Sullivan Library – The Future of Standard White Weenie

Read Adrian Sullivan every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Friday, October 3rd – White Weenie, especially Kithkin, has been a constant blip on the metagame radar in both Standard and Block Constructed ever since the release of Lorwyn. With Shards of Alara bringing fresh meat to the table, is the most potent way to build Aggro White still centered on maximizing the synergy of the cheeky Hobbits? Adrian investigates some potent non-tribal alternatives…

This weekend, I think I received more sad phone calls during a Magic weekend than I ever have before. It was a really striking weekend for me, but thankfully I got a small break in between the commiserating and complaining when Patrick Chapin asked me to name some cards from Shards of Alara for him to think about. Early on, Akrasan Squire came to mind, much to his surprise.

“The Squire?” he asked. “Really?

His voice was full of pondering surprise, and I could almost hear him turning it over in his mind. Then he said aloud the question I’d been thinking for a while now: “Does a White Weenie deck really need to be Kithkin anymore?”

More and more, I’ve been contemplating the ways in which White Weenie is being auto-built rather than built cautiously. With all of the news Shards cards out there, there are all the more reasons to start stepping away from Kithkin. This isn’t to say that Kithkin have no place in Standard. Far from it. Let’s look at Spain’s championship deck, piloted by Omar Sagol:

This is clearly a Kithkin deck. More importantly, it is also a completely post-Shards Standard-legal deck! Heck, it’s only three cards out of being Block legal. Sure, you’re going to have to lose your “Snow-covered” status on those Plains, but the deck wasn’t really making any main deck use of them anyway. The board takes some small hits, but nothing completely dire. Sacred Mesa and Crovax, while potent, are eminently replaceable. Gelid Shackles has a powerful application, but another removal spell could take its place. Mana Tithe is the only card that really doesn’t have any easy plug-in replacements. Even so, it isn’t necessarily a critical way to build the deck.

Kithkin, then, are alive and well. Why mess with a good thing, right?

The Synergies and the Alternatives

Shards comes packed in with some powerful cards. And none of them are Kithkin. The more you dip into these cards, the less potent that your Kithkin synergies become. I know in Block testing, so often I would hear a Kithkin player exclaim, “Man, if only these Spirits were Kithkin!” or “If only Spectral Procession was tribal!” It could be for any number of reasons. Maybe a Clachan was stuck coming into play tapped, or maybe there was a Cenn around that would make it be a kill.

The thing is, every time you add yet another non-Kithkin, you end up hurting the Kithkin that care. There aren’t that many, of course, but they are there. Wizened Cenn is maybe the most notable, but Goldmeadow Stalwart might actually be the most important one. A one mana two-power attacker is a huge deal. Even some of the worst draws can become shockingly damaging, simply by drawing a second one of them early. A draw like Plains, one Knight of Meadowgrain, Spectral Procession, Oblivion Ring, Wizened Cenn, Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, can become an actual threat on the play if that seventh card is a Goldmeadow Stalwart. If the next draw is also a Stalwart, it can quickly explode into true danger. Even without that second land, you’ll soon be attacking for three or five a turn, respectively, and your opponent will . The less Kithkin that you are running, the more the Stalwarts can transform the same kind of draw into dead weight. The same issue, though less pronounced, can be found in Rustic Clachan. It is merely these three card (Cenn, Stalwart, Clachan), the Three Needy Kithkin, that are asking you to maximize them.

What cards are there that might make you not play Kithkin? There are several, but perhaps the biggest are largely Knights and Soldiers. Knight of the White Orchid and Sigiled Paladin, both from Shards of Alara, bring with them real incentives. Maxing out these Human Knights, inevitably you’ll be displacing some Kithkin, making the Three Needy Kithkin weaker, every time that you reduce your total count.

What you might get out of a non-Kithkin is hard to weigh against what you’re losing out, precisely because it can be hard to measure the reduction in value in your Three Needy Kithkin. We know how good a Stalwart is in some intuitive way. But how much worse he becomes is hard to actually quantify. So, what are the alternatives to go with, anyway?

The first thing you need to do is catalog all of the real possibilities for a White Weenie deck. What is reasonable, by some measure, to make the cut?

