Mark Stephen Domantay recently made top 4 of the MTGD Modern tournament in the Philippines with Mono-White Humans. The deck is really interesting and I like the concept. Today I am going to examine the deck and offer suggestions for improvement moving forward.
Here is Mark's list:
The deck has a very low curve and only 18 lands. The goal is to vomit as many creatures onto the board as quickly as possible and subsequently use anthem effects such as Honor of the Pure and Thalia's Lieutenant to pump the team. It then uses Declaration in Stone to clear out blockers or Brave the Elements to get past the blockers or protect the creatures from removal.
Let's examine the creatures, spells, lands, and sideboard, along with how I would change each of these portions of the deck.
The deck has a tribal humans theme and a tribal allies subtheme. I played a league with the original list and the allies package underperformed. For the second league I replaced the allies with Champion of the Parish, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Kytheon, Hero of Akros, and Thraben Inspector.
Champion of the Parish proved to be straight-up better than Hada Freeblade nearly every time. Since every single creature triggers it instead of just the 12 allies in the deck, it grew much larger on average. Champion of the Parish is also the premier one-drop to play on the first turn in an aggro humans deck, as you may have discovered if you have played the five-color version of tribal humans. So adding Champion of the Parish was the first thing I did.
Thraben Inspector proved better than Expedition Envoy as well. The added toughness instead of power was relevant about as often as the added power would have been, and the Clue Token was a huge bonus. One of the deck's biggest weaknesses is flooding out. Knight of the White Orchid will often find us our third land, but then any land after that point is pretty much a blank. Being able to sacrifice the Clue Token from Thraben Inspector digs one card deeper into a game-winning Brave the Elements or anthem effect, or it finds one more creature to add to the board to inch closer to a lethal attack.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben didn't really shine in the games I played with the updated list, but I have enough experience with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in this style of deck to know that she is well worth it, even if the relatively small sample of matches I played was not representative of her worth. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is one of our best cards against control decks and also makes opposing Collected Company strategies much weaker against us. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben also gives us game against a lot of the combo decks that rely on cheap card manipulation spells such as Serum Visions or Faithless Looting, especially when we are on the play. And she is also a giant headache for opposing cascade spells.
Kytheon, Hero of Akros also stood out as being worthy of inclusion in the deck. He is legendary, so I don't want to run too many copies, but two felt like the right number. I replaced the fourth Dauntless Bodyguard and moved the fourth copy of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to the sideboard in order to make space for the two copies of Kytheon, Hero of Akros.
Overall, it felt like removing the allies package and replacing it with these other creatures is a pretty substantial upgrade to the deck.
I also switched up the spells and lands a bit.
Honor of the Pure and Brave the Elements each performed quite well for me, so I kept them in the deck. I felt like I wanted the fourth copy of Brave the Elements, but I was not sure what to cut for it. I ended up cutting the third copy of Knight of the White Orchid. Having a third land was often not that important in the deck since everything costs two mana or less. Even when I lived the dream and triggered Knight of the White Orchid, it was often not that big of an advantage. There were, however, several games where Brave the Elements was the only card in my deck that could win me the game. So I decided to go up to the full four, cutting a Knight of the White Orchid for the fourth copy.
The removal spell of choice in the original build was Declaration in Stone, but too often I was hoping it was Path to Exile. So I made that swap. The instant-speed interaction was often important because of linear decks with win-conditions centered around cards like Obzedat, Ghost Council or Devoted Druid. And one mana is a big difference from two mana in a hyper-aggressive deck with only 18 lands. Path to Exile can clear out an opposing creature while still allowing us to further our board by playing another creature the same turn, whereas the extra mana required to cast Declaration in Stone would often tie up too much mana, leaving us unable to cast a creature on the same turn. Overall I am happier with Path to Exile than I was with Declaration in Stone.
The land count of 18 Plains was simple and straightforward enough, but I felt like basic Plains was too often the reason I lost games. In most games I would start off with an aggressive start, play out an anthem, and just need to push through those final points of damage before the opponent had enough time to recover. In those scenarios, if I keep drawing action spells, I would usually win. But if I would draw a land or two then that would give my opponent that extra turn of breathing room to recover and win the game. So I added four copies of Horizon Canopy in place of four of the Plains.
Between Thraben Inspector and Horizon Canopy, the deck is better able to mitigate flooding out and is to find enough action to finish off more games while that window of opportunity is still open. Some games we deal ourselves some extra damage from the Horizon Canopy, but since we are usually the aggressor in each matchup, that very infrequently matters, whereas being able to turn one of your lands into another card matters a lot of the time. So on balance that change was good too.
