When I first started seriously playing Onslaught Block Constructed, there was really only one deck to be playing: Goblins. There were a few other decks floating around, but the only ones posting any results were those which could beat Goblins with consistency. As a rule, I’d rather play whatever beats the most popular deck than the most popular deck itself, so I took a good look at the different decks in the field before settling on one to start my testing with. In the end, I took a strong liking to a black-white deck that followed up various board-clearing effects with the nigh-unkillable Twisted Abomination to win its matches.
I sold off my Standard deck on Magic Online for a fistful of tickets and used them to put together an initial build to get the ball rolling. Here’s what I started with:
After testing the deck against the field, I had a few first impressions:
First off, Twisted Abomination is nuts. Absolutely nuts. There is only one card in the format that can properly deal with him, and that’s Carbonize. Barring that singularly annoying instant, Twisty is just about all you can ask for in a finisher. If you draw him early and don’t want him, he landcycles and comes back when you need him via Cruel Revival. Once he hits play, he’s a dominator; not much can block a five-power beater without ending up in the graveyard, and his regeneration negates most red removal altogether. Wing Shards is only a temporary solution, as Cruel Revival and Unholy Grotto can be used to bring him back in a pinch. He even survives your own Vengeances!
The second thing I quickly came to realize is that Zombie Bidding is an absolutely awful matchup. All your opponent has to do is say”I’ll play Patriarch’s Bidding,” and it’s time to shuffle up for game two. The problem is that the only way to stop this game-ender is with Withered Wretch. If you don’t draw the Wretch before your opponent draws Patriarch’s Bidding, your chances of winning are slim to none. Luckily, I found Withered Wretch to be a fine addition to the deck as a whole (chiefly because of its ability to take out opposing Eternal Dragon), and having three of them in the maindeck helps this matchup out a lot.
After getting a feel for the deck and doing some more testing, I made a few cuts:
First out was Undead Gladiator – he simply was not good against any of the decks in the field, and was promptly removed once I realized this. Next out was Infest; I quickly discovered that while this card worked great against Goblins, it was all but useless against every other deck in the field. Since the matchup was already pretty good, and I still had a sideboarded silver bullet ready in the form of Silver Knight, Infest also got the axe in a hurry.
The inclusion of a whopping seven landcyclers in the deck led me to draw into a few too many lands in testing; I tried thinning the land count from twenty-six to a more comfortable twenty-four to alleviate the problem, and was pleased with the results. I also noticed that the deck was pretty much always hungry for mana in the late game, and found myself playing out my cycling lands much more frequently than I actually cycled them as a result. This tendency made their comes-into-play-tapped clause a noticeable hindrance that the cycling never really made up for, so out they went. Finally, I found Grand Coliseum a wholly unnecessary addition to the mana base, and swapped out the two I had been running for a pair of Unholy Grottos which proved much more useful.
Over time, my tweaks began to shift in focus as the Magic Online metagame began to drift towards control decks – especially after the results came in from Detroit. For this reason I gave Wipe Clean a shot in the maindeck, and ended up liking it there. The cycling changed it from a dead card to merely a slow card against aggro, while the maindeck anti-aggro cards that had preceded it almost always ended up being useless against other control decks.
After a few weeks of testing and changes, here’s what I ended up with:
Notably missing from this build are the three cards that most designers would start out with when building a black-white control deck: Graveborn Muse and the black-white Decrees. Frankly, there wasn’t any room for them. Graveborn Muse is a risky proposition in any control deck without reliable life gain, and I hardly consider Exalted Angel alone a reliable source. Decree of Justice serves as an extra finisher where Eternal Dragon, Twisted Abomination, and Exalted Angel already do the job just fine – besides serving other irreplaceable purposes in the deck. Decree of Pain alternately serves as a too-slow Infest or a too-slow Vengeance that kills your own Abominations. If you still feel the urge to run these cards, I’d suggest starting from scratch rather than adding them to my build; the list I’ve posted is tuned to work without them.
Before I go into the deck’s matchups, let me offer a disclaimer: I do not consider testing on Magic Online a valid source for concrete percentages, so I won’t post any. There are too many factors (like play skill and deck builds) for me to conclusively say that the deck wins X percent of the time against any specific archetype. With that in mind, I will explain how each of the matchups works out, how you should play them, and – most importantly – how to sideboard in them.
Brian Kowal Red-White Control (“Slideless Slide”)
The key to this matchup is answers and threats. Both decks have a very diverse set of threats that can only be answered by one or two specific cards in the opposing deck. If, for example, you cast a Twisted Abomination, the only way the red/white player can get it off the table is with a Wing Shards or a sideboarded Carbonize. Similarly, the only way for you to get an Akroma, Angel of Wrath to play dead is with a Wing Shards or a Vengeance.
Rain of Blades is key in this matchup. The biggest threat to your game that the red-white mage possesses is an end step-cycled Decree of Justice; the resulting alpha strike will usually take between six and ten life points out of your total, and your only recourse against it is the Rain.
