W/B Humans At #SCGRICH *1st*

AJ Sacher recounts the evolution W/B Humans and how he took down the SCG Standard Open with it in Richmond. He also provides an updated list for #SCGINVI!

We did it!

This article is going to be formatted thusly: how the deck came to be and why it was the way it was, then the tournament itself, and finally a couple of words on winning. The deck moving forward, its impact on the metagame, and how to beat it will have to wait until next week. By then we’ll see the first ripples taking form in New Jersey, which will make extrapolating from there much clearer.

When Xathrid Necromancer was first spoiled, it seemed pretty obvious what type of shell it would go into as well as its power in that shell. A few builds tried playing more colors, but most were straight W/B, which is where I wanted to be. Gerry Thompson brought up this extremely preliminary list before the Prerelease. This was the starting point of the shell we would be working with:

4 Champion of the Parish
4 Doomed Traveler
1 Selfless Cathar
4 Knight of Infamy
4 Cartel Aristocrat
3 Skirsdag High Priest
2 Sin Collector
4 Xathrid Necromancer
4 Lingering Souls
2 Restoration Angel
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
4 Tragic Slip
1 Doom Blade
3 Cavern of Souls
1 Vault of the Archangel
4 Swamp
7 Plains
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Godless Shrine
4 Blood Artist
2 Sin Collector
X Profit // Loss
X Lifebane Zombie
X Appetite for Brains

With the note "maindeck is two-heavy," meaning it had a lot of two-drops, which is not ideal but much better than being glutted at three like the Junk versions were. Chris VanMeter came up with Gather the Townsfolk, which seemed like an obvious inclusion to all of us. Todd Anderson suggested Mutavault is better than Vault, which also was unanimously agreed. The legitimacy of High Priest was brought into question, and Blood Artist just felt like a starter and didn’t make much sense from the board.

Brian Braun-Duin is the one who pointed out the sort of tension between the two major themes of the deck: the aggressive Human aspect and the grindier token aspect. Obviously there is a strong overlap with many cards contributing to both sides, but there were certainly two dynamics to consider when you look at the fact that you can pull to either extreme with Intangible Virtue on one side and Thalia, Guarding of Thraben and Imposing Sovereign on the other.

Here is my initial response to Gerry’s shell. Please excuse the conversational tone of my Facebook message among friends:

"Kinda like no-green and going just BW human/tokens. Love mutavault, hate Vault of archangel, want blood artists main. I’m fine being 2 heavy when your others are 1s and 3s and not 4s so you can have in-betweeners and double up on 4 (especially with the back of souls). That’s me saying I don’t think resto fits. Also wouldn’t mind an orzhov charm or two.

Intangible Virtue is a sweet sideboard option for these decks bc they’re good in token mirrors and against the best hate cards (staticaster, electrickery, and curse)."

What I mean by "in-betweeners" is that with one-drops you can play a two and a one on turn 3 before going to double twos or a four on turn 4. With threes, it’s simply so that you can play a three on 3 and then double up on twos on 4. I mention Lingering Souls because it is perfect at exactly this since it is both a three-drop on 3 and then a two-drop on 4 with which to double up.

Gerry took all of our thoughts into consideration and refined his beta shell into this prospective list, which he wrote about here.

Meanwhile, independent of us Patrick Chapin proposed the following list in his article here.

You can see how similar they are, and I have a feeling every Tom, Dick, and Harry who took any real time considering this archetype also came within a few cards. This is because the central shell is so strong and so straightforward that there really only seemed to be a couple flex slots. Where Gerry has Brave the Elements and Patrick has Gnawing Zombie, as well as whether or not to Cavern of Souls and 23 or 24 lands.

I put together a list I liked based on wanting a few specific things and then gave that list to CVM to critique. I knew I wanted a fifth sacrifice outlet and liked Bloodthrone Vampire more than Gnawing Zombie or Blood Bairn. I also wanted a fifth removal spell but couldn’t really find room for it. The list I gave him was 61 cards without the extra spot removal or Bloodthrone Vampire, both of which I wanted. So I was basically three cards over but didn’t have room.

