Feature Article – Mono-White at the Nationals Qualifiers… Seriously?

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Thursday, May 20th – The day started out well enough at 2-0, wrecking Mythic and Grixis with Geopede Jund, but then in round 3, I ended up being paired against an old acquaintance of mine, Joel Allen. He was running some strange mono-White creation – I couldn’t make heads nor tails of it initially. Emeria, the Sky Ruin? Kor Cartographer? What in the name of Hazezon Tamar was going on here?

Ideally, this was going to be a report of my wonderful showing at Regionals running Geopede Jund, filled with observations, testing notes and jokes of questionable taste and humor content.

However, that would have required me to have posted a winning record.

The day started out well enough at 2-0, wrecking Mythic and Grixis, but then in round 3, I ended up being paired against an old acquaintance of mine, Joel Allen, formerly from my Eugene, Oregon group and fellow Magic Geezer. He was running some strange mono-White creation — I couldn’t make heads nor tails of it initially. Emeria, the Sky Ruin? Kor Cartographer? What in the name of Hazezon Tamar was going on here?

Hey, I’m running Jund, Slayer of the Metagame, Best Thing Since Sliced Bread. I should be able to steamroll this janky thing, no problem.

Once Pilgrim’s Eye and Kor Skyfisher starting hitting the table, however, I realized the trouble I was in, especially since I was going with a Ruinblaster-less version of Jund. Sure enough, once Joel hit seven Plains and starting recursing Skyfishers, Cartographers and Lone Missionaries, I was one seriously sad panda. Game 1 I lost by missing a couple of land drops and suddenly being behind on lands, eight to three. The second game came down to me trying to pull out a win with a Maelstrom Pulse on a Martial Coup-created soldier token, only to have it Pathed in response. Seriously, it was an utter annihilation.

Where, I asked with more than a hint of incredulity, did you come up with this contraption?

Apparently, this was one of last week’s Decks of the Day over on the mothership.

Joel reworked the deck as such:

Joel’s tweaks were to drop the Expedition Maps, find room for Everlasting Chalices for more acceleration, and put some heavy hate against planeswalker-based decks with Pithing Needles in the side. I was following his results through the day, and sure enough, he ended up going 6-1-1 (his only loss being to the dreaded Super Pals), defeating a mono-Red deck in the quarterfinals to punch his ticket to Minneapolis.

Like a crow and shiny objects, I am attracted to oddball decks like these. This particular archetype has actually been around since Zendikar’s release, and variants have popped up in the occasional Top 8 here and there, but now, maybe, it has the right toolbox to be a player in the current metagame.

So how does this… this thing work? I’d love to say that I immediately built it and threw it into my gauntlet, but my playtesting group is, in all honestly, pretty Standard-ed out. However, since I had all of the big Standard decks already built, it was easy enough to do some goldfishing. Besides, as Joel told me between rounds, “the deck pretty much plays itself.” Which it pretty much does.

This deck is really misnomered, as it’s not really a mono-White control deck as it is a mono-White combo deck…the master plan is to get to nine mana and stick a game-winning Iona, Shield of Emeria. In the meantime, the creature base both accelerates the mana and gums up the red zone, and Day of Judgment and Martial Coup clear the board as needed. Sure, there is the backup plan of winning with Soldier tokens or even Skyfisher and Pilgrim’s Eye beatdown — and, oh the shame you will feel, losing to Pilgrim’s Eye beatdown — but Iona is intended to be the primary win condition.

Bizarrely enough, Lone Missionary is probably the card that puts this over the top from “cute concept” to “actually pretty decent” — four life is nothing to sneeze at in this environment, and once you get Emeria going, four life a turn is pretty much game over against Jund, Red Deck Wins and most any other creature based deck.

In game 1 of the quarterfinals, Joel’s opponent, running Mono-Red, had him down to three life with an active Emeria and had one turn to draw a Bolt or other burn spell. She didn’t. On Joel’s upkeep, he returned a Lone Missionary to play, bounced it with a Skyfisher, then replayed it — an eight point life swing, putting the game out of reach right there.

