well as give some pointers on how to draft it, I will list some of the key factors to keep in mind:

Early Defense

We need to not get run over. For our tactic to work we need a buffer of life when we enter the midgame. Without this buffer of life, Virtual Card Advantage (discussed below) will be a lot harder to achieve since we might just get swarmed. Luckily we have a lot of cards that help our early defense. Black has a host of quality two-drops and White has what might be the best one in the format (counting only commons) in Kami of Ancient Law. This card would be great without the ability, and the ability just puts it over the top. What about Nezumi Cutthroat you say? Sure, in a general sense it might be a stronger card than the Kami (and I’m not even convinced of this), but in Black/White it certainly isn’t. White also has the often-laughed-at Harsh Deceiver. I’ll admit he isn’t the most exciting of creatures, but you get him late and most of the time he will get the job done.

Virtual Card Advantage

This has been discussed in several articles. Basically, Virtual Card Advantage is achieved when one of your cards nullify more than one of your opponent’s cards. Interestingly, it is also one of the most important concepts in CCB draft. You see actual card advantage is pretty hard to come by in this format, which means that any card that can invalidate several of your opponent’s cards becomes very good. This is what makes a card like Kabuto Moth insane (and no, there is no non-rare card you should be picking over Moth). Split-Tail Miko falls under the same category, but there are also lots of lower-end cards that can satisfy this criteria. Even the aforementioned Harsh Deceiver can fulfill this role sometimes, for example if it’s keeping a 2/1 and a 3/3 creature at bay.

Chain, Chain Chaaaaaaaayne... Chain of Souls.

“Normal” Card Advantage

In CCB this is limited to soulshift, discard and a few more or less suboptimal card-drawers (in blue). In Black/White your primary tool for this kind of card advantage is a soulshift-chain. Luckily, this is not hard to come by. Scuttling Death somehow still gets passed much later than it should be and I’m never surprised to get Hundred-Talon Kami as a 9th or 10th pick. Moonlit Strider is another obvious addition that not only soulshifts, but slices and dices too. Black also offers two other card-advantage tools – discard (in the form of Waking Nightmare and Three Tragedies, with the latter still getting passed way too late in drafts) and Soulless Revival. Now, Black/White isn’t really filled to the brim with Arcanes but having 4-5 of them is not that unusual. Add in the fact that Revival can help you “restart” a soulshift chain and you have to wonder why Revival still is a 9th to 10th pick a lot of the time.

Finally, even though it’s an uncommon, I will make a short comment on Tallowwisp. A 1/3 Spirit for two mana is actually a very good creature in this format. Add just one Cage of Hands or even an Indomitable Will and it turns into a respectable first pick. With two or more good targets for it, there is no common I would pick over it. Yet again, this is a card that gets passed far too often.

Protecting your Assets

The downside of Virtual Card Advantage is that it is vulnerable. While that Moth might be holding off a small army, one single removal spell will nullify it all. Luckily for us, we have several ways of protecting that Kabuto Moth from getting killed (or getting it back into play with soulshift or Soulless Revival). The fact that Moth protects itself to some extent (same for Split-Tail Miko, but much less so) once again proves the insanity of the Moth. The other cards to mention here are Blessed Breath and of course Moonlit Strider. It is probably possible to write a whole article just on what Moonlit Strider can do. The short version is that he stalls the game, protects your key cards and soulshifts that Moth back if it died before you put the Strider into play.


This is the main reason why Black needs to be part of the equation. The biggest weakness of Black/White (at least when drafted the way I think it should be) is that generally, it doesn’t win quickly. This means that opponents get on average more draw steps to draw whatever ridiculous bomb they might have drafted. Now, when I am talking about “bombs” it is a very small group of cards. Yosei or even Hikari aren’t really bombs in this sense of the word, since all these cards do is attack or block. Myojin of Cleansing Fire is actually a bigger threat. The worst kind is obviously the recurring removal, such as Kumano. This is in contrast to other less controlling decks, where “just” an undercosted fatty can spell doom a lot of the time. As a footnote, because of the way the “broken” creatures are divided into Spirits and non-Spirits, Rend Flesh is a much better card for Black/White than Rend Spirit, and Befoul is better than both (though not by a large degree).


We need to win somehow don’t we? A lot of the time, this is more or less an afterthought in Black/White. If everything works out our opponent will soon find himself in a more or less hopeless board position, either through trading our Spirits for their creatures and then soulshifting them back or on the back of cards like Moth and Miko. There are also a few cards that are especially good at ending the game, most notably Waxmane Baku and of course, Devouring Greed. The fact that Devouring Greed became a less desirable choice for most Black decks also helps us, since now you can actually get it passed to you later in packs.

So, what would a typical Black/White deck look like? Since it’s difficult to discuss in general I figured I would list a few of the decks that I have drafted on Magic Online and comment on the strength and weakness of each deck. I can’t really recall how well these particular decks fared.

