White-Blue Flash, Back in Standard

Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
5/12/2017 11:01:00 AM
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Cycling is one of the most powerful mechanics in Standard and it works great in a deck that operates primarily at instant speed. White-Blue Flash was so good in Standard that two of its best (Smuggler's Copter and Reflector Mage) had to be banned. Walking Ballista and Gideon of the Trials have since been printed, along with several sweet cyclers and an instant speed Banishing Light in the form of Cast Out. I thought about saving the deck until after the Pro Tour this weekend, but I'm feeling generous. Here's the beginning of the resurgence of White-Blue Flash.

This deck started out as a cycling deck built around Drake Haven, which was a legitimate strategy against control decks. Against aggressive decks, though, it was too slow, so I moved the card to the sideboard. But I liked all the cycling cards. Being able to cycle early if you are light on lands smooths out your draws. Curator of Mysteries and Cast Out also provide a lot of power in the mid to late game. These two cards allow us to play more cards that cost a lot of mana to cast since the biggest drawback of playing high cost cards is negated by cycling, namely having a bunch of them stuck in your hand while light on mana.

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 Cast Out
$1.10
$0.50
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Censor is another interesting cycler because it functions as a counter for any spell in the early game unless the opponent specifically plays around it, which is already kind of a win in itself. Then once the game gets to a point where it can no longer function as a counter, you can pay a single mana to turn it into a new card. You can also just turn it into another card if you're land-light just like any of the other cyclers too.

Irrigated Farmland is the last cycler I play in the main deck and it has exceeded my expectations. One of the problems with a cycling deck is that if you're cycling cards early to find lands, then later your chances of drawing lands increases since you've thinned your deck of spells by cycling through them early. The cycling lands are perfect in this case since you can just cycle them away later, much like Horizon Canopy in Modern. Unlike the other cyclers, however, you can play the cycle land on the first turn or whenever if you are land light and thus guarantee you will have a land instead of cycling a card in hopes of finding a land. Most of the dual lands in Standard come with a condition in which they enter the battlefield tapped some amount of the time. The cycle lands enter tapped all the time, but the upside of being able to cycle them away is huge.

In the sideboard, I run a pair of additional cyclers that I bring in alongside Drake Haven. Hieroglyphic Illumination comes in every time the Drake Haven comes in while Forsake the Worldly comes in most of the time since the slower decks almost always run either Torrential Gearhulk or Aetherworks Marvel, each of which I want artifact kill against. Some also run Cast Out and/or various other targets such as opposing Drake Havens. And it is against these slower decks that I want the Drake Havens.

One thing I like about this deck is that its many cycling cards make its draws very smooth and consistent. Another thing I like about it is that it runs so many removal spells, making it feel like I almost always have an answer to whatever the opponent is doing.

Against Mardu, Toolcraft Exemplar into Heart of Kiran draws are the toughest to deal with, so Immolating Glare is basically a concession to improving our chances against those draws. I tried Declaration in Stone, which is better against Scrapheap Scrounger but much worse against Heart of Kiran, and I also tried Aether Meltdown and Stasis Snare. Stasis Snare has been testing reasonably well, but being on the draw against Toolcraft Exemplar and not having any removal until the third turn is too backbreaking, so I stuck with Immolating Glare and moved the Stasis Snare to the sideboard. We would ideally rather have Fatal Push or Magma Spray, but no such early removal spell exists in white or blue. Cheap instant speed removal is really the weakest part of the blue/white color combination in Standard right now and Immolating Glare is currently the best overall card for the job.

Censor helps out a lot in the early game hole, especially on the play where it can stop Heart of Kiran from resolving. It's an early way to trade with a potential threat and to keep the pressure off while later you can turn it into a new card for a single blue mana.

Spell Queller is another way to keep the pressure off. People oftentimes play Heart of Kiran, Scrapheap Scrounger, or whatever other card pre-combat in order to get an artifact for Toolcraft Exemplar. People also play their Zombie lords and Thalia's Lieutenants and whatnot pre-combat since they provide value for the ensuing combat. This plays right into Spell Queller since we not only stop the threat but also stop a potential attacker or two since the 2/3 flying body is enough to hold their Dwarf, Human or Zombie at bay. The combination of Censor and Spell Queller make it difficult for an opponent to resolve Aetherworks Marvel, too – or a planeswalker for that matter.

Gideon of the Trials has been really good in this deck since it can function as a removal spell or a threat. In matchups where the opponent is aggressively producing threat after threat, attempting to run us out of removal, Gideon can neutralize a threat or threaten to attack their planeswalker if that's the form of their threat. In other matchups such as against some Torrential Gearhulk decks, we want fewer removal spells. In those matchups instead of Gideon functioning as a removal spell it functions as a four-power indestructible threat for just three mana. What a deal! Gideon is versatile and powerful in this deck and in this metagame.