While not exactly key, Withered Wretch is deceptively important to your strategy. The Zombie Cleric serves one purpose here: to remove Eternal Dragon from the game. Eternal Dragon is a crucial finisher that simply cannot be stopped by conventional removal once the red-white player gets twenty mana on the table. Two of them are an even bigger headache. Withered Wretch stops all this nonsense, and allows you to put the red-white player away with Abominations and Dragons of your own once you make it to the late game.
Game one is favorable with the build I listed above, though it would be much less so without the Wipe Cleans. Red/white’s primary source of damage is Lightning Rift, and the only way to stop it without the Wipes is Akroma’s Vengeance. Having to tap six mana to remove one enchantment from the board is far from optimal, especially since you’ll usually tap too low to be able to Wing Shards any Akromas they might follow it up with. I mention this because the easiest way to adapt the deck to a Goblin-heavy environment is to swap the four maindeck Wipe Cleans for the Silver Knights in the board. If you go with this plan, you’ll have to save your Vengeances for Lightning Rifts in game one of this matchup – you simply won’t be getting any more enchantment removal until boarding.
Game two is, with few exceptions, won by one of two cards: Head Games or Decree of Annihilation. Both cards are simply unfair in this matchup, and the fact of the matter is there isn’t much either deck can do to stop them. If you fire off a Head Games on an empty board and follow it up with a creature of casting cost six or more, your opponent will rarely be able to keep pace and will usually be overwhelmed in the span of five or six turns. Similarly, there isn’t a thing you can do to stop your opponent from making a team of soldiers during your end step and then untapping and Armageddoning you into oblivion.
The good news is, you board in four copies of Head Games, while most red-white players only run two Decrees in their sideboard. It also helps that Decree is situational, while Head Games is useful just about any time you draw it. Even if your opponent has only a single card in their hand, a pre-combat Head Games ensures at the very least that your attack will be Wing Shards-free.
The bad news is that while Head Games only puts you on the road to victory, Decree of Annihilation can almost always result in a win. Even when the board seems to be at parity, a cycled Decree can be as lopsided as your Vengeances are when Twisty is on the table. For example, a red-white opponent of mine once hard-cast an Eternal Dragon on turn 7 and passed the turn. I played out an Abomination with plans to Vengeance the Dragon off the board and begin racing. My opponent untapped, cycled the Decree, and attacked with his Dragon to get a game-winning five points ahead in the damage race. And there was nothing I could do about it. The best way to combat the Decree is to be aware of its presence and play around it – keep a spare land or two in your hand when you can, and try to commit a creature to the board before your opponent does.
Or just draw Head Games first.
This matchup is quite similar to red-white, except that Astral Slide’s threat base is much less diversified. The key in this matchup is to focus on keeping Astral Slide off the table – even if it means ignoring Lightning Rift. Consider that Lightning Rift by itself is usually about a nine-turn clock, while Twisted Abomination by himself is a four-turn. Rift won’t get Abomination off the table or prevent him from attacking; Slide will.
Getting rid of the Slide is also important because of Exalted Angel. You’ve got twelve cards in the maindeck that can kill the Angel, but those cards are only effective assuming there is no Astral Slide in play. With Slide (and therefore Angel) out of the picture, all you’re faced with in this matchup is racing Lightning Rift backed up by the odd Decree of Justice – a task which your deck should be equal to.
Decree of Annihilation is just as much of a threat as it was in red/white, if not more so. Some Astral Slide players even go so far as to maindeck it because of its broken interaction with a Slided-out Angel when hardcast. In any case, follow the same techniques I suggested for combating the slide in red-white and you should be fine.
Mono-White Control (Teen Girl Squad)
Withered Wretch is your key to victory in two matchups. The other one is Zombies. With Dragon Scales and Eternal Dragon being this deck’s primary source of long-term threats against you, removing both of them from the game in one fell swoop absolutely neuters mono-white’s late game.
Besides Withered Wretch for Dragon Scales and Eternal Dragon, you have access to a whole host of answers for everything else mono-white can throw at you. Cruel Revival stops any creature but Akroma (and Wing Shards stops her), Smother takes out Silver Knight and the odd Angel token, and Akroma’s Vengeance will clear the board of everything but Twisted Abomination.
I won’t lie; mono-white hates Cabal Interrogator. It’s got only one way to get him off the board, and that’s Akroma’s Vengeance. You’ve got four Interrogators to match their four Vengeances, plus four Cruel Revivals and three Unholy Grottos to get him back with.
Game two is quite a pleasant experience once you get Interrogator going. Thanks to him, you don’t really need to bring in more than three Head Games – usually you need draw only one or the other to ensure victory. It is of note that if you already have Interrogator down, you can use an early Head Games to put a few Decrees of Justice and/or Akromas into your unsuspecting opponent’s hand and then Interrogate them out before he or she gets the chance to play them. These two cards are your biggest worry in this matchup, and getting them out of the picture is usually worth the trouble.