In addition to being an efficient beater, the Skyfisher serves multiple purposes. Bounce a Wall of Omens, there’s a card drawing engine. Bounce a Cartographer or Pilgrim’s Eye, that’s more mana acceleration. Joel even got to live the dream during one match, Ringing a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, then bouncing his O-Ring with a Skyfisher when his opponent played a second. A two-for-none? Definitely some good in my book.

Path to Exile is commonly used in the deck as a mana accelerant, trading a blocker for a land, but if six Wrath effects aren’t enough to dominate the battlefield, Path is a perfectly acceptable answer. And, of course, while Oblivion Ring is your answer to planeswalkers, taking a creature out is both fine and dandy, especially when you can just use a Skyfisher to bounce it in favor of a tastier target down the line.

Seriously, if you’re running a deck that depends on turning creatures sideways, this deck is like kryptonite. If you’re name is Jund, Naya, or Mythic, it’s an uphill climb. Devout Lightcaster is brutal against Jund and Vampires, and Kor Firewalker is almost good enough to add to the main deck — almost. Despite dissing the Lone Missionaries, they really are, as mentioned, integral to the deck.

You know what else there is to like about this deck?

At a time when a deck like Super Pals or Mythic is going to set you back more than a few C-notes, this deck costs, what, maybe sixty bucks, tops? How hard is it to track down copies of Emeria, the Sky Ruin in the bulk rare folders?

“People, what if I told you there was a deck out there that beat Jund like a red-headed stepchild, slapped Mythic around like Joan Crawford on a Red Bull bender, and does to Red Deck Wins what inbred hillbillies did to Ned Beatty in Deliverance? How much would you pay for this deck? Three hundred dollars? Four hundred dollars? What if I told you, you could have this deck the low low price of only $49.99? Order within the next ten minutes, and we’ll throw in the Pocket Fisherman for free!”

If Ron Popeil is looking for a replacement, I’m certainly available.

So the deck hoses aggro strategies, that’s true. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Planeswalkers. This is not the best matchup in any way, shape or form. Joel was 1-1 against them during the day, and that one win was partially due to mana screw. It’s not unwinnable, but MWC is fighting a tough battle here. Pithing Needles in the sideboard definitely help (Joel regaled me with one game against U/W where there were seven Oblivion Rings in play, only two of which were enchanting non-Oblivion Ring targets, as the U/W player was desperately trying to keep Needles off the table). O-Rings targeting O-Rings targeting O-Rings… that would make my head hurt.

U/W also runs one of the two commonly played answers to an otherwise unstoppable Emeria, the Sky Ruin: Tectonic Edge.

Joel intuited that Pithing Needle and Oblivion Ring are your best options in this matchup. The original version ran a singleton Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. That’s actually not a bad idea, assuming you survive to get a whopping fifteen mana — not unthinkable, certainly, but perhaps a slightly cheaper Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre might be a consideration. Then again, while Ulamog does provide a “free” Vindicate, getting it countered (and losing any Emeria recursion you had going) would suck.

Luminarch Ascension isn’t bad per se, but suffers from being slow and unprotectable from opposing Oblivion Rings, sans countermagic — however, the thinking goes, there’s only so many Oblivion Rings to go around, and if one thing sticks, score one for mono-White. The Marshal’s Anthem tech, however, is intriguing, if you can punch it through, not only providing an instant army, but a pump effect that can make even a humble Lone Missionary problematic.

Planar Cleansing? Probably too expensive, hits your own stuff and is easily countered. Most planeswalker-centric decks are packing at least a few maindeck Deprives and Negates these days.

If the overload option isn’t the way to go, the best option might be “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” and find room for perhaps two copies of Gideon Jura and Elspeth, Knight Errant. Copies of those cards would then take the deck into a higher price range, true, but they might at least negate an opponent’s copies of those cards. It’s a thought, mind you; feel free to agree or disagree in the forums.

Given the effectiveness — and remarkable affordability — of this deck, this blue light special is definitely something that should be on your radar.

And, to steal a line from a popular commercial:

Playset of Jace, the Mind Sculptors: $200
Four copies of Gideon Jura: $175
The look on your opponent’s face when you beat them with Pilgrim’s Eyes: Priceless.

Live the dream, people… live the dream.