From Right Field: White Skies at Night

Last week, I mentioned a White Skies deck. It came about because I noticed two things – most decks aren’t running any fliers and most decks aren’t running any enchantment removal. Thus, my hypothesis became: A deck running aggressive fliers backed up by an enchantment that enhances the fliers can beat a deck running only or mostly ground troops.

{From Right Field is a column for Magic players on a budget. The decks are designed to let the budget-conscious player be competitive in local, Saturday tournaments. They are not decks that will qualify a player for The Pro Tour. As such, the decks written about in this column are, almost by necessity, rogue decks. They contain, at most, eight to twelve rares. When they do contain rares, those cards will either be cheap rares or staples of which new players should be trying to collect a set of four, such as Wrath of God or the Onslaught fetchlands for the colors they play. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. His playtest partners, however, are excellent. He will never claim that a deck has an 85% winning percentage against the entire field. He will also let you know when the decks are just plain lousy.}

An interesting thing happened with last week’s column. I got a flood of e-mails and posts to the forum and my StarCityGames.com account that basically said, “We don’t care that your decks can’t beat Affinity consistently. If they could, they’d be tier one decks, and everyone would play them. We want to read about other deck ideas, decks we can afford. Remember, not everyone who reads your column plays in tournaments.”

That made me feel great. I’d gotten some e-mails before from some folks who mentioned that they just played casually, but I never realized how many casual players read my column.

“P.S.,” they went on. “We miss your sophomoric humor.”

Ah, the truth comes to light and scurries under the fridge like a cockroach.

“P.P.S. And the cheesecake shots.”

Oh, you guys. Well, how about this for starters? She is an Indianapolis Colts cheerleader named Lisa. You don’t usually see them in so little at this time of the year. Heck, you don’t usually see Colts cheerleaders in so little at any time of the year.

Of course, if you’re a Lindsay Lohan fan, you might like this better. Or this. Personally, I like the October 2004 GQ cover and a couple of the pics inside. I still can’t believe that this is the same little girl from the remake of The Parent Trap. Man, she’s grown up nice.

Please, Move on to Magic

Holy puberty, Pervertman! Did you see how she’s filled out between The Parent Trap and Mean Girls?!? Now, that’s what I call magic!

Magic: the Gathering-Related Stuff

Okey dokey. You da boss.

Last week, I mentioned a White Skies deck. It came about because I noticed two things. First, most decks aren’t running any fliers. Second, most decks aren’t running any enchantment removal. Thus, my hypothesis became:

A deck running aggressive fliers backed up by an enchantment that enhances the fliers can beat a deck running only or mostly ground troops.

The problem was a simple one to state but a hard one to solve. While flying through the air, how would the oncoming ground attack be stopped? I didn’t want to just throw my guys in the way, since I would almost always lose that battle.

Then, along came the Dampen Thought deck with Ethereal Haze. (See last week’s press briefing.) It struck me that, between Haze and Holy Day from Eighth Edition, we could have eight Fog effects in the main deck. Surely, that would save me from an oncoming horde of Frogmites, Colossi, and Shamen, wouldn’t it? Luckily, I had some of the brightest minds in faux military strategy helping me. Both General Lee Speaking, head of The Department of Obfuscation, and Colonel O. Trooth (Ret.) agreed that, yup, that’s some good stuff.

I don’t want to sugar coat the candy here. It wasn’t unanimous. It was, however, almost unanimous. Yes, there was some dissent in the administration. Major Payne thought that “we can use the Wrath of God to destroy the enemy! He’s on our side, after all!” We pointed out to him that Wrath of Good had two drawbacks. For one, it was kinda expensive for what would most likely be a weenie-based operation (a.k.a. WeeBO). “We have all the resources we need!” he retorted. Second, it also wiped out our troops. “What’s a few birds here and there? There’s a battle to win!”

Okey dokey, Holy Day and Ethereal Haze it was then. However, the Wrath of God would be used in cases of extreme emergency (i.e. out of the sideboard).