The Reasonable Cards

Obviously, not every creature that is legal is worth considering. If I were to make such a list for Standard, it would be the following:

One-drop creatures
Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, Cenn’s Tactician, Goldmeadow Harrier, Goldmeadow Stalwart, Figure of Destiny, Rhys the Redeemed, Loyal Sentry, Soul Warden, Suntail Hawk, Akrasan Squire.

Two-drop “creatures”
Militia’s Pride, Mistmeadow Skulk, Knight of Meadowgrain, Wizened Cenn, Steadfast Guard, Nightsky Mimic, Puresight Merrow, Ethersworn Canonist, Knight of the White Orchid, Sigiled Paladin.

Three-drop “creatures”
Mirror Entity, Preeminent Captain, Kinsbaile Borderguard, Spectral Procession, Stillmoon Cavalier, Kitchen Finks, Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, Field Marshal, Rise of the Hobgoblins, Paladin en-Vec, Skyhunter Skirmisher.

Four-plus-drop creatures
Galepowder Mage, Thistledown Liege, Wilt-Leaf Liege, Ranger of Eos, Archon of Justice, Cloudgoat Ranger, Oversoul of Dusk.

Spells and Land
Niveous Wisps; Condemn; Surge of Thoughtweft; Oblivion Ring; Unmake; Glorious Anthem; Pariah; Ajani Goldmane; Elspeth, Knight-Errant; Mirrorweave; Swell of Courage; Sigil of Distinction; Bant/Esper/Naya Panorama; Mutavault; Rustic Clachan; Windbrisk Heights.

Now, I’m being incredibly generous in a lot of ways, here. Many of these are probably too underpowered to really spend too much time considering. Others are likely to seem worthy of being auto-included in any reasonable White Weenie deck, regardless of whether it is Kithkin or not. A card like Mistmeadow Skulk, for example, I know that I don’t think will make the cut, but I also know that it was seriously being considered by players that I respect. I’m sure people will say I am overlooking other cards, and maybe I am. Still, these remain the ones that got my attention, for whatever reason.

When you look at this list with more detail, there are a number of classes of cards that emerge:

Pure Power

These are the cards that simply in a vacuum have power. Figure of Destiny, Knight of Meadowgrain, Knight of the White Orchid, Sigiled Paladin, Spectral Procession, Stillmoon Cavaliers, Kitchen Finks, Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, Paladin en-Vec, Wilt-Leaf Liege, Archon of Justice, Cloudgoat Range, and Oversoul of Dusk.

A few of these are Kithkin, but most are not. You’ll note that a lot of these cards are clearly not cards that saw the light of day in Kithkin lists in Block, despite being legal there. A large part of the reason that they didn’t see play was the large likelihood that you’d see another Kithkin deck, and the fear of Mirrorweave was rightly in the hearts of those decks. Another reason that you didn’t see them was that their mana cost was largely prohibitive without enough return. Archon of Justice might have some use as the upper end of a Pile of B*tches-style Mike Flores White Weenie, hearkening back to the past, but it is still damned expensive. For that kind of mana, the return really better be worth it, especially when fighting against Cryptic Command. It is unsurprising that they didn’t usually see play, and probably they shouldn’t. But we should still think about them and remember to choose not to include them, lest we forget that they are an option.

The Kithkin

These are all of the old familiar cards that you’ve come to know quite well over the last PTQ season. These go beyond the cards that saw regular play in Kithkin lists and also include cards like Cenn’s Tactician, Militia’s Pride, Preeminent Captain, Kinsbaile Borderguard (an honorary Needy Kithkin), and Galepowder Mage. Essentially, these cards have a greater value than they might otherwise hold because of how they power up the Three Needy Kithkin. Rustic Clachan and Goldmeadow Stalwart’s power especially decline without the requisite number of friends. A Wizened Cenn, at least, is still a 2/2 for two that can make a Mirrorweave into a bomb. It’s worth noting just how many of these Kithkin are of another class that matters, Soldiers.

