Last week I mentioned that there was a lot going on with Blue/White these days and today I want to try to look at exactly which tensions and synergies exist and how weighing those synergies against raw power level should influence the final build of a Blue/White deck. There are a lot of fundamental tension at work here and a lot of cases where it's tempting to move entirely toward one direction or another. The problem is that making a decision like that will make the deck very narrow giving you some very good and some very bad matchups. Attempting to straddle the difference is likely to give you a less powerful deck overall but will help guarantee that you have some play against everyone. In the recent past I've been playing U/W decks that go entirely in one direction but the format has diversified (or at least divided) enough that I no longer feel that that's a safe option. Okay enough abstraction. If I continue along these lines those that already probably have no idea what I'm actually talking about will get even more lost. Let’s talk cards.
The two-drops are the first great point of contention and the spells you play basically set the framework for how the rest of the deck follows so let’s start there:
Spreading Seas: This card comes with an extremely powerful effect particularly in a world full of manlands and many people believe it's a necessary inclusion because of the importance of fighting manlands or the ability to steal games where your opponent unexpectedly can't cast their spells. I think there are some valid reasons not to play this card sometimes but it's extremely powerful.
Wall of Omens: This to me is the cycler that you have to play. An 0/4 is a significant body and I think it will most consistently offer the most value of this group of cards. There could be a format so warped by Blue/White that an 0/4 just never does anything but I'm completely sure Standard isn't at that point.
See Beyond: This card looks pretty sweet. You often have a card you don't need and you can draw two and get rid of it but more often than not when I've played this card it's just felt like an overpriced Opt. This deck is in danger of spending so much mana to cycle with a bit of value that I need that value to have some kind of effect on the board so that I don't get too far behind. I'm not saying this card definitely shouldn't be played; I'm saying I think the two cards above are better. I'm okay with this card particularly in small numbers. Also the occasional person who suggests this as an extra shuffler for Jace should think a little more closely about the interaction between these cards.
Treasure Hunt: Treasure hunt has a lot of potential. A little too much potential in some ways. Many of you probably remember Chapin's early discussion of Treasure Hunt that concluded that the card often draws roughly 1.75 cards. The problem is that that number comes from an average that includes times when it will draw you 4 or more cards and most of the time particularly early in the game you get no value out of the extra cards and just end up discarding them. Putting a limit of two on the number of cards it can draw you (beneficially) hurts that average quite a bit (decreasing it to roughly 1.4 most of the time). Half a card is about as good as drawing and shuffling so then this card runs into the same problems of not impacting the board that See Beyond does for a similar power level. They have the benefit of playing well together since See Beyond can turn extra lands into slightly more value but you can only play so many cyclers.
Knight of the White Orchid: I loved this card in the mirror before but it loses a lot of value when Wall of Omens exists. You're more likely to have your own creature to Path if you need to and much less likely to threaten their planeswalkers with it. It also stretches the mana somewhat to consistently try to hit WW on turn 2 and it encourages you to play Fieldmist Borderpost (or at least it's much worse without it) and that puts a constraint on the minimum number of basic lands you can play that you may not want. It plays very well with Deprive but that stretches the mana a little too thinly and ultimately I think it's probably too hard to get those to come together.
Everflowing Chalice: If you want to cast big spells this is the way to do it. I was shocked when I noticed that the direction the Tap Out decks were taking was to cut Chalices. If Mind Springs and Martial Coups win games this is the way to cast them but I'm not sure those are what games are about anymore. I'm increasingly inclined to try to go small in these decks and move away from acceleration all together.
Negate: Narrow but effective. If you want an edge on other control decks this is one of the best places to get it.
Deprive: Less narrow but it can be rough early. Still a great way to get an edge against other control decks while also having value in other places especially against decks like Mythic or Polymorph (those decks that rely on a low number of powerful threats).
Into the Roil: Very versatile relatively low impact. You don't want too many since most of the time it's another cycler but it costs twice as much but it's a very flexible catchall that can deal with Ajani Eldrazi Conscription Polymorph or whatever happens to be around. Generally an excellent one- or two-of.
