Sugar and Spice...?

Posted in Serious Fun on February 4, 2003

By Anthony Alongi

Of the five colors, I enjoy white the least. Part of this is because of life gain like Congregate. Part of this is the legacy of cards like Armageddon and Limited Resources. And part of this is the gradual weakening of white's resources over time - the years since the Rebel chain have not been kind.

Put briefly, white slows down group games, makes them boring, and has no recent champion to blaze a path to victory. Recent storyline notwithstanding, it's the "nice" color. Who plays this game to be nice?

So this article, as my part of the site's week-long homage to the color of insufferable self-righteousness, will be short. But in deference to those who like this sort of thing, I'll try to remain sweet.

I'll start by admitting that my last three decks have been red-white, black-white, and (gasp!) green-white. None are dependent on the traditional deck types in those colors: no Lightning Bolt/Swords to Plowshares volleys (those are still in my Radiate deck), no Pestilence/Circle of Protection: Black combos, and no Ernham Djinn/Argothian Wurm nonsense with Armaggedon.

Instead, these decks rely almost entirely on new Onslaught themes. In looking at each, I've come to realize that there are at least three multiplayer dynamics in white I have to admire. Maybe by the end of the article, we'll find a way to pull them all together in a mono-white lovefest.

The first dynamic is combat punishment. This began with creatures like D'Avenant Archers and Heavy Ballista, and more recently pops up in Catapult Squad and Dive Bomber. The idea is to slap creatures in the face for the mere suggestion that they attack or block. Chastise, Exile, Avenger en-Dal – the permanents are great warning signals in group, and the instants nifty little tricks to those who get by your more obvious defenses.

A related choice here is Kor Haven, which, unlike Maze of Ith, keeps the creature in combat but renders it harmless, so that you can block and kill it.

The second dynamic is resurrection, which conveniently enough is the name of one of the color's more illustrious cards. Most players don't have that one, though. They might have Death or Glory though, or Miraculous Recovery. Even Kirtar's Wrath at threshold has a certain flavor of rebirth. This is a mechanic that I'd like to see more of in white, since it feels in flavor. One thing Wizards would have to iron out is what kind of recursion is "white," versus what kind is "green." (Of course, black has its own style already.) For now, it looks like recent cards are more about graveyard avoidance – witness Sigil of the New Dawn, on the heels of Reborn Hero. These aren't stellar cards – but they're strong in group play.

The third and last dynamic of note is the slide – as in Astral Slide, the more recent cousin of Parallax Wave and its brethren Flicker and Liberate. Oblation also sort of fits here, as Planar Guide certainly does.

I don't know about tournament play, but from a casual perspective, I feel strongly that this is a place where white can go with success. It's fairly undeveloped territory, no other color has an obvious claim to it (though it feels tricky, like blue – no, Randy, that's not a customer request!), and it can be quite powerful. Perhaps these cards have been made uncommon or rare because R&D is uncertain what play impact would be. But I think we've seen enough to know that the dynamic can be both good, and controllable. What needs to happen now? There needs to be a good, solid common card that most players can get to know and access. It could be an instant that improves on Liberate or a modest creature that falls slightly short of Planar Guide – but if Wizards wants to make white better, this is an excellent place to start.

None of these three mechanics addresses my favorite white card to date – Glory. Yes, you can discard it to a Wild Mongrel or Hypochondria, but I just like the way this card works when it's played as a 3/3 flyer. Who blocks and kills this thing? Who attacks you with anything with 3 power or greater? What, are they insane? This is the best incarnation (pun intended) of white's traditional "protection" scheme, which in the past has either come off as trite (Flickering Ward) or ineffective (Mother of Runes, and again recall that I'm talking about group play here, where tapping abilities are tough to make work).

Let's see what happens when we mix all this stuff together, and throw in some of the more promising creatures from Onslaught block.


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Not bad. Even feeling ambivalent toward white as I do, I wouldn't be embarrassed to play this.

This deck is adjustable to a couple of different themes readers might prefer – it has enough Clerics to support an Ancestor's ProphetTest of Endurance combo, or the Clerics can be replaced with Soldiers to complement Eesha. (Complement, not compliment: "My, Commander, what fine plumage you're sporting there! Perfect for storming the castle walls!" Flattery from subordinates won't work on her – remember, she has protection from creatures. All right, I'll stop.)

I'll end by leaving you with five white cards you may have forgotten about, worth playing in group:

  • Trap Runner – popular when it came out, it's been largely set aside in favor of later 4cc creatures such as Benalish Heralds, Coalition Honor Guard, and Mystic Zealot. But let's not forget this thing is a Soldier...
  • Smite – of course, Trap Runner doesn't work on tramplers very well...but this does. An incredibly nasty trick to play on the poor soul who just went through a dozen machinations to get and keep out a Devouring Strossus, which you've just killed with a Suntail Hawk. A boutique trick in the right deck.
  • Angelic Wall – while this may not have passed out of all readers' memory yet, it's worth reminding you to pick up another set of four of this common, if you don't have eight already. This card can easily find four slots in two decks simultaneously. It ranks in my book as highly as Fog Bank for quick defense in control or combo-based decks.
  • Preacher – not easy to get, but hey, it's Control Magic for white, so trade for it as time and resources allow. Seek also the easier-to-acquire Debt of Loyalty.
  • Talon Sliver – with white Slivers getting a heck of a boost with Ward Sliver and Essence Sliver, don't forget that this one was never entirely awful.

Whatever you do, when you play white, don't limit yourself. Move past Soul Warden and Congregate. This is, after all, the color that brought us Wrath of God. With a bit of time and effort, we may return to those days when white's not so nice after all.

Anthony may be reached at

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