The Soldiers

It’s almost funny to think about, but there really are a lot of incentives to playing the Soldier “tribe.” Cenn’s Tactician, Goldmeadow Harrier, Goldmeadow Stalwart, Loyal Sentry, Akrasan Squire, Preeminent Captain, Kinsbaile Borderguard, Field Marshall, and Ranger of Eos. The ones to pay particular attention to are, much like their Kithkin counterparts, the Three Needy Soldiers: Cenn’s Tactician, Preeminent Captain, and Field Marshal. Cenn’s Tactician can supply a slow, steady boost to any singular Soldier, Preeminent Captain can massively speed up a potential attack, and Field Marshal is a bona fide Soldier-lord. These three are the ones that can actually make it worth your while to focus on being a Soldier.

The Role-players

There are those cards that simply do something, that may have use. Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, Goldmeadow Harrier, Rhys the Redeemed, Loyal Sentry, Soul Warden, Nightsky Mimic, Puresight Merrow, Ethersworn Canonist, Mirror Entity, Stillmoon Cavalier, Paladin en-Vec, Skyhunter Skirmisher, Galepowder Mage, Ranger of Eos. You may have to work a little to get that use to be of true value, or maybe something inherent to your particular build or a particular metagame make something powerful. Soul Warden, for example, is pretty weak if lifegain doesn’t matter but can be potent in a race. Loyal Sentry, a Soldier, isn’t very exciting without being both a Soldier, but also living in a metagame where you can expect that he will have things to block that are bigger and nastier than you might otherwise be able to deal with. In general, while these cards might also be powerful in their own right, often, we only play them because the world we’re playing in insists on it.

The White-hungry

Figure of Destiny, all of the WW-costing creatures, Spectral Procession, Stillmoon Cavalier, Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, Wilt-Leaf Liege, Thistledown Liege, and Oversoul of Dusk — these are the cards that demand that we have a lot of access to White mana. They should make us question otherwise perfectly fine cards like Mutavault in our list. In some ways, they have a lot of incentives for us. A Wilt-Leaf Cavalier is big. We want to be able to make our Figures and Stillmoons big, but they cost us in mana options. In addition, though, the more we go into this direction, we have to remember that it actually rewards us to continue to go into this direction.

The First Alternative: Soldiers

With all of these options in mind, let’s see what we can make that makes a Soldier deck worthwhile. Much like a Kithkin deck, we’re probably going to occasionally depart from only Soldiers just to tap into those cards that are too undeniably powerful to ignore.

Brainstorming, we can have:

Cenn’s Tactician
Goldmeadow Harrier
Figure of Destiny*
Akrasan Squire
Militia’s Pride*
Sigiled Paladin*
Knight of Meadowgrain*
Preeminent Captain
Kinsbaile Borderguard
Mirror Entity
Spectral Procession*
Field Marshal
Ranger of Eos

* = non-Soldier

That’s a lot of guys, but there are some interesting things in here. The Exalted mechanic interacts really nicely with Cenn’s Tactician and Militia’s Pride. Akrasan Squire is a fair replacement for Stalwart in a lot of ways, providing the faux 2/2 for 1 that you want in a deck like this. Tactician also has a lovely interaction with Kinsbaile Borderguard. It’s easy to imagine a single copy of each providing a real threat, while a second Tactician would put it over the edge. The Preeminent Captain can have enough other Soldier action going along with it to provide some remarkably scary attacks.

A beta list might be:

3 Cenn’s Tactician
4 Figure of Destiny*
4 Akrasan Squire
4 Sigiled Paladin*
4 Knight of Meadowgrain*
4 Preeminent Captain
3 Kinsbaile Borderguard
4 Field Marshal
2 Mirror Entity
2 Ranger of Eos
2 Militia’s Pride*
3 Windbrisk Heights
2 Mutavault
3 Rustic Clachan
14 Plains

* = non-Soldier

A quick set of opening hands reveals some powerful potentials. Double-draws of Sigiled Paladin involve attacking for four on turn 3, with no other help. Attacking with Preeminent Captain into Kinsbaile Borderguard, Mirror Entity, or Ranger of Eos is incredibly powerful. Militia’s Pride is useful not just with Exalted, but also with Preeminent Captain.

