The Return of White-Blue to Standard

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
4/12/2017 11:01:00 AM
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The Reflector Mage ban more or less killed white-blue decks in Standard. Sure, there were a few people who tried to make Spirits or some sort of Three-Color Flash deck work, but it has been a while now since we have seen Spell Queller in Standard.

Enter Amonkhet. There are definitely some new tools the archetype is receiving that should give new life to the color combination. I want to explore both aggressive and controlling takes on white-blue.

Going Aggressive

First, let's go ahead and get aggressive. It is time for there to be more than one aggro deck in Standard. There are some humans in Amonkhet that look quite impressive, and it just so happens Thalia's Lieutenant is still around and waiting for friends to give counters to. Here is where I'm starting with the Humans deck.

There are plenty of new cards here worth going over, but first let's talk about the creatures that have always classically fit into this sort of deck. As of writing this article I am not aware of any quality one-drop Humans in Amonkhet, so we are playing the best ones we have access to. Thraben Inspector, Expedition Envoy and Town Gossipmonger have proven themselves to be staples in this strategy. We would be willing to play more one-mana plays, but if you have an opening hand with any one of these three cards you are happy.

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Thraben Inspector has actually been the most heavily played one-mana creature in Standard for a while now because of the utility it provides. The other two creatures fit here because the deck is trying to be aggressive. Both are at least two-power attackers, and it is not difficult to flip Town Gossipmonger. If this deck isn't attacking each turn it will not win. Thalia's Lieutenant is still the backbone here, as making creatures bigger is the name of the game.

Thalia's Lieutenant and Always Watching make the creatures more threatening for a low cost. Always Watching has been a good fit in this sort of deck, but now that is even more true because of exert, and more specifically Glory-Bound Initiate. Alongside Always Watching, Glory-Bound Initiate is a two-mana 5/5 attacking creature with vigilance and lifelink! Now that is crazy.

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The interaction between Always Watching and Glory-Bound Initiate feels like cheating. Glory-Bound Initiate is already a strong creature on its own, and remember you don't have to exert it if you don't want to. The stats on aggressive white cards are getting even more pushed, and Glory-Bound Intitiate is a perfect example of this. I have also added Trueheart Duelists to the deck, which certainly isn't as impressive a creature as Glory-Bound Initiate, but what is?

Embalm creatures give you more play against control decks that aim to kill of the majority of your guys, and three mana to make a copy of Trueheart Duelist after it dies is reasonable. Embalm copies are another way to trigger Thalia's Lieutenant, by the way. The other embalm creature – and the primary reason to play blue in the deck – is Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun. This creature is definitely good enough to add another color to the deck, and we have seen Humans decks add additional colors to a deck for only one card, and it has been worth it.

Without any creature tokens Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun is only a Grizzly Bear, which isn't super impressive. However, when it dies and you embalm Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun you can give itself +1+1 and make it unblockable. Alternatively, there are tokens produced by Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Oketra the True, Westvale Abbey and Trueheart Duelist copies to pump. A lot of the time there will be a token around, and then Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun provides a way of getting through damage the deck wouldn't have access to otherwise.

The issue with Human Aggro decks has traditionally been the opponent stabilizing with their own creatures or removal, and then you have no way to break through opposing defenses. Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun helps to get around that issue. With so many creatures, Oketra the True will often become a creature, and she is a double striking threat that hits hard. Having both a God and planeswalker at four mana gives this deck a good top end for an aggressive deck. If only the Warrior Tokens Oketra the True made were humans as well!

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Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun is definitely a powerful card, and I do think this are enough ways to make creature tokens to make it worth including. The fact that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar makes creature tokens makes it better in this deck than Gideon of the Trials, though both are amazing cards. The other blue card – and the only creature which isn't a human – is Spell Queller. Spell Queller is still a great card, and any white-blue deck should seriously consider playing it. Here even a temporary counter is great, as you can use Spell Queller to get through in the air and deal your opponent additional damage.

