So here we are, halfway through my journey into each realm of Magic: The Gathering. To recap, we've taken a look at the best black sets of all time (week 3), the races of blue (week 6), and green fatties (week 7). Since this column pertains to white, that leaves us with red (next week), and then gold cards, lands, and artifacts. I've been experimenting with different writing styles (as you may have noticed especially last week), so please feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com and let me know what you like or don't like about my column. All emails will be answered, and all comments are always appreciated.
When I discussed alternate win and loss conditions in Magic, several sharp-eyed readers asked me why I didn't include The Cheese Stands Alone from Unglued. The answer, simply enough, is that usually I take looks at cards that were released in "tournament legal" expansions only. While I do realize this is an arbitrary distinction, I find it's a good line to draw. This in no way trivializes Portal, Starter, Unglued, or any other Magic: The Gathering expansions that don't fit the regular release schedule. In fact, at some point down the road I'm going to take a look at cards in non-tournament legal editions that are worth taking a glance at (and there are a few), because Wizards has this sneaky habit of slowly introducing cards from Portal into the base sets.
Oh, but let's not discuss Unglued here, since you may have noticed that at MagicTheGathering.com it's hoser week. So, for those who are sensitive to the color of light, purity, angels, military efficiency, Wrath of God/Swords to Plowshares/Armageddon goodness, here's a warning:
*TURN BACK NOW! GO READ JAY'S OR ANTHONY'S COLUMNS AGAIN!*
Land Tax isn't quite so efficient when it costs 4 mana.
HOSING THE METAGAME
Way, way, way back in the day, I won the first public Pro Tour qualifier ever. The format was modified Type 2, where your deck and sideboard had to contain a minimum of five cards from each legal expansion (which at the time were 4th Edition, Ice Age, Fallen Empires, Homelands, and Chronicles). The tournament took place a couple of week after Pro Tour – New York (the original one) at Neutral Ground. The big buzz at the time came from decks which abused Land Tax and Sylvan Library to continually thin your deck of lands, combined with shuffling your deck to take full advantage of seeing new cards each turn with the Library. My attention was drawn elsewhere, to the Necropotence decks that the California players had run at the Pro Tour. I didn't have any deck lists, but I gathered enough information to cobble together my own version.
Still, Land Tax seemed to be a problem. Although Necropotence decks could come out blazing with protection-from-white creatures (such as Knight of Stromgald and Order of the Ebon Hand) combined with Hymn to Tourach, Hypnotic Specter, and Strip Mine, Land Tax allowed the white player to fill his hand to help cushion the blow against discard. To make matters worse, the California players had played Icequake, which just allowed the white player to Land Tax more freely, since they would have a reduced on-board land count. That's when inspiration (or luck!) hit: I decided that since most New York players were intent on running Land Tax based decks, I'd go all out to beat that deck alone. I took out the Icequakes from the deck, and started two main deck Glooms (with two more in the sideboard).
Nine rounds and seven Land Tax-based decks later, I was qualified for the first Pro Tour – Los Angeles. First turn Dark Ritual + Gloom proved extraordinarily powerful against any white deck, preventing them from casting Swords to Plowshares, Balance, Land Tax, Wrath of God, or Disenchant before the game was already over.
Magic players tend to be highly passionate about certain cards and colors. Specific strategies and themes mesh or clash with or against people's personalities, which causes emotions to run high at times. The idea of running a color hoser main deck was definitely considered cheese (meaning it was a strategy that tasted like a dairy byproduct), but I guess that by the end of that day, The Cheese Stands Alone.
OTHER MAIN DECK ANTI-WHITE TECH
White has access to what is considered one of the best (if not the best) single-target removal spells ever, Swords to Plowshares. Although it has the minor drawback of giving your opponent life, it costs only one mana to cast (so it can be cast early and splashed easily), and can be used on your own creatures to gain life in a pinch. Since Swords was such a good foil for creature-based decks, people started main-decking silver bullet creatures (summon spells designed to specifically prevent Swords to Plowshares) such as Knight of Stromgald, Ihsan's Shade, and Wildfire Emissary.
Years later, Rebel decks began to dominate both Masques
REAL HATE LIVES IN THE 'BOARD
A match of Magic usually consists of best two out of three games, and so while all this main deck white hate definitely helps to win games against white decks, it's the 15-card sideboard that gives anti-white the time to shine. These spells fall into three categories: silver bullets (spells which are designed to specifically take out one specific spell/strategy), board sweepers (spells which hose en-masse), and board lockers (permanents which prevent the opponent from carrying out their strategy in the first place).
Around the time of Ice Age, red and black (the primary colors that hose white, due to their enemy nature) could simply not deal with Circle of Protection: Red outside of Nevinyrral's Disk. R&D came up with not one but two ways for these enchantments to be dealt with. The first, Anarchy, fits under the board sweeper category. While it gave red an answer to Circles, this monster of a spell basically decimated an opponent's board, killing all White Knights, Serra Angels, Land Taxes, and Savannah Lions. On the other end of the table, you had the enchantment Ghostly Flame, which also gave red/black a workaround for Circles, but with a much narrower focus (it didn't proactively do anything like Anarchy, but instead worked in synergy with your other spells), putting it firmly in the board locker position.
Attacking white's non-land permanents has proven a much stronger strategy than attacking their lands through hosers. Flashfires and Stench of Evil never really had the punch of Dystopia or Dread of Night, for a few reasons. One of the most popular white deck archetypes is White Weenie, which packs a ton of mana-efficient one- and two-casting-cost creatures (ranging from Icatian Javelineers to Soltari Priest), which can easily recover from mass-land destruction. On top of this, often they will be running mass-land destruction themselves (such as the ever-popular Armageddon), which can be cast just as quickly (if not sooner) than Flashfires! On the other hand, Dread of Night provides a board-locking non-targeted (important for getting around the pro-black creatures white plays) permanent solution to white creatures, much in the way the now-defunct Gloom shut down spells ever leaving the hand.
To expand, this is why non-targeted white hosers have always performed better than targeted ones. Massacre will kill a White Knight, while Execute or Soul Rend will not. Red direct damage often proves futile against a Warrior en-Kor or a creature enchanted with Empyrial Armor, so Anarchy provides the punch that Lightning Dart or Shauku's Minion can't hope to achieve.
Ben's Resource Guide To Annihilating White
Ben may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.