Lightning Strikes Twice?: WW/r In Post-States Standard

Since States, White Weenie splashing Red has been relegated to Tier 1.5 status as the heavy hitters in the format — which are shaping up to be Flores Blue and multi-colored Gifts Ungiven decks, among many others in the wide-open metagame — have shown the ability to handle White Weenie, regardless of what color gets splashed into it. But its number of high finishes at Champs — if not overall wins — should be an indicator that a) the deck is good but b) people were ready for it. They adapted, so WW/r should adapt as well.

In the run-up to States 2005, one of the earliest decks to get a lot of scrutiny was the Boros-fueled White-Weenie-splash-Red decks. The deck pretty much built itself, and Ted Knutson highlighted it as one of “the decks to beat” going into States. Given the high prices that Lightning Helixes and Sacred Foundries were going for at the time, you knew someone was building it.

However, the printing of “White Blood Cells” (or WW/r, or White Lightning II, or whichever quasi-catchy moniker you prefer for the archetype) may have been the time the deck jumped the shark. Despite being one of the most popular choices, it only managed a measly percentage of overall plaques in the various Championships to date – although almost every Top 8 had at least one WW/r deck in it.

Was the success of the deck, such as it was, due to the overall quality of the cards available to it, or were these multiple high finishes the result of the quantity of people playing the deck? Was the deck done in by its own popularity?

Since States, the deck has been relegated to Tier 1.5 status as the heavy hitters in the format – which are shaping up to be Flores Blue and multi-colored Gifts Ungiven decks, among many others in the wide-open metagame – have shown the ability to handle White Weenie, regardless of what color gets splashed into it.

However, despite my lackluster finish in States and the underwhelming performance overall of the deck, I’m not ready to give up on the archetype. I believe the deck can reclaim the Tier 1 status, and the number of high finishes – if not overall wins – should be an indicator that a) the deck is good but b) people were ready for it. They adapted, so WW/r should adapt as well.

But how? The best place to start is at the top, with the people who managed to win plaques with it.

Hmm…not sure what we can learn here. This is obviously a ground-centric deck, running only a few fliers, and no Anthems? One Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]?

Veteran Armorer?

And this deck won?

What we have here is a statistical anomaly. Move along, nothing to see here, move along…

This looks a little more like a “conventional” WW/r deck. I, personally, don’t care for Boros Swiftblade, as he’s pretty vanilla until you get an Umezawa’s Jitte or Anthem in play – but if you do, then he’s a lot more likeable.

Several Japanese decks lumped in with WW/r did well, although the bulk of them were more along the likes of, shall we say, RR/w, mostly splashing White for Isamaru and Savannah Lions for a Standard-ized version of Boros Deck Wins. This one is a “true” WW/r deck.


Another Swiftblade-philic deck – and it’s from a larger event, New Jersey’s. Note the higher burn count (nine spells) and the small-but-tight creature base with lots of evasion, and the curious addition of Faith’s Fetters to the sideboard.

Faith’s Fetters? What is this, Sealed Deck?

Now I’m really confused. For those with a lot of free time, you can check out the entire WW/r database, including the statistically “average” deck here.

We’ve seen what’s won, and we now know the metagame. How then to rebuild the deck?

Let’s start with the core cards that, without doubt, must go into the maindeck:

4 Lantern Kami
2-4 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
4 Leonin Skyhunter
2-4 Hand of Honor
4 Lightning Helix
4 Glorious Anthem
4 Umezawa’s Jitte
22 lands

That’s forty-two to forty-six cards there, leaving a whole quarter of the deck open to interpretation. Personally, I like three Isamaru and a full complement of the Putrefy-defying Hand of Honor in the main.

Twenty-two lands seems to be the correct number. Given my occasional but all-too-frequent visits to mulligan-land, I’d like twenty-three – but that’s one too many. If anything, this deck needs twenty-two-and-a-half lands, but that kind of flip card hasn’t been made yet (gives you an idea, though – you heard it here first, and I want royalties).

Unfortunately, eight dual lands just aren’t enough to ensure that early Red mana. You can’t afford to get mana-screwed with this deck. Two Red-only sources seems right. The only question is whether or not to run Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep and Eiganjo Castle. I say, why not? The odds of them dying to the legend rule are pretty remote, and every once in a while they turn out to be useful.