Other options like Essence Scatter Kor Firewalker and Flashfreeze don't appeal much to me at this point. I don't think the format is right for them maindeck. These are the two-mana spells to consider. Having gotten some cards out of the way I want to move on to a brief digression of momentum in this deck before discussing other cards available because I think that's one of the most significant principles at work here.
In this format most people are using most of their mana on most turns and they're generally going to do that whether you counter their spells or not and sometimes (when they cascade) they're going to get value out of that mana even when you counter their spells. This puts counterspells in an awkward place particularly if you want to be selective about what you counter. There aren't enough instants available such that if you pass on turn 2 with Negate up and your opponent plays a creature or if they play a Spreading Seas and you decide not to counter it they've furthered their game plan and you've wasted mana. Counterspells do a lot of very good things right now especially against planeswalkers which are getting more common in many different decks but there's a substantial cost associated with unspent mana. The more cyclers you have in your deck the higher the cost is because the more you're planning to use your mana to get through those cards. This means that in general countermagic doesn't play well with Spreading Seas and Wall of Omens but those cards are so good that you basically have to play them. That means that you end up wanting to not play See Beyond and Treasure Hunt if you're playing counters and that's a fine line to draw as long as you're careful about how your mana's being spent while you're playing.
The other element to momentum is managing your hand size. In the Tap Out Blue White deck that I played last season in Grand Prix: Kuala Lumpur and Grand Prix: Brussels I would play Everflowing Chalice and Knight of the White Orchid to lower my hand size and then Divination and Mind Spring to load up again and my momentum was a matter of decreasing my hand size to increase my mana and then using that mana to reload my hand again. When the two-drops are Walls of Omens and Spreading Seas instead your hand size never goes down which drastically decreases the value of cards that refill your hand. Divination is a terrible turn 3 play on the draw to follow one of those cards since you'll just have to discard. You have to make sure that you're playing enough spells early in the game that you want to cast the card draw spells in your deck particularly Divination which is essentially another cycler: it's a card you want to play early to keep flowing through your deck and keep up momentum unlike Mind Spring which is a card you're happy to sit on as it gets more powerful the longer you wait and eventually it's something of a finisher.
The point is that while I think Divination was much better than I ever could have expected in the dedicated ramp version of Blue/White it gets much worse if you're not playing Everflowing Chalice and generally doesn't play well with the cyclers so I only want it if I'm heavy on ramp or very heavy on early one for ones.
I think the two-mana spells are competing with each other for similar space in the deck but I think most of the other spells have other concerns greater than their casting cost so I don't think it's useful to go through other cards by casting cost. I think it's better to look at the role the other cards are playing.
Path to Exile: Still the most efficient answer to creature available this card is also an instant which has gotten much more important with the addition of Kargan Dragonlord and Eldrazi Conscription and it's still one of the easiest ways to deal with any manlands that are still around after you've cycled through your Spreading Seas.
Oblivion Ring: As Jund gets less popular and Planeswalkers get more popular this card gains a lot of value. Sorcery speed is awkward these days so I think you want a mix of this and Path to Exile but just killing creatures isn't enough.
Cancel: Again this has the momentum problem where so often you want to tap out to do something on your turn mitigated by its extreme strength against other Blue and White decks combined with its flexibility. Never amazing never dead. Another card I wouldn't want in high numbers.
Oust: I don't think you can play this card main because instant speed is too important on Path to Exile and you don't need 5 but that's a shame because this card is really amazing. It deals with so many things without giving the opponent a land and it's often actually better than just killing the creature (particularly when used on a mana creature on turn one). When you use it as a tempo play on turn 1 against any creature they've played it's just amazing. They never want to have to draw their one-drop again on turn 3.
Jace the Mind Sculptor: I may have been one of the last on board despite loving this card right when I saw it but his time has finally come in Standard. Less Jund more walls so he's often going to stay alive. You don't need to ramp to keep him in play because your wall can do that instead and you don't need a ton of mana to get ahead because Jace can do that. This is why I want to move smaller and ramp less (not at all).