Occasionally, truly dramatic games happen. Turn 2 Knight of Meadowgrain followed by a Preeminent Captain made for an insanely potent turn 4. Casting Militia’s Pride, and attacking, activating the Pride twice and the Captain triggering into play a Kinsbaile Borderguard made for a 6/6 attacking Borderguard joining in six other power of attackers. Another game, tricking a Ranger of Eos into play to fetch up a pair of Figure of Destiny as backup should the board be cleared felt like more than cheating.

At the same time, it became clear getting some creatures out of the way might be useful. Maybe a Harrier could help things out, or perhaps something in the way of creature elimination? Oblivion Ring and Unmake are both reasonable, obviously, though Unmake makes Mutavault more problematic. Unmake might make more sense than Oblivion Ring when you have Harrier to hold things down against cards like the otherwise problematic Chameleon Colossus. In addition, the Sigiled Paladin and Knight of Meadowgrain seem like they might be underperforming. Still, some degree of two-drops seems good. Knight helps out the Borderguard, and Sigiled Paladin merely seems like a powerful two-drop. Further, the Mutavaults were getting in the way of the Figure! Some quick research shows twenty-three White mana often being used to support Figure.

Version two:

3 Cenn’s Tactician
2 Militia’s Pride
3 Goldmeadow Harrier
4 Akrasan Squire
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Knight of Meadowgrain
4 Preeminent Captain
3 Kinsbaile Borderguard
4 Field Marshall
2 Mirror Entity
2 Ranger of Eos
3 Unmake
4 Rustic Clachan
3 Windbrisk Heights
16 Plains

Ranger of Eos just keeps on feeling really powerful, especially if you aren’t paying for it thanks to a Preeminent Captain. The balance between the Kithkin in the deck make the 4 Rustic Clachan feel far more correct, and the smidge of elimination, whether real (Unmake) or temporary (Goldmeadow Harrier) give the deck a sense that a single Finks won’t just ruin your day, nor will some big guy.

Still, there is a clear tension in the deck. The Militia’s Pride practically scream for help from Mutavault, but the White-hungry cards in the deck are, in contrast, opposed to that idea. The Prides also serve to make the Borderguard very formidable in its own right, making you not at all feel like you are missing out on ways to deal with Wrath.

Ranger of Eos screams for more copies. Even when he isn’t tricked into play, he just is so powerful. Cryptic Command bouncing him feels almost laughable, and he just shrugs off Wrath of God effects. Maybe there is a Ranger of Eos build? Could Knight of the White Orchid make him all the better, and maybe let us get Mutavault back in?

Version three:

3 Cenn’s Tactician
1 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender
1 Rhys the Redeemed
2 Goldmeadow Harrier
2 Kinsbaile Borderguard
4 Akrasan Squire
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Knight of the White Orchid
4 Preeminent Captain
3 Thistledown Liege
2 Turn to Mist
2 Mirror Entity
4 Ranger of Eos
4 Rustic Clachan
2 Windbrisk Heights
2 Mutavault
16 Plains

The Soldier path can be explored in so many other ways. If you want to go a little zany, you can find room for cards like Veteran Armaments, or combinations that include lesser used cards like Niveous Wisps. The possibilities are very broad.

A Second Alternative: Non-Tribal

Perhaps, though, the way to go is to just try to attack the opponent with creatures that are good on their own merit. There could be something to that approach.

In an approach like this, you’ll need to pay special attention to your curve. Your eye should be on creatures that can attack for a lot with very little help.

Brainstorming, we can have:

Figure of Destiny
Akrasan Squire
Militia’s Pride
Knight of Meadowgrain
Knight of the White Orchid
Sigiled Paladin
Spectral Procession
Stillmoon Cavalier
Kitchen Finks
Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers
Rise of the Hobgoblins
Wilt-Leaf Liege
Cloudgoat Ranger
Archon of Justice
Oversoul of Dusk

The first thing that sticks out in my head here are the number of Selesnya-style creatures available. It also looks incredibly WW-heavy. Maybe the place to begin is in a Mutavault free White/Green hybrid-heavy deck.