This core deck currently has fifteen creatures. To maximize the Jitte and Anthem, you need at least twenty, and preferably more. Also, any creature that is going to go into the deck needs to have at least one of the following attributes:


“Evasion” is obvious. That means fliers (since it’s been many, many years since Soltari Priests prowled through the Red Zone).

“Protection” means protection from X. In this environment, that means Hand of Honor, Paladin en-Vec, and, to a lesser degree, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails.

“Economy” is another word for Isamaru or other creature that offers high power to casting cost. A two-power critter for one mana = serious MPG. Watchwolf and Savannah Lions also fall under this categorization.

I cut the Suntail Hawks in my build for more versatile creatures, which turned out to be a mistake. I was worried about too many creatures vulnerable to Hideous Laughter or Pyroclasm, but I forgot that this was essentially a rush deck, and rush decks really don’t want to deal with things like blockers; if your board gets swept, well, that’s how the cookie crumbles. Strictly speaking, Kami of Ancient Law and Paladin en-Vec are better cards than Suntail Hawk, but one-power flying beats prove to be better than 2/2s that get tangled up with Sakura Tribe-Elders and Carven Caryatids.

I’ll pass on the Boros Swiftblades with this in mind, although if you wanted to argue the point, I’ll certainly be open to persuasion.

Speaking of Paladin en-Vec, this card is showing up in a lot of sideboards and maindecks. He provides an extra pro-black beater and he shines in the mirror match. Three mana’s a bit pricey for the deck but it does have the added advantage of being immune to the otherwise annoying Threads of Disloyalty.

Kami of Ancient Law is a pretty decent answer to Threads of Disloyalty; so is Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, a card I’m starting to like more these days. 8.5 is a bit of an anomaly – he’s a bear that you don’t necessarily want to drop on turn 2. He gets better in the mid- to late-game, enabling you to save your creatures from…Well, just about anything, and he can provide the impetus for an alpha strike. Boros Guildmage is a nice 2/2 that you can absolutely play regardless of mana on turn 2 – but the two abilities, while cheap, just don’t have enough impact on the game until it’s almost too late.

Hearth Kami is also a possibility, but he’s really only there for one card (the Jitte), and that makes him too narrow for the deck when there are many other beaters to choose from. Samurai of the Pale Curtain would probably be more effective if it affected cards that were discarded from your hand, which would foil reanimation strategies.

I liked Nikko-Onna as an answer to cards like Threads of Disloyalty and the mirror, but you need to run a higher count of Arcane and Spirits to maximize it. Otherwise, the not-a-Disenchant-but-it’s-the-best-we-have-these-days Terashi’s Grasp is the better choice.

While not technically a creature, Promise of Bunrei should make your opponent a little less eager to drop a Pyroclasm or Hideous Laughter on your ground forces (especially if you have an Anthem or Jitte in play), but the stats show this was barely played – so while I think it’s got potential, not many players did.

Finally, we have Skyknight Legionnaire, a card I am really torn on. Basically, you’re getting a Leonin Skyhunter with haste for an extra Red mana – and there have been many, many times when that Red mana source is slow to come. True, he’s a great thing after an Anthem is on the board, but at present I’m leaning towards leaving him out of the build, as he reminds of those Hummers you presently see lining auto dealership by the hundreds – yeah, the speed and evasion is great, but you aren’t quite getting the economy you need.

(Aside: Can someone please explain to me what the allure of owning a Hummer is? You can’t actually go off-road with it, it gets something like four miles to the gallon, and costs double that of an honest-to-goodness SUV. Do you really want to pay forty grand plus for something that basically screams, “Look at me! I have a small wiener!!”

(I’m just wondering, is all.)

With everything else that isn’t land or a critter, I think it’s pretty much a “duh” that you need to max out the Anthem and Jitte count – and if you run the Jitte, that means no Suppression Fields. I’ve found that in the Suppression Field vs. Pithing Needle debate, “narrow and absolute” is superior to “broad and not absolute.”

