White Weenie On Top

Adrian writes about the Top 8 of the Standard PTQ he attended last weekend and why he thinks that the winning deck, W/R Humans, is a great choice in the format right now.

It was only last week that I wrote about what it is to not be White Weenie. Death and Taxes might well be one of the best decks in Legacy, but if you examine how it plays, it simply isn’t a White Weenie list even though a part of what it’s doing is making small creatures, most of which are white. A big part of the distinction is the game plan; does it intend to make killing you a priority or is it an afterthought?

Killing people as an afterthought has been a way that I’ve loved to build my more controlling decks. In fact, in one of my most controlling decks, killing someone was such an afterthought that I only ran one “pure” kill card.

Death and Taxes can be built more aggressively, but the thing I find most impressive about it is the way it can be built so that almost none of its cards are there purely for the kill; instead, all of them work towards stymieing an opponent’s ability to play their game.

But that’s not the way White Weenie goes about things.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself though.

The Last PTQ of the Season

I went to the last PTQ of the season this past weekend in Minneapolis. I’d had a good run of it, with two PTQ Top 8s and a WMCQ Top 8 as well. In the closest run, I had two decks, gave my Big Naya to a friend, played Esper Tokens, and we met in the finals. Unfortunately for me, he took it down in fast fashion.

Last weekend marked the only shot I’d have with the newish PTQ format. Soon enough Theros will be here, and it will shove M13 and Innistrad block into the dustbin of history. For now, though, we’re in the thickest portion of a Standard metagame.

I wrote about this phenomenon last year:

If you want to think of it in metaphors, you can think of it like some very strange version of the moon cycle. It would go something like this if we were just talking Magic. In Magic right now we’re basically at the Full Moon stage; all of two full block sets are here, and we also have M12 and M13 about to be legal. With this many cards at our fingertips, some of the more interesting things that are possible in Standard can come about. Of course, with this much power, we also have the simple ecological effect of dominance; it is hard to be a rodent in Australia and compete with the European Rabbit. Asian Tiger Shrimp are slowly taking over in the Louisiana and Carolina coasts.

The simple fact of the matter is that in Magic, like in nature, once something gets into the environment, it can just push a lot of other decks out of contention. During the Full Moon stage, it may be the greatest opportunity for a deck to have the power to compete with other decks, but it is also a great opportunity for decks to have so many weapons at their disposal that they push everything else out, at least for the most part.

So this is us now if we think about Magic like a moon cycle, there on the right:

Moon 1

And after Theros, we shift to a new phase; we are a Waxing Gibbous:

Moon 2

All of our current archetypes are in their full power, and the decks that battle are going to be as large of Titans as they can be.

I was actually a bit disappointed by this shift going into the PTQ. I had found a deck I liked in the form of my Esper deck. Not only did I know how to play it, but it felt like other people didn’t really know how to play against it. One of the reasons that it seemed like it was succeeding was because you had access to Obzedat, Ghost Council after sideboarding and decks like Jund would often just fall over.

But things change. Lifebane Zombie came to town, and it seemed to squeeze the life out of the way that the deck worked. I listened to the coverage of Worlds with Bob a little, and I was struck by the question, "God, how can these players not have found a way to make Esper beat Jund? It’s not so terribly hard." Of course, as soon as a Lifebane Zombie actually hit play and once I saw the lists with their maindeck Lifebanes, I knew that the world was just incredibly different than it had been. If Jund was a tough-guy thug before and the Esper list I was playing could beat it, this new Jund was the Jund that got thrown in jail for a few years and came out so strong and tough that it made the old version look a little silly in comparison.

I didn’t have much time, but I ended up building a Rakdos Aggro list that I quite like, albeit one that had some major errors in the sideboard. The biggest one was being seduced by Burning Earth, a card which is great and yet certainly does not belong in the sideboard of every aggressive deck with red mana. I went 3-2, with both of my losses coming from a combination of mistakes in game and mistakes in my board.

The PTQ was held by Legion Games in Minneapolis and had 166 players. Even at eight rounds, they were about to head into the Top 8 around 6 PM. I hoped that Madisonian (and U.S. rep for the WMC) Daniel Cecchetti would take it down, but he didn’t end up taking the day.

The Top 8 Rundown

Here is the archetype breakdown leading into the Top 8 after eight rounds of Swiss:

1st: W/R Humans
2nd: Human Aristocrats
3rd: Jund
4th: G/R Aggro
5th: Junk Aristocrats
6th: Junk Reanimator
7th: Jund
8th: U/W/R Flash

I love looking at Top 8s like this—whenever a format has a ton of different decks* in the Top 8, it tends to make me quite happy. Here is how the bracket looks laid out:


Let’s hit these matchups one at a time and see how they played out.

