This is the first of a three part series exploring what Mike Turian recently called “the only noble deck” in Extended: White Weenie.
For this first section I spent a lot of time researching the mono-White Weenie deck played by some pretty notable pros at PT: Columbus, including Aether Vial innovator Jelger Wiegersma, Slide ruler Gabe Walls, and the simply excellent Neil Reeves. For this section, I ran White Weenie up against its most extreme matchups, being two builds of the Rock and Nick West’s Top 8 deck on the bad side, and two hapless Red Decks on Mr. Brightside, including a templated Goblin deck and Shuuhei Nakamura’s Red Deck Wins.
For the next section, I will run the same deck up against some other popular decks, mostly combo decks from the Top 8, and in the finale, I’ll present a new version of White Weenie, including a rundown of all the matchups for both the Columbus deck and the new version, comparing them and explaining the changes I made. Look for Part Two at the beginning or middle of next week, and Part Three on, ahem, “Flores Friday”. [We’re not calling it that, I don’t care how hard you try to make it michaelj day. – Knut, firmly putting his foot down]
Before we merrily roll along, here is the baseline White Weenie that I used for the testing. In case there is any version control conflict, it is the main Neil ran in Columbus:
The first two matchups I went with were two extreme versions of The Rock. At Columbus, Gabe talked about Pernicious Deed decks being the worst matchups for White Weenie, so I wanted to see just how bad they could get. The one I figured would be the most devastating was Torben Twiefel’s deck (designed and played by a cadre of players including Hans Joachim Hoh, Roland Bode, and the Zink brothers), the highest finishing version of Columbus’s most played deck.
Red Rock over WW 9-1
This matchup was, not surprisingly, a complete and utter blowout in favor of Red Rock. Here’s the problem: Red Rock’s cards are all better than White Weenie’s cards straight up. Line up some average draws between the decks and you’ll see what I mean: Isamaru, Hound of Konda is a 2/2; Solemn Simulacrum is a 2/2. Does Isamaru really want to battle Jens Thoren? Samurai of the Pale Curtain is good at fighting; Wall of Blossoms is better at blocking. Down the line it’s like this on a great many creature-vs.-creature matchups.
So WW has to go O one of two ways to legitimately take a game. Either it can get a blowout beatdown draw with its 2/x guys and smash The Rock to death (hopefully with The Rock drawing no mana acceleration), or it has to play out just more stuff than The Rock and work the numbers for damage, praying that Pernicious Deed isn’t played within a relevant window. There are serious problems with both plans. In the first case, well… White Weenie had some awesome draws that punch for 19 or so damage… and just don’t finish.
The White Weenie deck’s only reach (ability to deal damage without the aid of creature combat) is 3 Cursed Scrolls. Knowing this, the Twiefel deck, can actually play battered wife and take beats to set up a Cranial Extraction on Cursed Scroll with a reasonable expectation of winning on one every single time if Pernicious Deed shows up anywhere before the 20th point. Similarly, the nature of Cursed Scroll itself makes it a poor threat in this matchup. As a card, it is notoriously vulnerable to Pernicious Deed, but only works if the White Weenie deck aggressively plays out its hand. Conversely, if White Weenie holds Cursed Scroll back, it is just going to lose sometimes multiple Scrolls to a mid-game Cabal Therapy.
Of course the bigger problem is Pernicious Deed itself. The Twiefel deck, with Vampiric Tutor and Eternal Witness will routinely play three or more Pernicious Deeds per game in this matchup, with only one ever really needed to win most games. The baseline assumption in this matchup is that the White Weenie deck is filled with all tiny threats with very little pump or reach, and Pernicious Deed is literally the perfect foil for that kind of offense… But this analysis does not go far enough. The only real method for card advantage in the White Weenie deck is Ramosian Sergeant, and Sarge is really only good at one thing: getting a bunch of Whipcorders. This sets up exactly the core conflict of Masques Block Constructed where the two best creatures in the format were Ramosian Sergeant (best threat) and Mageta the Lion (even better answer). White Weenie can theoretically create a domino effect of +14 turn advantage via a single Ramosian Sergeant, but with sufficient life total, any amount of Rebels can be immediately quashed by a single Pernicious Deed. In this rare case, it might actually be better if Sarge put the follow-up creature in hand rather than directly in play.
The only thing I didn’t like about Red Rock in this matchup is a lack of main deck life gain. While other versions of the deck have Ravenous Baloth, Twiefel’s deck has to play a conservative game for card advantage with no margin for error in the damage department. Therefore it can conceivably lose to an all-out attack with a Cursed Scroll held back for the last four or points straight to the head.
The next version of The Rock I ran was the one piloted by Jeroen Remie (and StarWarsKid!) to a money finish (and not!). Remie’s version is as non-traditional in its way as Twiefel’s, though it sticks to Sol Malka’s two favorite colors without branching into Red for Flametongue Kavu.
Beatdown Rock over WW 7-3
The first win for White Weenie was a dramatic first turn double 2/x draw with Crusade in grip. The Remie deck had Deed but no mana accelerator. Rock Duressed the Crusade, planning to win anyway… and White Weenie tore a second Crusade, playing Cursed Scroll. 6+6+6+2=pretty swift kill.
