White Weenie, Then and Now

I remember my first White Weenie deck. I was just beginning to understand the basics of deck-building, and had recently cut down my two-hundred-card half-of-my-entire-collection special to a more reasonable seventy-two cards. I owned only starter set cards and a few random booster packs of Mercadian Masques, so my masterpiece was still full of hits like Misshapen Fiend and Chorus of Woe.

I was trying to figure out if I really needed the twenty-second land (Spoiler: I did.) when Adam rang the doorbell. Adam and I had split that first box of starter cards and continue sharing a collection even now. On that day back in fifth grade, he proved to be a valuable business partner, as he carried with him a thousand-count box of cards that his older brother had stowed away in the attic when he went to college.

Inside were wonders that we could scarcely understand. Half the cards were in plastic sleeves, which we weren’t familiar with. None of them had set symbols, so we had no idea where they came from (I know now they were mostly from Fourth and Fifth Editions). Best of all, there were three stacks of sleeved cards that were wrapped in rubber bands, and from the contents, we could tell they were complete decks. Monocolored decks, no less, a concept that we found quaint.

One of them was traditional Red burn, with Ball Lightnings and Lightning Bolts and Incinerates. Adam immediately called dibs, since we knew from experience how powerful burn spells could be (“Lava Axe is so cheesy” was a common phrase after our matches). For the life of me, I can’t remember the second deck, except that it was the worst color—Blue—so neither of us cared about it.

That left me with the third deck, and I still have most of the cards in my Magic closet right now. Savannah Lions and White Knights, Swords to Plowshares and Armageddons, Holy Strengths and Crusades. I loved the deck, even if Adam rolled me nearly every game with Earthquakes and Immolations. Even when I found out the deck wasn’t legal for Hammer’s Saturday Standard tournaments, I kept it together in my deck box and pulled it out for fun games.

So is it any wonder that I built mono-White Rebels when Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero was printed? I played it until it rotated, one hundred percent positive that it was better than Rising Waters and Fires and Counter-Rebel (Spoiler: It wasn’t.). It was My Deck, in the same way Goblin Kid always played Goblins and The Enchantress always played Enchantress. I was That Rebel Guy (at least marginally cooler than being called The Enchantress).

Soon after that era, I became more competitive, joined a larger team, started going to PTQs. I no longer identified with a deck, and in fact, rarely had a complete sixty together. I had a rotation of five or six proxied-up decks that the team could use for testing, and when we went to an event, we would borrow or buy what we needed. Still, I always gravitated toward aggro in general, and White Weenie specifically. I played Kithkin in a couple PTQs, and came this close to playing mono-White Allies in my last Pro Tour.

So I’m sympathetic to those of you who keep trying to make White Weenie work in Standard. I’m right there with you, praying for the return of Armageddon while collecting Crusade variants like they could make the difference. Today, I’m going to take a look at what obstacles stand in our way, and how we might make “attacking for 2” into a viable strategy.

Then

What made this deck successful? Was it the creatures? Savannah Lions were above the curve at the time, certainly, and the 2-drops were suitably efficient. But the real power was the mana-denial game. Strip Mine, Armageddon, and Balance could all keep the opponents from getting to their vastly superior end game, allowing your bears plenty of time to finish them off.

It’s unlikely we’ll be seeing an Armageddon variant any time soon, and Tectonic Edge is the best we can hope for when it comes to Strip Mining someone. We won’t be able to go the mana-denial route, but we can still learn from Tom’s deck. Specifically, look at how many lands he’s playing, and note that Land Tax, Lodestone Bauble, and Kjeldoran Outpost can all keep the lands coming. The amount of mana it takes to have a good, consistent White Weenie deck is often overlooked.

In this list, we see echoes of Armageddon in Ajani Vengeant, and eight “Savannah Lions” in the form of Figure of Destiny and Goldmeadow Stalwart. We even see a throwback to Swords with four Path to Exile. In reality, though, it was Windbrisk Heights that incentivized players to play White creatures in Lorwyn/Alara Standard (the card also propelled LSV to a second-place finish with B/W tokens). That kind of mana and card advantage will be hard to find in today’s Standard.

The thing I take away from this deck is the concept of an “army in a can.” Kithkin could beat the Volcanic Fallouts and Caldera Hellions that were running around simply by holding on to a Spectral Procession, Cloudgoat Ranger, or Ranger of Eos. Then, post-Wrath, you play one card, and . . . boom! Instant army.

Craig Wescoe isn’t completely responsible for the ridiculous price that Stoneforge Mystic commands today, but he did get the ball rolling. Pro Tour: San Diego marks the Caw-Blade staple’s first appearance in a professional Top 8, and it was incredible even when the only sword it was fetching was Trusty Machete.

