Over the years, one of the things I’ve heard a lot is that Mono-White is “just a support color,” or “not good enough” to hang in Commander – a format where Green, Blue, and Black have taken over with game-breaking card advantage. However, things seem to be looking up, as the last two years of Magic releases have provided Mono-White decks with some useful tools. Today, we’re going to examine the core competencies of Mono-White in Commander, the changes in design, and how new card types and mechanics are helping Mono-White to establish a more independent identity moving forward.
Traditional avenues of card advantage success in Mono-White are almost entirely based on one’s ability to trade removal for either a timely threat or set of threats, often at the expense of some of your own permanents. One of the biggest challenges in playing Mono-White is the stiffness that comes from lack of card draw and balancing out the kinds of cards we need to play. Have too many creatures, and you’ll run the risk of losing them to Wrath effects – either your opponent’s or your own. Play too much removal, and you’ll find yourself in an attrition-style game where your opponent(s) are basically counting cards, and you’re left imagining a favorable top-deck.
Flash, Cycling, and Embalm seem to solve many of these deficiencies. Instant-speed enchantments like Stasis Snare and Cast Out have been incredible additions to White’s arsenal, serving as surprise devotion for Heliod as well as extra enchantments for Sphere of Safety.
On powerful cards like Forsake the Worldly, or situation-dependent cards like Djeru’s Renunciation, Cycling provides a useful way for White to find the cards it needs to win. Maybe Cycling isn’t Ponder or Preordain, but seeing cards this way can be just as good if you know what you’re looking for, or you’re at a pivotal point in the game.
Enchantment, artifact, and equipment tutors have long been a reason to splash White in non-Black decks that need consistent, specific card support. The biggest addition here is Open the Armory, a powerful uncommon tailor-made for equipment decks and aura-based favorites like Uril, the Miststalker and Bruna, Light of Alabaster.
However, what’s made White a stronger search color are the addition of Planeswalker tutors. Since Battle for Zendikar, we’ve seen three consecutive blocks with White cards that can go get Planeswalkers: Call the Gatewatch, Deploy the Gatewatch, and Djeru. Collectively, this push feels unprecedented; we’ve never seen a color so closely aligned with Planeswalkers before.
We talked earlier about how our sweepers and other removal spells occasionally kill our own creatures. Much like a magic trick, Mono-White excels at bringing these cards back. The typical Mono-White deck wants to play for spaces between their opponent’s creatures and removal with game understanding vision, but a flair for tempo, when possible. The key to creating this value is having a few more lines of play that can positively affect the game state.
In the same way that Cycling provides active flexibility for controlling the game and managing answers, Embalm and Eternalize essentially provide Flashback for relevant creatures. With a solid ETB effect, Angel of Sanctions is poised to see a ton of play long-term, while Adorned Pouncer is great support for Odric, Lunarch Marshal and other aggressive decks.
Often, White’s best plan is to create pressure and apply redundancy. This usually involves being able to create engines, like Emeria, the Sky Ruin, to recur creatures consistently. Not Forgotten and Refurbish also support our plan: the former is a strange, Noxious Revival-type sorcery that comes with a 1/1 flyer; the latter is one of the premier ways to retrieve your best equipment – or, if you’re like me, a Solemn Simulacrum.
Ultimately, Emeria Shepherd is the crown jewel. One-part Angel of Serenity, one-part Sky Ruin, she’s the biggest Sun Titan, providing White with access to most of the permanents your opponents thought they got rid of, including Planeswalkers and enchantments that act as removal, like Banishing Light.
The strength of White as a standalone color ultimately resides with the latest in Legendary technology. Starting with Kytheon, Hero of Akros, we’ve begun to see an obvious one-upping of power among Commander options in the color (as it replaces Isamaru functionally, but not emotionally). This arms race has continued, not only reinforcing the things people have been saying about White for years, but also a huge signal that Wizards may be working aggressively to change people’s perceptions of the color. The shift in power level has been critical, not only for Mono-White’s competitiveness in Commander, but also for pushing it out of the shadow of support, and shaping a stronger identity.
Working backwards, Sram, Senior Edificer and Djeru, With Eyes Open, are incredible long-term additions to Mono-White. With access to Karn, Ugin, and the Planeswalker that loves Planeswalkers, Ajani Steadfast, Djeru is a strong card to build around with a very bright future ahead. The Planeswalker toolbox will only get better.
With a low converted mana cost and the ability to draw cards, it’s not surprising that Sram has instantly earned a place among EDHREC’s Top 5 White Commanders. While we may never see equipment as strong as Umezawa’s Jitte or Batterskull again, the flexibility of card type coupled with already powerful synergies like Flickering Ward provide Sram with a home among White’s best legendary creatures.
Like salt and pepper, Gisela, the Broken Blade and Bruna, the Fading Light are a compelling experiment and should be considered as a pair of Commanders. Gisela is great for Mono-White’s curve, gaining life and establishing strong board states for the late game. Bruna has a nice cast trigger that can hit some of White’s best threats, including Baneslayer Angel and my personal favorite, Angel of Serenity. Put together, Brisela might just be the best Timmy card we see in White that also shuts the board in favorable ways.
Here are some brews that my coworkers and I have been having fun with:
Aaron’s Gisela, the Broken Blade: http://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/the-angel-maker-1/
Aaron’s Heliod, God of the Sun: http://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/the-dayman-2dh/
Adam’s Djeru, With Eyes Open: http://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/djeru-tokens/
Who’s your favorite Mono-White Commander? Tweet at us and let us know!
Header design: Justin Treadway
Header image: “Djeru, with Eyes Open” by Kieran Yanner
For most of his Magic-playing life, Aaron has been playing and writing about Commander. One of the few mono-colored players in a gold-bordered world, Aaron enjoys the challenges of creating meaningful, memorable games, as well as the excitement that comes with engaging underrated cards as he explores the format’s uncharted territory. A disciplined deckbuilder with over 200 lists to his name, Aaron has spent the past several years creating content about his favorite format.