Pursuing Perfection, Part 1: Mono-White Commanders
Posted on May 30, 2021, 3:17 p.m. by Mana_Mythic_Legendary
This is the start of a project inspired by a TED talk. The speaker was part of a commission to create the perfect Pepsi, but the data he’d gathered was less than helpful. Instead of forming a nice, easy bell curve, the gathered preferences formed seemingly random clusters. That’s when he had an epiphany: a perfect Pepsi was impossible, but perfect Pepsis were. Some people liked it sweeter, some with less carbonation, some with more citric acid. I don’t remember how Pepsi took that report, but it was an interesting insight and I never forgot it.
Years later, I was reading the comments on an article about the ten best commanders. Most of them railed against the writer’s choices. Why wasn’t this one at the top, why wasn’t this guy on the list, why were all the picks garbage… That's when it occurred to me. Salt aside, the article was chasing the perfect Pepsi. Any article trying to rank options would be, because the commanders don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist in context, and what works in one place is a wretched pile in the next. There is no perfect commander. However, there are perfect commanders, and that’s what we’ll be thinking about here.
Over the course of this project I’ll be discussing the thematic strengths of various colors and color combinations. Each article will highlight nine commanders who showcase those themes in different ways, then close with a personal favorite. This isn’t meant to be a list of the optimal but rather the fun, a celebration of the format.
Today’s topic is White, held by some to be the weakest color to run solo in commander. Funny, since this “weakest” color has little miss indestructible-on-a-stick Avacyn, Angel of Hope , that black hole of aggro Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite , and the wombo combo beast Heliod, Sun-Crowned himself. We’re not here to discuss the powerhouses, though. We are here to talk about why you would play mono-white in the first place. White, friends, is where you come to drown your opponents in tokens, where Voltron stashes the best kitties, and where the friendless beast Stax makes its lonely home.
While Marrow-Gnawer and Krenko may live in the limelight of mono-colored horde decks, white is where said horde hangs its thematic hat. Here be the lion’s share of “creatures you control get” goodies, crowned by the mathematically grueling Cathars' Crusade . Here be the Hero of Bladehold and the Knight-Captain of Eos . Here! Be! Elspeth!
First in our trifecta of white weenie lords is Mikaeus the Lunarch. Stick him at the head of a horde and watch his minions git gud. There are quite a few shenanigans, like Elite Scaleguard , that will delight in having this guy at the head of a deck.
Going a different direction, Darien makes minions himself rather than relying on token generators from the deck. Opponents will be understandably leery of touching his pilot with anything less than lethal damage. Add in Soul Warden and a few of her friends and things get downright silly.
Lord of keyword soup. What more needs to be said? Go in fear of his motley crew, in all probability lead by Zetalpa, Primal Dawn .
Anyone can sink money into a fistful of swords or powerhouse auras and turn their pet legend into an unholy terror. White, though, has the greatest affinity for soloing Voltron. Equipment or auras, or even both, there’s a deep pool of support to chose from. The keyword Protection is part of what makes the swords so lethal, and white hands out that keyword like candy.
Drawing is white’s weakest point, you say? Sram laughs at you and your lies as he beats you senseless. There is a pile of white cards that reward you for playing auras or for playing artifacts. Sram isn’t so picky. Be like Sram.
I really like this guy. Moving gear for free is great, but passing out double strike like free samples is downright brutal. Bloodforged Battle-Axe , anyone? Even as an equipment he does silly, silly things with friends like Kami of False Hope or Ranger-Captain of Eos .
Hulk or horde? Why not both? Stack some toys on Kemba and watch your board grow, then go full theme and drop Raksha Golden Cub to take the throne with your army of cranky Norwegian forest cats. Include Leonin Shikari and (cat)ckle with glee. I wasn't joking about white, Voltron, and kitties.
Here’s the mean side of white. Blue may counter you, red may burn you, black may drain you, but only white truly embodies the spirit of the Smallpox flavor text. Whether you share the pain with cards like Hushbringer or dish it out with Drannith Magistrate and friends, opponents will go in fear of those terrible words “can’t” and “don’t.”
If you’re building stax, we can assume making allies in the game isn’t a priority. Horoki has no friends. Horoki needs no friends. Only rocks. Rocks, and something to put victims out of their misery.
Somewhat kinder than Horoki, but only somewhat, since you don’t suffer with them. Their creatures can’t tap for mana. Their creatures can’t sacrifice each other. Their creatures can’t. So many can'ts, so little can.
Maybe you can’t outramp them, but you can slow them down. Thalia functionally robs opponents of turns, blockers, and, if you rob them enough, of the win. A 3/2 with first strike is already good for three mana, and at this point is just icing on this vicious cake.
