Food For Thought: Not Boros Deck Wins: Rethinking WW/R

I wanted to take White Weenie in a new direction. It ended up being an old and perhaps unfashionable one — WW/R. That said, I do not call my deck a Boros Deck Wins, because it operates with important differences. This week, I want to show you how I got WW/R to fit my playing style and work in a shifting metagame, while discussing some new and exciting tech on the way.

I wanted to take White Weenie in a new direction. It ended up being an old and perhaps unfashionable one – WW/R. That said, I do not call my deck a Boros Deck Wins, because it operates with important differences. This week, I want to show you how I got WW/R to fit my playing style and work in a shifting metagame, while discussing some new and exciting tech on the way. As in my previous article, I hope that you find my article worth reading because my insights are based not on empty theory but on real testing from the best and most competitive format there is – Magic Online sanctioned play.

First let me review the build I ended up playing late last week and why I am starting something new.

Near the end, I was experimenting with Devouring Light or Reciprocate instead of Repeal. This was a fairly solid deck. Unfortunately, the lack of the Dissension shockland really did hurt – this was a deck that want to make sure it could counter on turn 2 against certain matchups (due to a lack of removal – a resolved Dark Confidant would often be gg), but also wanted to cast Hand of Honor and Paladin en-Vec early.

The main reason I abandoned this deck, however, is that Hokori is no longer good. It’s been said that Hokori was the one reason to play White Weenie. This is no longer true – with Izzet Signets and Karoos running around everywhere, Hokori may only be a very temporary slow-down, and sometimes not enough to win. Fitting a four-caster in was always hard, and it really has to be game-breaking to work. If it’s just an inferior Exhaustion on legs, it becomes unviable.

In the end, this deck wanted to control the board, but it is too hard without the cards from Dissension. Furthermore, decks like Ghost Dad can get a lock that is very hard to get past, unless you have stronger reach elements than I had. To solve these problems, I decided to create a Boros build. I’m a few months behind the fashion, but I still thought that there was a good Boros deck out there. Just because Boros was in the large set not the most recent one does not mean it is hopeless.

I almost proved myself wrong, however, trying a lot of janky builds that did not work. I looked at Premier Event winning decks and tried to emulate them, adding a few improvements here and there.

I fell flat on my face. The problem with these aggressive Boros decks was that they were trying to be like Zoo, only worse. They ran Scorched Rusalka, Savannah Lions or Suntail Hawk, and Isamaru. Even worse, they sometimes ran both Paladin en-Vec and Giant Solifuge. The extreme burn strategy, using cards like Lava Spike and Glacial Ray, also failed. I played lots of 8-mans, won a few matches here and there based on the deck’s fast clock, and got creamed for most of the time. I lost rating points.

So I went back to the drawing board. I revisited the mana base and creature configurations of my earlier WW/G and WW/U builds, and changed that to Boros. It worked, and this build has put me back in the game, consistently winning 8-mans.

(Before I move on, let me say that I have read two recent articles about WW/R… one by Antonino DeRosa and one by Tsukamoto Tenma. I did not like these articles, because I felt their decks were just inferior versions of Zoo. I will not compare my decks to theirs in this article, however, because I did not have those articles in mind when I built and tuned this deck. In fact, my main criticism of those articles was that they seemed purely theoretical exercises, without any real testing data. Anyway, you know I would never do that to you! I will say, however, that Tenma’s article was better than Antonio’s.)

Of course I pack four Jitte in the maindeck. Many of the pros haven’t been doing this lately, and I think this policy needs to be changed. It is better to have some insurance against aggro in game 1, and Jitte can always be swapped out for Kami of Ancient Law in the matchups, like Heartbeat, where it doesn’t help too much.

You will discover some things noticeably missing. Where is the Paladin en-Vec, for one? He is undeniably good, proven by the fact that his price on MTGO has almost tripled in the past few days. But he doesn’t fit this deck’s curve. Having three spells with a converted mana cost of three would be too much, and both the Chars and Flames of the Blood Hand are more important than the Paladin en-Vec. I don’t rescind my advocacy of the Paladin in my previous builds, especially the WW/U, but this deck needs reach because it lacks raw power, and having the full set of expensive burn really gives it that. At best, Paladin en-Vec holds a Jitte and ends the game. At worst, he is inefficient. In between, he can act as an invincible wall. But what can that wall kill? Only the smallest of weenies. I prefer to go more aggressive than that.

I also do not pack Shock in the maindeck, because for this deck, reach to the opponent’s head, and thus packing power in each burn spell, is more important than the ability to kill the turn 1 or turn 2 plays. Furthermore, Volcanic Hammer is shown to be much better than Shock because of the prevalence of three-toughness creatures in the current top tier decks. Volcanic Hammer can kill Kird Ape, Kami of the Crescent Moon, and maybe most importantly, Tallowisp.