Gideon Jura: This is the other reason I want to move smaller. You don't need Martial Coup to win when you have this guy. He kills all their guys and gives you a finisher but he does it for two less mana and he's even kind enough to kill the creatures they haven't played yet. Seriously this guy is unreal. I can't believe I'm still seeing lists that are "trying one out." Everyone has removal now. Give up on living the dream with Baneslayer Angel in a deck that doesn't have any other real creatures for the opponent to kill and get instant value out of your five-drop. It'll still usually win the game. I'd start with three in this kind of deck and then move up to four after I realized it's probably just the best thing you can be doing.
Day of Judgment: This is what you want against Mythic and Naya but Naya's not around so much and Mythic has more and more Dauntless Escorts. It's surprisingly awkward against Jund and straight up miserable against other Blue/White decks. I don't think you can cut it all together but I'd like to see if I could get away with two.
Martial Coup: You can still build to play this and it's often extremely powerful but I just don't think you have to work that hard to win anymore.
Mind Spring: See above but to a lesser extent. This one needs a little less mana for a powerful effect and it's generally better against other control decks. It takes a dangerous mana investment particularly if counterspells are involved on both sides but the payoff is certainly very high.
Baneslayer Angel: If you want to beat a Red deck this is still a great way to do it and it can generally end any game in a hurry but honestly it just feels so much more narrow and fragile to me than Gideon does and he accomplishes most of the same things. I think people are currently playing this card in their main deck far more than they need to be.
Sphinx of Jwar Isle: Here's another "I'd rather be playing Gideon." This feels like dedicated Jund hate that decided to show up way too late to the party. You shouldn't need it there. The question is whether it's doing anything else you need like killing Planeswalkers which it might but I think I'd rather try to attack them for less mana if I can.
Sphinx of Magosi: Now at least we're doing something interesting if it lives but I think it's another case of dreaming a little bigger than you have to.
Interesting. I seem to have shifted more toward promoting a specific deck or strategy as I wrote rather than generally just discussing options which I was trying to do at the beginning. I guess as I thought through things the direction I'd want to go became more clear to me.
I think I can even suggest a list.
Early in the game I'm happy to cycle the cyclers I have after that it should be easy enough to do something with mana up. I'm a relatively low momentum deck. I'm really just trying to sit back on my planeswalkers as much as possible which lets me go relatively heavy on counters compared to most decks at the moment. I'm tempted to go even higher after sideboarding possibly cutting one of the Kor Firewalkers for a Spell Pierce or a Cancel.
As an added bonus I want to suggest very different direction for U/W that I'm guessing isn't good enough but I haven't tested it and it has enough tools to at least look interesting:
That's a lot of enchantresses and a lot of enchantments. Maybe enchantresses die too easily but I'm not sure that they really do right now. I wanted to play something like Eel Umbra to protect the enchantresses but maximizing the enchantment cascade and building to that seemed better. I can't protect them but I should be able to find a lot of them and if one enchantress stays in play it should draw a ton of cards. Even if it isn't quite there it looks like a very fun slightly less competitive FNM deck and even if that's not what you're looking for I promise this suggestion was pure bonus. Also note that the sideboard has some interesting things going on. Given that it's a cascade deck in general you can get a lot of impact out of each sideboard card. Mark and Expedition stay on theme while giving a lot of added resistance to Red but it might be better to go less cute and just Firewalker them. Extra Luminarch Ascensions really make control players work for it Guard Duty is in over Path or Journey to Nowhere because it works with both enchantresses and it's actually pretty sweet to play on your own Spiritdancer. Linvala is in over Day of Judgment against decks that rely on Hierarchs for mana because I really don't want to kill my enchantresses against them and my other enchant creatures give me a lot of value there particularly if the enchantresses live. Emrakul is there because this deck is never beating Fog otherwise.
I hope something in here has given you something useful to take away for Nationals Qualifiers. If nothing else I hope that's "play more Gideons." Counters look pretty good right now too. Next week I'm sure I'll be looking at Nationals Qualifier results so I hope there's something interesting there to talk about.
Thanks for reading...