Eating the Poisoned Apple
Hi everyone, welcome back on 95mtg.com! This past weekend we had to battle in the MTG League Weekend. My weapon of choice for this past weekend was Snow-White Aggro. I headed into the weekend in the top quarter of the league, and luckily, came out not too far behind where I started. I did lose a little ground, but still in a solid position to make a run moving forward.
While I wasn’t enamored with the deck, I thought we made enough innovations to make the deck better and we believed this was the most well positioned deck going into the weekend. Sometimes when your team doesn’t do great, you can say “hey, we just guessed the metagame wrong” and this time I actually don’t think we did. They were indeed who we thought they were, and we let them off the hook.
Here’s the list I played:
My initial read on the deck was that when prepared for, decks with unfavorable matchups, like various adventure decks, could make their matchup against White quite fine. In practice the games were incredibly close even in this instance.
Cards like Soul Sear, Wilt, and Glass Casket over various other removal spells could break up the soft locks Snow-White Aggro could presents with Maul of the Skyclaves and ways to protect the equipped creature. But when they didn’t draw one of their few copies of these cards, it was easy for White to run away with the game.
The big innovation, and one that seemed so obvious was adding Lurrus to the main deck. Lurrus combined with Selfless Savior and Alseid of Life’s Bounty was another way to set up proactive soft locks. Despite some nasty things Halvar could do when you drew Maul and keep it always equipped, we thought that we would had won such a high percentage of those games anyways, so we needed to figure out what to do without the Maul. Well you’d be using the Sword half of Halvar, and guess what? It was much less threatening than Lurrus.
The deck has one very strong feature, and that’s making your opponent’s early turns bad. They leave up Bonecrusher Giant? You play Seasoned Hallowblade. They cast Lovestruck Beast? You counter with a Skyclave Apparition or Maul of the Skyclaves and keep stepping on the gas.
While the deck was favored against earlier builds of Adventure Decks, and I think against Naya Punch in general, it lost a lot of points to adapted builds. At best the deck had a 50% win rate against prepared opponents, and since we got around to testing Lurrus later in testing, we didn’t have a large enough sample against the developed decks. So much so, we hesitated with how many Lurrus we should play and while our initial build had 3 and no copies of Halvar, God of Battle, we decided to split the difference in case we were so wrong about how bad we thought Halvar was.
We weren’t wrong, Halvar is far too weak in my opinion, and while it does some cute things, it’s simply too much mana for its effect. The games where it’s “good” in I think you’re very likely to be winning in anyways. Lurrus has the ability to turn some losses into wins, while Halvar does that far less often.
Our biggest misevaluation here, in my opinion, was the Temur Adventures matchup, where Brazen Borrower is a much bigger headache than it may appear. The White Deck beats these adventure decks by going tall to avoid red removal, and interacting with their larger creature and getting big attacks in. Borrower bouncing a big Luminarch Aspirant, or Seasoned Hallowblade equipped with a Maul or with two Luminarch‘s counters makes it hard to ride the one large creature to victory. This, coupled with fast Goldspan Dragon kills, makes it pretty tough to slow the game down and lean on Lurrus as well. This I think is a close but unfavorable matchup for White (especially you consider that if Temur wants to, they can make their matchup better, while you mostly don’t have much wiggle room).
All in all that was my biggest issue with Snow-White Aggro initially: it had very little room to wiggle if people wanted to beat it. The options available couldn’t allow you to turn into a good midrange deck like the best aggressive decks of the past. Lurrus was the best at this, all the planeswalkers want you to stay hyper aggressive and curve out creatures. This is truly Snow-White Aggro’s biggest weakness moving forward.
WHAT LED US TO THE POISON APPLE?
So what was the poison apple that we ate that made us land on Snow-White Aggro? Some may blame Abe Corrigan for putting it on a serving dish, and perhaps Matt Nass for then cutting it up carefully and feeding it to us individually, while eating it himself loudly declaring how delicious it was, and those people wouldn’t be wrong.
Honestly, the fact that the format left itself open enough that after working through all possibilities, we thought Snow-White Aggro was the most well positioned and well-tuned list we had, given the possible ranges of opponent’s deck choices. We also knew going into this weekend who our opponents were. Not what they were playing, but we could guess what their range was, and in some cases we knew exactly what they’d play.
I knew Chris Bortehlo was going to play Temur Adventures because of his impressive run getting #1 Mythic with the deck, but we didn’t thoroughly test that matchup because no one else was. So why spend a bunch of time amongst all of us on one matchup when we have a field of other decks to worry about and we don’t anticipate a lot of Temur in the field? We took a shortcut: we think that White beats Adventures, so this is at least going to be close. And we were mostly right, it’s close, but advantages Temur instead of White like we thought.
The development of the format, and the fast pace of it led us down this path. Sultai was the most popular, most winning deck, at the very beginning of testing. The very next weekend, Mono Red and Snow-White Aggro preyed on it and knocked it down a bunch of pegs. This opened up the metagame to Adventure decks previously held in check by Sultai to start hard targeting these aggro decks, especially Mono-Red. The core of Edgewall Innkeeper, Lovestruck Beast and Bonecrusher Giant is just an incredibly strong package and whatever you build around that shell is likely to work.
