Today, we look at card types, and I use that as an excuse to tell you specifically what’s going on to make White so awful in the King of All Formats, Type One. First, the results of my ivory tower arithmetic pursuits, then, what they say about my favorite color.
(Remember that the counts are slightly skewed by the absence of two Hulk Smash decklists and one MUD list from the following five tournament Top 8s, which are the foundation of my arithmetic today:
43 Chalice of the Void
28 Black Lotus
27 Mox Sapphire
25 Mox Ruby
25 Sol Ring
24 Mox Jet
24 Sphere of Resistance
23 Mox Emerald
23 Mox Pearl
If you go down until you get ten unrestricted artifacts…
22 Null Rod
19 Tangle Wire
12 Mana Crypt
12 Isochron Scepter
10 Damping Matrix
9 Memory Jar
8 Nevinyrral’s Disk
(Just like for artifacts.)
10 Karn, Silver Golem
6 Ticking Gnomes
4 Platinum Angel
4 Solemn Simulacrum
3 Bottle Gnomes
I’d like to mention at this juncture that Ticking Gnomes and Damping Matrix just made Top 10 lists. You can all go to the SCG store and begin purchasing your dual lands once that sets in and you figure out that Type One is the coolest.
Did you see what happened up there? White’s the enchantment color. Where did it go? In fact, it’s the only color that didn’t have enchantments show up in the top ten most-played cards for the category. Out of 191 enchantments, nine were White – less than five percent. The only thing White has that other colors don’t outperform ridiculously is a pair of sorceries: Balance and Decree of Justice.
Let’s look at what colors are best and near-best in the key pie portions as revealed by the above numbers, which pretty much fit with common sense.
Small Creatures: Red, Green, Blue
Large Creatures: Green, White
Enchantments: Green, Red (?)
Instants: Blue, Blue, Blue, and sometimes Red
Sorceries are confusing, because any color can have them, so the ones that are good are often a reflection of which colors are in the limelight otherwise. Also, I’m willing to forgive the success of Red enchantments as a nuance of the format, because it’s distorted by Blood Moon. Here’s some more pie, from the perspective of a man who’s stared at Type One decklists more than (possibly) anyone else alive.
Mass Removal: Green/Black (Deed), White (Balance)
Spot Artifact Removal: Red, Green, White
Spot Creature Removal: White, Black, Red
I’ve been spending all of my testing time recently piloting Control Enchantress against a gauntlet of the best Type One decks, so I feel exceptionally well-qualified to discuss which colors are good at enchanting things and which suck. The clear answer is that Green is the best enchantment color right now. Possession of the Enchantress mechanic has completely locked out White from the title, no matter how many Urza cards the uninitiated masses assume are restricted. (I’ve had a Pro Tour attendee express surprise that neither Serra’s Sanctum nor Replenish was on the list.) This is a problem, and I actually think the Enchantress mechanic itself needs to be switched to White. Green draws cards either through filtering (Mirri’s Guile, Impulse*) or through”burgeoning” (Rowen, Call of the Wild).
* Yeah, I just said Impulse felt Green. Blue doesn’t skip lessons in the curriculum. Browse should be Green, too.
At present, White is the best color at clogging its two-mana slot with subpar creatures. What an awesome plan. The problem is that R&D hasn’t captured the best flavor of White, and instead is trying to give it bits and pieces of Green and Red. Onslaught block settled the matter permanently: Red is the best at weenie creatures. There’s just nothing to be done about it; those Goblins are way too good. They have so much synergy that they form a combo deck. White’s creatures are, by comparison, awful. The solution is to split creatures in the following way:
Crap (Air Elemental, Somnophore), card drawing (Ophidian)
Flavor: Ephemeral, air/water theme, bad in combat because Blue is scholastic and wimpy.
Suicide Machines (Phyrexian Negator), midrange pumpers (Nantuko Shade)
Flavor: High risk-reward, strong rewards for using more Black mana in pursuit of pure power.
Best weenies (Jackal Pup, Goblin Piledriver), artifact interactions (Goblin Welder)
Flavor: Fury of the mob, fascination with potentially bellicose machines.
Superb fat (Ravenous Baloth, Blastoderm), superb midrange (Wild Mongrel), token accumulators (Quirion Dryad)
Flavor: Emphasis on raw strength of nature.