4 Traveler
4 Champion
4 Cartel
4 Gather
3 High Priest
4 Lingering Souls
4 Necromancer
3 Sorin
4 Slip
4 Blood Artist
3 Mutavault
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
12 Basics
2 Appetite
2 Sin Collector
2 Obzedat
2 Intangible Virtue
2 Doom Blade
2 Paraselene
2 Barter in Blood/Liliana of the Veil
1 open slot

CVM said that Skirsdag High Priest actually doesn’t work as well in this deck as it does in any of the Aristocrats decks. I assumed the reasons for this are two-fold:

1. Less sacrifice outlets. The Aristocrats had eight with Aristocrats, and Junk Aristocrats had seven (and eventually six) with Varolz, the Scar-Striped. This deck had four (five once I added the Bloodthrone Vampire).

2. Because you no longer needed to hit really, really hard. When your creatures are all individual and start small then grow bigger, it follows reason that you’re going to want the ability to make large creatures. This is in reference to Junk Aristocrats, which has Voice of Resurgence and Varolz. Original Aristocrats has Falkenrath Aristocrat to hit hard and Boros Reckoner to be large, so they also like having that effect. This deck, however, doesn’t have that type of card. Champion can hit pretty hard but does so in a very different way than High Priest’s Demons, particularly when you consider how awkwardly those two cards interact. Besides that, this deck is much more of a swarm-oriented deck than those other ones, with more mass-token makers (Necromancer, Gather, and Sorin) and effects that want more guys (Sorin emblems, Champion, Necromancer, Bloodthrone Vampire).

That made sense to me and conveniently gave me the room I needed. I cut the three High Priests, which brought me down to 60, made way for Bloodthrone Vampire, and gave me room for a spot-removal spell. That became the one-of Orzhov Charm, as I feel it does more than Doom Blade. Being able to kill Olivia or Blood Artist is pretty important, and the other two modes are rarely going to be used but allow for a little flexibility and trickery.

CVM suggested Falkenrath Noble in one of the flex slots, but I wanted a fifth Cartel Aristocrat effect more than I wanted a fifth Blood Artist effect and the fact that one costs twice as much as the other makes it a lot easier. He also got me to cut the Cavern of Souls I was playing for no real reason and shave one of my three Mutavaults. I like being able to cast my spells, and even though it is a two-color deck with not any real double-colored costs in it, the mana is actually fairly stringent.

In fact, the night before the tournament I compared notes with Gerry again, and he was also playing an Orzhov Guildgate, which I really liked. I almost always err on the side of conservative decisions, and this was one of those times. If you watched the coverage, I ended up drawing the Orzhov Guildgate almost every game to the point that one might have surmised I was playing multiple, but alas it was just the one I barned off of Gerry showing its stamped face again and again.

I slapped together a sideboard from conversations with my aforementioned friends and running some numbers for the expected matchups. Here is what I ended up piloting to a (spoiler alert) first-place finish:

Now for the tournament. Honestly, every round something awesome happened. I’ve never had a tournament like that before. My opponents or I would make giant blunders or topdecks or masterful maneuvers in just about every game I played. There were huge swings and insane nut draws and wins from mulls to five. Absurdity just abounded. I won’t belabor the point any longer; let’s just get to the games and you’ll see what I mean.

In round 1, I played against a super nice, fairly amateur player with a rogue B/R Vampires deck. Game 1 he misread a game state and threw away a Stromkirk Captain on an already unfavorable board, and then it was just cleanup from there. In game 2, his curve was Stromkirk Noble into another into Stromkirk Captain into Vampire Nocturnus revealing a black card. It was enough to make me consider that maybe this deck is the real deal. And maybe that my deck isn’t. Game 3 I led with a turn 1 Appetite for Brains, and his hand was the humorous two lands, Devour Flesh, Tribute to Hunger, Tribute to Hunger, Slaughter Games, Vampire Nocturnus. Needless to say, I took that one down.