This Air Force ploy would only work if we had some good, efficient fliers. Luckily, White has three very good ones right now. Suntail Hawk and Lantern Kami are 1/1 fliers for W while Leonin Skyhunter is a 2/2 flier for WW. The problem, of course, is that twelve fliers does not a Magical Air Force make.

Scouring the Standard Oracle yielded only one or two other White fliers that seemed to be both small and fairly cheap. I settled on Emissary of Hope because it helps against the most prevalent deck around, Vial/Ravager Affinity. Yes, it’s only a 2/1 flier for 1WW. Man, wouldn’t it be great if they made a 2/1 flier with some ability for WW? Oh, well, you play with the cards they make, not the ones you wish they’d make.

Still, a White Weenie deck has to have more than sixteen creatures. White’s best weenie right now may be the Samurai of the Pale Curtain. He can’t fly, but his abilities are legendary . . . even though he’s not. The way he hoses up Affinity is just marvelous.

And, just like that, we’d drafted twenty creatures.

The plan was to make the deck beat as fast as possible while stalling the opponent’s ground game via Fog effects. That meant four Glorious Anthems. Sorry, folks. I know they’re kinda expensive, although you can get a set of four from Star City for between $12 and $16. Me, I’ve had six years to collect those puppies, and, by gum, I’m using them.

There was a small problem, though. Four Glorious Anthems were not enough. Unfortunately, it’s illegal to play more than four in a deck. Leonin Sun Standard popped up, but it costs mana to activate. A weenie deck doesn’t want to be spending money to activate weapons of mass enhancement. It wants to get more ops in the field. Don’t get me wrong. The thing can be huge. If you have six mana open, two 1/1’s become two 4/4’s. That’s a lotta tonnage. However, if all you have is three mana open, you don’t want to have to choose between casting an Emissary of Hope and giving your guys +1/+1. You want your guys to already have +1/+1 and cast the Emissary.

At this point, I decided to take a break from deck design and hit Magic Online for some budget fun with a mono-Green deck. (Don’t ask. The deck’s quality rhymes with spit.) During one game, an opponent swung with all of his men which I left unblocked since I had enough life to survive.

You know how “They” say that you learn more from your failures than your successes? I know that I learned a lot in this case.

I didn’t survive the attack.

All because of Roar of the Kha.

I started thinking about the combat tricks I could do. Major Payne liked the thought of “combat tricks.” “Nothing like surprising a godless commie in his little red jammies!” How true. How true. It would be so nice to swing with a couple of 1/1’s and 2/2’s and all of a sudden have a couple of 2/2’s and 3/3’s while also having blockers for my opponent’s next attack. As Smokey Joe Wood used to say, “sweet.” I had my second set of Glorious Anthems.

That still left a slot open, though. I called my war cabinet back together. Col. Trooth wanted some sort of card drawing. “A deck like this can easily run out of gas. When an air force runs out of gas, it crashes.” Maj. Payne thought it should be another flier. “Drawing cards is for tree huggers and mamma’s boys! Get my four Skyhunter Skirmishers! Double strike! Now that’s my kinda static ability!” Of course, Gen. Speaking wanted that slot to be some other sort of creature control like Arrest, “to stop that creepy Tiki-Barber thing,” or Reciprocate.

To be honest, I couldn’t tell what was best. All of them sounded good. Of course, that’s what advisors do. They make their chosen course of action sound good no matter how horrible it turns out to be.

Now, I could have just picked one and jumped right in with both feet, sticking to my guns regardless of whether or not it worked. Instead, I decided to run some simulations. To crystallize it, the deck so far looked like this:

White Skies (so far. . .)

21 Lands

21 Plains

20 Creatures

4 Suntail Hawk

4 Lantern Kami

4 Leonin Skyhunter

4 Samurai of the Pale Curtain

4 Emissary of Hope

15 Other Spells

3 Holy Day

4 Ethereal Haze

4 Roar of the Kha

4 Glorious Anthem

4 Cards I Wasn’t Yet Sure Of

4 Skyhunter Skirmisher / Arrest / Reciprocate / Mask of Memory

15 Sideboard

4 Scrabbling Claws

4 Auriok Champion

3 Bonesplitter

2 Cleanfall

2 Tempest of Light

My personal favorite is Mask of Memory. Weenie decks love having extra cards. Big problem, though. With all of the artifact hate going around, sometimes it hits the Mask of Memory on accident. That used to be called The Law of Unintended Consequences. Then, some cool, good-lookin’ Magic dude started calling it Splash Damage. What-EVER. Since the Mask was my preemptive favorite, I decided to try it out last.