Excluding the Goblins Broken Draw – which no deck can really beat without equally crazy draws – black-white has a lot of game against Goblins. Three copies of Smother and Rain of Blades in the main are definitely good times against the little red men, and the four Silver Knights in the board make things even better. Your overall strategy against Goblins is the same as any control deck’s: Pick off a few early guys, get some card advantage with Akroma’s Vengeance, and follow it up with a fatty to finish things. Try to hold on to your Cruel Revivals if you suspect a Siege-Gang Commander is lurking in your opponent’s hand; without the boss himself, the Siegelings are a lot less intimidating.
A note about the sideboarding: Sulfuric Vortex is a threat that must always be accounted for in any Goblins deck, so leaving three Wipe Cleans in is usually a good idea. If it looks like no Vortexes were sided in – or if you are simply desperate for another card – the Wipe always cycles if need be.
Beasts are big. There’s no doubt about it. Taking them down requires a lot of effort, so you’ve got to be careful with your removal. Smother obviously takes out the ever-irritating Krosan Warchief – but Cruel Revival, Wing Shards, and Akroma’s Vengeance are a trickier matter. The key is to play your big men out as quickly as possible to draw out the Beast player’s best threats. You don’t want to have to blow a Cruel Revival on that Thoughtbound Primoc that’s beating you down when one of your opponent’s five cards in hand might be a Feral Throwback. Apply some heat to draw out the monsters, then deal with them as they hit the table.
Against this deck you also have to get used to using Akroma’s Vengeance as Diabolic Edict – most Beast players won’t find it necessary to commit more than one large creature to the board at a time to get you to remove it. Once again, though, don’t kill it unless it actually is a threat. Amplified Canopy Crawlers and Feral Throwbacks are generally your biggest worries, as they are the only Beasts capable of Contested Cliffing your finishers without killing themselves. Thoughtbound Primocs and Krosan Warchiefs are nuisances that can often be dealt with at a later time.
In game 2, beware the Insurrection! It is in there, and it will kill you. If you get into a creature standoff, break it as soon as you can, however you can. Don’t do anything that will get yourself killed – but if your hand has enough juice to back up your team, take a hit and make the first move. If you don’t, you may find yourself facing down your own Twistys and Dragons in a turn or two. Avarax can be a problem card after sideboarding; luckily, Head Games and Cabal Interrogator can dispatch the Hasty Beast’s backup before things get out of hand.
A quick note about Cabal Interrogator: Don’t forget that his creature type is both Zombie and Wizard. If your opponent lays a Thoughtbound Primoc with an Interrogator in play, don’t forget to swipe it on said opponent’s next upkeep.
Bad Form (Mono-Red Form of the Dragon Control)
This matchup is simple once you come to realize one fundamental fact: Lightning Rift is not the threat to worry about. A Rift on its own will almost never serve up twenty points – and you have eight cards in your deck that can deal with Rorix before he has an opportunity to get his damage in.
The card to save your enchantment removal for is Form of the Dragon itself. Once Form hits, it’s literally game over for you if you can’t remove it quickly. Racing the Rifts is much easier than racing the Form, especially with Twisted Abomination in your deck. In fact, the easiest way to win this matchup is to find Twisty and some enchantment removal to back him up with. Play him out and put your opponent on a clock, then remove the Form once it comes down and swing for the win.
The extra Grotto is especially important in this matchup, as the Bad Form player will side in their Land Destruction package against you. It’s not only an extra land to add to your stack, but it can also be used as a recursion tool with Twisted Abomination to swampcycle your way out of an early-game mana screw.
After sideboarding, you will frequently find yourself dropping a turn 2 Silver Knight and beating down with it. When doing this, never let yourself be deluded into thinking the Knight will go all the way. Once your opponent’s life total drops below five, down will come the Form and all the damage you’ve done up to that point will become a moot point. Nevertheless, beating down like this is still useful; the sooner your opponent drops the Form, the sooner you can get rid of it and swing for the win.
The nightmare matchup. The bottom line is this: if you don’t draw Withered Wretch, you just won’t win. Honestly, I wish I could say more about the matchup, but it’s just awful. At a fundamental level, you just can’t stop Bidding from resolving, and once it does, it’s almost always game over for you. The only thing you can do is hope to find a Wretch and clear out their yard before they drop the elbow.
Interrogator serves as a post-sideboard stalling mechanism, as he allows you to remove any early Biddings, Head Games, or Read the Runes the Bidding player might have drawn before they can be cast. Keeping the Bidding player in topdeck mode gives you a much better chance of finding a Wretch or simply racing outright before a Bidding shows up. Make sure not to cycle your Wipe Cleans too hastily in game two; Call to the Grave is a very real threat that you will need to be able to deal with should it turn up.
The deck is solid. I won’t make any wild claims like”it can go at least 50-50 against every deck in the field,” but with the exception of its one nightmare matchup (Zombie Bidding), its chances against any given deck usually fall somewhere between decent and good. If you’re like me and you’d rather go rogue than play what everyone else is expecting – and if there aren’t too many Bidding players in your expected metagame – you could do a lot worse than black-white control for your next Onslaught Block tournament.