So. Blunders game 1 absurdly. Crushes me game 2 comically. Has the worst hand I’ve ever seen in my life in game 3. This tournament was destined for greatness from the get go. 1-0

In round 2, I played against a B/W/R "good stuff" control deck. Game 1 he won the roll and had Sorin on turn 4. I had a little pressure and went to play my own on my turn 4 but was certainly behind because he had a full turn’s worth of mana to exploit my fairly exposed position. I was relieved when all he could do with that turn was play and plus a Liliana of the Veil. We both put a card face down from our hands into the graveyard and then flipped them over. His was another Liliana, mine was a land. I drew, cast something of little consequence, and tried to start running down his planeswalkers. On his fifth turn, he dramatically ripped his card for the turn and slammed it miracle style into play:

He took two for it, and then his hands quickly moved to the die on his Liliana. He +1ed her. Again, we both put a card from our respective hands face down in our respective graveyards. I flipped over my land. He then flipped over Blood Baron of Vizkopa, tapped all five of his lands, looked at his hand confused for a full second before his eyes darted over to his graveyard, and his shoulders sank.

He started swearing up a storm, saying how he couldn’t believe he had just done that. We’ve all been there before; sometimes your brain moves faster than your hands, and other times you just brain fart. The real-life misclick is a rare occurrence, but it does happen. The guy next to me couldn’t help but giggle, and I remarked that I found a way for W/B to kill a Blood Baron. Instead of being unwinnable, the rest of the game was academic as I slowly picked apart his planeswalkers through ineffective spot removal and brought his life total to zero.

In game 2, he chose to cast his Blood Baron on 5 this time, and the race was on. I was a turn ahead on board but a turn behind in reality thanks to a topdecked Warleader’s Helix, but instead of casting it and forcing me to draw something pretty fantastic, he felt priced into Blasphemous Acting the board. I draw a token maker and closed it out.

So. Throws away game 1 quite literally. Decides against accepting a winning race inexplicably. I killed two Blood Baron of Vizkopas with my W/B deck with no edict or wrath effects. 2-0

In round 3, I played against Bant Hexproof. Now, I had played against my opponent’s team the day before, and my teammate, Gerard Fabiano, asked what he was playing. Gerard had forgotten, but I remembered when I saw his face: Bant Hexproof. I had cut all of the targeted hate for this deck and was hoping to either dodge it or sneak past it, and here we were being put to the test early in the day. I lost the roll, which is critical in this matchup, and kept a hand on the draw that would be unkeepable in any other context.

However, knowing what he was playing, it gave me the best chance to win. It was a one lander, and that land was even an Isolated Chapel. But it had all the tools I needed to win, and I knew an average six had no chance in this matchup on the draw. I was going to have to get lucky either way; I might as well do it with a hand that I know can win rather than send it back for one that might not be able to. I ended up missing my second land drop for two turns and then my third for a turn also.

And won.

I used two Blood Artists to stay alive barely and then fateful houred a Gather the Townsfolk and combo killed him for exactsies. I had to do more math in this game than I did in all of algebra class in 7th grade and sequence everything just right to have the perfect amount on board to survive and then the perfect amount the turn after to kill him. It was at this point that I realized two things:

1. This deck is insane.

2. It is harder to play than I initially thought. If I hadn’t had the experience I do with Junk Aristocrats, there’s no way I would have been able to figure these lines out on the fly.

Game 2 I was on the draw again, and my opponent had turn 1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim, turn 2 Geist of Saint Traft, turn 3 Spectral Flight it.

I won that one too.

Blood Artist and a bunch of chumps to survive and get him lower and then a second Blood Artist to combo kill him again. He was in disbelief.

So. Bant Hexproof had near nut-high starts and still lost, all due to the mighty power of the Blood Artist. 3-0

I’m just an 0/1 they said.

In round 4, I played against nearly mono-red. Those style of decks usually have fairly poor matchups against the style of deck I was playing, but all previous iterations of it were packing either Boros Reckoner or Voice of Resurgence, both of which are extremely good against aggressive strategies. With no such tool, this would be a major test for this deck. Xathrid Necromancer costing one more than Voice, the tokens it makes being unable to block the turn they come in due to being tapped, and the fact that, while there are occasionally multiple of them, the tokens don’t actually fight many creatures all that well.

Game 1 I stabilize the board fairly quickly with multiple token generators and a Cartel Aristocrat, which is a card that greatly swings these matchups. My opponent had multiple Madcap Skills, which aren’t actually any good against me since I have no dearth of blockers. He put the first one on a 2/2, and I blocked it with Cartel and a token, sacrificing the token to give protection from red and essentially trading half of a Gather the Townsfolk for a creature and a Madcap Skills. He had another Madcap Skills and drew two in game 2 as well. My life total was never in any real danger of hitting zero in either game.

