This past weekend I went 12-3 at Grand Prix Indianapolis (18th place) with a sweet B/W deck based around Wasteland Strangler that I adapted from the White Rhino deck I wrote about last week. The mana functioned a lot better as B/W with a light blue splash (since the blue splash was basically free) and I didn't really miss any of the green cards. The deck was primarily built to beat Jeskai (and I beat Jeskai 3-0 in the Grand Prix) but is incidentally also very good against Atarka Red and Landfall (4-0 against those decks at the Grand Prix). After making some adjustments based on my three losses, I think B/W Strangler is among the very best positioned decks in Standard right now.

Here is the deck I played at the Grand Prix:

DECKID=1253393

The deck operates in stages. On the first turn we want to play a Savannah Lions or a Shambling Vent. Then on turn two we exile a card from the opponent's hand with Transgress the Mind or we exile their creature with Silkwrap if they played a creature. Then on the third turn if they played a creature we kill it with Wasteland Strangler. If they did not, then we play Knight of the White Orchid to get an extra mana and then play Transgress the Mind or Mastery of the Unseen. Then on turns four and five we play Archangel of Tithes and Wingmate Roc. Or against control decks we can start activating Mastery of the Unseen without needing to commit more to the board.

When the deck plays out the way it's supposed to, it feels like you are playing a Modern deck against a Standard deck. For instance, when you Silkwrap Jeskai's Jace, Vryn's Prodigy on turn two and then use Wasteland Strangler to kill their Mantis Rider on turn three it is an unnecessary beating! Or against Atarka Red when you play Archangel of Tithes on turn four at 15+ life you feel like Mario after picking up an invincibility star. Or against G/W or Abzan when you use Knight of the White Orchid to accelerate into Wingmate Roc, it feels like flying higher than an eagle. Or against a control deck when you take their Crux of Fate or Languish with Transgress the Mind and just run them over with all your creatures it feels like Boingo Hotspot stealing from their customers.

The deck can pressure an opponent hard, can play the reactive game very well, and can also win the attrition battle going long. It really has it all. I'm a little disappointed that I don't have another Standard tournament to play in until the TCGplayer $50,000 Championship in Milwaukee next month. I really want to play this deck more!

Although the deck felt really good, there are a few changes I want to make that would render the deck even better.


Changes Going Forward

Maindeck
-2 Mardu Woe-Reaper
+2 Stasis Snare

Sideboard
-2 Stasis Snare
-1 Disdainful Stroke
-1 Painful Truths
-1 Negate
-1 Mastery of the Unseen
+3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
+3 Secure the Wastes

The third and fourth copies of Stasis Snare got boarded in nearly every round and I'm pretty sure they should just be in the maindeck. Six one-drops were a bit much given that I would often want to play Shambling Vents on the first turn instead anyway. So that was the most straightforward swap and the only change I want to make to the maindeck.

-->

The sideboard plan against Eldrazi Ramp was suboptimal. The plan was to Disdainful Stroke and Transgress the Mind their big threats and leave them with all mana and nothing to do with it while beating them down with random creatures. As it turns out, this plan is good but incomplete. I underestimated the effectiveness of Secure the Wastes combined with the +1/+1 emblem from Gideon, Ally of Zendikar against that deck. It's actually quite good against them and they have little recourse against it. Those cards are also very good against Esper Control, which is the deck I need the highest number of playable sideboard cards against since that's the matchup where I want to sideboard out approximately 12 cards. Gideon and Secure the Wastes are perfectly fine to bring in for that matchup in addition to being great against the Eldrazi Ramp deck. Hence the switch. Painful Truths underperformed and while Mastery of the Unseen was great for me all weekend, it serves a similar late game role to Secure the Wastes, so replacing the fourth Mastery and the one Painful Truths with Secures is easy.

While Dispel was excellent against Jeskai and Atarka Red all weekend (and is also good in theory against Esper), Negate was only ok. I don't really want a third Dispel, but I want the third Disdainful Stroke against the Eldrazi Ramp deck to counter Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.

Valorous Stance was great against Abzan and also against R/G Landfall. Ultimate Price was great against Atarka Red, Landfall, G/W, and also against various sideboard configurations of decks running Tasigur, the Golden Fang (including Jeskai and Abzan).

So here is the build I would recommend for this weekend:

DECKID=1253394

Now let's talk about how to play and sideboard against the most common matchups.


