Playtesting Gabriel Nassif’s Amazing B/W Deck

This deck was the real surprise to come out of the Championships, and is actually a lot more powerful than I initially felt it was. It feels very similar to Wake, with you tapping out for insanely powerful effects like Decree of Justice and Decree of Pain… But considering the deck’s eight Wrath effects punish you for playing creatures, encouraging you to hold them right in your hand where you can Therapy them out, it works really well together.

I think there’s a point where any person who writes regularly for a site comes to the conclusion they should take a look at what other people are writing and get a feel for the success stories of other writers. If I were to follow that line of thought, I almost begin to believe I should write a long introduction, and then perhaps recite a poem or two. That, I would conclude, would allow me to gain a much higher fan base and increase the hit counts of my articles.

Or I could just make really ignorant articles about fresh topics that no one claims to know much of anything about. Since everyone is really eager to look into new topics, they completely lose their guilt in reading really bad writing, since it’s all so new and fresh. Actually, I’m not even sure people really recognize bad writing all the time. That’s the internet writer’s guilt: Sometimes, we write bad articles.

Hopefully, this won’t be one of them.

The appeal of some Constructed decks can be pinned down on the enjoyment of their mechanics. I personally really enjoy playing Wake, since the cards are so flashy and powerful. It’s something like playing multiplayer Magic, only you’re involved in a single duel, where the poor opponent is watching you do things that are totally unfair. Wake has all of these great plays where you just do outright broken stuff: Tapping five lands to draw nine mana and then drawing eight cards is something you just don’t normally do in Constructed – or in Limited, for that matter. The game stops feeling like you’re casting piddly hedge spells like Savannah Lions and Basking Rootwalla. No, you slam your first to the table, tap a big pile of mana, and then draw a whole new hand.

Now that’s Constructed Magic! Never mind if the deck actually wins games; you just drew a whole new hand! So with that in mind, I’ll now talk about a deck that has the same infectious joy: Gabriel Nassif Decree.dec.

The similarities this deck has towards Wake are somewhat limited. In reality, it is functionally similar to playing Mono Black control in many ways, down to the extremely strong discard functions and creature kill. The deck also presents an interesting look at the face of neo-control, with strong cycling elements allowing the deck to functionally dig through itself in search of the necessary answers.

And it’s not blue. Expect this concept to show up more and more over the next couple of months.

In function, though, the deck reminds you of Wake, simply because the spells are so freaking powerful and mana-hungry. Tapping twelve mana to cast a giant Decree of Justice is, in and of itself, eerily familiar to the”flashbacking ten thousand elephants” routine that you pull with Wake. Granted, the Decree of Possums has more uses than Elephant Ambush in the early game, but a big pile of angry angels is very much like a big pile of angry elephants… At least to the sorry guy who just got smashed in the face.

Though I suppose angels use more cutting and less stomping than elephants do.

Since it’s not my deck, I can only really guess at a lot of the elements that make up Gabriel’s plan for the deck. However, I do believe that after a fair amount of playing, I have gotten a solid grasp on the decklist and hopefully the changes I made to it won’t seem too insane. I think Gabriel’s sideboard and design may have been designed to face a metagame he predicted, which leads me to believe modifications to the decklist may carry well in your own individualized metagame. Remember that the European Championships aren’t exactly your average FNM.

My thoughts on card choices and internal synergies:

Cabal Therapy

While Duress is a predictable no-brainer, Cabal Therapy can at times be a shaky card to place into a seemingly creature-light deck. In Monoblack Control, it can present itself as a single guess, which isn’t always the best decision for a control deck to be running. It’s nice to catch the Compost, but you may very well might miss it.

Therapy here is different. While it is possible, just as in MBC, to curve out with turn 1 Duress, turn 2 Therapy, turn 3 Undead Gladiator, then flash back the therapy, the synergy with Decree of Justice is very good. While you will be usually forced to use Cabal Therapy later on in the game, the fact that the sacrificed soldier costs you no cards, only mana, will generally remind you of the synergy between Squirrel Nest and Therapy.