So. Madcap Skills isn’t too good against tokens. 4-0

In round 5, I played against Jund Midrange. The bad guy of the format, Jund is very likely the best deck and most certainly the most played. On top of that, it was very likely the hardest matchup. If those other matchups were tests for this deck, this was midterms, finals, and AP exams in one.

And I flunked.

Game 1 I had a pretty good Champion of the Parish draw, but a Farseek into Olivia Voldaren had me on the back foot. I actually maneuvered it to a position where I could kill him if I drew a creature thanks to a Cartel Aristocrat, but his last card was a removal spell anyway. In the second game, he had turn 2 Farseek, lots of good creatures, and I didn’t have any removal. Then, when I was already pretty behind, he miracled a Bonfire of the Damned.

So. This was pretty much the only uninteresting match of the day. I simply got crushed. 4-1

Pleasure doing business with you Mr. Sacher.

In round 6, I played against Brian "BBD" Braun-Duin playing Junk Reanimator. Game 1 I had a fairly aggressive Champion of the Parish draw, but it petered out. He stabilized convincingly and took over the game. Game 2 I killed a mana elf and he missed land drops, but I overextend a bit into a Profit // Loss under the assumption that his hate card was Curse of Death’s Hold. Thankfully, I had more than enough gas to close the game out as he continued to miss land drops. Game 3 is when the ridiculousness happened.

We had a really tight game where I was always a bit ahead and he was always a bit light on mana. I was holding up three mana at all times so I could save my team with a Profit in case he ever Lossed me, but that was choking my mana and making it difficult to do two things in a turn so I couldn’t develop my board any further. I drew my second copy of Profit // Loss and had built up enough of a board presence that I could get my board wiped and refill twice over. He Grisly Salvaged to make a land drop, milling a Lingering Souls and flashing it back with a mana elf. I then used one of my copies of Profit // Loss to wipe his board and attack with a bunch of guys, but I only had five mana so I couldn’t fuse it for a ton of extra damage and just cast a Doomed Traveler instead.

The game went on a few more turns, but his mana was too tight and I was able to use my fourth Tragic Slip when he tried to Restoration Angel his Thragtusk to survive my final attack. I barely dealt just enough damage right as he was starting to draw out of his mana woes and fight back. This was a really close match that I felt fortunate to escape thanks to his deck not fully cooperating.

Did anyone catch that?

I played the whole match thinking Profit and Loss both cost three mana. It turns out that is not the case.

Todd Anderson had been watching and asked about it after the match. Sure enough, I’m just a big dummy who doesn’t know his own cards. The match, especially game 3, would have been much, much easier had I known. I would have been able to leave up two mana instead of three, which would have allowed me to cast more threats sooner. Instead, I Stone Rained myself for no reason. I also could have fused it the turn I wiped his board, gotten in for four more damage, and easily won well before he began to draw out of it.

So. I’m an idiot, but BBD got mana screwed. 5-1

In round 7, I played Drew Levin on camera playing Mono-Red Blitz. You can watch the match with commentary from Ari Lax and Todd Anderson here.

I actually missed an on-board kill in game 1, which is downright embarrassing. Granted, it was one of the most complex on-board kills I’ve ever even heard of, but it’s still fairly inexcusable. If I had to blame it on anything other than my own lack of experience and play skill, it would be my back pain.

I have pretty severe back issues and was in horrific pain all day. If you watch my player cam in my feature matches, you’ll see me squirming and stretching and writhing and wincing. In between rounds, I was laying on the ground of the convention center. I even had an orthopedic back pillow to try to get some semblance of posture in those god-awful chairs. The worst thing for me is sitting, and seeing as my entire life is either at a card table or my desk, it’s been rough. It was extra bad that day thanks to a long car ride and two long days of Magic. Like I said, if I HAD to chalk it up to something, that’s what it would be, but I am not trying to make excuses; it was just straight awful of me.

