I didn't expect to do well at Grand Prix New York. I'll admit, since Grand Prix Albuquerque a month ago, things have been going well for me. I figured that in New York I was bound to finally have a rough weekend.
It is definitely possible to go on a run in Magic tournaments where it feels like you always draw the right card. This is how the past few weeks have felt. It had been over a year since I had made Top 8 of a Grand Prix before Albuquerque, but all of a sudden, a few big weekends for me and I am on top of the Player of the Year standings.
Of course there are still many tournaments before now and the conclusion of Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, and I will have to continue to put up results if I am going to nab the illustrious title of Player of the Year. In any case though, let's get into just how my choice to play W/B Control came about.
I spent the week in my friend Frank Skarren's basement hanging out with some pretty cool dudes within the Magic community, and we all played in the Grand Prix. Rather than jam a bunch of games, we did other things, but there were some discussions to be had before locking in our decks. Sometimes theorizing can be more productive than jumping on Magic Online, and this proved to be the case here.
The past few weeks I had been switching decks from week to week trying to Anticipate the metagame correctly. When Standard is diverse with a wide range of archetypes, being able to accurately guess a metagame is crucial to deck selection, and something I try to take into account. Rather than sleeve up the Four Color Rites deck I played in Toronto, which is an excellent choice against the popular creature-based strategies of the format, I went one level beyond that. I knew that W/B Control has a good matchup against Cryptolith Rite decks because of all the mass removal. It turns out that Four-Color Company was actually the most popular deck in New York, so playing control was a good call.
A wide variety of white/black decks have done well, and mine is sort of a combination of the ones that performed well in Toronto, but even more control-oriented. This is the list I submitted:
The biggest decision was the choice not to play any creatures. There are ways to generate creatures and Shambling Vents, but they aren't the same as devoting a slot to just a single creature that trades with one opposing spot removal spell. There are good and bad elements to this decision.
There are some highly-impactful creatures in the black and white color combination. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet destroys the creature-based decks when left unanswered. However, when playing against decks with a bunch of spot removal, playing zero creatures is really nice. The opponent can be left with dead removal spells, or removal that ends up getting burned on creature tokens.
Another factor which lead me to not maindeck creatures is that the options are all expensive, and have four toughness. I wanted four copies of Languish, and I wanted them to be as impactful as possible. Having a card like Thought-Knot Seer in play when casting Languish did not interest me. I understand that the version with Eldrazi Displacers and Thought-Knot Seers might be a bit better against Green-White Tokens, but also is significantly worse in other areas. I ended up only losing to Green-White Tokens once, and beat it all the other times I faced it. Eldrazi Displacer blinking out an opposing Hangarback Walker is perhaps the best part about the card, but many other times the blink effect is irrelevant, or you don't have time to take advantage of it.
Rather than maindecking Eldrazi, I stuck a couple singletons in the sideboard, and in doing so my manabase ended up more consistent, while still getting away with only 25 lands. Thought-Knot Seer comes in a lot on the play, but many times on the draw it is much worse, and the turn before you can play it, the opponent has already committed the cards you care about to the board. I have been asked about why there is one copy of Bearer of Silence in the sideboard, as it initially may seem a bit unusual. The card comes in against other control decks and can be really nice, especially against something like Esper Dragons. You don't know the power of Bearer of Silence until a Dragonlord Ojutai has been sacrificed to it. Sometimes though it is just a two-mana, two-power flier, which isn't the worst rate. Overall though I am a huge fan of singletons like this that an opponent will be taken completely off-guard by.
Without creatures, there's more room to play a bunch of spells, more specifically, Planeswalkers. On turn four you really want to cast Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and this deck plays the full four copies. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is a format-warping card, and fits exactly into this deck's game plan. With so much removal it's easy to keep creatures off the board in the early turns. This should leave an opening to play Gideon, Ally of Zendikar onto a stable board, and from there you should be able to take over the game.