That said, the matchup was still pretty lopsided, if less lopsided than Red Rock. Twiefel’s version has the second best card in the matchup, a creature big enough to take out any White Weenie but Exalted Angel in a fight, even with a Crusade in play, after already killing probably the best creature on the way down.
Also in the neighborhood of “bad matchups” is Nick West’s U/W control deck. In this matchup, it’s actually a U/W combo deck looking for Isochron Scepter + Orim’s Chant, because it doesn’t do a whole lot of controlling otherwise.
NO Stick over WW 8-2
I figure White Weenie would do a lot better in sideboarded games with its Disenchants in, but for Game One, the noble little guys have no way to disrupt West’s combo. On Mr. Brightside, because West’s two copies of Wrath of God are in his sideboard, White Weenie can spread its forces across the table like dem legz without fear. This allows for Ramosian Sergeant-into-Whipcorder sequences that allow White Weenie to do the actual controlling of the game. In fact, both of the White Weenie wins in my 10 game set involved Whipcorder tapping Exalted Angel to get damage through turn after turn.
Some of the White Weenie creatures are annoying for West, notably Mother of Runes and Benevolent Bodyguard. This is because the U/W deck sometimes has to set up Isochron Scepter + Fire/Ice to either buy time or win, and those two one-drops can mess with the math. Most of the rest of the creatures just take turns jumping into the graveyard.
All the above matchups went about how I thought that they would. Like I said, I wanted to look at this deck with very extreme lenses, so I went in the complete opposite direction for the last two: Red Decks.
Neither one of these matchups turned out anything like I thought they would, by the way.
You’ve probably seen that list 100 times by now. It is Shuhei Nakamura deck from the finals of Columbus. I actually saw Nakamura beat Gabe Walls pretty easily at Columbus, so I thought that the matchup would be pretty competitive, even though White Weenie was billed as the Red Deck killer. From my perspective, both decks have a Cursed Scroll long game and one beefy morph threat, but Red Deck Wins has a better overall game. Both decks have 2/1 guys for 1, 1/1 card advantage engines for 1, and some other cards… but I think those “other cards” are better from the Red Deck side. Barring a bunch of Crusades or maybe an explosive Mox opening, I thought Red Deck wins would hold its own, going in the neighborhood of 4-6. Imagine my surprise at:
WW over RDW 9-1
Nine to one? I mean the n of these playtest trials is small, but even so, that seemed crazy. What’s worse is that Red Deck Wins seemed in control of a lot of the games, burning away the White Weenie creatures, getting Lavamancers and Cursed Scrolls online… and then the games would just end. One game, White Weenie kept a one-land hand, Red Deck Wins drew three Pillage, and White Weenie won. More often, White Weenie might have one guy left, but he’d be a 4/4 and Red Deck Wins would be out… Maybe it’s like the dead guy said, “It’s the last fatty that kills you.”
A surprisingly powerful interaction was Samurai of the Pale Curtain v. Seal of Fire, Mogg Fanatic, and Onslaught fetchlands. In a lot of attrition fights, RDW can play tradesies and then clean up the mess with Grim Lavamancer. Not in this matchup. RDW has to stop Samurai of the Pale Curtain first, or everything else starts looking pretty weak. When WW taps for the Sam on turn 2 and RDW has a Pup in play and a Magma Jet in grip that’s of course beautiful, but anything after a Crusade has already hit really exposes Nakamura’s lack of Volcanic Hammers.
The more I played these games out, the more I understood why White was winning, I came to realize that the reason the Red Deck was failing was the reason Why Dave Price Goes Second. Sure it picked up some free virtual card advantage or some approximation thereof by having cards like Samurai of the Pale Curtain or Mother of Runes absorbing long game burn potential, but overall, the White Weenie deck just has more cards. It only has 18 land, and that means it can pick up slightly more beef over time. Wasteland is pretty irrelevant and the curve more-or-less stops on two. When there is a Crusade in play, Nakamura’s deck typically has to spend two answers on almost every threat. As a subtle corollary, because almost all of its burn is base-two damage (no Lava Dart, no Volcanic Hammer), it usually wastes a point on every exchange (two on a Ramosian Sergeant or Savannah Lions, four on a 2/2 with Crusade in play, six on an Exalted Angel, etc.) RDW is usually the most efficient deck in the tournament, consistent if not flashy, but the WW cards in WW add up in a way that poor RDW just starts to fall behind in the mid-game and has trouble catching up again.
That said, I still think that 9-1 is more than a little inflated (see also Part 3 of this 3 part series).
The last matchup I want to talk about today is b/R Goblins. Just to mix it up a little, I didn’t go with Ruel’s list (which I had been working on with Clair for a couple of weeks), and instead used a deck based on Gerard Fabiano from Columbus. As a caveat, I didn’t use exactly Gerard’s list, and instead went with some changes that he, Clair, and I talked about recently. But this article isn’t about Goblins… look for that update during Ted’s upcoming Star-Studded Extended Extravaganza next week or something (what a tease).