The Gauntlet:

If you’re testing, you hafta test against Affinity, R/G Control, and G/B Control.

First up was the Skirmisher. A lot of folks around the water cooler couldn’t believe that this slot wasn’t another creature. “It’s a weenie deck! How can you have a weenie deck with only twenty creatures?” Okay, so, I tested it with the Skirmisher.

Skirmisher Upsides:

If you get a Glorious Anthem out, he’s swinging for four every turn thanks to that double strike. Doesn’t take long to win a game like that. On defense, he kills X/1 creatures and lives (X/2 with an Anthem out).

Skirmisher Downside:

He’s a 1/1 for three mana. Sometimes, that just reeks.

To be honest, I wasn’t impressed. I kept wishing that slot could slow my opponents more than it did. I’d get a nice first-turn Hawk, second-turn Skyhunter thing going then get a third-turn Skirmisher. Turns out that’s no better than an Emissary and doesn’t gain you any life. Still, as another two to four points of damage through the air, it was often a winner. I just felt the need for more, especially against decks with Kiki-Jiki.

Next up was Arrest:

Arrest Upsides:

Renders creatures with activated abilities (e.g. Kiki-Jiki) useless. Even better against Legendary creatures (e.g. Kiki-Jiki). Unless they have enchantment removal, they have to get two more of the same Legend to have a copy of that Legend in play (the second kills both the first and second; the third gets to stay around).

Arrest Downsides:

It’s a three-mana creature enchantment.

If you decide to play this version of the deck, I have one piece of advice for you: against R/G Control, hold Arrest for Kiki-Jiki. White Skies can not get around a deck with an active Kiki-Jiki unless it’s holding three Holy Days. Having said that, many of my wins against R/G Control happened simply by outracing it.

Against Affinity, which this deck is essentially tricked out to beat, Arrest is less than optimal, though. “Arrest your Enforcer.” “Sac it to the Ravager.” I’d rather have another flier or more cards.

Then came Reciprocate. . . .

Reciprocate Upsides:

Removes from the game a creature that hurt you. Only costs one mana. The new Swords to Plowshares!

Reciprocate Downsides:

But first, it has to hit you.

I wanted this to be good, I really, really did. When I first saw it on the spoiler, I thought, as many folks did, “Swords to Plowshares is back, baby!” It almost is. The problem is letting a Darksteel Colossus hit you. That’s like choosing to go second in a contest to see who can take the hardest kick to the nuts. In other words, I wouldn’t recommend this option.

Mask of Memory Upsides:

It draws cards like mad, and it costs nothing to draw them.

Mask of Memory Downsies:

Even little old ladies are carrying around artifact destruction in tiny spray bottles on their key chains today. If the creature dies out from under this, no cards. No card advantage until you’ve gotten your second hit in with it.

As I expected, this was the one that seemed to do the most for the deck. There’s just nothing like drawing three cards per turn, chucking a useless land, and casting two more fliers after combat. In the version I’ll play, these will stay.

A Note from Karl Allen, Tennessee State Champ, 2000:

Use Skyhunter Skirmisher, not Mask of Memory. You need another creature, and there’s too much Splash Damage ™ around for my tastes.

An Insider’s Look at White Skies:

Versus Affinity:

This deck really does hit Affinity hard. Typically Affinity decks either run no fliers, run Ornithopter, or run Somber Hoverguard. With Glorious Anthem out, any flier in this deck kills the Hoverguard in combat. The Emissary can gain oodles of life. More than once in testing, Holy Day turned into a one-sided Akroma’s Vengeance. In game two of those matches, the opponent plays with much more Timidity, not sacrificing things unless they’re absolutely sure they can get the damage and life loss through. This only happens when the Samurai of the Pale Curtain has been killed.