A surprising inclusion is the four Leonin Skyhunter. They’ve been ignored recently, but I think they are the perfect reach element. They can often do six or more damage, and they can sometimes win games themselves by carrying Jittes over the opposing team’s head and then frying those creatures while remaining alive.

Lastly, but most importantly, this deck is geared to kill all sorts of Orzhov builds. The inclusion of not only Hand of Honor, but also three Eight-and-a-Half-Tails in the maindeck and one in the sideboard, really hurts Black and White. It also helps in other matchups, whether helping block Jitte-carrying Loxodon Hierarchs or acting as additional reach, racing past Angel of Despair for the win. More unexpectedly, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails can remove Faith’s Fetters from a Jitte that has already stocked up loads of counters, or remove a Pillory of the Sleepless.

In a multi-color environment, protection becomes better. The best tech in this build is the four Empty-Shrine Kannushi in the sideboard. They sideboard in for Savannah Lions against Orzhov builds and the few other WW decks you will face, and their most valuable role may be helping win the Jitte war by making the opposing Jitte useless.

Matchups and Sideboarding


Owling Mine – Since burn makes up a full fourth of the deck, Owling Mine is almost a bye. It doesn’t hurt that this deck, like all my WW builds, runs the full complement of eight two-power one-drops.

Gruul Beats – This is on the whole still a good matchup even without Paladin en-Vec, but Burning-Tree Shaman makes Jitte less impressive, and that hurts. On the other hand, Leonin Skyhunter provides much needed reach, and your higher complement of burn wins some races with topdecks. In the first game, Helixes can sometimes make sure Moldervine Cloak doesn’t resolve. After sideboarding, Devouring Light should solve the problem.

Heartbeat of Spring – Fishbowling before the opponent can is better than trying to use Hokori to disrupt them. There is less room for error. The four Kami of Ancient Law in the sideboard also help.

Orzhov Aggro – Even with all the built-in hate, this matchup is not quite a breeze. The most important thing may be getting them down to burn range, regardless of the sacrifice. More than in other matchups, intelligent play is a must.

Roxodon Hierarchy – You are too fast for this deck, and what’s more you have some staying power. Flames of the Blood Hand is key here.

U/R Tron – The amount of burn you have should make this a good matchup. This is the one instance where you do not want to overextend into a Pyroclasm.

Sea Stompy
Greater Good
Red Deck Wins


Ghost Dad – Even with all the hate, it only becomes close to even, not favorable. Ghost Dad is simply a great deck against other aggro decks. The path to victory is outracing their clunky setups and going straight for the head. Eight-and-a-Half-Tails really helps neutralize their removal.

Zoo – This matchup is harder than Gruul beats, mostly because their burn can disrupt your Jitte tempo. On the other hand, their pain from lands helps you reach for the kill.

Orzhov Aggro-Control – If Orzhov packs Descendant of Kiyomaro, the matchup becomes unfavorable. It is that simple.

Magnivore – Since this deck has no disruption and no Paladin en-Vecs, this depends largely on the coin flip. Magnivore decks have started using a much heavier suite of counterspells, and that hurts this deck, because the kill often depends on topdecking lands to play burn that is stranded in the hand.

Enduring Ideal
Firemane Weirding
Ghazi Good

My own testing gave good results. As usual, I am the master of playable tier 1.5 decks. I love winning on my own terms:

MTGO 8-man, April 1, 2006, 12:20 (1st round start)-1:14 (3rd round start) pm EST

Round 1 versus Orzhov Rats played by Landora (Diplomats):

We both mulligan in game 1. I am disappointed because I did not get a one-drop. Fortunately, I am able to untap with Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, largely I suspect, because of the clunkiness of Landora’s Karoos. I don’t think those are worth running in an aggressive deck, even if they do help get Ghost Council of Orzhova out. Eight-and-a-Half-Tails gets me a two-for-one, when Landora chumps with a Paladin-en-Vec so he can Mortify him. I get two Hand of Honors, a Jitte, and some burn, and though Landora gets some crazy card advantage with multiple Ravenous Rats, I am persistent, using Jitte counters not to kill creatures but to deal damage to him. I win, with a combination of unblockable Hand of Honors and burn. His Teysa, Orzhov Scion is an annoyance, but Jitte counters take care of those Spirit tokens. 1-0

In game 2, I sideboard in all four Empty-Shrine Kannushi, the remaining Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, and both Guerrilla Tactics. Landora quickly gets a Jitte on a Hand of Cruelty, for which I have no answer. 1-1

