On a cold Saturday in February I entered a 45-person tournament and worked my way to the top with a Black/White Orzhov control deck. Inside I share the list, the strategy, and the match-by-match breakdown with detail like I’ve never had before. Read on and find out how it did, what are the best choices for the deck, and why my build came out on top.
Know Your Threats
I played the Black/White control mirror a few times during this tournament. Before I get to the game-by-game analysis, allow me to detail some creatures I saw on the other side of the table that just aren’t up to snuff against this deck:
Why? Tempo. The Black/White deck is all about taking what is a “bad” situation late game and winning in the long run. I saw this happen again and again. Players were either trying to use Greater Good or Glare of Subdual and not actually playing threats. While both of those are enablers, they don’t actually win.
How did I win my matches? I did nothing but play big, dangerous threats (Ghost Council of Orzhova), hard-to-deal-with threats (Yosei, the Morning Star; and Kokusho, the Evening Star), tempo swingers (Blind Hunter), two-for-one threats (Nekrataal), card draw (Phyrexian Arena) and removal (Wrath of God, Faith’s Fetters, and Mortify). Between these cards I just played them over and over and won.
Here is the list I played:
- 4 Kokusho, the Evening Star
- 4 Nekrataal
- 4 Yosei, the Morning Star
- 4 Blind Hunter
- 4 Ghost Council of Orzhova
Yes, you counted that correctly, this deck has sixty-one cards. This was a calculations error on my part, wanting to run twenty-three lands and forgetting to remove a spell. While there are several candidates to cut, I didn’t find out that I had sixty-one cards until the tournament had started, so I just had to work with it.
Honestly? I really liked how this deck played most of the day. Part of me wants to keep it at sixty-one because the mana is tight enough to keep you going and there are plenty of spells to topdeck.
Let’s dig in and see how it played out:
Round 1 – Jason
Jason is a good-natured casual player who took a Gruul build and added a twist: Glare of Subdual. Not a card I’m really worried about as I can remove it via Mortify, and Dragons generally take care of the rest. This wasn’t a terribly interesting match so I’ll just gleam over the highlights.
Game 2: I mulligan to five with a one-land hand and four other spells that cost four or more. I knew I had lost, I just waited for my beating. A second land never even came.
Game 3: He over-extended, and a Wrath took him down. I played Kokusho and, after swinging, his other brother Kokusho sat down and that fifteen-point life swing was enough to seal the game.
Aside: Blind Hunter
Amazing. Ridiculous. He two-for-ones in a very peculiar way: tempo. He takes their “slow-rolling snowball” of taking a few life points from you at a time, and slows or stops that climb. He can block and then haunt something giving you more life when you kill that creature, or he simply makes your opponent waste a kill spell before playing their own threat.
Remember: This guy has a very important purpose. He has amazing synergy with Ghost Council and he works as a life-gaining (and tempo-swinging) buffer before your real scary threats come online.
Round 2 – Matt
A very strange match. Matt was playing Black/White control…unlike anything I’ve ever seen. He played Weathered Wayfarer to go fetch Urzatron (yes, really), so he could use Maga, Traitor to Mortals to suck the life from the opponent. Meanwhile he utilizes Dark Confidant and Sensei’s Divining Top to stack his draws and get a free Howling Mine.
He runs no Dragons.
I repeat: to not run Yosei or Kokusho in a deck that can support them is a sure way to lose. They’re not only required, they’re essential to winning games in this environment.
Game 1: He tries to Maga me out but he’s too late – Kokusho ends things quickly.
Game 2: He tries the same but I have Ghost Council in play and seven mana. This gives me a Yosei and the mana to sac it. I do so and two swings of the Ghost Council (plus his entering play Drain Life for one) deals nine damage, and that’s game.
Round 3 – Curtis Owensby
Curtis is playing an oddity in today’s environment: Mono-color. Mono Black Control, to be exact. He has a solid deck with dragons (of course), Kagemaro, Phyrexian Arena, and uses Consume Spirit to finish the other player off.
Game 1: I win the roll and get a nice opening hand. He leads off with Phyrexian Arena and I lay down Ghost Council, dropping him to eighteen once he takes another card. He Distresses the Cranial Extraction out of my hand. I swing with Ghost Council and play Blind Hunter, taking him to twelve. He uses Diabolic Tutor to find something.