The win conditions in this deck are powerful enough that they can win the game singlehandedly. The nine Planeswalkers here will give the opponents fits as each has the potential to create tons of card advantage, and as it turns out black and white have access to three of the most powerful Planeswalkers in Standard.
This deck wants to play a Planeswalker anytime that it is unlikely to immediately die (outside of against something like Ruinous Path which of course is always going to be able to answer a Planeswalker). For instance, in the finals, I happily played Sorin, Grim Nemesis knowing that it was going down to one loyalty, but that is very different than zero loyalty, and after untapping I was able to make sure that it wasn't in any danger of being finished off by opposing attacks.
There is one other primary win condition of the deck, and that is Secure the Wastes. Playing Secure the Wastes alongside potential Gideon, Ally of Zendikar emblems and Westvale Abbey has been proven to be a recipe for success. Even so I don't like playing the full four copies of Secure the Wastes. Multiple times over the tournament I drew two copies of Secure the Wastes and was not happy at all. This isn't a card you really want to draw multiples of, as the Dragon Fodder effect is much more underwhelming than waiting until playing Secure the Wastes later in the game. This is card that should be treated as big mana spell, and finding one is normally not that difficult in a deck with four Read the Bones.
Playing Westvale Abbey and Secure the Wastes in the same decks means there is a lot of potential for free wins. Even though Westvale Abbey is played in a lot of decks right now, surprisingly few decks can actually answer an Ormendahl, Profane Prince. We have Anguished Unmaking as a catch-all answer to anything that might pose a problem, though losing three life is definitely a big deal. However, all-purpose removal that exiles can be a way to get out of some tight situations. For instance dealing with a Dragonlord Silumgar at instant speed before your Planeswalker gets taken can be the difference in the game, just as having removal that exiles against Hangarback Walker can be a life-saver.
The deck has all sorts of removal and it is important to use the removal spells with less targets first and hold something like Anguished Unmaking until it is really needed. The rest of the maindeck should be pretty self-explanatory outside of the two maindeck Hallowed Moonlight. Those took opponents completely by surprise, and definitely raised some eyebrows. This deck isn't playing blue, it can't play a card like Negate, but having a trump to Collected Company or Secure the Wastes is super-important. In fact, whenever you are able to successfully blow your opponent out with Hallowed Moonlight it usually drastically shifts the game in your favor. Worst-case scenario, it's a cantrip.
It would be nice if there were more cantrips in Standard, but I suppose clue tokens are taking their place. In any case, having the ability to cycle it on turn two is why it is maindeckable and you can run a low land count. There were times when I cycled Hallowed Moonlight and found that critical third land drop. It is a card that you can hold and wait on though as your opponent will almost always hold four mana up and telegraph Collected Company by passing the turn, because of the fear of Languish. This is when it becomes easy to surprise an unknowing opponent, and trust me, they won't be happy.
I chose to include Dead Weight in the sideboard since it is the best card I could think of for the White Weenie matchup. It also has applications against the Black/Green Sacrifice deck, because it can kill most of their creatures, including Nantuko Husk. There is some discard in the maindeck, but there are some decks like White Weenie that discard is really bad against. There are only two copies of Transgress the Mind in the main and much more discard in the board. It turned out that Grixis Control was quite popular in New York, and the matchup is very good for W/B Control. Transgress the Mind is perfect because exiling a Read the Bones or Kolaghan's Command really can disrupt their plan Goblin-Dark Dwellers.
Moving forward, W/B Control seems well-positioned, and it will be interesting to see how much it grows in popularity. There still seemed to be few players with this strategy in New York, but that certainly could change. While players might start to expect the maindeck Hallowed Moonlights, they are still hard to play around. In all honesty, I don't think I played my best in New York, but the deck and its good draws carried me to the finish line. When you are playing in an event and there is no deck you are scared to face off against, it becomes apparent that your deck choice was good, and this was the case with W/B Control.
Thanks for reading,