Game 3 has me curving out with early Kannushi and Hand, which I send past his creatures to do some damage. I have burn, which I at first hold back. Hand does an amazing amount of damage, though the Jitte he carries is unfortunately killed by a Terashi’s Grasp. I discard a Guerrilla Tactics to a Shrieking Grotesque, whereupon I unleash the rest of my burn and kill Landora. 2-1

Round 2 versus Owling Mine played by xoni (SPANISH WIZS):

Game 1 has me loading out creatures followed by burn to the head. I could barely tell whether he was playing Magnivore or Owl, as all I saw were bounce spells. 1-0

Game 2, which I did not sideboard for, is much more risky. I don’t get in too many beats before the Exhaustion and bounce spells take their toll. He gets down an Ebony Owl Netsuke and I actually start taking damage. Fortunately, I inevitably draw burn, and end up burning xoni to death with lethal owl damage to me on the stack. 2-0

Round 3 versus Zoo played by 39804214 (diplomats):

We split. Doing the usual post-split chat, I found out that he was playing a Zoo deck with stronger anti-aggro elements, including four maindeck Paladin en-Vec.

MTGO 8-man, April 1, 2006, 2:22-3:12 pm EST

Round 1 versus Ghost Dad played by mirakurufait (unaffiliated):

At first I was quite worried, since my worst nightmare is always Ghost Dad piloted, by an 1800+ opponent, which mirakurufait was. Even worse, mirakurufait won the flip. Thankfully, his early double Dark Confidant, usually a cause for concern, hurt him more than it helped him, as I don’t think he found a Shining Shoal to stop my Hand of Honor. I get a Jitte, and though Plagued Rusalka trickery prevents me from actually getting any counters, it is obvious that mirakurufait is on the ropes. In the beginning I didn’t have much burn beyond a single Flames of the Blood Hand, so I didn’t play Mountains. I do that, Flames him and win. 1-0

At this point my lag is terrible, but I soldier on. I hope I do not time out, as happened to me before.

I get rather lucky again in game 2, as mirakurufait only has a few creatures, which I burn to death. His Jitte thus sits uselessly. His Shoals hurt my early rush, but my Isamaru does some damage. I start running out of burn, but I win due to a Jitte-equipped Empty-Shrine Kannushi that races past his Ghost Council of Orzhova for the win. 2-0

Round 2 versus Orzhov Rats played by image030 (unaffiliated):

Game 1 is a blowout, with my Hand of Honor and Eight-and-a-Half-Tails completely dominating the board. It is sick. Sadly, thing change in the next few games. 1-0

Game 2 seems to be an easy win in the beginning, with my Kannushi and Hand of Honor both controlling the board and attacking, but I just don’t draw enough burn to seal the deal. I take him down to one but his Hypnotic Specters and Hand of Cruelty finish me off. 1-1

Game 3 has me draw no Mountains. My burn is stranded in my hand, and despite a valiant effort on the ground I lose. Quite disappointing. 1-2

MTGO 8-man, April 1, 2006, 5:00-6:07 pm EST

Round 1 versus Zoo played by MoxPearl (SRP):

In game 1, I overcome a mulligan to five against his full hand by resolving an Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, which though dying, stalls MoxPearl long enough for me to recover. That happens when a get a Jitte on a Leonin Skyhunter, which wins a very close damage race with a horde on the ground. 1-0

My sideboard strategy really pays off in game 2. He does end up killing many of my early Kannushis and Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, but he must use Chars, damaging himself in order to use an expensive tempo-killing spell. My threat is cheaper than his solution, in theory-babble. A Kannushi lives to hold a Jitte, and accumulates so many counters no burn can stop him. 2-0

Round 2 versus Orzhov Rats played by Manuel B (BlueTooth):

In game 1, it seems like luck has gone back on me. I mulligan to five, and not even a very good five at that. Manuel B mulligans to six. If there is one deck you don’t want to mulligan down against, it’s Rats. No Jitte or anything like that comes up to save me when I need it. 0-1

I get a playable hand in game 2, but with no Red mana. The upside? Two Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. With his heavy discard, however, it seems like all is lost. Eight rats, including four that can possibly fly the Jitte over the head of my Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, is really scary. A Descendant of Kiyomaro arrives on his side, looking like it will mean an irrecoverable swing in life. Thankfully, I topdeck yet another Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. Unfortunately, he gets Mortified before I untap. Then, I topdeck a Jitte and win. I’m not just a lucksack, though. If I had not the Leonin Skyhunter to fly the Jitte over, I would have lost. 1-1

