The Heroism Of Basic Plains

Plains is where it’s at! Mike Flores will be slamming Sun Titans, Emeria lands, and of course Pilgrim’s Eyes and Jens this weekend. This deck has great inevitability in the form of poison / Emeria / planeswalkers. Try it out.

Let’s start at the very beginning (that “very beginning” being five years ago).

Part I. All the Ways White Wafo-Tapa Screwed Heezy

Flores Fun Fact:

Aggro-Ideal is AJ Sacher all-time favorite deck.

In 2006, my decks had been riding consecutive US Nationals Top 8 appearances (Brian Kibler with G/W followed by Joshua Ravitz with Kuroda-Style Red). I had built what I considered at that point in my life the greatest deck of my career, which combined all the best cards (Sakura-Tribe Elder, Loxodon Hierarch, Gifts Ungiven) with a combo kill plus a transformative sideboard, Aggro-Ideal.

One night Aaron Forsythe was watching me on MTGO and commented “I didn’t see that coming.” I had my back to the wall but powered out a Boseiju, Who Shelters All-fueled Enduring Ideal to lock down the end game with combo enchantments.

I had been playing in the open, and the deck, to a slight degree, got out. By the Magic Invitational, Osyp asked me to sit on it for Nationals, and I was going through a particularly fertile point in my design career, so whatever. Julian and I played Budget Boros, which was a superb aggro deck; Julian lost in the Top 8. I missed due to a combination of bad judging and being flustered at the bad judging (forgot to ask for extra time and got an unintentional draw with a win on the table to miss Top 8, etc.), and no one played the Ideal deck in the open anywhere.

In private, it was just the most impressive deck I had ever seen. I X-0’d Josh Ravitz, no matter which B/W deck he tried; Budget Boros was tearing up international Nationals (and the deck crushed it), and it was a lock against any ‘Tron or control due to the inevitable Gifts and Life from the Loam loops, ultimately combining the ability to resolve any card with Boseiju, Who Shelters All with non-spell threats like Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree.

Anyway we sat on it.

Meanwhile there was a tournament series called the NAC, which was basically a smaller scale Star City Games Open Series, run by Tom Shea of TJ’s Collectables. As I said, I was going through a very fertile point, and I made yet another impressive deck.

In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, this is a deck Patrick featured on Monday; he didn’t think that he could do the deck’s pedigree justice in the space he allotted to me in the opening section of the Top 10 Deckbuilders of All Time and suggested I flesh it out myself.

Aaron Forsythe recently said that if there were SCGLive and a persistent Open Series during Ravnica Standard, Caw-Blade would have happened in 2006, too, and I scoffed (to myself). “I was one of the most successful deck designers at the time,” I thought. “And I never made no Caw-Blade.”

It was only contributing to Patrick’s epic that I remembered White Wafo-Tapa.

It is difficult to exaggerate how effective White Wafo-Tapa was in Standard at the time. Over six weeks, it won six consecutive NAC Qualifiers, with the same physical cards winning three of those.

First Julian Levin won.

He handed the deck to Steve Sadin who won (Steve went undefeated on the day).

There was an off week, for US Nationals, and some dude not in our group won.

That same week, Julian sleeved it up in the US Opens. Julian would eventually win a Grinder for US Nationals.

Julian and Steve convinced me to play it; I won.

In the Top 8 of the one I won, I beat Chad Kastel, who had tested with us a bit for the Block Pro Tour; he asked for the decklist.

The very last week, Chad ventured to the very last NAC Qualifier… And won.

Anyway, I finished a heart-wrenching Top 16 in the NAC itself. Beatdown Benny won with Ninjas.

You’d think that with all the #winning we would have gotten the picture. No. The official long hold deck was Aggro-Ideal. Ideal, for all its merits, could never beat Solar Flare (White Wafo, on balance, crushed it). No one on the squad broke 50% with Ideal that weekend. Ideal theoretically had the better long game, but a Solar Flare Persecute was typically enough to slow down Ideal sufficiently for Solar Flare to win with one of its fatty Legends.

Whereas White Wafo-Tapa had the ability to Mana Leak or Remand the Persecute. At that point, it was a mirror match where we had more counterspells, plus the ability to screw up their development with plays like “Spell Snare your Dimir Signet.”

So how did any of this screw Heezy?

Prior to Nationals, Heezy put on the hard buy for our best deck. I would “only” give him our second best, being White Wafo-Tapa. Given the choice of our second best deck for US Nationals or freerolling the WSOP, Mark chose the latter.

At the time, Guillaume wasn’t yet famous. BDM claims that he was MADE famous by multiple high-profile players crushing every available tournament with a deck bearing his name. Of course Guillaume is a great (not a question) and would more than earn his reputation by going on to win a PT, beating Heezy in the Top 8. But who knows how Resident Genius voting would have gone that year if the pump hadn’t been primed with Wafo’s name in the preceding months?