Top 8: W/R Humans (1) vs. U/W/R Flash (8)

If you had asked me about this matchup before the event, I’d have told you it would be a blowout in favor of the White Weenie list. Not only does White Weenie have the cheaper "countermagic" in the matchup (Brave the Elements), but it was going to be on the play since it came into the matchup as the number one seed.

Flash does have access to a ton of removal spells, especially after sideboard, so it’s not like it’s helpless. That said, the existence of the red in this White Weenie list brings with it access to four Burning Earth, and the poor Flash player is in the unfortunate position of needing to be able to answer them and not really wanting much access to counterspells. This means that awkward answers like Detention Sphere and Oblivion Ring are going to be a part of the response but also that the countermagic can’t all go, which means the deck is just a little less efficient in responding to the White Weenie list.

I would have expected this to go 2-0, but Flash managed to win a game.

W/R Humans wins 2-1.

Top 8: G/R Aggro (4) vs. Junk Aristocrats (5)

If you had mentioned this matchup to me beforehand, I would have definitely expected this to go in the favor of Gruul. Between Thundermaw Hellkite, Ghor-Clan Rampager, and Mizzium Mortars in the main and access to Burning Earth; Flames of the Firebrand; Bonfire of the Damned; Chandra, Pyromaster; and Pillar of Flame in the board, I would have expected a deck that would be able to hit hard as well as clean up any of the problem cards from Junk Aristocrats.

Junk Aristocrats, though, was the only deck in this round to sweep the opponent. There are plenty of ways that it can gum up the board, and it’s easy to imagine either a Skirsdag High Priest getting active or a ton of tokens holding things down until either a Blood Artist or just a simple swarm puts things over the edge.

Junk Aristocrats wins 2-0.

Top 8: Human Aristocrats (2) vs. Jund (7)

This is a fairly intriguing matchup. The Human/Aristocrats crossbreed deck looks to be a relative of the Austrian deck from this year’s WMC played by David Reitbauer. Despite the existence of scary cards like Falkenrath Aristocrat, this looks to me to be the exact kind of matchup that Jund wants to play. Even a combo like Gather the Townsfolk / Champion of the Parish doesn’t seem aggressive enough when you’re dealing with the kind of removal plus life gain that Jund can bring. I wasn’t surprised by the outcome—I was more surprised that Human Aristocrats got a game.

Jund wins 2-1.

Top 8: Junk Reanimator (6) vs. Jund (3)

The other Jund matchup goes to show why people like Brian Braun-Duin, Carrie Oliver, and others are right that things are not over for Junk Reanimator. Like many of these others, Steve Wise’s Junk Reanimator has moved towards Shadowborn Demon, but it also includes Lifebane Zombie to make it even more of just a deck of "good stuff." Between Putrefy and Shadowborn Demon, the deck has four ways to murder a Scavenging Ooze, and unfortunately for Daniel Cecchetti he only has two Lifebane Zombies and no additional graveyard hate in the board to help out his Scavenging Oozes in this matchup.

Junk Reanimator wins 2-1.

Top 4: Junk Reanimator (6) vs. Jund (7)

Here things went radically the other way for Junk Reanimator than they did in the quarters. A large part of that could be attributed to removal spells; Steve Shelito has access to eleven pure removal spells in the main and up to nine more in the board, while Daniel Cecchetti has access to only nine in the main and six in the board. I didn’t watch this match, so while it certainly could have just been mana or play decisions, the outcome was definitely quite different.

Jund wins 2-0.

Top 4: W/R Humans (1) vs. Junk Aristocrats (5)

Both of these decks play onto the table as their path to victory, but it’s pretty easy to imagine how many of these games go. White Weenie puts Junk Aristocrats on the defensive; the defenses successfully go up; and then White Weenie leverage an Archangel, a Silverblade, a Brave the Elements, or a removal spell to take it down. In sideboarded games, I imagine the same thing but with the potential for Rest in Peace / Burning Earth to join the party.

Unfortunately for the Junk Aristocrats player, Xavier Heron, his sideboard looks like it only has four cards to bring in (two Abrupt Decays, one Lifebane Zombie, one Blood Baron of Vizkopa, though I could also see Obzedat hanging out), whereas his opponent has up to nine cards he might want to include (the fourth Brave the Elements, some number of his three Rest in Peaces, and perhaps some number of the one Fiend Hunter and four Burning Earth).

W/R Humans wins 2-1.

Top 2: W/R Humans (1) vs. Jund (7)

Particularly on the play and particularly the way that the deck is built with four Thalia, Guardian of Thrabens, such a huge number of hard-to-remove cards, and Brave the Elements to stop a timely removal spell, not to mention access to Burning Earth, I’m not surprised White Weenie crushed Jund in this match.