I calculated sacrificing to Aristocrats to attack and then sacking my board to drain him and ended up a point or two short. I ran through it a second time and concluded I was exactly one damage short. I then gave up and passed turn. Todd from the booth ran the same numbers I did and came to the same conclusion but then suggested not sacrificing to the Cartels and just bashing straight up. He didn’t run the numbers on it right away, but Ari did the math for this line later and it turned out to be lethal. This is a pretty extraordinary situation to have attacking without giving protection actually deal MORE damage, but it works because of the fact that he only had one creature that could profitably block the 2/2 and he would be forced to "trade" with the other, giving me the extra three drains for the price of two damage and leaving Drew exactly dead.


Game 2 was kind of a slaughter due to Intangible Virtue. Game 3 I mulliganed to five, was on the draw against an aggressive deck, and had a buddy-land draw, so I was really on the back foot. Thankfully, his draw was fairly lackluster save his turn one Stromkirk Noble, and my Champion into Champion into Gather into Cartel draw was enough to get the race going. He doesn’t want to kill or chump my guy and turn on my Tragic Slip, as the ever-growing Noble was his only offense. My Cartel Aristocrat allowed me to turn it on anyway, and once the Noble was dead all of his cards were bad and the race was firmly in my favor, topped off with a Profit // Loss for lethal.

So. I missed an on-board kill and mulled to five and won the match. 6-1

In round 8, I played against Esper Control. These types of decks have fallen out of favor as of late, and with good reason. The creatures are all too resilient, the spells are all too powerful, and the mana bases are all too robust to control every aspect of every game. My deck is particularly well equipped to deal with things like Azorius Charm and Supreme Verdict, and it plays out exactly like you think it would. My opponent said he had barely gotten any sleep and was just trying to finish the tournament.

In game 2, he missed land drops and was being run over when he cast a Think Twice on my end step, leaving up a Drowned Catacomb instead of his white source. I remember noticing it because he played game 1 like he had Terminus in his deck. Sure enough, after he lost the game he said he tapped wrong and actually did hit a Terminus off of it. I think I still would have won, but it would have been a real game rather than me just running him over.

So. Outdated deck piloted by someone who was practically falling asleep at the table. 7-1

In round 9, I couldn’t draw in, was forced to play for Top 8, and was featured on camera against Bant Hexproof. You can watch with commentary from Cedric Phillips and Ari Lax here.

Game 1 I tried to Orzhov Charm a Fiendslayer Paladin, which is obviously illegal. He played it pre-combat and announced it as "Paladin" so I just assumed it was Silverblade Paladin, which is why I thought it was weird that he didn’t soulbond. Whoops. Thankfully, he didn’t play around the card I just showed him (not that he necessarily had the luxury to), and I sacrificed a Champion to an Aristocrat, got it back with the Charm to put another counter on my unblocked Champion, and dealt exactsies.

Game 2 I just kind of lost. Hexproof did its thing. Game 3 is where the real magic happened. I could have very easily just cast Profit // Loss on my turn, killing the Pilgrim and the Stalker, but I knew I could get more if I sold it. I made it look like my hand had a lot of lands and then made that third land drop with a Mutavault before passing the turn quickly but not too quickly. It worked famously, and I got the full amount of value off of it. I still had to try to kill him as soon as I could, as it was very possible for a sequence of cards to end up racing me.

So. Supposed bad matchup, tried to do something illegal, danced him around a bit, and was into the Top 8. 8-1

In the quarterfinals, I play against a Naya Midrange deck that looked like it would be a bit of a rough matchup. Thundermaw Hellkite and Bonfire of the Damned are two of the scarier cards in the format for me, and the aggressive capabilities of the deck didn’t really give me time to pussyfoot around them. Thankfully, I was the higher seed, meaning I got to play first, and my opener was fairly insane:

Plains Swamp Mutavault Champion of the Parish Gather the Townsfolk Lingering Souls Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

This game wasn’t fairly close.

Games 2 and 3 were on camera, which you can watch in two parts here and here. Game 2 I mulliganed and just kind of lost. I spent a Tragic Slip on an Avacyn’s Pilgrim after he missed a land drop, but he drew a couple land and I ended up losing to big creatures. Not sure if my line was correct, but it certainly seemed right at the time. In game 3, he had some mana issues, while I had a fairly powerful start as long as he didn’t Bonfire me. He ended up drawing his Oblivion Ring for my Intangible Virtue so that his Thundermaw Hellkite could wipe my board the next turn and he would survive at one life. But one good peel deserves another, and I topdecked a Sorin, made an emblem, and moved on to the semifinals.

