The Legacy of White Lightning!

Posted in Feature on August 31, 2006

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

Look at this card:


Now read the Oracle text on the card:

Play Waylay only during combat.

Put three 2/2 white Knight creature tokens into play. Remove them from the game at end of turn.

Besides a minor correction in syntax, there is a fairly significant difference between what the original printed version of Waylay said it did and what the Oracle Text claims, the addition of that opening phrase “Play Waylay only during combat.” But why the need for clarification?

The flavor of the card is pretty clear… It describes an ambush. Some poor sap saunters into the Red Zone thinking that he is going to tag the opposing Plainswalker and bam! Out of nowhere these three Knight tokens appear and bushwhack that joe (maybe three joes), blocking his or their path, maybe sending them to the bin, never to be seen again, certainly with empty pockets.

The intention of the card is also clear: This is a card that you are supposed to play during the opponent's attack. The Knight tokens don't have haste. There is no point in playing them before your own attack. If you play them before your opponent commits, you are just telegraphing your trick, so he won't swing with anything that would actually get killed and you are just going to waste a card. You wouldn't run out Thunderheads during a random point of your opponent's second main phase, would you? If you play Waylay after the attack, that's pretty pointless, too. The Knight tokens are never going to get to block, and they're going to go poof at end of turn anyway, again just blowing a card for no reason.

… Or are they? I guess that depends when, exactly, after the attack you plan on playing Waylay.

Though it was released less than a year before the minting of the “Sixth Edition” or “Classic” rules you are familiar with today, Waylay was written in a simpler (and by “simpler” I mean much more complicated and difficult to understand) time, with a Magic that was functionally similar, but often strangely different in the details. As such, the creators of Waylay, for whom the present rules were not even a glimmer in a faraway eye, had no idea about the “until end of turn” versus “at end of turn” rules loophole that was to be unleashed on competitive Magic in the summer of 1999.

The next part is just boring rules text. If you want to advance directly to the interesting bits, just skip over them; if you want to actually understand what is going on, check out at least the highlighted parts.

312. End Phase

312.1. The end phase consists of two steps: end of turn and cleanup.

313. End of Turn Step

313.1. As the end of turn step begins, all abilities that trigger “at end of turn” go on the stack. (See rule 410, “Handling Triggered Abilities.”) Then the active player gets priority and players may play spells and abilities.

313.2. If “at end of turn”-triggered abilities are created or if cards with “at end of turn”-triggered abilities come into play after preexisting ones have already gone on the stack at the beginning of the end of turn step, those abilities won't go on the stack until the next turn's end phase. In other words, the step doesn't “back up” so new “at end of turn”-triggered abilities can go on the stack. This only applies to triggered abilities that say “at end of turn.” It doesn't apply to continuous effects whose durations say “until end of turn” or “this turn.” (See rule 314, “Cleanup Step.”)

314. Cleanup Step

314.1. If the active player's hand contains more cards than his or her maximum hand size (normally seven), he or she discards enough cards to reduce the hand size to that number (this game action doesn't use the stack).

314.2. After discarding, the following actions happen simultaneously: all damage is removed from permanents and all “until end of turn” and “this turn” effects end (this game action doesn't use the stack).

314.3. If the conditions for any state-based effects exist or if any triggered abilities are waiting to be put onto the stack, the active player gets priority and players may play spells and abilities. Once the stack is empty and all players pass, another cleanup step begins. Otherwise, no player receives priority and the step ends.

You see Waylay, which contained the at end of turn language, featured a triggered effect that went on the stack at the beginning of the end of turn step began. Because of this, a rules lawyer bent on perverting the intention of a card and the game itself in favor of the clearly insufficient letter of the law so as to gain an advantage could play Waylay at end of turn, after all “at end of turn” abilities had already gone on the stack. His Knight tokens would not leave play as if they were subject to until end of turn triggers. Therefore the Knights would start play on his side for this next turn, and because of that, be ready to attack. The tokens would disappear at the end of the next turn, sure, but by then they would have already served as an essentially six-power, nigh-hasty White analogue to Ball Lightning for the bargain price of , and Waylay would become the core of the short-lived White Lightning archetype.