In this deck, Steppe Lynx puts Savannah Lions to shame, often attacking for 4 from turn two on. White Knight makes his comeback, accompanied by his Bolt-loving counterpart, Kor Firewalker. Elspeth pulls a lot of weight, acting as a relentless threat, as well as a pseudo-Anthem affect.

Interestingly, this deck doesn’t want to dump all the bears in its hand as soon as possible; instead, it works on making one or two guys lethal with equipment and Elspeth, and then sees if you have the answer. If you do, it’ll drop a couple more, and so on until you’re dead. That’s why Wescoe could afford to play Day of Judgment in an aggro deck. It’s also why he plays eight protection bears—against Jund, plopping a Machete on a Firewalker could often mean game over all by itself.

This is a list that doesn’t mess around. No Armageddons, no equipment, no Windbrisk Heights. Just twelve super Savannah Lions, eight bears, and some support spells.

Sure, Rietzl’s deck can play like Wescoe’s, leveling up a 1-drop until you’re forced to deal with it. More often, though, it plays like Cedric’s, applying early pressure before dropping a three-for-one to break your back. Like Cedric, Paul plays a dedicated Anthem effect in Honor of the Pure. The card was legal for Pro Tour: San Diego, and yet it didn’t make it into Wescoe’s final build. This highlights an important difference between the two White Weenie decks. One seeks to play creatures all the way up the curve to the critical turn, when it can Mana Tithe a defensive Cryptic Command or Brave the Elements to get through a board filled with Treefolk. The other plays for the midgame, when the advantage generated by equipment and Elspeth will finally tip the scales in your favor. (Also, Honor is pretty good with Spectral Procession . . . yeah.)

A low curve coupled with four Knight of the White Orchid allows Rietzl to get away with a mere twenty-three lands, while the previous two examples played twenty-five. Without the 2-drop, considering we need to trigger Steppe Lynx every turn, I think it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Now

The fact is, Valakut has been keeping White Weenie from becoming a real deck. We just have no good way to interact with that deck, and a combination of burn and walls keeps us from racing. But rumor has it Valakut has fallen out of favor, since Splinter Twin combo beats it handily, and Caw-Blade continues to dominate tournaments (stomping Valakut on the way).

Great, you say, one noninteractive combo replaced by another. How does this help White Weenie?

Ah, but we can interact! White has plenty of options against Splinter Twin, including Spellskite, Dismember, Demystify, and Celestial Purge. Sure, they play counterspells and the like, but, unlike if we were Caw-Blade, they should be so busy dealing with our creatures that they won’t be able to play around the hate.

Enough already, you say. Give me a list!

Fine.

I know, it’s nothing fancy. No crazy technology. Just a solid, tournament-caliber White Weenie deck—which is the whole point, right?

Every creature in the deck is a legitimate threat in its own right. Unlike Kithkin, which plays relative do-nothings like Wizened Cenn and Knight of Meadowgrain, each guy in our deck demands an answer. In a perfect world, Steppe Lynx takes out one-fifth of your opponent’s life each turn. Student of Warfare is incredible on turn one or turn twenty-one. Mystic . . . well, you know how good Mystic is. Squadron Hawks fill the Spectral Procession role, but can be even better in that you can choose to hold some back against Wraths.

Then we get to the real reasons we’re playing White Weenie and not Caw-Blade: Mirran Crusader and Hero of Bladehold. Many games will be won on the back of Mystic into Crusader into Sword of War and Peace. As you probably can figure out, that’s a creature with protection from four colors that deals somewhere between 8 and 22 damage per turn. Starting on turn four! Hero of Bladehold is our army-in-a-can, à la Cloudgoat Ranger. Sure, she fails the Jace test, but at least she forces them to play the Mind Sculptor unprotected, right into our board of Squadron Hawks and Steppe Lynx. Besides, a well-timed Brave the Elements to protect her from removal could just blow the game wide open.

Body and Mind sneaks into the main over Sword of Feast and Famine because protection from Blue is a valuable ability. Besides, we don’t really need the extra mana (although leveling up pre-combat and playing a threat after is nice). We’ll take the extra body and a chance to strip Valakut of its precious Mountains. Batterskull is obviously critical for beating opposing creature decks.

I used to have Firewalkers in the sideboard, but with Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace, I have a hard time seeing how Red decks beat us. There we find the Feast and Famine, better than Batterskull against Valakut and better than Body and Mind against Vampires or Vengevine decks. Journey comes in for Vengevines, or for large creatures, we have a hard time dealing with, like Frost Titan, Baneslayer Angel, or Consecrated Sphinx.