Anyway, Gerard had a money finish in Columbus, but told me that his path to the Top 8 was largely barred by having to play both Jelger and Gabe with their Red-eradicating WW decks. So especially with the blowout matchup against Red Deck Wins, I thought White Weenie would have a crazy matchup against b/R Goblins… but it ended up pretty lopsided the other way.
b/R over WW 7-3
To be honest, I picked up a lot of Goblin tech from a deck that I saw beat Neil on Day One, so I figured the new version would be at least pretty good against White Weenie. The Goblins I’m tinkering with main decks a Goblin that had Jon Sonne saying “if I knew he was a Goblin, I wouldn’t have even considered another deck” at dinner the other night. The deck is still in the tuning stages… Like I said, I will probably go over Goblins in greater detail next week. That said, I can’t imagine it gets a lot better for White after board.
So through the first four or five matchups – which we knew would be extreme coming in – White Weenie had one stupidly good matchup and four unpleasant potential foes. Next time, I am going to run White up against Ravager, Mongrel, Shaman, and other two-drops, such as Spiritualist, Aquamoeba, and Meddling Mage. If I can hook up with Osyp in time, I’ll also report on Cloud of Faeries and Nightscape Familiar beatdown (because honestly I am not good enough to play Desire myself), but don’t count on it. Maybe by Part Three.
Bonus Section: Relative Mathematics
This story takes place about two weeks before Christmas. I tried to fill it out into a full article, but failed to be able to do so when it was still fresh in my mind. In my defense, I was a mite tipsy at the time. I am going to spin it like it happened yesterday, but it didn’t.
Anyway, this idea of “relative” mathematics has been bugging me for a while. Like why is a card like Disrupt so devastating when it works right but no one is impressed when you Stroke for nine instead of six? Now here’s my thinking: the difference between one card for zero (not really two cards for one), especially on one mana, is much greater than the percentage difference between six and nine cards.
Like on this Friday night. I knew I was going to a show but I had some time to kill between the end of work and the show. I didn’t have anything to read so I called my friend Josh Ravitz and he told me to buy Hot Fuss by The Killers but I said I wanted a book, so he said to buy Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson. Now you might not know this about me, but even though Josh started off as some barn from whom I borrowed a foreign Thran Lens for Regionals 2000 Napster, he has ended up over the ensuing several years to be one of my best friends. I celebrate his victories on and off the Red Zone as my own, and consider his defeats to be affronts to the integrity of the universe itself; in what may be the worst admission in hull history, I have learned to do pretty much whatever Josh says, pretty much all of the time. He turned me onto the Cardigans and Rilo Kiley (my favorite bands), as well as Neal Stephenson (my favorite author). But anyway, my nominal reason to be in Borders was to buy a book for my wife, and as they didn’t have it in stock, I just left, intending to hit a Barnes & Noble on the way. I also did not buy this book of pulp short stories edited by Michael Chabon, even though it looked awesome.
Now I wanted to get these fingerless mittens for my wife from Benetton, so I walked up to Benetton and did so. Apparently these fingerless mittens are the nut high girl gloves or something because I got the last pair, hidden behind the counter, saved by the manager for her own daughter, one infinitely more than zero.
But by the time I was done, it was almost time for the show. I had actually walked well past where I had to be, almost into the Village, so it really pained me to have to run an $8 cab to go back into the Lower East Side. Why did this $8 matter? Relative mathematics. Eight is infinitely more than zero, even when it’s just eight.
So I was hanging in the bar, fuming about the eight dollar cab ride, buying nine dollar beers. I bought one for me. I bought one for my friend Beth. Beth and I chuckled at being “on the list.” We were so cool. Curtain. I was on the list, due entirely to an oversight, she had to fork over ten bucks. Haw haw. It’s only ten bucks, but relative to free? Ten’s infinitely more than zero bucks. I bought her another beer and told her to shut up.
Show’s over and I’m a little sloshed. Some dude from the Voice starts throwing tee shirts from the stage. I yank one out of the hand of a girl behind me. Come on! Free Tee Shirt! Okay. Time to wander over to Katz’s for alone time with some pastrami. Multiple nine dollar beers, a fifteen dollar sandwich, and a wearable billboard later, I’m still pissed about the original eight bucks. Sense? Less. It’s all relative.
At this point I decide to walk up to Union Square. I’m pretty tipsy, wandering through darkened alleys frequented by undesirables, so what do I do? Call Zvi, of course!
By the time I am done stumbling around the city slash chatting with Zvi, Barnes and Noble is closed. So instead I go to Virgin. I didn’t buy either of the books I intended, but they did have the short story collection I had seen earlier; illustrated by Hellboy’s Mike Mignola, it included tales by Lemony Snicket, Jonathan Lethem, Stephen King, and Margaret Atwood, not to mention a truly life-alterning introduction by my old buddy Chabon. I bought it and Hot Fuss.
I’m not sure what this has to do with anything, but I pretty much just stole two minutes of your life. Don’t worry, you have plenty more.