White Lightning; Kyle Rose

Download Arena Decklist

White Lightning; Stephen McArthur

Download Arena Decklist

Despite the presence of Yawgmoth's Will in the format, three different Yawgmoth's Bargain and / or Replenish decks in the Top 8, Jon Hunka's Enchantress combination, and the indomitable Survival of the Fittest, White Lightning – that simple White Weenie deck that just happened to play Waylay – put two players into the Top 8, with Kyle Rose eventually winning it all.

Resistance Fighter
The White Weenie decks of U.S. Nationals 1999 were tuned to beat a particular class of enemies. With their many Disenchants and Erases, these decks were solid opponents to the Delusions of Mediocrity version of Yawgmoth's Bargain; with the “gain ten life” trigger on the stack, the White Weenie player could destroy Delusions of Mediocrity to force any such Dirty Combo Player to lose ten life first, usually killing him to death, before the initial trigger resolved. These decks were strong racers, with relatively efficient if not award-winning one- and two-drop creatures. The various Soltari Clerics were essentially unblockable and Resistance Fighter was a cute foil to anyone planning to pay 18 life for a Hatred kill. The true power of these decks, and the reason why a strategy as otherwise mediocre as vanilla White Weenie could not just compete but succeed, was in the White Lightning.

With Crusade or Glorious Anthem in play, Waylay could be set to not just six damage (already stronger in the abstract than Ball Lightning), but nine, twelve, or even more aggregate power. White Weenie has historically been weak in formats where its creature rush is halted by Wrath of God or the like, but the White Lightning decks of U.S. Nationals 1999 could set up at the end of turn – after any sorcery speed removal had already been spoken for – to crush in for devastating chunks of the opponent's life total. With Masticore and Cursed Scroll to mop up either blockers or those last few points of damage, this era's Empyrial Armor-less, Abeyance-free, and pre-Rebel White Weenie decks may in fact have been the most effective to grace the top tables of U.S. Nationals.

You know from the opening salvo of this [End of Turn] [W]eek's article what ended up happening to Waylay, and why White Lightning never became a household name like Sligh, Necro, or Trix. The people in charge figured that this card, which was not only being used in a manner nowhere near its intended functionality, but also exploiting an unforeseen rules blip, had to be spayed. The solution was that initial line of Oracle Text. By the World Championships, White Lightning was not even a memory.

… But that was not the end of “at end of turn” shenanigans.

At the crowning event of the Magic year, former World Champion Jakub Slemr ran the perfect Day One (tied with Randy Buehler) with another deck built to abuse the end step via vintage syntax. Three days later, Slemr would be joined by Gary Wise (12 points on Day One), playing a similar deck.

Jakub Slemr (Czech Republic)

Download Arena Decklist

Gary Wise (Canada)

Download Arena Decklist

The Corrupter Black deck played forerunner to other Yawgmoth's Will decks such as Napster, but Will and selection were not the focus (notice only three Yawgmoth's Wills; the lone Vampiric Tutor was a last-minute addition by the Mogg Squad). Instead, the deck was a straightforward Black [board] control deck with light disruptive elements. Its unique wrinkle and claim to fame (beyond the undeniable vigor of Yawgmoth's Will, of course), was in its creature selection. Nearly every creature played in Corrupter Black was capable of sacrificing itself for zero mana, and the balance could disappear at a moment's notice with the help of Phyrexian Plaguelord.

Why might this have been a useful innovation?

Corpse Dance
The Corrupter Black endgame centered around those two copies of Corpse Dance. With five mana, Slemr could Corpse Dance with buyback (or without buyback, Will willing, or if need be) to get a creature into play. Sometimes it would be useful to let the creature evaporate forever (say he wanted to “dig” to a better option), but it was usually desirable to manage creatures for essentially infinite utility. For example, if Jakub were being attacked by two Jackal Pups, he might want to Corpse Dance Bottle Gnomes with buyback, block one, put damage on the stack (lethal for one Pup), take two damage, sacrifice his Gnomes to gain three life (netting one) before the “removed from game” trigger resolved, and be in position to do so again the next turn, grinding down the damage-oriented Sped Red opponent a life point at a time over a long attrition war. The so-called “dancing Gnomes” plan was a known one since Pro Tour--LA in 1998, but the “Waylay sidestep,” that “at end of turn” door opened by White Lightning at U.S. Nationals, allowed for more extravagant variations. What about Corpse Dancing the Phyrexian Plaguelord at the end of turn, setting up a respectable swinger that could chop for four or even eat a Masticore? How about the world's most annoying Ravenous Rats? Besides never, ever, paying echo on Ticking Gnomes, the really disgusting Corpse Dance combination leveraged that one Phyrexian Negator. With five points of damage on the stack – and with a thousand potentially apocalyptic points being assigned to the Negator itself during combat – Slemr could distribute a sizable chunk of damage and then sacrifice the Negator before damage resolved, stymieing the opponent's aspirant good math. The Plaguelord combination was bad enough, but with Phyrexian Tower in play, Slemr might actually have enough mana to play another Corpse Dance.

