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Thalia, Who Ruins Everything


Did you HEAR about how Thalia ruins everything? You can listen now:

New format!

You are wise. You have studied and grown strong. Knowing it's a new format you have brought the beatdown. Beatdown decks tend to do better early on, after all. Rather, Control decks tend to do less well before the metagame settles a little bit... They don't necessarily know what it is they are trying to control yet, so can get card choices - sometimes small, sometimes glaring - off or just plain wrong. You grok? Of course you grok! This is long established for someone who has studied and grown strong, as you have: Beatdown it is.

You're on the draw in your first hand of your first Crimson Vow Standard event. Hmmm. Not great. Not terrible, but not great. You don't have a lot of 1-drops anyway. And while you would maybe have rather started on one of your mana creatures or maybe a Werewolf Pack Leader on two, Ranger Class is a serviceable backup. Its interchangeable spot on the curve is half the reason you play that card, isn't it?

They open on... That's not great. 2/1? Because you're wise, because you've studied and grown strong, you're running the numbers already. Should you trade your incoming Wolf token for that stupid Usher? You're going to have follow up plays anyway. It's not like you can stop it or anything, and you certainly weren't planning to Level Up Ranger Class turn three. You accept this most excellent of Savannah Lions and respond by laying your first Snow-Covered Forest.

And then...

And then?

On turn two? Doom already.

Another 2/1. Guardian of Thraben your Old-Growth Troll's fat bum! They might as well call her Thalia, Who Ruins Everything.

So needless to say, you will not be playing Ranger Class on turn two, on time. Congratulations on winning the die roll, White Weenie Opponent Number One. Your Wolf token isn't even going to have the option of trading with their preemptive Usher of the Fallen. Your Esika's Chariot is going to have to wait, too. But if they don't have a Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute, Old-Growth Troll might just be able to...

Reidane, God of the Worthy // Valkmira, Protector's Shield

Heck of a 3-drop, that. You stare at the Snow-Covered Forest you intended to play; to try to stabilize with Old-Growth Troll. Instead, you save yourself the stress and headaches of actually going through the motions over the next few turns without, you know, actually making a play.

There are a number of new cards the aspiring White mage might want to try. I've seen many a Welcoming Vampire at the three; and folks are cycling through Training attempts in their old Codespell Cleric slots. But there is no doubt that Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is the two-mana anchor holding the Crimson Vow era White Weenie deck together. Not at this point.

The SS... S

A month ago, Jay Parker and Donald Smith over at the mother ship declined to ban either Alrund's Epiphany or Esika's Chariot despite incessant community rumblings about both. Their justification was that Innistrad: Crimson Vow's debut in Standard was right around the corner, and that those two cards might not be a problem for very much longer. This writer assumes that they knew just how disruptive Thalia, Guardian of Thraben was going to prove to any decks relying on sequencing, strategy, or, um, "spells" to develop. Consider the average Izzet deck - whether Taking Turns or Dragons or something else weird (like Giants)... Almost all Izzet decks in Standard take off turn two, or hold back on a lukewarm Jwari Disruption // Jwari Ruins bluff; maybe tucking an Alrund's Epiphany, but ignoring the battlefield a lot of the time. They take off turn two because they can't play a land off of Expressive Iteration until turn three. At a minimum, Thalia is stealing an extra turn from all those folks. Worse, she's punishing the ones who kept a two-land hand on the reliance that Expressive Iteration was going to provide a third drop.

Or consider six-mana turns... In the Midnight Hunt world, Galvanic Iteration + Unexpected Windfall was a common sixth turn combination that Izzet Epiphany used to get the minimum resources in play to just keep playing against a Green or White aggro deck. While a mana breaker against any other Blue deck, the Iteration / Windfall turn served a simpler role against beatdown decks that couldn't stop it: Getting to the 10 mana (or ideally eleven) that would let Epiphany flash back the Galvanic Iteration but still pay for an Alrund's Epiphany. That six-mana progression is no longer possible with Thalia in play... Galvanic Iteration's front-side now costing three and Unexpected Windfall suddenly a prohibitive five.

The community has responded in a big way in a very short period of time. White, already the second most popular color [combination] at the highest levels of Arena has catapulted to unprecedented levels of popularity... At least in the first weekend.

In the Crokeyz Crimson Vow tournament, White Weenie was played by a whopping 55 players. Not only was it 20% more popular than the next aggro deck (a far less successful Mono-Green), but White Weenie dwarfed even a combined Izzet Dragons and Izzet Epiphany. The winning Orzov archetype? Not even 1% of the field.

White Weenie persisted, and in fact flourished, as the tournament progressed. Though "only" 15% of the field in the Swiss, White aggro put three players into the Top 8. Worse? Aside from the incentive of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben from the new set, there is relatively little unifying the White Weenie hordes. Different decks have different character and card choices, so it is unclear at this point if you can even metagame against them all as a group. And you must know what that means. Let's see:

Timo Uusitalo was the highest performing White Weenie player in this tournament, finishing third. This version is a descendant of the "go wide" school of White decks... Still playing a couple of copies of Codespell Cleric, but adding Hopeful Initiate as a less time contingent 1-drop.