Keep in mind when you consider that interaction that your deck is running eight Wrath of God effects. Your opponent is going to want to hold creature cards in his hand, which makes Therapy even better than you’d expect.

Chainer’s Edict

While generally I disdain the unwieldy Edict in this day and age for the much more graceful Smother, the Edict fits into this deck better since you are not truly quite as worried about picking off an individual creature in the early game. You will very often Wrath two or three times in a game, meaning you may very well have only a single high casting cost creature to bother picking off after smashing your opponent’s board position repeatedly. And the Edict does that nicely – twice!

This isn’t to say that Edict is strictly better than Smother in this deck; without Smother, you are unable to utilize the somewhat important”Smother the Wirewood Herald, Therapy out the Caller of the Claw” combo. You are also at a disadvantage when attempting to deal with the irritating Nantuko Monastery, which is a giant pain in the ass for this sorcery-speed deck. Given certain metagames, you may very well wish to swap one for the other.

Decree of Justice


You knew I had to say it. (If you don’t get the joke, look up Matthew Kahl’s Teen Girl Squad article.) One of the most versatile cards I’ve had the pleasure of playing with in a while, Decree of Possums combines many favorable situations into a single card. The uses are as delightful as any other X spell, especially when you take an X spell and then give it two distinct abilities.

The actual Angel attack is useful, if somewhat unwieldy. Six mana for a single 4/4 Angel is a terrible deal and you should pretty much never yearn to cast it as such. At eight mana, the spell becomes permissible as a hard caster, and past that the number of turns your opponent will survive angel violence rapidly diminishes. I have reached the fourteen mana”You have but a single turn, friend” mark once or twice.

The Possums effect, however, is extremely helpful in the early game. While it is costly to produce even a handful of soldiers, their effect can be quite detrimental to your opponent’s game plan. First, remember you are playing Wrath.dec. Your opponent is unlikely to slam down a big pile of creatures, letting you frustrate him by putting a line of Possums in the way of his one big attacker that is trying to kill you. Since the possums themselves do not cost you a card, you don’t care if he commits further creatures to the board and you Wrath them away.

Second, the spell is functionally an instant when cycled. In a lot of ways this allows you to produce creatures with haste, simply by slipping out a legion of soldiers during your opponent’s end step. In this way, you can get around opposing Wrath effects or finish off an unprepared opponent with an ambush of possums. You can also harass would-be attackers during your opponent’s attack step, with soldiers leaping into the fray to put down annoying goblins or zombies.

Third, of course, it’s a cycling card. That it produces soldiers isn’t always the big deal, but it’s nice to get a reward for throwing away a card besides another card. Need another black mana? Cycle it along and get a possum out of the deal. Good stuff.

Eternal Dragon

While Decree of Justice is most likely your win condition in most games, the powerful Eternal Dragon is no less imposing an aggressor. A nearly inexorable advancing force in most games, the Dragon gets around the problems of you Wrathing away your Angels in a dire situation or finding a removal-rich opponent killing off your crew of possums.

My main delight in this card, however, is figuring out cute nicknames for it. Due to its sissy (but excellent) artwork, I often refer to it as the Dragon of Love while bashing my opponent in the face with it, and occasionally am known to say”I bring back my Hammer of Dragon during my upkeep”. An excellent card overall and a perfect addition to this deck. In fact, I’m thinking of adding more.

General Matchup Thoughts

Generally, if this deck draws well, its design breeds answers to almost any problem you can face. The redundant Wrath effects put almost any creature deck in a bad situation – especially since Decree of Pain can be cast at instant speed when he’s not ready for it.

Aggro-wise, your worst problems are Rotlung Reanimator and Wirewood Herald going for Caller of the Claw. You can get around this somewhat by Decree of Paining during his end step, and then Wrathing during your own turn. Unfortunately, waiting until turn 5 to cycle Decree can often enough be too slow in a difficult situation, though.