Let's close this one the same way we opened up.

Thawing Glaciers

Oracle text for the same:

Thawing Glaciers comes into play tapped.

, : Search your library for a basic land card and put that card into play tapped. Then shuffle your library. If it's the end phase, return Thawing Glaciers to its owner's hand. Otherwise, return Thawing Glaciers to its owner's hand at end of turn.

The errata this time was “If it's the end phase, return Thawing Glaciers to its owner's hand[,]” which is ironic because for years players inaccurately returned Thawing Glaciers to their hands immediately all the time, sometimes re-playing it as their land for the turn. Anyway, the reason this errata was necessary about five or six months after U.S. Nationals and immediately prior to Bob Maher's Extended Pro Tour--Chicago 1999, was that Sixth Edition Rules allowed players to double-dip the Thaw. All you had to do was wait a turn, and use the Glaciers on the opponent's end step. You could then untap it and use it again before your own end step (when the “at end of turn” trigger would strike, that was going to come anyway) and get two basic lands out of each Glaciers drop. Thawing Glaciers was a fearsome card that dominated Block Constructed and Standard in its era, and made Bob's Top 8 anyway, kind of like the world's least discriminating Sakura-Tribe Elder, but the boys in Renton were not about to let this already over-the-top strong card obviate any and all other strategies thanks to a rules loophole. Emerald Charm was an already played card that saw use in decks from The Rock to Land Grant Sligh… If Glaciers hadn't been errata'd, it would have been used not just to eat Oath of Druids and Circle of Protection: Red but bent to the service of finding additional basic Forests, that is, evil. Without the double dip incentive, players found other things to do with their Charms, and their Thaws.

Giving certain colors and certain narrow – often “spirit of the rules”-contrary – decks an extra bit of turn and free mana at the end of the other guy's chance at bat is less fun and ultimately not good for the overall health and balance of the game. There was a time a few years back when BDM had a website that posted clever Magic quotes; their first one was something like “I think the first quote should be ‘EOTFOFYL' with no explanation,” with EOTFOFYL being a kind of insider abbreviation for “End of Turn Fact or Fiction, You Lose.” Luckily for most players, we no longer let Blue win just because it has four mana at the end of our turn. Why did R&D stop making cards that allow Blue players to cheaply draw three cards with instants like Fact or Fiction? The same reason they stopped handing White players three bears at the end of turn, or letting players use the end of turn to get three land drops out of one Thawing Glaciers: The game is more interactive, more balanced, and in the long run, more fun, when you play the bulk of your Magic on your turn, and I play most of mine on mine. That isn't to say that we shouldn't have Instant options, or that it isn't awesome for the skillful Red Deck to start punching Control when he is weakest, just that if Dr. Garfield had wanted you to stake out the other guy's end step as the time you did most of your damage, he probably wouldn't have put in the other guy's turn.

Latest Feature Articles


November 15, 2021

Innistrad: Double Feature Product Overview by, Wizards of the Coast

More monsters! More horror! More drafts! More of everything you love about Innistrad arrives January 28, 2022, with Innistrad: Double Feature. Available at your local WPN game store,...

Learn More


November 12, 2021

The Legends of Innistrad: Crimson Vow by, Doug Beyer, Ari Zirulnik, and Grace Fong

We managed to get ahold of the guest list for Innistrad: Crimson Vow, and it's looking kind of wild! We've got faces old and new, fanged and un-fanged, human and . . . uh . . . slime mons...

Learn More



Feature Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All