Soldier tokens (Decree of Justice), utility creatures (Whipcorder), late-game finishers (Exalted Angel, Eternal Dragon, Sacred Mesa)
Flavor: Masses of soldiers are the”army” flavor – not individual soldier creatures with all kinds of unnecessary individuality. The utility creatures and Angels/Spirit-like beings capture the religious/clerical concept.
The good part is that my examples are mostly recent, indicating that R&D already has most of it right, they’ve just got the lingering mistake of thinking White is the weenie color holding them back. White should never be conducting a blitz; that’s way too Red and uncalculated. Instead, the army is based on a buildup of powerful logistical resources to an eventual overwhelming campaign.
So what should White be doing while it’s playing land after land awaiting final victory? Now we’re back to enchantments. White is all about rules and being in control of them. It should be throwing all its efforts into restraining what the opponent can do, defending itself, and preparing to mount a counteroffensive of epic proportions. Control is the key term here. White is a control color, as much as blue is. Stop giving it 2/2s for WW! If they were good, they would’ve done something by now!
But what kinds of enchantments are missing from White that keep it so crappy? My first explanation is that White has the least card-drawing and/or search of any color (addressed above: Enchantresses should be White). Red actually has more thanks to the Goblin Recruiter/Goblin Ringleader combo, and that’s just disturbing, because Red shouldn’t be able to build up any resource better than White. No wonder White can’t perform; it’s a control deck without the card draw. However, the Green/White Enchantress deck shows that even with an abundant card-drawing engine, there’s something missing.
Board Control vs. Preemptive Control
What do Type 1’s defining cards (Force of Will, Duress, Wasteland) have in common with some of the most powerful effects in White and Green: Orim’s Chant, Abeyance, City of Solitude, and Xantid Swarm? All are preemptive control cards. Control decks either solve problems before they enter play or after they enter play, and these are all designed for the former category.
At first, it doesn’t make sense that board control spells are considered inferior to spending resources on a card like Duress, which requires a net loss of mana for you in a one-for-one trade. The analogy I prefer is that Disenchant is akin to wearing a flak jacket – absorbing the impact of a resolved threat – whereas Duress is like shooting the gun out of the other guy’s hand, Force of Will is like deflecting the bullet midair, and Wasteland is like stealing his ammo before he draws. Clearly you would rather just not get shot, and in many cases, once the threat has resolved, you’re already at a significant disadvantage.
This is much like David Price adage applied to control decks: preemptive control cards are, from a certain point of view, the threats of a control deck, and this makes them superior to pure answers such as spot removal.
Blood Moon is a perfect example. If it resolves, you’re left scrambling for a recovery plan that needs either basic land or only Red mana. Combo decks don’t defend themselves from Null Rod by relying on Disenchant, though they frequently have some board control in the sideboard as a backup plan. That’s what it is, just like a flak jacket: a backup. You’d rather never get hit by their”bullet” than use a lot of effort dealing with something once it’s there. This is part of what makes lands that act like spells (such as Bazaar of Baghdad and Wasteland), so powerful: They cannot be answered by most of the preemptive control cards. The power of spell-lands in turn makes Blood Moon better, since it once again answers the problem before the land is played. The best that Wasteland can do is stop all activations after the first.
It is no surprise that White, Green, and Red have forever been considered weaker than Black and Blue, as they have so little preemptive control. What little they do have is classed among the most powerful effects of that color. It doesn’t matter that Blue and Black have gaping holes in their board control abilities, they can patch them with a splash of almost anything to solve whatever gets through the frontline. It also doesn’t matter that White can amass a fortress-like board position; the inability to stop the removal before it happens renders all such effort irrelevant. Replenishing after a Pernicious Deed sounds fantastic, until you realize that they already killed you with the Psychatog while you were waiting for a main phase. How awful.
So that’s what’s missing from White: enchantments which exercise preemptive control over the opponent, and enchantment-related card-drawing. I don’t care if it counters triggered abilities, affects declaration of targets… whatever works. But if White is to become good, the 2/2 for WW paradigm must be abandoned, and Replenish has to be broken. If Yawgmoth’s Will-without-the-casting-costs isn’t insane, the job isn’t done yet.
prstanto at uiuc.edu