Despite being very heavy on one-mana plays, Timo's deck did not run Stonebinder's Familiar. I find this notable only because it is so invested in the Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute / Skyclave Apparition part of the White creature family, so can exile hella opposing creatures on its own turn. Those cards are fantastic in the mirror, occasionally unbeatable up against Mono-Green... But generally unexciting if you want to beat Izzet Turns.

My reading is that Timo made a very good prediction of the early format; running in some ways a White deck with the advantage against other White decks. One copy of Legion Angel (that can become all four copies of Legion Angel) lives at the top of this curve to play cleanup duty.

I think fourth place Felix Strandt's build might be my favorite of the format's White decks so far. Where Timo had the one Legion Angel, this deck runs a solo Grand Master of Flowers.

Consequently, it plays all four copies of Monk of the Open Hand as part of an even deeper devotion to one-mana plays.

This deck is serious about its game plan of playing two spells per turn. Monk of the Open Hand and Clarion Spirit must get paid! Only a single Intrepid Adversary is included to buff what will inevitably be an enormously wide board. Subtly, Felix also shaves land to include even more 1-drops, like the resilient Chaplain of Arms.

Rounding out the impressive showing of Top 8 White decks is Jamal Baglioli, with a deck more reminiscent of the post-World Championships style. This deck runs a couple of Stonebinder's Familiars and the Portable Holes and Sungold Sentinels you've probably grown accustomed to seeing beside them. Slightly more lands support a more powerful top end than the other White decks. Here we see all the Intrepid Adversaries and multiple Legion Angels... But none of the Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brutes or Skyclave Apparitions [main deck] of other builds.

If you can't beat 'em...

You know it's bad when Our Hero - Yours Truly - switches over to Mono-White in Standard. On the one hand, it was the least wildcard intensive deck to swap into... But beyond that, I just feel like you're doing yourself a disservice at this point if you're not trying to break symmetry on Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

My own feelings (and performances generally) have been mixed. I have a far lower average win rate with Mono-White than any of the decks I was playing prior to Crimson Vow. I felt that in the previous format Mono-Green was the best at farming the field overall, but I enjoyed playing both Izzet strategies and rotated between at least three different Blood Money styles depending on the day and my mood.

By comparison, White is frustrating to pilot. Hate losing to White? Try playing it yourself! Sure, you have these overwhelming hands, where the opponent can't really operate because you started aggressively and followed up with Thalia... but whichever version of the White deck you choose, you're going to be taxed with weird contingencies and skads of underpowered threat-wannabes. I have personally found a lot more success with Sungold Sentinel (which I can use strategically) than going wide with Clarion Spirits and Monk of the Open Hand, whose low lows are as unpredictable as their high highs seem unbeatable. White's performance in the mirror can feel random as well. Unlike Izzet mirrors (or Izzet against other Blue decks) which reward patience and understanding the relative value of everybody's assets in a duel that will inevitably have time to develop, White mirrors are generally just about deploying wide in the first few turns, then breaking a single block by landing an Intrepid Adversary or other go-wide bomb when the opponent is not in a good position to defend. The only really meaty point of mirror strategy I will share at this stage is to be wary of playing Adeline into an opposing Intrepid Adversary. If you're trying to chip shot in the air with Paulo Vitor, or maybe some Clarion Spirit tokens, you might accidentally undo all that good work in the sky by giving the opponent a free lifelink block.

I think by now you can glean that if Mono-White is to be our new master... Personally I would far prefer Alrund's Epiphany or Blood on the Snow to just being blanked on turn two, or out-drawn in a mono-creatures mirror where neither player has any regulation of what they draw.

But perhaps we already have a glimmer of hope!

The Crokeyz Cromson Vow tournament was not actually won by White Weenie, regardless of the past thousand words or so. It was a call back to the original Blood Money colors and Felipe Landom's Orzhov Control that took the title this day:

Despite cycling back to the original Blood Money colors, this deck not only eschewed the original White payoff (no Kaya in deck or sideboard), but played a ton of new Crimson Vow cards.

In Kaya's absence, Lolth, Spider Queen is the only payoff at five mana... But instead we see a new payoff at four: Edgar, Charmed Groom // Edgar Markov's Coffin.

This deck doesn't play any other dedicated Vampire cards, so Edgar is somewhat of a 4/4 for four mana here. Of course, it is a good target for a Deadly Dispute, and combines in an interesting way with your own sweepers.

What might be more salient is Fell Stinger, taking Skullport Merchant's spot at the three. This card is a faster way to draw cards than Skullport Merchant, and makes for an additional sacrifice outlet for creatures that want to die anyway, like Eyetwitch... Or maybe even Edgar himself.

I will be interested to see if it is actually being White that is the key to this deck's success, or if Fell Stinger tech can be ported to other Blood Money color combinations. My guess? Yes.



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