On my turn I swing and take him to five. On his turn he uses Diabolic Edict so I sac Blind Hunter and haunt the Ghost Council of Orzhova. He then Consume Spirits me for two to try and stay alive, putting him at six.
On my turn I swing with Ghost Council, and he uses Sickening Shoal pitching Kokusho to kill the Council. I drain another two off him (via Blind Hunter’s haunt), taking him to four, then play the other Ghost Council of Orzhova in my hand, putting him at three.
After drawing his extra card and going to two, he scoops.
Game 2: I make a late-game misplay and it hurt me badly. After starting off well with a Signet into Cranial Extraction, extracting Cranial Extractions, he plays Hypnotic Specter. The next turn he plays Phyrexian Arena. He pulls something of no consequence after I take two, then I draw Wrath of God and kill of the Specter. On his turn he Distresses and pulls the Phyrexian Arena I was dying to play, because the rest of my hand consisted of three lands while his Arena was fueling his game. I realized about that time the power of Arena in the mirror. It is truly a game breaker.
He then drops Bottle Gnomes.
Ironically, he wins this game anyway. I play Orzhov Signet and from seeing his hand earlier I play my topdecked Cranial Extraction and name the only other threat I saw in it: Kagemaro, First to Suffer. Here is where I made the mistake. Kagemaro is just another beatstick. I don’t really mind if most if not all of my creatures die from its ability. While he didn’t have Kokusho in his hand, I should have named Kokusho. To stay in the game I needed a dragon, and top-decking a Kokusho only for him to drop another one (and hence, negate Koko’s bonus) was just bad news and bad form.
On my next turn I play Ghost Council of Orzhova (again, ripped from the top) and what does he lay down? Kokusho, of course. It’s then I realize my mistake. He drops Miren, sucks life right outta me, then Consume Spirits for the rest.
With no sideboard changes I go into Game 3. I get an opening hand of the following: four lands, a Signet, Cranial Extraction, and Ghost Council of Orzhova. Both of those are excellent spells against his deck, and it always feels like with twenty-three lands I’m always ripping spells off the top, I keep.
On turn 2, just as I had feared suspected, out came the Distress to take away my Cranial Extraction. I lay down Ghost Council and he has the Diabolic Edict. He then plays Akuta, Born of Ash (technology at work?) and I trump it with Kokusho.
Unfortunately I had the choice between laying down Kokusho and Phyrexian Arena the turn before. Now while I’m convinced that whoever has the Arena in the mirror (or semi-mirror) is more likely to win, the right play was Kokusho. I was taking damage from Akuta, and while three a turn doesn’t sound like much, with him packing Consume Spirit and with plenty of land in play it was definitely a concern.
So he Distresses and I lose my Phyrexian Arena. Bad beat, but I’ve still got Kokusho on the board. After I swing with Kokusho he Cranial Extractions my Cranial Extractions. I then rip Phyrexian Arena, don’t swing, but he plays his own Kokusho killing mine and taking me to eleven with the 3/2 Legendary Spirit.
I topdeck Blind Hunter, swinging the tempo my way. I drained him while my 2/2 trumped the 3/2 Akuta. He Sickening Shoals (hard cast) Blind Hunter. I haunt and then Mortify Akuta, swinging the life total once again. He plays Kokusho, positive that he has the upper hand but I’m staring at Faith’s Fetters, another tempo-setting card.
I play Yosei and he plays Bottle Gnomes (ahem). I beat him down to four. He finally sac’s the Bottle Gnomes to go up to seven, then two from the Legendary Dragon Spirit. Desperate for an answer he uses Mikokoro, the Center of the Sea. I draw my own Kokusho from it while his is on the board attached to Fetters. During his turn he goes to one from his Phyrexian Arena and then Consume Spirits me for eight, taking me down to six (from fourteen) and him up to nine.
With my own Phyrexian Arena in play, things could get dangerous. I know that he’s most likely got a Consume Spirit in hand, meaning I can’t let him untap again or I lose. On my turn I play Kokusho (killing his that was sitting limp with Faith’s Fetters) then swing with Yosei and kill the white dragon the only way I could: Wrath of God. The attack takes him to four and I’ve got a turn to find an answer. He goes to three on his turn from Arena, doesn’t untap of course, then passes the turn.
I inhale and draw my two cards via Phyrexian Arena, taking me to four: Yosei, the Morning Star and Ghost Council of Orzhova. Total mana in play: eleven. Just enough to play Ghost Council (he goes to two), play Yosei, sac Yosei so he doesn’t untap, cycling out Ghost Council to drain him to one at the end of my turn and he dies to his own Arena on his upkeep.