2 Kami of Ancient Law

1 Cruel Deceiver

1 Nezumi Cutthroat

1 Soulless Revival

2 Split-Tail Miko

1 Wicked Akuba

1 Takenuma Bleeder

1 Gibbering Kami

1 Harsh Deceiver

1 Kami of Old Stone

1 Moonlit Strider

2 Hundred-Talon Kami

2 Scuttling Death

1 Pus Kami

1 Hideous Laughter

1 Horobi’s Whisper

1 Befoul

1 Devouring Greed

8 Plains

10 Swamps

This one illustrates a few things. First of all, there aren’t that many quality 3-drops for this archetype. Unless you get several Moths or Waxmanes your three-mana slot will be a bit lacking. As long as you have enough two-drops, it won’t be that big a deal. Even if this deck had access to something like Nezumi Ronin or Kitsune Riftwalker, they wouldn’t get played. The Bleeder isn’t particularly great either, but he survives the Infest and is a really solid blocker. This deck has a very nice soulshift-chain with the Scuttling/Hundred-Talon and even the mighty Pus Kami. Somehow there seems to be some “fear” of playing expensive cards in this format. That’s fine by me though, I’m more than happy to get these cards late. Notable sideboard cards for this deck included Skullsnatcher (who doesn’t really add anything to a deck with more than enough 2-drops) and Honor-Worn Shaku. Yes, the Shaku is a bad card, but I remember being tempted to play it in this deck. In the end I didn’t really know what to cut for it and I didn’t really want to play only 17 lands, which is why it remained in the sideboard.

1 Kiku, Night’s Flower

1 Nezumi Cutthroat

2 Split-Tail Miko

1 Kabuto Moth

1 Kami of the Waning moon

1 Takenuma Bleeder

1 Gibbering Kami

1 Harsh Deceiver

1 Moonlit Strider

1 Nagao, Bound by Honor

1 Kami of Tattered Shoji

1 Okiba-Gang Shinobi

1 Scuttling Death

2 Blessed Breath

1 Indomitable Will

1 Otherworldly Journey

1 Soulless Revival

1 Ghostly Prison

1 Horobi’s Whisper

1 Waking Nightmare

9 Plains

9 Swamps

This deck is actually a bit of a mess. The cards in this one are obviously stronger than in the first case, but this one doesn’t have nearly the same synergy. This shows that you won’t always get the same kind of deck and that there are no real “surefire” strategies in draft. Sometimes your Black/White deck will turn into a collection of Samurais, Rats and Ninjas, just because that was what was in the packs. Don’t despair though, decks like that are by no means horrible. This one is something of an “in-between”, which is sadly, the worst kind of draft deck. Following up a turn 4 Nagao with a turn 5 Harsh Deceiver doesn’t really scream synergy. The card quality together with some nice splice-action saves this deck though.

You may have noticed that this deck is totally devoid of any pick order list. I didn’t include one because I think that a lot of the time they hurt more than they help. Also, other articles have been written that do include these lists, and while I might not always agree with those, I am sure that others wouldn’t agree with my list if I had one. And a list can’t tell you if you should pick Waxmane Baku or Horobi’s Whisper in your third pack, since that list has no idea of what cards you have so far. I will say however that if you are drafting a heavy Spirit theme, cards like Nezumi Cutthroat and Kitsune Blademaster become a lot less desirable, while cards like Hundred-Talon Kami move up on the list. Not exactly rocket science, but there you have it.

Help Pick My Next Article Topic

Hopefully this article managed to give you some insight on how I think this archetype is best drafted. If something is unclear, then feel free to ask about it in the forums and I will do my best to further explain myself. Actually, my current plan for coming articles is to have you (the reader) ask questions and me (the so-called expert) answer them. For now, I will limit the questions to those regarding Limited in general or CCB-limited in particular (if you want to know something about Constructed there are many others that can give you better answers anyway). So if you have a question send it to [email protected] and I’ll try to include it in my next article. Also keep in mind that the more details you provide in the question, the better I can answer it. It’s really hard to answer a question such as “Should I draft card A or card B?” without any sort of context.

Invitational Musings

Finally, I will share some of my thoughts on the Invitational. All the votes are in and I didn’t get an invitation. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I would also be lying if I said I was surprised. I didn’t really try to lobby for votes, not because I don’t want to go (the only people that seem to not want to go are Germans who have already played in at least one Invitational) because I do, just as much as everyone else. It just seems wrong for me to suddenly start lobbying for votes after years of just silently playing the game. I think it sounds a bit pathetic. “Hi, you don’t know me and I haven’t really done anything for you, but please vote for me!” Apparently though, I’m not good enough to get invited on merit alone. Luckily, I have already devised a four-step plan for next year (which should be fool-proof):

Fool or Fool Proof?  Maybe a bit of both.

1. Stop complaining to R&D when I think a draft format is bad.

2. Buy several funny hats. Also buy a few not-so-funny T-Shirts.

3. Strongly consider re-invoking the power of The Mullet. This might screw up #2 somewhat though. Or take up Salsa. Can’t be that hard.

4. Move to other part of the world. Check with Wizards that this part of the world (unlike Scandinavia) is an “expanding market”.

Until next time, good luck with those drafts and sealed decks!

Anton Jonsson

No Sir Not Bitter At All