In summary, the major changes I made to the maindeck were adding Horizon Canopies to the mana base, upgrading the removal spell in the deck from Declaration in Stone to Path to Exile, and replacing the allies package with some of the premium humans that were left out of the original build. I also added the fourth copy of Brave the Elements. Overall I was very happy with all of these changes and it made the deck feel much more competitive. While the changes to the main deck were mostly upgrades in power level that preserved the same function of each card being upgraded, the sideboard underwent a complete overhaul.
This was the original sideboard to the deck:
1 Revoke Existence
1 Apostle's Blessing
1 Aegis of the Gods
4 Kor Firewalker
2 Knight of the Holy Nimbus
1 Spirit of the Labyrinth
1 Scrabbling Claws
1 Tormod's Crypt
Tormod's Crypt and Scrabbling Claws were the two graveyard hate cards in the sideboard. Since we have barely any cards in our deck that interact with the graveyard, I decided to replace these with Rest in Peace, which is arguably the most powerful graveyard hate card in Modern.
I considered replacing Silkwrap with Journey to Nowhere, but since I already replaced the main deck Declaration in Stones with Path to Exiles, I moved two of the Declaration in Stones to the sideboard instead.
The original list ran Revoke Existence and Fragmentize. I decided to replace these with three copies of Stony Silence. This gives us more game against Affinity, Tron, Lantern, and various other artifact-based strategies. It makes us worse against Bogles, but not much else. As a general rule for Modern, especially when it comes to the color white, I think we want more haymakers rather than flexible options. Games tend to be decided by linear synergies or powerful individual cards (such as Stony Silence or Rest in Peace) that disrupt the linear synergies.
Kor Firewalker was a clear concession to Burn. Burn was a popular strategy in the tournament in the Philippines—it finished first and second place while also putting a third copy in the Top 8 of the event. In a less Burn-centric metagame, I would replace Kor Firewalker with Auriok Champion. Auriok Champion is a little worse against Burn (but still good against them, given that we run 30 creatures), but it is much better against a variety of other strategies. It is also a human, so it pumps Champion of the Parish and Thalia's Lieutenant, unlike Kor Firewalker.
Knight of the Holy Nimbus and Aegis of the Gods provide the deck a replacement for Knight of the White Orchid when on the play. Knight of the White Orchid is solid on the draw but lackluster on the play, so being able to upgrade those in half of the post-board games is pretty important, but I replaced Knight of the Holy Nimbus and Aegis of the Gods with Mirran Crusader for a few reasons. Mirran Crusader is broadly good anyway, but between it and Auriok Champion, you will usually have a sufficient replacement. I also added the fourth copy of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to the sideboard and went down to just two maindeck Knight of the White Orchid to make room for the fourth Brave the Elements, so being able to board out our two remaining copies of Knight of the White Orchid on the play is generally pretty easy.
Spirit of the Labyrinth is pretty solid against any of the Serum Visions or Faithless Looting strategies, but so is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. And Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a human, so it has more synergies with Thalia's Lieutenant and Champion of the Parish. So I decided on the fourth Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in the board over Spirit of the Labyrinth.
For the final spot in the sideboard I considered replacing Apostle's Blessing with Mana Tithe, but since I already added Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to tax the opponent's spells and we already cut a creature to add the fourth Brave the Elements, I decided to use that slot on the third copy of Rest in Peace instead of a broadly useful one-mana protection spell. This gives us more game against the graveyard strategies of the format, which we are otherwise somewhat weak against. Mardu Woe-Reaper can do some work against graveyard decks, especially if it eats a Stinkweed Imp on the first turn of the game or whatever, but it's not a reliable plan against graveyard-based strategies. Rest in Peace is.
Based on all of these changes I made to the deck during testing with it this week, this is the list I would recommend moving forward:
I'm not expecting this deck to take over Modern like Eldrazi did a couple winters ago, but I do think it is a legitimate competitive strategy. There are no potential Aether Vial upsides in the deck outside of a surprise Thalia's Lieutenant, so Aether Vial probably doesn't belong in the deck. If you wanted to go that route, you'd very likely be better off just playing Death & Taxes. This deck has a different overall gameplan. It doesn't need as much disruption because, on average, it can win a full turn sooner. So instead of trying to slow the opponent down with Leonin Arbiter and Ghost Quarter, we just want to win the game with Honor of the Pure and Brave the Elements. Brave the Elements is also the reason to play this deck over the five-color version of tribal humans that has become a Tier 1 staple of the format. I can't say for certain that the mono-white version is definitively better than the five-color version, but if I had to pick one right now to sleeve up for my next tournament it would be the mono-white version.
I know, quite the shocker that Craig Wescoe would sleeve up the mono white deck, but after last week's Dimir article there are probably quite a few sighs of relief that I am back to form.