I have feelings of extreme portent as I keep a six-card hand with only one land in game 3. I do, thankfully, have an Isamaru, but he dies after dealing a few damage. I come under attack from Ravenous Rats and Shrieking Grotesque, and it seems I will have to write to StarCityGames about a loss. Thankfully, luck (or is it a consistent deck) kicks in. I draw a second land, and manage to Lightning Helix his Descendant. I slap a Jitte on my Hand of Honor, and outrace his futile attackers. As usual when I am fighting an Orzhov opponent, Ghost Council arrives too late to do them any good, since I have reach elements. This is a very different feeling from that I had when I was running WW/G and WW/U, where Ghost Council often meant game for me. 2-1

Round 3 versus Mono-White Weenie played by pinemartin (unaffiliated):

A commenter on my last article asked why I always choose to split in the finals. It skews results, doesn’t it, making my deck appear better than it is. I actually played out this round, to the insistence of my opponent. Game 1 sees my Isamaru on the ground outracing his Lantern Kamis in the air. My burn kills his creatures at all the right moments. I may love White Weenie, but I do not wish to run the mono-white version. It is just too weak right now. Glorious Anthem was run by pinemartin, and it was a wasted card for him, as he had no creature alive to pump. 1-0

I am confident in the beginning of game 2, especially when he doesn’t play any early creatures, and an Eight-and-a-Half-Tails and Empty-Shrine Kannushi with Jitte seem to have the field wide open. I was too arrogant. He plays Wrath of God, and then I see that he has transformed his deck in the boarding to be White control. He must have gotten to the finals for some reason after all. But my burn is too much, and I kill him. After I win, he reveals his hand and I see he had Worship.

So there you have it, a played-out finals, though arguably against the best possible matchup for my deck, with its eight Protection from White creatures. 2-0

As before, I want to stress that this testing reflects the metagame of that time, not necessarily the time you read this article. The Magic Online metagame changes fast, and can even vary by time zone. Just as I was scrubbing out and losing lots of tickets earlier in the week with the Boros Deck Wins builds I was trying out, you may find my build not suiting you.

In summary, this deck has clear advantages over the other aggro decks backed by burn. The mana base is extremely consistent, as all your creatures are White, and Red can arrive as late as turn 4 without harm. Furthermore, it packs strong reach elements with a pinch of disruption or control in the form of the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. I heartily recommend this, but only if this fits your style. After all, the builds with Scorched Rusalka may be better for you. This ties in with my last message.

This past week, I’ve learnt what sort of player I am. I need to play decks whose logic I understand, and can write about. I can’t play a mess with a weird manabase. In any case, I hope I can someday move beyond White Weenie. For the meantime, there are those Orzhov builds to tackle.

Eric Meng
(emeng on Magic Online)
April 1, 2006

Appendix: Magic Online Premier Event Tournament Report – 2nd Place

724692 2x Standard, April 8, 2006, 5:00 pm

In the week between I wrote the main body of the article and this premier event (my 3rd overall), I made only two minor tweak in the deck – replacing the Devouring Lights in the sideboard with Paladin en-Vec, and adding Eiganjo and Shinka. Hand of Honor five through eight really help against Black, and they also are useful against Magnivore, which has been making a reappearance on MTGO lately. The legendary lands were an initial oversight on my part – with eight legendary creatures they are definitely worth it.

Round 1 versus Orzhov Aggro played by darmok (Bandana):

Game 1 is a total blowout. I quickly get a pair of Leonin Skyhunters into the red zone, and they are quickly reinforced and protected by an Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. Once I realize that he is playing a deck without Shoals, I confidently go in for the kill. 1-0

Game 2 sees my Empty-Shrine Kannushi and Hand of Honor holding a Jitte, to either race past or hold back threats like Descendant of Kiyomaro. Soon a Jitte-pumped Hand of Honor deals the death-blow. 2-0

Round 2 versus Nantuko Promise played by namclab_b (Osyp Drives Me to School):

In game 1, I mulligan down to five and am pretty much run over. 0-1

I mulligan down to five again in game 2. The difference this time is that I have a Paladin en-Vec in my opening hand and enough mana to cast it. I also draw a Jitte, and control the board for the win. 1-1

I mulligan down to six in game 3, but draw enough Protection from Black creatures and Jittes to turn the tide. The trouble with the Ghost Husk deck is that it cannot handle eight Protection from Black creatures, not to mention my eight additional creatures that give or have Protection from White. 2-1

Round 3 versus G/W Aggro played by Erastide (unaffiliated):

Erastide is playing a roguish build that runs Isamaru, Hound of Konda; Suntail Hawk; and Moldervine Cloak, amongst other things. Umezawa’s Jitte on a Leonin Skyhunter wins me game 1. 1-0