Dismember is for killing Lotus Cobras, Fauna Shamans, and Deceiver Exarchs. Celestial Purge is great against Bloodghasts, Goblin Guides, and Splinter Twins. Act of Aggression gives non-Red decks an out to Wurmcoil Engine or Primeval Titan, albeit not a great one. It’s possible more Journeys are in order for that spot. Divine Offering and Hammer of Ruin come in against Stoneforge Mystic decks to help us beat Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace.

This is where I’d like to present some game logs to show you how the deck plays out. Unfortunately, New Phyrexia is not currently on MTGO, which is the only way I can test a deck at the moment. The best I could do was play an Old Standard version against Old Standard decks. The main deck is pretty much the same, except Feast and Famine and Mortarpod replace War and Peace and Batterskull. The sideboard is completely different, with Firewalkers over Dismember and two Sun Titans over Act of Aggression. I also bumped Journey up to four copies.

Match One – Valakut

Game 1: I lead off with a Steppe Lynx, which roars past his turn-two Overgrown Battlement thanks to a fetch land. I drop Stoneforge Mystic, searching up Sword of Feast and Famine. My opponent plays Cultivate, accelerating to 5 mana. I play my third land and pass the turn, unable to attack past his wall. Thankfully, my opponent doesn’t have a Primeval Titan, and he simply passes the turn with 6 mana available. End of turn, I Mystic in my Sword.

I equip my cat, play a Tectonic Edge, and cast Honor of the Pure. I attack for 5, and my opponent responds with Summoning Trap, finding Primeval Titan (giving him five Mountains and a Valakut). The cat connects, untapping my lands. I play a Squadron Hawk and use my Tectonic Edge to blow up his Valakut.

My opponent only has another Overgrown Battlement, and his attack finds two Valakuts, ensuring the win next turn. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t get another turn, as a Brave the Elements allows my team of Stoneforge, Steppe Lynx, and Squadron Hawk to get through for lethal.

I board in four Journey to Nowhere for four Student of Warfare. Overgrown Battlement blocks the Student all day, and the additional burn spells he’s probably bringing in make leveling up dangerous.

Game 2: I have another turn-two Stoneforge, and he responds with Pyroclasm. I only have one Plains and two Tectonic Edges, so I can’t play the Mirran Crusader in my hand. Instead, I play my Sword and pass.

My opponent finally finds the Forest he needed and plays Cultivate. I rip a Plains and play Hero of Bladehold, which is a better play than the Boltable Mirran Crusader. He plays his Primeval Titan, but I have the Journey to Nowhere. Then, I equip Hero, attack for 9, and untap my lands. I play Mirran Crusader and use Tectonic Edge on his Valakut. My opponent draws his card and scoops.

1–0.

Match Two – Eldrazi Green

Game 1: Not having a turn-two Stoneforge proves disastrous, as my Squadron Hawk + Honor of the Pure hand is too slow for his ramp. We both end up with something like eight creatures in play, but his Primeval Titan finds two Mystifying Mazes to keep my protection from Green creatures at bay. I peck away with Hawks, but he has a main-deck Nature's Claim on my Honor of the Pure to swing the race in his favor. Eventually, he is able to play Ulamog, killing my Mirran Crusader and threatening to Annihilate me. I scoop.

I make the same changes as the Valakut matchup.

Game 2: I play a Stoneforge (woohoo!) while he levels up his Joraga Treespeaker. I decide to blow a Journey to Nowhere on the ramp creature and attack for 1. He plays Cultivate, while I have a Hero of Bladehold. My opponent can only muster 5 mana, so he plays an Overgrown Battlement. I tap out to play Sword and equip my Hero, then attack with the whole team (9 damage). I follow it up with a pair of Squadron Hawks.

My opponent passes the turn without casting anything, signaling Summoning Trap, but I attack without fear. The Primeval Titan he finds isn’t enough, and I get through for lethal.

Game 3: I lead with Steppe Lynx, then Squadron Hawk, then Mirran Crusader, while my opponent unloads a pair of Overgrown Battlements and a Joraga Treespeaker. I use a Journey on one of the walls and play Honor of the Pure. He passes the turn, once again signaling Summoning Trap. I draw a Sword of Body and Mind and equip my Double Striker, and when his Trap doesn’t reveal Ulamog, I win the game and the match.

2–0.

Match Three – Elves

Game 1: He plays turn-one Copperhorn Scout, so I decide to fetch Mortarpod with my Mystic (I already have Sword of Body and Mind in my hand). He plays Sylvan Ranger, while I leave mana up to flash in my Sword. He plays Lead the Stampede, getting four creatures, and I follow through with the Sword plan.