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 Gideon of the Trials
$16.62
$6.24
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Like Censor, Cast Out can also be cycled away early if we're short on lands. It can also be cycled away later if we are bottle necked with removal spells and just want to find more threats. So just as Gideon of the Trials can be used as additional removal or as a threat, Censor and Cast Out can be traded for an opposing threat or cashed in for a new card by cycling them away. Even though the deck plays a tons of removal spells, many of the removal spells are able to turn into something other than a removal spell at times when you have too much removal.

The first thing I like about this deck is the consistency afford it by its high density of cards with cycling. The second thing I like about it is its high density of removal spells, allowing it to keep pace with decks that run lots of threats. The third thing I like about the deck is the high amount of threats it poses since many of its removal spells and cycling cards also function as threats.

Two such threats already mentioned are Gideon of the Trials and Spell Queller. Another is Walking Ballista. Most of the removal spells in the deck trade one-for-one whereas Walking Ballista can neutralize multiple threats at once. It is also a formidable creature on its own that can act as a mana sink or as way to inflict direct damage to the opponent. These abilities of the Ballista are all very powerful, but likely my favorite one is its ability to put itself into the graveyard to transform Archangel Avacyn.

Speaking of Avacyn, she is the MVP of the deck and our primary win condition. She can transform to destroy an opponent's board, ambush Glorybringer in combat, and protect Gideon of the Trials. The interaction between Gideon and Avacyn really can't be understated. Whenever Gideon is neutralizing the opponent's best threat, they pretty much have to try and attack into it with their other threat. This opens them up to getting severely blown out by a mid-combat Archangel Avacyn. She also lines up well with most of our other threats since they hit in batches of four damage. Gideon hits for four, Curator of Mysteries hits for four, and Avacyn hits for four. It only take five hits from any combination of these creatures to kill the opponent, and it usually takes fewer given the assistance provides by Walking Ballista, Avacyn's transformation, Spell Queller, and Thraben Inspector.

Thraben Inspector plays an interesting role in this deck. The deck is primarily built around cycling and Thraben Inspector basically cycles while also leaving a body behind. The body can chip away for incidental damage to make the work easier for our four-power creatures later on or it can chump block to protect Gideon of the Trials. In multiples, the Humans can gang up on creatures like Toolcraft Exemplar for real value. They also provide easily expandable fodder whenever we just want something to die so our Archangel Avacyn transforms. Thraben Inspector is likely my favorite card in Standard and it's definitely very good in this deck.

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 Curator of Mysteries
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Curator of Mysteries serves a few roles in the deck. Being able to cycle it away early when light on lands is the major selling point, but a 4/4 flyer also sizes up well against a lot of cards in the format. It conveniently knocks out either version of Gideon most of the time just from a single hit. It also blocks most of the early threats in the format including Toolcraft Exemplar. Trading with Heart of Kiran is both a good thing and a bad thing. It's a good thing when we're being attacked and a bad thing when we are doing the attacking. I'll take that trade any day though since we're much better equipped to win the long game than Mardu. The one aspect of Curator of Mysteries I don't like is that it gets eaten by Glorybringer. Fortunately, if we're on the play this won't happen since we'll get to untap and stop the Glorybringer with Censor, Cast Out, or Archangel Avacyn. If we're on the draw it basically just means we cannot run out a turn four Curator of Mysteries into their potential Glorybringer the following turn. Dying to Glorybringer is a shortcoming of most creatures (or planeswalkers) in the format though, so we can hardly hold that against the card. It's akin to the old “dies to doom blade” argument. Besides, if we are really afraid of having it die to Glorybringer, we can hold up Archangel Avacyn mana instead and/or cycle it away.

In addition to the Drake Haven sideboard plan, we also have a Fumigate sideboard plan. Drake Haven is what we do against control decks while Fumigate is what we do against the creature-heavy decks such as Black/Green and Zombies. We have enough exile effects to deal with Relentless Dead, which makes Fumigate an actual wrath. Then we have Gideon of the Trials, Archangel Avacyn, and Curator of Mysteries to close out the game before they can recover.

The final card in the sideboard is Gideon's Intervention. This is a versatile card that can come in against literally any deck. It can stop Aetherworks Marvel or Torrential Gearhulk from being cast or it can keep Scrapheap Scrounger, Glorybringer, Heart of Kiran, or Verdurous Gearhulk from doing any damage after they've already resolved. The fact that it stops threats on the table and spells not yet cast makes it extremely flexible. The only downside is costing four mana. I like having a sideboard card like this one that can come in anywhere, depending on what I want to board out. It may secretly be one of the silent MVPs of the format.

Overall I think this deck is good right now. It's a little different from the version that ran Reflector Mage and Smuggler's Copter, but so is every deck in Standard since then. It got some new cards and a powerful new mechanic in cycling from Amonkhet. It also got a really powerful new mythic in the form of Gideon of the Trials. Reflector Mage left some pretty big shoes to fill, but Gideon of the Trials might just have what it takes to fill them!

Craig Wescoe
@Brimaz4Life




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