The number of Wrath effects works in your favor, though, in every aggro matchup. You are capable of clearing the board repeatedly against most aggro decks, which can really crush their spirits fast. Bear in mind that you will often gain so much net card advantage that hard-casting the Renewed Faith will buy you some precious time to reach your two slower Wrath effects, which will in turn cripple your opponent’s advance until you can finish him off with a Dragon or a Decree. Even the Gladiator can be utilized as a win condition.

The matchup against Elves and Zombies improves dramatically with the addition of Engineered Plague. Rotlung Reanimator becomes remarkably less of a hassle with even a single Plague on the table; with two on the table (which you will often reach), you’ll strip your opponent of any chance of victory in all but the most land-flooded of situations.

Because the deck has so many Wraths, you aren’t too worried about U/G’s Circular Logics. You can Duress and Therapy them out of his hand besides, which rather declaws the U/G player’s ability to get off to an aggressive start. This isn’t to say it’s necessarily an easy matchup – only that the U/G player has to keep his head on straight. Sometimes your draw will stink, but generally you can simply brute force him to the ground, and then use possums in the way nature intended.

R/G will, of course, burn you out sometimes, but if they stall or slip in any fashion their lack of long-term card advantage – something present in Zombies, Elves, U/G, and sometimes even Beasts – will put them on the back foot, and then the game will usually slip to your favor. This is another situation where you really shouldn’t cycle Renewed Faith unless you’ve already got the upper hand, as it’s a long been noted that life gain is really annoying for R/G to fight through.

Against control decks, you have the full set of functional weapons: Decree of Pain and Akroma’s Vengeance both cycle in the dead matchups, making Wrath of God the only absolutely”bad” card to pull against a control deck. (Edict can be argued – but MBC, Slide and Tog all run one or two dorks, and the cheaper cost of Edict is makes it a bit more functional than Wrathing.) I have found the deck to be especially vicious towards Mono Black, though that may have only been the results of a few individual games and should not be presented as solid fact. Their only really incredible cards against you are Mind Sludge and Haunting Echoes; otherwise, I feel the situation works in your favor nicely.

Specific matchup thoughts:


You are not always fast enough to grind them down. A hard-cast Renewed Faith will usually buy you the time you need, though, and so will some decent Edict action. This is not an excellent matchup by any means, but it’s not brutal either.


Three or four Engineered Plagues, two Circle of Protection: Reds, and Chastise if you see a lot of big hasted beasts. Generally the Plagues and the Circles will greatly enhance the match up, whatever happens. Side out Echoes, Vengeance, Decree of Justice, and discard magic as you see fit. The faster the deck, the more high-end stuff you should take out. Some versions run very, very few spells, which makes Duress a good pick to pull out.


Much like Goblins, except it’s less vulnerable to Engineered Plague – though putting them in and setting ’em to Wizards and Lizards can deal R/G a swift kick to the groin. Chastise is a bit more important here, as Phantom Centaur can be a huge hassle if you’re caught too quick. (Remember that the Possums like stabbing the Centaur down to size, though.)


Depends on how many Centaurs you see. You may want to pull Edicts or Vengeance out. Chastise is very good here, obviously, while Circle of Protection: Red is, of course, a late-game show-stopper. Just keep in mind that Wild Mongrels aren’t red most of the time.


If they get off to too fast a start, you’re in bad shape – but as I said, the deck’s constant flow of Wrath effects will often put your opponent on the back foot. Echoes is very nice for shutting them down in the midgame, allowing you to turn off the pressure that their card drawing/sifting effects allow them usually. Remember to force priority if you Duress a Circular Logic by moving into the combat step; this will force them to discard it from the madness zone. I swear! I’ve seen people march a spell into the face of a Duressed Logic before because they needed to Wrath – just force priority, guys….