There are only two Spell Queller in the deck because you do have to pay attention to the curve. There shouldn't be too many three and four-mana plays, though I am playing 22 lands to allow us to more realistically get to three and four mana. There are two copies of Irrigated Farmland which are nice because they produce both of our colors, but the fact they come into play tapped in an aggro deck is definitely annoying. Cast Out is often going to be cycled here, since you won't always have four mana, and that is fine. I do believe that Cast Out is better than Stasis Snare or Declaration in Stone because of its versatility.

The mana base is pretty good, because we don't need that many blue sources, as there are only five blue spells in the main deck. I squeezed in one Westvale Abbey, another card that interacts favorably with Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun. The sideboard will have more blue in it, but this deck clearly isn't a finished product yet, since many of the cards are in Amonkhet and need to be played with more.

What About Control?

Now, let's take the colors in a different direction, and head toward control. The only control deck in Standard for the past couple months that has put up good results is Temur Tower. Hopefully Amonkhet can change that. Here is my take on White-Blue Control, with an emphasis on cycling.

Drake Haven is a perfect build-around, and there happen to be lots of good cards with cycling in the colors. Paying one additional mana when cycling to get a 2/2 flyer makes the incentive to cycle your cards rather than play them much greater. There are only six actual creatures here that can be used to win the game, but Drake Haven is a win condition itself. Curator of Mysteries plays nicely alongside the cycling theme since when drawing so many cards flooding out is a worry, and the additional scry provided by Curator of Mysteries is important.

All of the cycle cards are versatile because you can simply cash them in for a new card, and a lot of the time you won't need to cast them. Paying one mana for a cycler is a very low cost, and both Curator of Mysteries and Censor share the same cost to cycle. I know many players were looking for Miscalculation, but I will take Censor! Force Spike saw play during its Standard days, and the fact that you can cycle a Force Spike is huge since it falls off as the game goes on.

Censor will almost always counter something early in the game if you have it available on turn two, and this deck wants two-mana counters to slow down the opponent during the first few turns. Expect control decks to adopt Censor, and the fact that this deck also has Drake Haven makes the card even better. There are other counters here as well, so the deck has hard counters late in the game. I have gone for a split between Essence Scatter and Disallow. Essence Scatter is a reprint that I am a huge fan of, and with more two-mana Counterspells in the format control decks are going to be able to react to the opponent earlier in the game.

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Another reprint featured in this deck is Renewed Faith. Renewed Faith is a card that you will cycle more than you cast. The fact is that there is a bonus for cycling it, so the difference between casting it outright and cycling it is four life. Having incidental life gain in a control deck is very important as a way to give yourself a buffer against aggressive decks, and Renewed Faith is perfect for that role. Cast Out is the other white cycler, and this card is great no matter what deck it's featured in, but is extra good here with the cycling theme.

There are some other removal spells here too, as this deck wants to control the board long enough to be able to cycle, churn our drakes and draw more cards. Declaration in Stone and Fumigate are good catch-all answers to creatures. The fact that the deck has so many cyclers means that you are more likely to draw any given card in a game, so you will be able to find Fumigate reasonably often if it is needed to clear the board. Angel of Sanctions is also a form of removal, and provides a mana sink, as oftentimes it will die and you can embalm it.

This deck can answer any permanent, and between Cast Out and Angel of Sanctions has removal that is universally strong. The deck has a couple other ways it can take control of a game – I have gone with Gideon of the Trials here as being one mana less than Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is nice, and I also want to try the card out. I'm not sure it is actually better than Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the deck, but I can see early damage prevention being great.

Pull from Tomorrow and New Perspectives provide some late-game card draw. Remember that when casting Pull from Tomorrow you can leave one mana up for a Drake Haven activation after discarding. New Perspectives is a potential way to cycle through your deck. After drawing three off New Perspectives, oftentimes you can set up having seven cards in hand. I have decided to add some off-color cycle lands, because the cycle lands are that great in a deck like this.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield




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