Sorry, Mark.

Anyway, all the reminiscing about White Wafo-Tapa since working with Patrick got my wheels turning.

I have a big tournament coming up in a few weeks. I am not attending US Nationals, instead opting to play in the TCGPlayer.com Championship in Chicago. My problem is that I don’t like any of the available decks in the format.

I really want to avoid playing any kind of Green deck. I did a statistical analysis of my play over 20-40 tournaments a few years ago, and it turns out that I win DI when I am not playing Green and lose DI when I am playing Green. Yet for some reason I was playing 75% Green decks for a multiple-year period.

Of the Green decks I was performing with, many were fake Green decks, playing cards like Golgari Grave-Troll. I happen to like Green (and all its cuteness and mana acceleration) too much, which has adversely colored my deck decisions in dozens of tournaments.

Case in point: For National Qualifiers this year, my best deck, which I had done a fair amount of testing with, was Mono-White Control. Yet I was convinced to play a Jace, the Mind Sculptor deck by Brian David-Marshall. I, unsurprisingly, have a pretty good win percentage when playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor. However I chose to play a Green Jace, the Mind Sculptor deck (U/G Genesis Wave) instead of B/U Infect (which had tested well), or even something pedestrian like Caw-Blade. The Genesis Wave did not get me what I wanted in that tournament.

So anyway, I try really hard not to play Green if I can help it at this point.

I don’t have any interest in playing a Red Deck right now. The card Timely Reinforcements has been very impressive in my limited play with it, to the tune of being able to dig me out of a mulligan to four against Vampires; certainly more than one come from behind against Red.

A good rule of thumb is that you don’t want to ever play a deck that is incapable of out-playing commonly played cards. I don’t think, as a Red Deck player, I would be very likely to beat a Timely Reinforcements into Gideon Jura, for instance. I can’t control the opponent’s ability to draw these cards; I can’t Counterspell them; and one of them buys time for the next one. That is quite different from playing a deck that is not good against a particular threat like Splinter Twin or Primeval Titan. Even Valakut can overload on Nature’s Claim and Dismember to combat Splinter Twin; might not be good, but you can reasonably try to do something.

I am also not particularly interested in most of the U/W creature-based decks that are already out there (Tempered Steel, Caw-Blade, Puresteel Paladin). Another color I try to avoid is White. The reason is that I too often go for White board control-oriented decks on Pro Tours. On balance, over the past couple of years, most of my best successes have been playing Blue, Red, and occasionally Black. I am not saying either Green or White is bad, rather that giving color guidelines to myself is something I have been trying to do in order to limit my capacity for bad decisions.

Making a long story short, White Wafo-Tapa reminded me of something… There is a time and a place for a White board control deck, and sometimes it is pretty great. I don’t actually have a built-in bad EV with White (unlike Green). There is no reason I should limit myself away from White. Heck, even in the age of full-on Affinity (Skullclamp, Disciple of the Vault, and so on) I was able to make a White board control deck that was good enough for a US Nationals Top 8.

So all that together, I decided to move forward with a White deck, maybe give myself the shot I didn’t at National Qualifiers this year. This is what I started out with:

If the $75K were tomorrow, this is what I would play.

The deck is certainly not set up to beat Valakut right now, but I don’t know how much that matters. Valakut hasn’t been performing particularly well in American tournaments. If there is one major matchup I would be willing to concede right now, it is the powerful Green deck that is already behind against more-or-less the other ones.

Splinter Twin should theoretically be a soft matchup, but I have actually done well so far; a lot of it is probably just luck (I drew two Spellskites and a Celestial Purge), but even given luck, the tools are there to get lucky.

Between these two I think that I am willing to cut Memoricide (you kind of have to be on the play and a little bit lucky to preempt Primeval Titan anyway) to play Dismember. I think it is a better play right now to go super heavy against the combo given that performance against Valakut has been only so-so.

The big incentive to playing a deck like this is its proven performance against most of the rest of the most popular cards in Standard… Red aggro, Caw-Blade, and so on. I love the Caw-Blade and beatdown matchups with this deck. The relentless number of Emeria / Tectonic Edge / Sun Titan synergies makes the deck superb against Caw-Blade. You just grind there.