Nassif’s version only really contains Chastise to go in against U/G. Haunting Echoes can be added if you see fit, though it depends on the version of U/G you’re facing. I would generally pull the Undead Gladiators here, as while their sifting effect helps you in the late game, you expect if you get that far they’re being ground into dust by Wrath after Wrath wiping their barracks clean.


I had a surprising amount of trouble against this deck, as it can hold back in the early game, then fill its hand with Elves using a Bloodline Shaman. Edict is obviously pretty terrible against a deck that uses Wirewood Hivemasters. Sometimes they’re not fast enough and you squish them, but generally if the Elf player is crafty, he can draw this game out a lot longer than you’d expect.

Of course, if he doesn’t see a Herald or a Shaman early on, you’re probably going to spend some serious time laughing at them.

Sideboarding: This depends how the player plays. Some Elf players will try to slowly build up elves in hand, then search forward once they have the mana to protect their investment with the”Herald for Caller.” In these case, Persecute helps, but generally just side in Plague and laugh at them.


I don’t have much real experience in this matchup, but this is definitely one of those times you wish your Edicts were Smothers. Certainly the Edicts aren’t absolutely terrible, but they are not exactly super-great, either. Your deck tends to cycle through itself via cycling, so with a little bit of luck you can rely on your anti-control elements to ease you through.

If the Tog player stupidly Upheavals while you have mana free, remember that you can cast Decree with floated mana, no problem. Three to Five soldier tokens will hold the Tog off long enough to find a way to get the damn thing off the board. I don’t expect to see that more than once, but you can still clear out his Mana Short-fetching abilities besides. Maybe he’ll Cunning Wish for Stifle, though.


The Extra Echoes can put a damper on his advance, as can the Persecutes. I’m not sure I would bring in all three Persecutes, as ten pieces of hand attack magic aren’t going to leave him with much of a hand either way… But it won’t hurt. Obviously, Wrath and Decree of Pain go out here, depending on the build of Tog you’re facing.

You are in a disadvantage that you can not counter his Echoes, so you should be careful to gun for those early on. There’s nothing you can do about a topdecked one except hope you’ll be able to put him away fast enough… But there’s nothing saying he’s going to board Echoes in anyway. It seems like a good matchup, but looks can be deceiving. I would definitely change the Edicts or Chastises to Smothers if I felt I was going to play against a lot of Tog.


Again, this isn’t a matchup I have had a lot of experience with. I feel this is in the Decree player’s advantage, since you can remove his Compulsions while he’ll be hard-pressed to stop your Gladiator without using up a Wish. Hand attack magic followed by a quick Echoes will put away many a Wake player, but I think this is only somewhat in the Decree player’s favor. This is the first deck I played against, so I’m not sure if I was playing Decree correctly then.

Oh yeah – and remember that you can put Gladiator on the table simply as a threat. While it’s slow, it forces the Wake player to actually deal with something on the board, and throwing away your Wraths to a recurring threat can make his situation more confusing.


The Disenchants and the Echoes will help. If he lacks Compulsion (and of course, his Mirari) you’re in good shape. I believe the Wake player receives less in boarding than you do, but I don’t feel too confident playing Wake with high-powered Sligh running around anyway.

Mono Black Control

Sludge and Echoes wreck you; everything else in his deck isn’t much of an issue except late-game Corrupts. Duressing one or two of your spells isn’t going to keep you from cycling things away, nor will it make your Eternal Dragons any less of a recurring threat. You obviously can’t take this game too slow, but the ability to slip out a swarm of soldier tokens in his end step will force him to react quickly.

Your best bet is to Duress and Therapy away his Corrupts, Sludge, and Echoes, then lay down the Haunting Echoes. Obviously, with only a single Echoes maindeck, you won’t always be able to do this, but that’s why it’s your best bet and not something you do every game.


Bring in the Persecutes and the Echoes. Board out the Vengeances or Wraths, depending on if Mirari/Riptide Replicator or Nantuko Shade worries you more. Expect, however, that he will do the same – except he can’t really take out Mutilates, as Decree of Justice late will simply wreck him if he doesn’t have access to mutilate to clear the board. It’s like a good version of Mobilization!