I lose game 2 when I am cannot deal with a Moldervine Cloak on a Silhana Ledgewalker, as well as a fearsome Paladin en-Vec blocking my Hounds and Lions, impervious to burn. 1-1

A Jitte on an Empty-Shrine Kannushi dominates the board, and game 3 is easily won. 2-1

Round 4 versus Zoo played by evanj5 (Osyp Drives Me to School):

I keep a mediocre hand in game 1, one that could maybe beat control but definitely not the close race against Zoo, one of the worse matchups for this deck. Evanj5 overcomes some initial mana difficulties and runs me over. 0-1

I find out evanj5 is using the Billy Moreno sideboard plan, transforming into Ghazi-Glare lite. I squeak by a Glare of Subdual, using Eight-and-a-Half-Tails to let a creature with a Jitte get through for the win. It is not an easy win at all. 1-1

I lose game 3 to a Glare of Subdual that neutralizes my Jitte. I am quite upset at this loss, and think it could have been prevented with better playing on my part. 1-2

Round 5 versus U/R Magnivore played by SWAT917 (Osyp Drives Me to School):

Though I go second in game 1, I have much burn following a lone Isamaru, and I kill him before a Wildfire is even dropped. 1-0

Game 2 sees me laying out dual Paladin en-Vecs. This, combined with burn, is simply too much for the Magnivore deck to handle. 2-0

Round 6 versus Orzhov Aggro played by lightmgl92085 (5 of Spades):

Game 1 has me using double Hand of Honor, helped by his Dark Confidant, to beat him down without even using burn. On a side note, the first few turns here sees both sides playing three Isamarus as a piece, basically as creature destruction. 1-0

In game 2, I draw Hand of Honor and Paladin en-Vec for the win. His Phyrexian Arena helps him not. 2-0

At this point, I am 6th in the standings, by points and game win percentage.

Round 7 versus panoma (lvl up)

We take an intentional draw.

I am in! I am quite excited, as this is the 3rd Premier Event I’ve ever played, and the first one I’ve made top 8 in. It’s also the first one I really metagamed for. Unfortunately, it is quite late by the Top 8, and I am mentally fatigued. So is everyone else, hopefully.

I want to comment on the conversation taking place in the premier event chatbox. This was mostly trash-talking, and whining about how lower-seeded players did not drop out, though they had no chance of making top 8. Still, there were some good nuggets of conversation. It still was not as social as going to a cardboard event, however. Magic Online gives us both far inferior prizes and far inferior social interaction. The one saving grace is the fact that card protectors aren’t needed. That saves some money.

Top 8:

Quarterfinals versus Nantuko Promise played by in5ano (Avenida Championship Top8)

I’ve played against in5ano before in an 8-man recently, and we are both running those same decks. Game 1 sees me mulligan crappy hands down to five. Once again my topdecking skills seem to turn the game around, but at a crucial juncture I misclick and miss an attack phase with a Jitte. I lose the game because of that. 0-1

In game 2 my Protection from Black creatures go in for the kill. His Promise of Bunrei triggers too late for his benefit, and a Char to the dome seals his fate. 1-1

My Jitte is Pithing Needled in game 3, and we go to a battle of exhaustion where the board is cleared. My burn gives me a faster clock, however, and I win with a Char that leaves me on one life. 2-1

Semifinals versus U/R Magnivore played by David Sharfman (Osyp Drives Me to School)

David Sharfman was a bit angry at me, as I made him wait eight minutes to begin. I apologize, but he is not satisfied. I couldn’t help it, as the place where I was at kicked me out and I had to find a new place to play. Anyway, game 1 has me winning with an unanswered Isamaru holding a Jitte. David’s build runs Annexes, oddly, but it is clearly Magnivore, not Eminent Domain. I don’t think that Eminent Domain even exists anymore. 1-0

I cannot answer his dual Magnivores in game 2. 1-1

Game 3 has me beating him when I control the board after untapping with an Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. His removal is useless, and I slap down a Jitte for the win. 2-1

Finals versus U/R Magnivore played by XaneHavenstar (unaffiliated)

My mental strain has finally taken its toll, and I do not mulligan an awful hand in game 1. My initial Isamaru gets some good beats in but I cannot fight Magnivore on only two land. 0-1

Again, I unwisely keep a sub-optimal hand. This one has three Paladin en-Vecs but not much else. I simply do not get the lands to let them stick, and I lose. At least I could not have lost in the finals to a nicer guy. 0-2

Eric Meng
(emeng on Magic Online)
April 8, 2006