Over the years I’ve built a lot of decks. I’ve built decks in every colour combination, and in just about every archetype you can imagine. Most don’t last for long – most don’t even make it to a single game – and are taken apart to make way for other things, or just because I don’t like them once they are finished. Early this week, I built such a deck, under Brago, King Eternal. I was trying to make a fair list, with just some standard, enter-the-battlefield effects for advantage, without any of the stax-y or control elements usually found in Brago.
I failed, and it turned into a pretty normal blue-white control build, and I’m taking it apart as soon as I get a few minutes to pull it out of sleeves. But it got me to thinking about the colours that I build with, and the decks that I like to play. A few weeks ago, David put up a survey about deck colours, and what we liked versus what we disliked. It started internal to our Slack channel, but he expanded it out to Twitter, and the results were interesting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as the pool got larger the variances evened out and colour spread became closer to parity.
My own personal colour spread is not quite so smooth. Looking back at my past decks, especially the ones that I have actually played and enjoyed, I noticed something odd.
I don’t like white.
Well, sort of. You see, I don’t like white when it’s paired with a single other colour. I love mono-white, and I like Bant, Naya, Abzan, Mardu, and Jeskai. But pair white with just one other colour, and the deck will need to be something special to get me to play it. There have been a few exceptions, of course. Selvala, Explorer Returned was in the command zone for one of my favourite decks ever. But for the most part, I can’t stand those builds. Let’s take a look at them, and see if I can figure out why.
To be fair, I am not a control player in any format, and that may skew my opinion here. Blue/white is pretty solidly in the control spectrum, and while you can break out of that on occasion, it’s really hard to do. You will always need pieces in your deck that can stop your opponents from doing things, and those pieces in blue/white are usually very controlling. Just building a deck to survive in these colours, regardless of your plan, basically requires that you run Swords to Plowshares and Counterspell. My best success with this colour pair was a short-lived bird tribal deck under Kangee, Aerie Keeper. Even that just wanted to play draw-go a lot of the time, and that bores me.
Note that while I generally like three colour builds with white, this dislike of blue/white carries over to Esper. Black brings a lot, but Esper is still very controlly, and unless the deck is absolutely amazing (looking at you, Sydri, Galvanic Genius) I’m probably not going to play it.
Boros kind of has the opposite problem of Azorius, in that there really isn’t a legendary creature in these colours that isn’t just “make creatures, make them big, turn them sideways”. I get that aggression is good, and attacking is good, but I want to attack with a purpose, not just because it’s that part of my turn. That’s what Boros does, though. You untap and you do your upkeep triggers and you draw your card and you maybe play something and then you move to combat. Every turn. In Boros, any turn that you don’t attack with the team is a turn wasted, and that linear style of play is just not fun for me. In these colours, my best success was with Anax and Cymede and a whole bunch of target spells that I could easily recur. Yeah, it was very much an aggro deck that wanted to attack a lot, but I had to track a lot of things and interact with the board quite a bit to make it worthwhile, which I liked.
In this pairing, white is possibly worse off than in any other. Any black/white deck is really just a black deck that’s been thinned with a second colour. Literally any Orzhov deck can be improved by swapping the general with a monoblack one and pulling white altogether, and MAKING NO OTHER CHANGES. White is very strictly a sub-par support colour here, and black really doesn’t need it. If you want to play a mean black deck, just go for it; don’t make yourself suffer through a bad colour pair just to avoid being a jerk.
As mentioned earlier, this is my most successful pairing of white with one other colour, and Selvala, Explorer Returned will always hold a special place in my heart. I did have an alright Rhys the Redeemed deck in my early EDH days as well, but for the most part Selesnya is just . . . boring. You either run white as the primary colour and use green to ramp into fatties, or you run white as a support colour to protect your green fatties that you ramp into. This is the one pair where white, I feel, actually improves on the other colour, because monogreen is the most mind-numbingly boring deck you can build, but you can polish a turd (no really, you can – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiJ9fy1qSFI) but in the end you still have a lump of crap in your hand; and outside of some of the weirder places on the Internet, nobody wants that.
My Selvala build got out of that mold by not using any ramp outside of Selvala herself, and the latest iteration of the deck was actually designed to win via an infinite mill during combat. I’ll leave you to figure out how, but the point is there was nothing in the deck that cost more than six mana and no creature with power higher than five. It also ran Awakening, which made me laugh every time I played it.
But it was not enough to save the colour pair for me. I still, no matter how I approach it, despise the vast majority of W/X decks.
I think the reason is that white is very much a support colour. That’s the heart of its slice of the colour pie, so you’re basically building a diluted mono deck. White-Red is a red deck that has white support. The same with Black-White or Blue-White, or whatever. It’s almost impossible to find the right balance for white in these decks. Too much, and you’re losing the point of the second colour; too little, and you’re not getting enough support. In mono-white, you get the right balance by default, because white is very good at support but it is also very, VERY good at USING support when it is provided. So it feeds itself well. Adding a third colour allows white to shine in its support role, because there is a lot less room for tangents. You get just enough, and you have access to other support cards from other colours. Or you can drop white as a backup, and use it for key pieces like Wrath of God or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.
As a third colour, white can pick a niche role, and perform like a superstar. Need spot removal? Disenchant, Path to Exile, and Journey to Nowhere are here for you. Need sweepers? Wrath, Day of Judgment, Rout, and Terminus are great options. Need some defensive cards? Gods Willing and Oathsworn Giant get the job done. You can even have some countermagic in Rebuff the Wicked. But when given more tasks to cover, white falls apart. White needs a specific task to do, and it will do it all day long. This is why it works in a three colour deck, but not two. When it is the only colour, it has the room to branch out into several roles; in three colours, it has the limited space that allows it to focus.
I can’t think of any other colour where I have this problem. Any other pairing works just fine for me. Even Blue-Black, which I hate for completely different reasons, works well. I have the same problems with mono-green, as mentioned, but green with literally any second colour other than white is phenomenal.
That being said, I am a sucker for punishment. I will keep trying to build these decks, in the hopes of finding a gem like Selvala again. But until Wizards starts making some interesting legendary creatures in these colours, it’s honestly unlikely to happen.
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