Sadly, Affinity often has Splash Damage ™ in the sideboard for this matchup. It’s called Electrostatic Bolt. One of the best defenses against that is to bring in Auriok Champion. She can’t be E-Bolted. She gains lotsa life, especially against a deck like Affinity that likes dropping its creatures in clumps.

Unfortunately, you’ll probably be dropping Mask of Memory to do that. The reason is that, against such an aggressive deck, there’s really nothing else you can afford to drop. You must keep the Holy Days and Ethereal Hazes to stop the bleeding. Losing the Anthems and Roars make the deck much slower. In addition, you can’t really afford to drop any critters. What’s that leave? The Mask.

Versus Tooth and Nail Decks:

Against anything with Tooth and Nail (R/G Control with Kiki-Jiki, G/B Control, mono-Green T&N, five-color T&N, Yo’ Mamma’s Tooth (uh-huh, that’s right; I went there!)), I’ve found that this deck accidentally wins simply by outracing T&N . . . sometimes. When it doesn’t, though, things go from great to nasty in a flash. The T&N player will do one of two things, knowing that this deck is powerless to stop it. They may fetch the Triskelion / Mephidross Vampire combo. This wipes out your side of the board. Plus, you’ll never get another creature to stay. Sometimes, they go grab Platinum Angel and Leonin Abunas. The End.

There are two defenses for either of these. First, you can bring in Wrath of God. (“Eeee-yes!” says Major Payne.) “But, that will kill all your guys!” True dat. On the flip side, if you don’t cast Wrath of God, your guys will die anyway. At least this way, theirs die, too, leaving you open to get more guys out. Also, it’s the only way to effectively remove Platinum Angel. On the flip side, given its casting cost (2WW), Wrath is outside of the mana curve that this deck’s mana base can support. Often, I was left with three lands and two Wrath of God, just praying for a land that never came.

The other way to go is to make the deck even faster with Bonesplitter. Just hit them so hard and fast that they never get to enough mana to cast an Entwined Tooth & Nail.

You’ll also want to bring in Scrabbling Claws against this deck so that they can’t do any silly Witness Tricks. Good thing you can just side out those Holy Days and Hazes for the Splitter and Claws. If you ever need them, it’s too late.

Final Sideboard Trickiness:

With those choices made, there was still one slot left. Two other decks that tended to be problems for this were mono-Red decks (Their Motto: “Packed with 250% of the USRDA of burn!”) and Zubera/Shrine decks.

Mono-Red is bad, mmmmm-kay? If they get the right cards, they can burn out every critter that comes into play. Glorious Anthem doesn’t help much because Shock still kills most of these guys. Sure, a Roar of the Kha along with an Anthem can often effectively counter an E-Bolt, but mostly, it’s an uphill battle if they burn out the first few creatures.

Shrine decks were the other problem. Luckily, they don’t run any fliers. They also seem to have very little creature control beyond the Honden of Infinite Rage. However, with a couple of other Shrines and the Honden of Cleansing Fire.

So, I had to make a choice. On the one hand, the mono-Red decks could beat the fliers consistently. On the other hand, with no enchantment destruction, a Shrine deck might be able to hold out and win. Since the sideboard already had Auriok Champion, I went with enchantment destruction. The reason it was split between Tempest of Light and Cleanfall is simply to defeat any cards like Cranial Extraction. You know, just in case. At the same mana cost for the same effect, there didn’t seem to be a need to make all four the same card. If that worries you, though, go with four Tempest of Light. As an instant in a deck with no cards that Splice onto Arcane, the ToL is superior. I haven’t found that it would make a difference, but if you have to go with four, that’s the one.

I hope you have fun with this one. It looks as if White Weenie is in line for a comeback. Depending on what Betrayers has in store and what Ninth Edition brings (and takes), this could already be the deck that I take to Regionals.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Have a Happy and Safe New Year. And remember, if you’re not sure if you’re okay to drive, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Call a cab, let someone else drive, or ask that cutie in the corner of you can stay at her place. “You know, just so I don’t kill someone. I can sleep on the couch . . . .” Trust me. It works.

Chris Romeo