W/R Humans wins 2-0.

On the Winning List

First, here it is:


If you’re like me and are wondering what’s different between this and Wescoe’s list, the answer is not much.

Maindeck: -1 Doomed Traveler, +1 Banisher Priest

Sideboard: -1 Banisher Priest, -1 Fiend Hunter, +2 Wear // Tear

This is a pretty minor shift and essentially keeps the heart of the deck intact.

At the beginning of the article, I talked about the ways in which White Weenie is a deck that tries to finish the game. This is in many ways the nature of the aggressive deck. Even a deck that isn’t particularly aggressive, like Faeries or Caw-Blade, can go aggressive (or "aggressive-ish") if they get the right draw, but they won’t generally get this draw on average and might not be very good at it. (In this case, by aggressive I mean that they might start to try to end the game from the very beginning of it, not that at a certain point they start attacking.)

Contrast that with White Weenie splashing red. I won’t call this a "Boros Aggro" deck as the coverage from Wizards of the Coast did because I feel like that would imply that the red elements of the deck are a major part of it. Here, you have the red used entirely to help augment the damage, but the sources are all white. A long time ago, this kind of deck would have been called either Jank or The Gun, but either way the concept is still the same today: drop good, aggressive creatures and keep the pressure on.

If we think about the difference between this deck and Death and Taxes in Legacy, it’s not that White Weenie as a strategy can’t have reactive cards or utility creatures. In fact, Wescoe’s White Weenie deck has a lot of cards that are worth playing specifically because of how they work in interaction with an opponent. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben makes an appearance in both lists. The difference is that Thalia in White Weenie is trying to function more like a Stone Rain, whereas Thalia in Death and Taxes is trying to function more like a part of a Prison or Stax deck by locking the opponent out of plays.

Banisher Priest continues to prove itself as a card that isn’t simply a "worse Fiend Hunter." In a controlling deck, Fiend Hunter is certainly a better card, but here for the aggressive stance the WW deck wants to take, that extra point of power really helps. Other cards that could be argued to be utility cards are Fiendslayer Paladin and Knight of Glory, both of which can be very hard for an opposing aggressive deck or black-based deck, respectively, with Fiendslayer playing double duty with its pseudo-"protection."

What makes it clear this deck is trying to win the game quickly, though, are the single-minded aggressive cards: Champion of the Parish, Silverblade Paladin, Sublime Archangel, and Slayers’ Stronghold. As I said last week, in my opinion Death and Taxes is at its best when it doesn’t try to be White Weenie. The reason White Weenie is good is that it can reliably put down a clock that matters. This takes a fair amount of an investment, like we see above; you can put in all the utility cards you want, but the more you do it, the more you slow yourself down and the more likely you are simply going to slowly wander out of the world of aggression into the world of control and just cease to be the deck that you want to be.

That’s why I really like Kyle Schriner / Craig Wescoe board. Kyle’s version does have a couple of pure answers in the form of Rest in Peace and Wear // Tear, but mostly it just seeks to augment what it already is doing but change the focus based on what the opponent is doing. Burning Earth in a board like this is fantastic; you can get in a ton of damage, drop Burning Earth, and then watch the opponent have to scramble to stay alive while dealing with two very different kinds of threats.

Other card choices like the fourth Brave the Elements, the Fiend Hunter, and the Nearheath Pilgrim nudge the deck a little this way or a little that way in order to be better positioned against common problem cards and strategies. If there were a white Scavenging Ooze, I’d prefer it over the Rest in Peace so you could continue to be on the aggressive tip, but there isn’t so I understand the way in which the deck might just lean hard on an answer, particularly since it also has other uses (I’m talking to you, Blood Artist).

This is a great deck choice for Standard. I know I saw a brief Twitter / Facebook interaction between our esteemed Content Coordinator Cedric Phillips and the deck’s designer Craig Wescoe, and it was clear that Cedric thinks the deck is fantastic. Even though he has a well-known love for White Weenie that might make him biased, I’m inclined to agree—and that’s from someone who views white as the most boring color!

If I could do it all over again, I’d probably still play the same deck I did, albeit with a better sideboard and a good night’s sleep, but in this current metagame I think that heading towards Plains might be a great choice. Personally, I’m pretty pumped that we’re still seeing the metagame being moved so late in the game by people like Craig Wescoe and Brian Kibler, and I’ll be a little sad when Theros makes all of these decks go away (and that’s not just because I’m in love with Thundermaw Hellkite).

Until next week,

Adrian L. Sullivan

@AdrianLSullivan on Twitter

*Thanks to Mark Dudda, manager of Legion Games, and Steve Port, owner of Legion Games and Legion Events, for the lists in this article. Here are the rest of the lists in order of the final standings at the end of the event.