Round 4 vs. Kevin Sukanek
In another mirror match, we see where deck choices and, in particular, creature choices can have an impact on whose winning and where the synergy lies. Kevin is playing a build with a splash of green for Sakura-Tribe Elders and Glare of Subdual.
Game 1: He wins the roll and leads off with a Sakura-Tribe Elder. I play a second turn Orzhov Basilica while he beats me down with Sakura and plays Glare of Subdual. I Mortify it, then play Blind Hunter.
Then he drops Belfry Spirit. Ouch. With a deck packing Glare, that’s what I call synergy. I play Nekrataal, killing the Spirit and he haunts my Nekrataal. He plays Kokusho. I play my own while he swings with Belfry tokens. He plays the only other Ghost Council of Orzhova I saw all day (I think he said he only played one) with plenty of mana to slide it out with.
I play Yosei, the Morning Star. He then plays another Belfry Spirit and I topdeck my second Yosei. I tap him out and expect two free turns, but he’s got mana open, I’m at five life, and he has Ghost Council of Orzhova and a token to slide it out with. On to game 2.
As I was now on the ‘back foot’ and facing the uphill climb of winning the last two matches, I sideboard as such:
Game 2: I lead off with Basilica (and thanks to going first I don’t have to discard after using it). He uses an Overgrown Tomb and a Brushland to drop Watchwolf. Ouch. Where was that in the first game? Probably boarded in against my slow rolling machine.
He plays Jitte and I Mortify the Wolf. I drop Blind Hunter and he plays his third Brushland. He’s taking points for almost everything he’s playing. This is good for me, as those points add up. He doesn’t, however, take a point from Cranial Extracting my Cranial Extractions, including one in my hand.
Meanwhile my Blind Hunter is beating his face in, and he’s hurting himself with his lands.
He drops a Watchwolf and I drop Faith’s Fetters on it while I’m staring at two Wrath of God in hand. He then plays Glare of Subdual and I Mortify it. I beat him down to three with Blind Hunter but he topdecks Sakura Tribe Elder and sticks the Jitte on it.
Game 3: He’s back at it with the painlands, playing Watchwolf #1 and, soon after, Watchwolf #2. I play Castigate and pluck the Jitte from his hand, while staring at Sakura Tribe Elder, Glare of Subdual, Cranial Extraction, and Kokusho.
My God, this guy has a great hand. But no mana. He’s stuck on three lands. The Jitte was something I couldn’t deal with at the time, and I wasn’t going to risk him topdecking a land and pull something stupid instead like Tribe-Elder.
I gulp and pass the turn, going down to eleven from the Wolves. I then play Blind Hunter and he Cranial Extracts naming Nekrataal. I have my one and only in the deck in my hand. He can’t believe I sided them out. I told him it didn’t have a lot of targets and I certainly didn’t foresee the Watchwolf overrun plan coming from him.
I subsequently block a Wolf, drop to ten, then topdeck another Blind Hunter.
He swings, I block one (haunting the same Wolf twice now), going to nine.
At this point the notes get fuzzy, because I was literally topdecking every answer I needed. At some point I played my last two Blind Hunters in the deck and drew Yosei. On the last possible turn I could manage it, with two Blind Hunters staring at his two Watchwolves and Glare of Subdual, I find Godless Shrine and play it untapped to drop Yosei.
He then drops his own Yosei but finds out the hard way that I’ll get to untap before he does. I take him down to two with the Hunters but we’re at a stalemate again with his Glare of Subdual and my two Blind Hunters.
He’s at two. I’m at one. He flips up and plays…
Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree. With six other lands beside it. Oh crap. GG.
No. He doesn’t see the win staring at him. He has six mana and he just dropped Vitu-Ghazi. With two Watchwolves looking at my two Blind Hunters. Instead, he drops Jitte and equips his Watchwolf, passing the turn.
Up the draw, down the Ghost Council of Orzhova. Good game, sir. He kicks himself after I explain how he just gave up the match.
I then proceed to draw into the Top 8 with 4-0-2. According to the final standings I’m in second place. Some poor kid gets booted from the Top 8 after going 5-1 for the day, only to find out that his Round 1 matchup was reported incorrectly. Bad beats, indeed.