So on and so forth. This deck was a real surprise to come out of the Championships, and is actually a lot more powerful than I initially felt it was. This is true blueless control, just as Slide is, without quite the same vulnerabilities as Slide. Though the deck isn’t exactly flawless, the overall set of matchups seems pretty consistent when you sit down and play the deck.

Cycling represents a shift in the design emphasis of many Magic decks. Instead of being forced to play Blue to gain access to deck sifting elements, suddenly your whole deck is quite happy to simply throw itself in the graveyard to advance your cause. Onslaught’s resources have remained somewhat untouched in the last six months, but this deck shows a slow creep towards the realization that the full block’s worth of cycling enables strategies much more powerful than initially expected.

The deck would seem to lose elements in the Eighth rotation with the loss of the humble Disenchant, the greedy Duress, and the vicious Engineered Plague. Plague is key in the Zombies and Goblins matchups, but the deck can endure through the usage of other cards that aren’t quite as unfair to the opponent. Hell, just add more Circles of Protection or Karma for the zombies; I’ll outrace you just fine. Duress can be replaced with Blackmail, oddly enough, without too much of a power drop; the deck doesn’t mind waiting a little to throw down Duress and once Compost is gone, there isn’t quite the same number of must-be-rid-of early drops – Elephant Guide is another sore spot, though.

Disenchant is more problematic, making the deck unable to deal with artifacts that have hit the table. Currently you are capable of Duressing and Therapying out Miraris or Replicators, which remain the only truly scary artifacts out there – but who knows what Mirrodin holds?

I am not sure what the deck gains from Mirrodin. Perhaps Blinding Angel will find a home in the sideboard, replacing the lost Plagues as an anti-Zombies and Elves card. Perhaps not. We shall see.

Nevertheless, this is a truly interesting deck and I would hope Gabriel Nassif is pleased with bringing this deck to the masses – I know I’m thankful, since I was considering B/W post 8th rotation, not before… I don’t get quite as many complaints when I bust this one out, at least when compared to playing the soul-sucking Wake decks. Of course, people are none too pleased to see a hard-cast Decree of Justice or watching their Goblin Piledrivers suddenly falling down during their attack step to a cycled Decree of Pain, either.

It’s a great deck. It’s not mine, of course, but I should hope everyone gives this one a shot in the near future. I expect many types of non-blue, non-slide control decks to crop up over the next couple of months.

Here’s the version I run right now, by the way. It differs only slightly:

//NAME: Decreeing for Possums all day long

4 Renewed Faith

2 Akroma’s Vengeance

2 Decree of Pain

4 Decree of Justice

4 Chainer’s Edict

1 Haunting Echoes

3 Skeletal Scrying

4 Wrath of God

4 Cabal Therapy

4 Duress

2 Undead Gladiator

2 Eternal Dragon

2 Grand Coliseum

11 Swamp

11 Plains

SB: 3 Persecute

SB: 4 Engineered Plague

SB: 2 Circle of Protection: Red

SB: 2 Chastise

SB: 3 Disenchant

SB: 1 Haunting Echoes

I will be spending my weekend at Grand Prix: Detroit, where I will be working for the first time as a StarCityGames coverage guy. If you wish to meet up with me and do whatever it is you do with people you meet over the internet, go ask Ferrett where I am. Visual descriptions are so vague and there’s a picture up there anyway. My only major goal for Grand Prix Detroit is not to make a giant ass of myself – and of course to get bloody, painful revenge on Tim Aten for all the terrible things he’s said about me.

I’ll get you, Hey Tim, if it’s the last time I doooooooooo!!!!

Iain Telfer

Taeme in some places, Spiderdrake in others, scourge of the SCG forums

(Just kidding. I <3 Tim. I plan on doing round 2 coverage of Mister Aten, though he is no longer talking to me on AIM. I don’t know why. Perhaps he grew an extra head and it’s blocking his view?)