As for the burn quotient, I ran Shocks to supplement Lightning Helix. I knew it was a mistake at the time, but I couldn’t get the Chars I needed. If this was a weenie-centric format, then Shock would be the best choice. But it isn’t. The best creature in Standard flies, makes tokens and has a four in the toughness column. Shock? He laughs at that.

Char, on the other hand… That, he’s not too fond of. Take two and throw another Meloku on the barbie, mate.

You need burn spells that allow you to either a) clear out the toughest of blockers or b) enable you to go end-of-turn burn-you-burn-you-untap-I-win. Shock?

Cue the Lumbergh: “Yeah, that’s really going to hurt, yeahhhhh…”

Based on this information, a new, improved version of WW/r can be assembled:

Yes, the only significant chance is 8.5 replacing Skyknight Legionnaire in the deck, so perhaps I wasn’t too far off in my thinking. You do lose an evasive flier, but I feel that what Eight-and-a-Half-Tails brings to the table – which is both a late-game “I win” condition and global protection for all your creatures – merits inclusion. With two different legends in the maindeck, you also have a stronger case for running both Kamigawa Block legendary lands. And I still don’t like Boros Swiftblade all that much, however; feel free to disagree.

You may also notice that despite my earlier mocking, I’ve included Faith’s Fetters in the sideboard, replacing Hokori. Once you clean the coffee off your monitor screen, I’ll explain.

Turns out this card is actually pretty good.

Anyone who’s played Hokori knows that while his ability is powerful, “Dusty” is in fact a) extremely fragile (Sickening Shoal, anyone?), b) can be played around, and c) requires your opponent to tap out to be of any use.

Case in point: When testing WW/r against a Gifts deck, by the time I had an opening to play Hokori, my opponent usually had a fatty already in play (frequently the Muntz-tastic Kagemaro). Against Flores Blue? That deck runs the Ravnica bounce, lands which also delivers the Muntz against Hokori (ha ha!)

Now, imagine that the Hokori you just drew is Faith’s Fetters. Holy cats, does this start to get good. Cast on a legend – like, say, Meloku, Kokusho, Keiga, or Kagemaro – not only does your opponent lose the ability to even chump block, but extra copies of those legends in their hands are now virtually worthless! With creatures with number higher than four in the toughness column (Gleancrawler, Carven Caryatid) – thinking they’re safely out of burn range – this eliminates them as well. Why, this is even better than a burn spell! And the four life? Gravy.

Notice that the creatures mentioned beforehand are ones you’ll commonly find in the Gifts and Flores Blue matchups; where you’d normally side in Dusty. In this instance, Faith’s Fetters does the job and does it better. It may be a bad Arrest, but a bad Arrest is better than no Arrest at all.

Yes, there is the issue of double-Keiga or double-Kokusho. Hey, if it happens, it happens, and let’s shuffle up for the next game. Nevertheless, this is definitely worth exploring as a sideboard card.

As for the rest of the sideboard: I’ve decided I want four Pithing Needles so I can absolutely say “What part of ‘no’ didn’t you understand?” to things like Tops and whatnot. The Tendo Ice Bridge comes in with Faith’s Fetters to ensure you hit that four drop, since your average mana cost is going up considerably. Terashi’s Grasp could be Kami of Ancient Law; it’s a “six of one, half-a-dozen of the other” dilemma, and there aren’t that many worrisome artifacts you can destroy with Grasp other than Jittes.

Finally, and this was a difficult choice: Devouring Light. It’s not quite as flexible as Otherworldly Journey, but remember what I mentioned earlier about Pithing Needle and Suppression Field? Take the absolute.

I’ll be honest; D-Light does not delight me, and there are other directions worth exploring (Bathe In Light and Shining Shoal, perhaps?)

So, we’ve tweaked WW/r, and we’re ready to retake Standard by storm, right?


I put this new build to the test, and while problematic results have improved, they haven’t swung dramatically to a dominating position. At best, the Flores Blue and Gifts matchups are still no better than a coin flip.

I’m starting to believe that if you are going the R/W route, the Standard version of Boros Deck Wins or even R/W control may be superior. Still, that’s not to completely dismiss WW/r. It’s still a very good deck. But I don’t know if it will ever be able to be “the” deck again.