Top 8 – Mike Para
Good player, good deck. He’s playing Greater Good with Debtor’s Knell, almost a mirror match but not quite. He has quite a bit more Green than Kevin did the round before, but Kevin wasn’t trying the Goryo’s Vengeance/Footsteps of the Goryo route.
Game 1: I shoot myself in the foot. I open with a hand full of four-mana spells, two plains and an Orzhov Basilica. Just enough to get off my Blind Hunter on turn 4, as I should. But I pitch a Plains thinking that Surely, I’ll draw another…
I surely don’t. For five turns.
I finally get off a Blind Hunter and haunt his Kokusho when he Putrefies it. I play Hunter #2 but he drops Greater Good and plays Yosei (yes, I was that far behind in mana), shows Kodama’s Reach splicing Goryo’s Vengeance and I scoop.
I sideboard as such:
Earlier, against the mono-Black deck, I said that the mirror was defined by he-who-has-the-Arena. This is not true. The mirror is defined by who has more threats, and who can recur more threats. This is why I brought in Castigate (which ruins Greater Good anyway), Cranial Extraction to rip him from the Greater Good or Dragons, and Debtor’s Knell to match his because it simply destroys the mirror match in the way I thought Phyrexian Arena did.
We shuffle and I draw a hand so good, I had to write it down to get it exactly right for you readers:
This is me, grinning like an idiot. What a hand! This guaranteed a Turn 3 Ghost Council of Orzhova and removal thereafter.
I play the third turn Council, and he Putrefies it. I then topdeck another Council and, after a swing, he Mortifies it in response to me playing Blind Hunter. On my next turn I play Yosei, and he plays his own. We do the skip-our-untap thing and I drop Kokusho and swing, taking him to three.
“Show me the Mortify and I’ll scoop,” he says.
I show it to him. Time for game 3.
Game 3: was an even worse beating, if you can imagine. While my hand wasn’t electric, the draws sure were. I play Council to lead off, and Fetters his Kokusho. He plays Yosei and I have my second Faith’s Fetters. He then Wraths, but I follow-up with Debtor’s Knell. He doesn’t have the Mortify and I have a Yosei in hand, putting him on a hard lock for the rest of the game.
We shake hands and I’m on to the Top 4.
Since the tournament began later than expected, it was going on 9:30pm and we decided to split, twenty-seven packs each. Not a bad haul for a day’s worth of great games and $5.
Lessons and Observations
Some things I learned from the day:
Ghost Council of Orzhova is absolutely amazing and should never be left out of a build with Caves of Koilos and Godless Shrine. This efficient beatstick is damn near unkillable while you have another creature on the board, and can draw removal just for this reason (such as Mike Mortifying it in response to me playing Blind Hunter). Builds without it are sure to lose more than those with it.
Fatties rule all. Dragons are ruling this format. I’m not talking about just Yosei and Kokusho, but those are the obvious all-stars. I’m talking about my friend Jordan who sailed through to the Top 4 with a very cool U/R build with Niv-Mizzet, Electrolyze, Jushi Apprentice, and Remand. This in combination with bounce and countermagic meant that he had game against a lot of different decks, including his worst matchup he defeated in the Top 8, Gruul. “I don’t know why they don’t kill Jushi as soon as they can,” he tells me. I don’t know why his opponents would ever let Jushi live if they couldn’t help it.
My sideboard was woefully unused. This makes me think that I’m wasting a lot of space having cards that “should” be in the sideboard but never actually put in the deck. Why didn’t I bring in Ivory Mask versus Greater Good? Because I could out-dragon and out-control him. I had removal for the Greater Good, I had Debtor’s Knell, which destroys the mirror, and I simply thought it was overkill. Kokusho doesn’t target, and that guy is the one who usually kills me. I’m thinking of adding Hypnotic Specter for the mirror (if he drops early he can possibly disrupt them badly) or something else that might actually get used, depending on the matchup. Also there’s the possibility of Last Gasp, but would I ever actually use it?
My Ebony and Irony deck is going to see play next weekend. While you may not read about it until later, there’s a Mox Ruby tournament coming up soon and my friends are begging me to let them play this amazing meta deck. It demolishes this B/W control because it’s a deck that doesn’t allow you to get to four mana without being severely disrupted, and continues that disruption for a long time. We’ll see how this works out in the future.
Thanks for reading everybody; I hope you had as much fun reading as I did playing.
Evan “misterorange” Erwin
Dubya dubya dubya dot misterorange dot com
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com