So. Some of my top-end draws against a scary matchup in the most important match of the tournament. 9-1

In the semifinals, I played a friend of mine, Richard Nguyen, playing Mono-Green Ooze. You can watch the match here. We joked around a lot throughout our games. We didn’t have audio, but he was trash talking up a storm, and I was giving it right back to him. A lot of my "trash talking" was physical antics, which did show up on stream, so it may have looked like I was being aggressive and rude but it was all in good fun. The games were pretty straightforward. He flooded and had a lot of cards that didn’t really do much, while I had backbreakers like Tragic Slip and Profit // Loss.

If you see some plays (or non-plays) that seem odd, it was because I was playing around Ranger’s Guile a decent amount. I also didn’t attack into his face-up Wolfir Avenger, at which point he realized the jig was up and just end stepped it anyway. While we were sideboarding for game 2, we agreed that whoever won wouldn’t let Jund Midrange win the tournament. Guess it was up to me.

So. Pretty favorable matchup goes according to plan, and I get to clown it up with my friend on my way to the finals. 10-1

In the finals, I played against Jund Midrange, the deck that gave me my one loss all day. You can watch the match here. Certainly one of the harder matchups for my deck, and one that I wasn’t as confident in my sideboard plan as others. I asked Gerry what he thought, and he suggested almost the same plan that I used earlier in the tournament. This was reassuring.

Game 1 I just lost straight up. Game 2 I won relatively easily because he didn’t draw any of his good cards in the matchup. Game 3 was the interesting one, as the entire game basically came down to the hand he kept. Gerry talked about it in his article here, but I just want to throw my two cents in and say that I definitely would have kept it as well. I was already fairly confident that I would have kept, but then after the match Reid Duke, Owen Turtenwald, and Huey Jensen—Jund masters all—said that they certainly would have kept it too. Curse is just that good against me, and he had all the tools he needed to make it happen.

As you can see, or at least assume, he didn’t get there, and I was able to take it down.

We did it!

I have to say that my first reaction was relief rather than joy. It had been a while since I won my first Open. It was "finally" rather than "hooray!" Don’t get me wrong, first place feels pretty damn good. It was just such a weight off to get a trophy. The money is definitely nice, but the championship is a lot more important to me. Especially because it was Standard, as my other win was in Legacy; I didn’t have a Standard title.

It was also pretty cool having those guys there even though they were rooting for my opponent. Owen is one of my oldest Magic friends, I love Reid to death (how could you not?), and Huey has quickly become one of my favorite people in the world since meeting him a year ago.

And Gerry, who has taught me so much and who I built the deck with. Not to mention Cedric, one of my best friends and someone I thoroughly enjoy working with and for getting to cast the tournament (even though he had all but written me off in the finals until I was attacking for lethal in game 3).

It was a true delight.

This article has gone on long enough. I just thought it was worth mentioning again the fact that I didn’t split in Top 4 or finals, which almost always happens at these events. I can’t imagine ever having won had I chopped heads up because I would have had my money in my pocket and known it was a bad matchup and found a way to fulfill that prophecy and lose. With everything still on the line, I was motivated to close the door and get the trophy. It is me being a bit results oriented admittedly, but I used to Top 4 just about every Open and rarely make it past that point. I’m sure some of it may be coincidence, but I feel at least a small part of it was the fact that the Top 4 is where we always split and once I split my heart isn’t in it anymore.

This isn’t necessarily true for everyone; some people it doesn’t affect them, some people actually play better after splitting because some of the pressure is off and they don’t make mistakes due to anxiety. Everyone is different. I just know that for me this is something to consider moving forward.

Thank you all for reading, and a special thank you to everyone who congratulated me on Twitter, Facebook, and in Twitch chats. It means a lot to me to have so much support, and it’s overwhelming to have that much positivity being pushed in your direction. I can’t wait to start streaming regularly again and interact with you guys on a more liquid platform again. Until then, I’m off to New Jersey for the Invitational! I actually think I’m going to play a slightly different deck, but if you want an updated list of BW Humans from after the tournament, here you go:

AJ Sacher