This is my second article on this topic - I have another article on "Improving Green Archetypes" where I primary cover my arguments/ framework for the need for more midrange threats that could serve the dual of threat + disruption/ ramp as a way to green deck's consistency/ interaction.
For this article, I will be primarily covering how to draft and play white decks.
White as a color in cube:
White has been seen as the weakest color in cube and its wins are often from players under evaluating white and the color being open, but I argue this is far from the case.
Unlike the other colors, white does not contribute unfair combos (persist is an exception), it does not have ramp to go over the opponent, nor does it have burn/ reach to win once the opponent stabilizes. In other words, it is forced to play the most fair game in magic.
Instead of focusing on white's weakness, lets go over its strengths - It has the best sweepers, the best rate creatures, the best planeswalkers, as well as the best removal. In other words, it is the best at playing the fairest game of magic - If played on curve - 1 drop into Thalia into Brimaz is very difficult for any opponent and unfair decks (often ramp/ reanimator) don't fair much better as it's payoff can be easily removed using a Swords of Plowshares or Oblivion Ring.
Improving White's Win-rate:
The main problem I've been noticing is the lack of 1-drops played in white decks. This is something I frequently see - Drafters that are in a Tokens, Aristocrats, White-Midrange, Flicker deck do not play enough white 1-drops (or any) in their deck.
The problem is as a color, white does not have room for reach, ramp, unfair combos, or disruption; It must rely on playing to curve, pressuring their opponent and relying on alpha striking or a Swords of Plowshares to buy 1-2 turns against an unfair deck to win.
A turn 1 can easily deal Dragon Hunter 6-8 damage on its own while providing support for Aristocrats, Token Anthems or Flicker Payoffs etc.
They need to be eventually answered by control decks and pressure the opponent's life total + planeswalkers.
You might be thinking these 1-drops are weak in the late game and I rather be drawing a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to play along side my tokens.
I'm not advocating playing 5-8 1-drops in a white flicker deck - I'm saying adding just 2-3 1-drops to your Mirari Wake/ Lurrus deck will go a long way. Here is the probability of having a 1-drop in your opening hand in a 40 card deck (on the play):
Going beyond 6-7+ will have diminishing returns. But the interesting take away is simply adding 3 1-drops will guarantee that almost half of your opening hands will contain a 1-drop - which I would argue is a very low opportunity cost for a very high reward. For example, if there say 2 1-drops, 1 Mother of Runes, 2 Moxen, and 1 Prismatic Ending (i.e. 6 hits), it is 71% likely your opening hand will have a strong turn 1 play. This is simplify adding 2 1-drops in your Flicker or Tokens deck.
In other words, I would argue outside of White-X control decks, there should be very little reason to not play a minimum of 2-3 1-drops in your deck.
Black decks often have early discard and Red decks often have burn for the early game + reach and thus can get away with these style of poorly curved draft decks more frequently. White decks are more severely punished if it is unable to curve out.
Furthermore, a Flicker deck, Aristocrats deck or tokens deck does not need their entire deck to be tokens + anthems, ETB + Flicker etc.
If a player is able to get 2-3 flickers off Palace Jailer or saving a creature from removal, that is often sufficient to put the player ahead. Similarly, token decks just need 2-3 token producers to provide enough support for Anthems, Opposition, Skullclamp - We do not need to curve into Lingering Souls, Battle Screech, Increasing Devotion etc. Often a single Lingering Souls is enough to pressure the opponent's spot removal/ provide enough support for anthems.
Similarly, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is much more threatening if the opponent is at 5-10 compared to a much higher life total. On the following turn, Gideon can attack for 5 + 2 from the token and with the pressure from 1-drops to soften the opponent up, it puts significant pressure on the opponent's mana to develop their board and often forces them into very bad blocks.
Analysis of White's board presence:
As mentioned above, White is a color that needs to get ahead and stay head - Unlike red, it does not have burn spells that can double as both removal and reach. This is very important - Red decks would often try to deal 11-15 via creatures and rely on top decking burn to win as it often takes 3-4 turns for an opponent that stabilized to win. White does not have this luxury.
Therefore, one important aspects of white is there needs to be sufficient ways for white's creatures to break through - attack past blockers, fatties etc. (This is important vs combo or other aggressive decks as an ill-placed blocker can often mean the difference between the final points of damage)
White's key advantage is the opponent often has trade down on cards or tempo to stay ahead and if White is ahead, top end threats like Armageddon are very for the opponent to respond to.
Against heavy pressure, planeswalkers are very ineffective, flicker effects are much easier to setup, the opponent cannot expect to play cards like Harmonize and expect the tempo lose to work out, and white can often alpha strike or fly past a fatty more easily. This is something you'll see very frequently with Death and Taxes players in legacy - the slower deck often needs to Force of will an early threat, deploy their Monastery Mentor with no spells or their Jace, the mind sculptor as a 4 mana brain storm + gain 5 life just to avoid getting buried.