I equip my Stoneforge and get in, milling ten and making a Wolf. I play a second Mystic, finding Sword of Feast and Famine, and my opponent plays Viridian Corrupter to kill the Wolf-maker. Unperturbed, I tap out to play and equip Feast and Famine, attack, and play Mystic Crusader and Mortarpod post-combat. I decide to kill his freshly cast Llanowar Elves so he can’t unload his handful of gas.

My opponent plays a bunch of durdles, but my protection from Green means I get to attack for the win next turn.

I side in the Journeys for the Students. Student is actually fine in this matchup, but I needed answers to Ezuri, Elvish Archdruid, and Fauna Shaman. It’s possible Brave the Elements could come out instead, but I like being able to alpha strike with the instant.

Game 2: He has Llanowar into Archdruid, and I don’t have Journey. That means he can race my Sword of Feast and Famine no problem with the help of Garruk and Ezuri. Ouch!

Game 3: This time, I have the removal spell for his Fauna Shaman. I also have Stoneforge Mystic and Mirran Crusader, two creatures who all but ensure victory. By turn five, I have a Sworded-up Crusader and an Honor of the Pure, while he has a few random elves. He concedes before Double Strike can empty his hand.

3–0.

Match 4 – Kuldotha Red

Game 1: I start off the festivities with Student of Warfare, while he plays Signal Pest. I opt to level up to 3/3 and attack, while he plays a second Pest, then sacrifices it to Kuldotha Rebirth. I have a Mortarpod in hand, so I play it and sacrifice the germ to kill the Signal Pest. Then I attack for 3 and play another Student.

My opponent plays a third Mountain and a Goblin Chieftain, attacking me for 8. I simply level up my second Student to 3/3, attack with one of them, and pass. He attempts to Bolt the untapped 3/3, but I have a Brave the Elements. He plays a kicked Bushwhacker and attacks with everything; I block the Chieftain, First Strike does its job, and I fall to 3 (I took a ping from a fetch land). The last card in his hand is Lightning Bolt. D’oh!

I board in the Firewalkers for the Students, figuring that Lightning Bolt is too good against the leveler.

Game 2: Steppe Lynx and Stoneforge Mystic provide a good start, but Arc Trail completely blows me out. He also has a Goblin Guide hacking away at my life total. I start to unload Squadron Hawks, backed up by Honor of the Pure, but he has Memnite into Kuldotha Rebirth into Goblin Bushwhacker. I’m dead by turn four.

3–1.

Burn spells are certainly good against the White Weenie deck, though I’m curious as to how much Sword of War and Peace and Batterskull would help the matchup. The ’skull may be too slow if they can kill your Mystic, but gaining 4-plus life from War and Peace every turn seems pretty good. Of course, Red decks could easily start boarding in Crush or Shatter, so we might just have to chalk this one up as a bad matchup.

I was pleasantly surprised that the Valakut matchup wasn’t completely horrible. In fact, I won all three matches that I played against the deck. It may be that I was lucky, or it may be that Sword of Feast and Famine is actually that good.

I know what you’re thinking: I didn’t test against Caw-Blade! I’m sorry—I haven’t been matched up against the deck in the Standard two-mans in at least fifteen matches. It’s probably too expensive for the average two-man grinder. I think Sword of War and Peace changes the matchup enough that testing without the card online would be relatively useless anyways.

A Fond Farewell

I hope you enjoyed this look at a Standard White Weenie deck. It’s among the most competitive of the decks I’ve created for this column, and I have high hopes that it will be good enough for real tournament play.

I’m sorry to say this is the last you’ll hear from me for a while, as I’m going on hiatus for at least a couple months. This time of year is brutally busy for me; I’m a breadman, and it’s roll season, so I’m working at least an extra two hours a day. Plus, I’ll be taking summer classes soon, and my son is turning one, which means he’s starting to demand constant attention. Anyway, I hope to return when things calm down, or at least write intermittent guest articles.

I want to sincerely thank everyone who’s read my articles, left a comment, sent me an e-mail, or followed me on Twitter. My time here at ManaNation GatheringMagic was all I could ask for and more. Also, thanks to Trick for taking me on, and to my editor, Debbie, for dealing with my run-on sentences and cheesy jokes.

Until next time,
Brad Wojceshonek
bradwoj at gmail dot com

P.S. I’ll be at Grand Prix: Providence this weekend, battling with my trusty Dredge deck. If you recognize me, please come say hello! It’s also my birthday, so bring presents.