Matchup Analysis and Sideboard Guide

Dark Jeskai on the Play
+2 Ultimate Price
+2 Dispel
-2 Mardu Woe-Reaper
-2 Kytheon, Hero of Akros

Dark Jeskai on the Draw
+3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
+2 Ultimate Price
+2 Dispel
-4 Archangel of Tithes
-1 Mardu Woe-Reaper
-2 Kytheon, Hero of Akros

The reason for replacing Archangel of Tithes with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar on the draw is because the opponent will often keep up Ojutai's Command on the fourth turn. So if we're on the draw, we cannot profitably cast our Archangel of Tithes on the fourth turn into their Ojutai's Command whereas we can safely cast our Gideon, Ally of Zendikar into it. This will force their hand on the following turn, which then allows us to resolve our Wingmate Roc. Dispel is also excellent here because it stops Ojutai's Command or Dig Through Time for just one mana. It can also counter a Crackling Doom or a spell attempting to be bought back with Soulfire Grand Master's ability. Ultimate Price is good mostly because it kills Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy but also because it can kill a Dragonmaster Outcast or Soulfire Grand Master at a later stage in the game when those become more of a threat.

The games play out closely, but we are a favorite to come out ahead each time, which makes the overall matchup good.

Atarka Red
+2 Ultimate Price
+2 Dispel
+3 Secure the Wastes
+1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
-4 Transgress the Mind
-4 Wingmate Roc

Transgress the Mind can sometimes hit a Hordeling Outburst or Become Immense, but that's not what we want to be doing in this matchup. We would much rather use Archangel of Tithes to render their Goblin Tokens ineffective and use instant-speed answers to disrupt any kind of pump shenanigans (Dispel, Ultimate Price, Stasis Snare). Wingmate Roc is slow and forces us to tap out, two things we don't want in the matchup, so those come out. I choose to board in one copy of Gideon mostly as an anthem effect. Even if we have to tap out for it, it's hard for the opponent to trample over all our creatures when we have an emblem. It's not something we need or want multiples of, but it's better than any other option out in our sideboard. Valorous Stance is a close second as an additional way to disrupt a combo that can incidentally also kill a Monastery Swiftspear a decent amount of the time.

Landfall
+2 Ultimate Price
+2 Dispel
+2 Secure the Wastes
+2 Valorous Stance
+1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
-4 Transgress the Mind
-4 Wingmate Roc
-1 Mastery of the Unseen

This matchup is similar to Atarka Red except it has a higher density of bigger creatures that will die to Valorous Stance. They are less hindered by Archangel of Tithes, but either is a very good matchup. Just play like a control deck and don't ever attack with Archangel of Tithes unless you are for sure inflicting lethal this turn. This goes double for Atarka Red. Even if it seems like a good idea to attack with the angel, it's usually not.

Esper Control on the Play
+3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
+3 Secure the Wastes
+3 Disdainful Stroke
+2 Dispel
-4 Archangel of Tithes
-4 Silkwrap
-3 Wingmate Roc

Esper Control on the Draw
+3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
+3 Secure the Wastes
+3 Disdainful Stroke
+2 Dispel
-4 Archangel of Tithes
-4 Stasis Snare
-3 Wingmate Roc

Wasteland Strangler is also pretty bad against them, but it can kill Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and is also a 3/2 creature for three mana, which is not the worst thing in the world. It's also colorless, so it can dodge the minus ability on Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. I keep in Silkwrap on the draw to hit their turn two Jace, but board it out in favor of Stasis Snare when on the play so that if we have to put their Jace in the graveyard via Wasteland Strangler, Stasis Snare can keep them from using it after they bring it back on our end step with Ojutai's Command (since we can then Snare it at instant speed on our end step before they get to untap with it). This is the matchup where we have the most cards we want to board out, but fortunately our post-board configuration is pretty strong against them.

Esper Tokens
+2 Dispel
+3 Disdainful Stroke
+3 Secure the Wastes
+3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
-4 Stasis Snare
-2 Mardu Woe-Reaper
-2 Kytheon, Hero of Akros
-3 Wasteland Strangler

I haven't played this matchup much but I know that Disdainful Stroke answers all their most important cards. Savannah Lions don't match up especially well against their token makers, so those likely come out. The plan here is to fight fire with fire, going on essentially the same game plan as them with the tokens and anthem Gideon emblem. We want to leave in Silkwrap for Hangarback Walker and Bird Token from Wingmate Roc. Other than that we don't want to exile any of their creatures. Wasteland Stranger is still fine since it kills Knight of the White Orchid while gaining a useful body. It's not what we want to be doing in the matchup though, so three of the four come out.

G/W Megamorph on the Play
+3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
+2 Ultimate Price
-3 Mastery of the Unseen
-2 Knight of the White Orchid

G/W Megamorph on the Draw
+2 Ultimate Price
+1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
-3 Mastery of the Unseen

Mastery of the Unseen is not especially great in this matchup. Tempo is a bigger difference maker than late game card advantage. Gideon is great on the play but a little slow on the draw. Wingmate Roc is our all-star in the matchup, so we want to cast that raided on the fifth turn whenever possible (or fourth turn on the draw with Knight of the White Orchid). Archangel of Tithes can also be important in swinging the tempo game in our favor. Ultimate Price kills any of their threats except Hangarback Walker. Disdainful Stroke can stop their Wingmate Roc or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar but we don't want to be too reactive. I would rather just get it with Transgress the Mind where Den Protector can't bring it back the following turn.