I would argue as almost every good white playable above 2 CMC (outside of Mentor/ Wall which are control cards) needs to contributes to this strategy in one way or another:
I've found analysis of white playable during drafting/ cube construction should heavily focus on white's break through strategy.
For example, Advanto Vanguard was an incredible card in a Red-White aggressive deck as it made blocking from the opponent a nightmare as I could frequently pay 4 life, give it indestructible and finish off the blocker with a Lightning bolt while maintaining parity on card advantage while winning on tempo.
Another example is Adeline, Resplendent Cathar / Brimaz, King of Oreskos are nightmares in Aristocrat shell (the token drain the opponent regardless if it is blocked or not + board sweepers require the opponent to take a lot of damage) and are great with planeswalker anthems.
Similarly, Hand of Vecna was very exciting as it was a redundant Grafted Wargear - They essentially served as a 3 mana + 3 damage/ pressure the turn it was played.
White has a lot of playable options in the 2-4 curve. I would argue that Advanto Vanguard is one of your best 2 drop if your aggressive deck is primarily red-white. While Tithe taker is much better if Black-White aristocrats is your main aggressive deck.
I would argue these cards are all playable given the right meta. I personally felt the necessity of these cards has gone down sightly with flexible removal such as Prismatic Ending, Cathar Commando, Portable Hole, Solitude etc. that can be used to disrupt the unfair deck's fast mana + remove the re-animator deck's fatties.
I personally like the combination of flexible removal in the form of Prismatic Ending, Cathar Commando, Banishing Light to remove the unfair deck's engine as well as some incidental graveyard hate in the form of Remorseful Cleric, Scavenging Ooze, Deathrite Shaman, Endurance etc.
My general rule of thumb is a deck should have a minimum of 3 ways to interact with strategy X:
- For example against storm, I might have 1 mainboard Thalia, Borrowed Time, Remorseful Cleric (It will not shut down the storm deck, but getting to remove a fast mana/ graveyard is often sufficient to buy 1-2 turns)
- For example against reanimator, I might have the mainboard Remorseful Cleric, Path to Exile, Borrowed Time, and Winds of Abandon to remove the opponent's threat to allow the creatures to attack past
It doesn't need to shut the opponent down entirely - White creature decks by extension are 1-3 turns slower than a combo deck and providing some incidental disruption is often sufficient.
Case Study of 1-Drops:
Going back, I think its very important to have a case study of 1-drops in various archetypes and how to maximize their effectiveness:
1. Burn Decks:
The 1-Drops in burn decks are primarily described as repeatable burn spells - Monastery Swiftspear / Goblin Guide. They're incredibly strong against control/ combo decks that lack blockers and fit with the philosophy of fire that they deal 3-4 damage.
In the later half of the game, they're occasionally good chump blockers for Sulfuric Vortex or burn top deck before the opponent can win.
This variant deals roughly 40% damage via creatures, 60% via burn.
2. Zoo Decks:
These variants are build around having a 1-drop in their opening hand - they need to mulligan any hand that does not have a 1-drop. Their burn spells are more often used to clear way for attackers than actually used for burning the opponent.
This variant deals roughly 70-80% of their damage via creatures and 20-30% via burn. The success of this archetype depends entirely on its "break through strategy". Its weakness is drawing 1-drops later on in the game is almost useless.
The overall strength of Aristocrats over more traditional aggressive decks is the Blood Artists could be played on curve or played later on without losing potency. Its 1-drops are both effective early on to push damage, but also strong in the late game as sacrifice fodder.
I will call this variant Ramnup Red and this is likely the most common variant in cube. Wizards has been reducing the quality and quantity of cheap burn spells/ creatures to reduce the impact of red sligh decks in standard.
In these variants, the deck can frequently board out some of their 1-drops in anticipation of a much slower game -The number could be much lower (maybe as low as 3-4 so 50% of hands may have a 1-drop) which yields a low opportunity cost/ high rewards ratio.
4. Tokens/ Stax Deck:
The policy should be closer to the Ramnup/ Hazoret Deck such that the there should be 3-4 for the low opportunity cost/ high reward ratio. There aren't strong recursive enablers at 1 CMC or too many strong token generators at 2 CMC.
6. Flicker/ Taxes:
This is the variant where Aether Vial and Noble Hierarch really shines. Its 1-drops are fairly dead later on, but there should still be a few played just for the lost opportunity cost/ high reward ratio.
For archetypes where 1-drops are dead draws later on, cards such as Seasoned Pyromancer for tokens, Solitude for flicker, Fury for Ramnup Red significantly improve in value.
I feel white as a color is a fairly strong - like death and taxes in legacy, its easy to pick up but hard to master. It is very unforgiving for mistakes early on.
The color overall does not have combos, filter/ looting, burn etc. like the other colors - The color relies primarily on the strength of its creatures, planeswalkers to leverage its tempo for a win.