I won a game the other day from zero cards in hand versus eight cards in hand… where the Caw-Blade player copied my Sun Titan. I just kept getting back Pilgrim’s Eye to trade with his Squadron Hawks (and then eventually to block his Sword attacks) until I got Gideon and Elspeth (thanks, top of my deck). I had so much operating mana because of the Emeria + Sun Titan. Sun Titan kept getting back some combination of Inkmoth Nexus, Pilgrim’s Eye (as above), or Tectonic Edge. He was using the stolen Sun Titan to keep pace with lands. The big issue was that he couldn’t really block my Sun Titan profitably, but I would gladly have traded with his (I am the one with the Emeria). The kicker about this game? He had actually Tectonic Edged my Emeria well in advance, but eventually drawing the Sun Titan allowed me to get it back and start the sequence despite the fact that he was ostensibly so far ahead.

RDW / Goblins / Vampires – Sure you lose games, but I don’t think I have lost very many that I didn’t double mulligan. You have annoying stuff for them from the very early turns (Contagion Clasp producing a 1/1 Goblin Guide offers up a pretty interesting min/max dilemma, don’t you think?), and the MWC deck is just so well set up for blocking. Basically any block is good for you. Spellskite leeches an extra card, Pilgrim’s Eye or Solemn Simulacrum typically block at a profit, and then you are in either planeswalker or Sun Titan land and will take over the game. The main thing to worry about here is life total; your primary source of life gain in the main is Elspeth Tirel, and she takes some work.


Contagion Clasp

I win about 75% of my games with poison. I will almost always play Inkmoth Nexus on the first turn on the chance that I can get a hit in on the second turn; the first poison being all that matters, of course. The only time I won’t do that is if I have Emeria in my opening hand, and I really want to play a two (typically I have Everflowing Chalice, sometimes in a two-land hand). You don’t always have the opportunity for the attack, but you will get some gigantic number of extra wins if you leave yourself this option. The games all go very long so it is realistic to have eight turns or so of Clasp activations in the late mid-game.

Everflowing Chalice

Not every MWC has this, but this style gets so much value out of Contagion Clasp it is a relatively cheap inclusion (and one that gives you another cheap play). Third-turn Solemn Simulacrum into fourth-turn Sun Titan is the dream!

Pilgrim’s Eye

I realized I could make this deck, particularly with a relatively low Plains count, if I played both Pilgrim’s Eye and Solemn Simulacrum. Pilgrim’s Eye takes a lot of beats, but he does a fine job in this deck, defending you from Tempered Steel’s flying creatures and out-classing Squadron Hawk mid-game.

Solemn Simulacrum

Pretty much just jam Jens into every brew these days. Also awesome with basic Plains!


If there were no Splinter Twin this would obviously be Wall of Omens. However there is a Splinter Twin, and I have been lucky with drawing Spellskite. Spellskite is not a lock against Twin, but two of them make for a good long time, and when you can set up Spellskite + Sun Titan, that is pretty much the lock down. More-or-less invaluable against RDW, absorbing Shrine of Burning Rage.

Day of Judgment

Might go to three to play another Timely Reinforcements. Otherwise, a gem.

Elspeth Tirel

The biggest tension in the design of this deck is whether to play Elspeth or All Is Dust. I am not 100% on that because the massive number of colorless artifacts actually makes All Is Dust a reasonable option, even if we go with zero Eldrazi Temples in this build. However, even a doomed Contagion Clasp can be helpful… I beat the U/W Puresteel deck when it looked like I would be decked by his Sword of Body and Mind by playing Elspeth, leveling immediately with Contagion Clasp, and running the Nevinyrral’s Disk to cripple his position and grind back into it with my numerous two-for-ones.

Gideon Jura

A pretty good card. I have never been the biggest Gideon fan, but having him is nice in this deck mostly because you can deuce Caw-Blade’s Gideon. Also good versus beatdown, buys time against Deceiver, etc.

Sun Titan

The workhorse of the style. He ain’t goin’ nowhere.

Timely Reinforcements

One of the most impressive cards so far, in particular given its ability to turn around games that seem otherwise hopeless. I won a mulligan to four where my Vampires opponent had a perfect aggro curve and dropped a Gatekeeper of Malakir on my Pilgrim’s Eye by drawing both of the Timely Reinforcements in sequence. Conclusion? “Maybe I should play more of that card.”

I have been working on a no-Black version with the intent of shoring up Splinter Twin percentage, especially given the fact that I don’t actually like my Primeval Titan plan. I am going to skip ahead to the current mold… I didn’t have an extra land in the sideboard for a while, but my Caw-Blade plan previous was -2 Timely Reinforcements, +1 Elspeth Tirel / +1 Swamp (with no Memoricides in!), so I ultimately knew I wanted an extra land. I went with Kabira Crossroads because it is functional, but there are probably other reasonable options, like Phyrexia’s Core.

You basically completely give up the Valakut matchup with this configuration, but like I said… I don’t know that the other way is more desirable.

The last time my best deck was MWC going into a TCGPlayer event, I spontaneously combusted into the U/R Splinter Twin deck. I am not-secretly hoping something like that happens again this time!