A first list:

4 Figure of Destiny
4 Akrasan Squire
4 Sigiled Paladin
4 Knight of Meadowgrain
4 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Wilt-Leaf Liege
4 Spectral Procession
4 Unmake
4 Windbrisk Heights
3 Rustic Clachan
17 Plains

The first thing that actually comes to notice in a little bit of playing is that I’m really liking those Clachan. Even though there are almost no Kithkin in the deck, they really rock. Especially potent are moments when you reset a Kitchen Finks. Sometimes this can be backbreaking. Further, it looks like mana flood is a real possibility sometimes. This isn’t horrible if you have a Figure around, but it can be more than aggravating at other times. Perhaps this might be an opportunity to check out how hindering a few Panorama might be! The Finks and Lieges are the only cards that can be used to cast anything with them, so we should probably be sparing with them.

More importantly, though, it seemed like you often just wanted to beat their face in, and not worry about silly things like killing a creature. Maybe this could be a place for Ajani? Mirrorweave could also be a good fit, and it makes a few Panorama less scary.

Take two:

4 Figure of Destiny
4 Akrasan Squire
4 Sigiled Paladin
4 Knight of Meadowgrain
4 Wilt-Leaf Cavalier
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Wilt-Leaf Liege
4 Spectral Procession
2 Ajani Goldmane
2 Mirrorweave
4 Windbrisk Heights
4 Rustic Clachan
3 Bant Panorama
13 Plains

The deck feels really powerful against sweep. Firespout feels largely insufficient, and Wrath of God is a card that the deck has the ability to play around. Mistbind Clique, on the other hand, is kind of a house. A well-timed Clachan seems okay there, but it almost feels like the Clique shouldn’t be able to be that much of a blow out. Similarly, Cryptic Command is pretty huge against the deck. In a way, this makes me start to consider Redeem the Lost as a means to just blow-out Cryptic Command, but that is probably just crazy talk. (Or maybe not…)

The Bant Panorama are mostly okay. It seems clear that three is probably one too many, and more testing might indicate that they should simply get out of there in favor of some basic Plains. And although the deck doesn’t have the capability of the Kithkin-nut high draw culminating in a turn 4 Mirrorweave kill, it does seem to have a lot of natural resistance to creature-kill. There are simply many more late-game top decks that can end things than a Kithkin deck can provide. There clearly is something here. But there is always an entirely different approach one could take…

What if you packed your deck with creatures that could largely care less about the resistance that might be thrown at it by, say, Faeries or Five-Color Control? How far could you go in that direction?

It seems like you might have a particularly thick three-drop spot, with Kitchen Finks, Spectral Procession, and Paladin en-Vec being worthy of making the cut, and Stillmoon Cavalier likely a good call as well. This almost begs for you to be using Knight of the White Orchid, and now that you’re down that path, you should probably include some Exalted with Sigiled Paladin and Akrasan Squire. Figure is the White Weenie auto-include, and now you’re looking at how to round things out, since four copies of each puts you at 32 spells. I wouldn’t mind seeing things topped off with something bizarre like Archon of Justice or Pariah, something more conservative like Cloudgoat Ranger, or even something like Rise of the Hobgoblins, Militia’s Pride, Mirrorweave, or Swell of Courage.

Or what if you decided you wanted to splash into other colors? Where would you go? With the filter land from Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Block or the new mana fixing from Shards joining the pain lands, you can pretty much make anything a splash color. You could go Jank-like and add in Red (still easily supporting your Figure of Destiny), or be closer to Ped Bun’s Disruption King, and find room for Black for Tidehollow Sculler and other disruption. Blue could give you a greater or lesser number of counters, depending on how deep you went. Green is the only color that doesn’t seem like it would give you that much (although Sigil Blessing and Gaddock Teeg are interesting to contemplate).

Spain shows us that there is clearly nothing wrong with simply playing Kithkin. On the other hand, we need to remember that there are other rewards that we can explore in the new set, and if we simply marry ourselves to Kithkin, we can never reap them.

There is a lot to explore just in White Weenie alone. My gut feels like the future of White Weenie will move away from Kithkin, though Kithkin will be with us as long as they are legal. With each successive set, though, I expect it will slide more and more away. Maybe someone has a completely different approach to White Weenie that I hadn’t thought of.

I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Adrian Sullivan