Abzan Aggro on the Play
+2 Valorous Stance
+2 Ultimate Price
+3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
-2 Kytheon, Hero of Akros
-2 Mardu Woe-Reaper
-1 Mastery of the Unseen
-1 Wasteland Strangler
-1 Knight of the White Orchid

Abzan Aggro on the Draw
+2 Valorous Stance
+2 Ultimate Price
-2 Kytheon, Hero of Akros
-2 Mardu Woe-Reaper

Valorous Stance is great because it hits their three biggest threats: Siege Rhino, Anafenza, the Foremost, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang (and an out of control Warden of the First Tree) in addition to half a Wingmate Roc. Ultimate Price is less good but still kills Warden, Tasigur, and Wingmate Roc and is thus preferable to the one-drops. Gideon is better on the play than on the draw and so when on the play I would bring it in over a Knight (which is better on the draw), one Strangler, and one Mastery.

Hardened Scales
+2 Valorous Stance
+2 Ultimate Price
+2 Dispel
-3 Transgress the Mind
-3 Mastery of the Unseen

I have not tested this matchup much, but theoretically Transgress isn't great because it lacks cards to hit in the matchup. Mastery is also not really the place I want to be. We definitely want our interactive removal spells and Dispels for their threats and to counter their counters. Play around Stubborn Denial whenever possible and maybe even set up a blowout where you kill their ferocious creature in response and then pay the one extra mana for Stubborn Denial so the spell they're trying to counter resolves. Don't get yourself blown out trying to set this up, but if it's there, be aware of it.

Green Ramp
+3 Disdainful Stroke
+3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
+3 Secure the Wastes
-4 Archangel of Tithes
-4 Stasis Snare
-1 Wingmate Roc

I'm not 100% convinced that Silkwrap is better than Stasis Snare in this matchup but I definitely think we don't want four copies of both after board. Hangarback Walker is the prime target and we want to leave some exile effects in solely to deal with those. Silkwrap can also hit Rattleclaw Mystic or Jaddi Offshoot if they run those and can also better set up Wasteland Strangler. Stasis Snare costs more mana and doesn't curve out as well with Wasteland Strangler, but it can also get rid of Dragonlord Atarka or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Usually a Stasis Snare isn't enough once they start casting Ulamogs though since they chain together with Sanctum of Ugin, so it's really mostly a question of whether tacking on an extra mana is worth the flexibility of being able to hit Dragonlord Atarka. Since Atarka is our prime target for Disdainful Stroke (in addition to Ugin, the Spirit Dragon) and we bring in three copies of Stroke, I'm inclined to want Silkwrap over Stasis Snare, but I think overall it is close.


Conclusion

My three losses in the Grand Prix were to Eldrazi Ramp, G/W Megamorph, and Naya Dragons. Against Eldrazi Ramp my draws were pretty poor and I whiffed on a turn two Transgress the Mind (I know, right?). My sideboard was not as good as it could have been for that matchup though since I didn't realize how good the Secure the Wastes + Gideon, Ally of Zendikar emblem combo was against them. We have since bolstered that matchup considerably. My loss to G/W Megamorph was very close but involved mana issues in two of the three games where he hit five mana before I did. That match is pretty close anyway. The match against Naya Dragons looked good until he cast Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and started attacking me. I had used my Stasis Snare on an earlier morphed Den Protector, so I ended up just dying to Sarkhan with Valorous Stance in hand (boarded in for Thunderbreak Regent). I don't expect to face that matchup again, but even if I do, I think it's at least 50/50.

The other rounds I faced three Dark Jeskai decks (3-0), a landfall deck (1-0), three Atarka Red decks (3-0), Abzan Aggro (1-0), and Four-Color Dragons (1-0).

With the suggested changes, we are stronger against Eldrazi Ramp without really giving up any percentage points anywhere else. By moving the last two Stasis Snares main we are also stronger against all the other creature decks (Jeskai, Abzan, G/W, etc.). I'm not the only one having success with this breakout strategy. Fellow UltraPRO teammate David Williams won a Grand Prix Trial with it yesterday (7-1), Manu Sutor got 9th in an MTGO PTQ (5-2), and Justin Heilig continues to Crush the local St Louis Magic scene with it. Everyone I have handed it to instantly crushes with it. Now I'm handing it to you to Crush with!

The deck is great! Try it out for yourself. It's like playing White Weenie but splashing Black for Thoughtseize ( Transgress the Mind), Treetop Village ( Shambling Vent), and Flametongue Kavu ( Wasteland Strangler). If you've ever wanted to strangle a Mantis Rider, now's your chance!

Craig Wescoe
@Nacatls4Life on twitter