While these red based removal decks had a weak spot against Seasoned Hallowblade and large Luminarch Aspirant protected by Selfless Savior, they could adapt and play cards like Soul Sear, or other colors besides just Gruul. If people went back to Sultai to beat Adventures, we’d be ready with Snow-White, a deck we felt quite confident and still feel quite confident beats Sultai.
Standing on all of the public discourse that happened over that final week, Snow-White Aggro was kinda left under the radar, despite having a breakout weekend just days before. Most people thought it was a flash in the pan and couldn’t hang in the format. In the back of my mind I believed this was true, but people hadn’t properly adapted to it. We thought the deck had another good week or two left.
This is where our events different from open field events. The professional players during this specific time period were paying very close attention, their careers rely on it, my career relies on it. While you may not see White Aggro on the ladder as often because something new and more exciting and fun to play emerges, we all had paid attention to the deck and had a plan for it. While the open field events players can just put a couple of Archons in their Naya decks and called it a day, that’s not how this game of leveling each other goes. Everything is a possibility. These aren’t the best players in the world for nothing.
So in our mind we thought the decks we could play to attack a metagame of various Adventure decks and Mono Red, were various Doom Foretold builds or Mono White. This one proved itself favored against Sultai, another way people may choose to attack the Adventure decks if they went to that level. While we did some work on Doom Foretold we sort of decided we’d run out of time for a well built version of it. I’m usually largely opposed to 80 card Yorion decks as well. I find them very often to be over-hyped, and don’t win as much as people believe. The deck is “fun” to play and players will gravitate towards that control style of play and doing cool things and the feel good you get from it makes you lose focus of the times you did nothing but cast a removal spell and an Omen and then die. Basically, you play the games you win for a long time, the games you lose are over very quickly and easy to dismiss so you kinda brush it off. When we analyzed the data from Doom Foretold, something we’re very careful about doing, it had zero, and I mean zero favorable matchups. Sometimes you need to take shortcuts to eliminate decks and this was an easy one to take in my opinion.
The biggest strike against Snow-White Aggro in retrospect, and one I hadn’t considered going into deck registration, was how difficult it was to play. It’s very complicated and requires you to make good attentive reads on what your opponent could have and make their plays bad. Sequencing is key, and something you learn over time. Don’t play your Luminarch Aspirant’s directly into two mana removal if you can help it unless you have a Selfless Savior up or no other play. Do make them have it when your hand requires you to do so. I practiced more than usual with my deck the day before League Weekend because of this, and I think overall I played well on day one, with some minor mistakes here and there. On day two I think my focus slipped and I played poorly, and in some cases didn’t even realize it until after a game was over. These weekends can be grueling, so having your cards do your work for you instead of having to play your A+ game at all times has real value.
When all was said and done, I was choosing between Snow-White Aggro to beat them or Naya Punch to join them (if you’d like to know more about this deck, check it our on my previous article), and I would have been happy registering either. I finished with a 5-6 record overall, and while I’m not truly extatic about that record, I think any weekend I get around 50% of match wins against the best in the world I can hang my head high about. I think our read on the metagame was spot on, which is a good feeling, and I think with better execution we could have done better with Snow-White Aggro as well.
While I wouldn’t strongly recommend white moving forward, I still think our deck is a good version of white aggressive strategies and if you like this kind of deck then it’s totally reasonable to play it, especially after having a poor weekend. The only major changes I’d consider are removing the Halvar for a third Lurrus main deck, and trimming an Archon for a 4th Glass Casket as it’ll apply in both the mirror and other matchups.
Here’s our sideboard plans for Snow-White Aggro going into the event:
I think leaving a Reidane in on the play is reasonable. It’s a bit clunky for the matchup but can keep them off a Henge or Embercleave. Magistrate isn’t super strong here but can steal some games. We didn’t expect much pure Gruul, so we just wanted to slightly improve our bad cards.
Sometime’s I’d leave in a single Selfless Savior over a third Maul of the Skyclaves on the draw, as it’s very easy to get tempo’d out when you play Maul and get the creature removed, and the Maul gets much less impressive when facing down a Archon of Absolution.
It’s still unclear to me what the best of the bad one drops is between Giant Killer and Usher of the Fallen. Usher gets completely bricked off by Ruin Crab while Chop Down is mostly useless it can get a Thieves’ Guild Enforcer with a Thought-Thief in play. I’d lean towards Giant Killer being slightly better. This is a very bad matchup, and Idol of Endurance gives you a chance, though you need to naturally draw it.
We have the Kaldeim Championships just around the corner so I’ll continue focusing on Standard and Historic and how those formats evolve. I’m also really looking forward to the release of Time Spiral Remastered, one of my favorite Limited formats of all time. I’ll see you again next week, here on 95mtg.com!