And, for my personal favorite...
A rule of thumb of mine is that one mark of a good deck is that it can function without its commander.
This is a rule I gleefully break most of the time.
Rune-Tail will automatically flip on turn three in almost all games, and a commander with effects like this make Pariah and other, similar cards downright hilarious. I made and took apart a Rune-Tail deck over a decade ago. It was a terrible mess, but a fun one, and the tech available for it has grown since then. The deck was built around walling up, gaining life and otherwise stalling until a win-condition like Darksteel Reactor or Felidar Sovereign could be triggered. It was a fun idea, but these days I'd probably build Halvar for fun or Sram if I wanted to win.
That's it for this round. Thoughts and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed it, and will come back next week for Blue!
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Here's the big issue mono white has some issues at the lower power level because people frown on the staxs which is something that needs to be changed.
At the higher power levels and not just cedh a 7 and 8 cost commander is two much. Mana rocks can help with the ramp but the card draw is where it falls behind unless it staxs out and has a way to break the parity later where Elesh norn is better in the 99 than as the commander. The best mono white commanders are Heliod, Sun-Crown because he is a 3 cost two card combo sitting in your command zone and next is probably Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle because it has several combo options and ways to draw out the answers.
Sram has the cherrois meme build I had it built for a bit and it was ok at best.
Can mono white compete at higher tables yes with a few commanders but overall it is a better support color in commander even for the staxs
May 30, 2021 5:17 p.m.
This was a delight to read, looking forward to blue!
White has always existed for me in the realm of a support color. I actually own 0 decks as of this current moment in time that don't have white in them, yet I bash it all the time as a standalone.
I strongly believe white can do some silly and strong things, but it's no fun to sit across from the Atemsis, All-Seeing player who just cast Enter the Infinite and to look at your 2-card hand consisting of a Plains and a Sword of the Animist .
If/when (please when) WotC figures out what they want to do with white, then I believe we'll get the support we need to properly enjoy white commanders from all across the spectrum, not just the top-tier ones.
May 30, 2021 6:26 p.m.
My favorite mono white commander is the forgotten Heliod, God of the Sun . Skybind is amazing when you can make Enchantment Creature Tokens at a whim. Your team having Vigilance works amazing with Meekstone + Blind Obedience . With all the Cleric support in the last few sets, you could even take a peek in that direction.
Most white ramp that actually puts land into play, requires your opponents to have more lands than you. White has a few options to make that happen: Path to Exile , Winds of Abandon , Settle the Wreckage (which can also work wonders using it on yourself if you're the go-wide token player) in addition to bounce lands like Karoo and Guildless Commons . Of course, Extraplanar Lens works double duty there.
But the absolute best card in white, to drag down the other players to your level and make them watch their step, is Aven Mindcensor . Really, try it. It's the best response to a green player putting a Boundless Realms on the stack.
May 30, 2021 8:16 p.m.
My favorite (and only) mono-white Commander is General Jarkeld in my banding deck. The deck is a ton of fun, but of course it’s not super-effective in a four player game...ooooor most other games. But if banding comes back, I’m all set! ;p Banding of Brothers
May 31, 2021 12:16 a.m.
I appreciate the robust argument for white! It is almost enough to make me want to try mono-white again, but while Sram, Senior Edificer can indeed draw cards, he stands alone and card draw is under-supported. To be clear, I don't need to be a blue deck with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to cards, just enough to not be in top-deck mode in a four-player game, which shouldn't be too much to ask. White doesn't have that unfortunately. It is nice they are giving us more ways to protect our board, but Cosmic Intervention and Semester's End don't help our tokens much, so we're still limited in supporting that strategy to Unbreakable Formation , Make a Stand , and the $20 Flawless Maneuver .
I think Omniscience_is_life is correct in that Wizards hasn't really figured out what to do with white. At one point Maro admitted he was wrong about card draw in white and that all colors need to have card draw, which was promising. Unfortunately lately he was apparently waxing eloquently on how Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile break the color pie. Apparently the most iconic white cards aren't white anymore, and we need to give Ravenform to blue, because blue is so underpowered. So, I think they have a way to go!
That being said, this was a cool post and tribute to the things white can indeed do, and I look forward to future installments!
Also, FormOverFunction I'm so impressed that you have a banding deck! I still don't understand how that mechanic works, but its a tribute to the format and cool players like you that something like that might work!
June 2, 2021 1:10 p.m.
With all the people who keep storm and cascade and menace and intimidate organized in their brain, I’m confident they can get the hang of banding ;p
June 2, 2021 5:04 p.m.
I feel like while both Red and White have EDH shortcomings, White actually has better utility and Red has a larger selection of great commanders. Mono-White still has some good--or even great--commanders, but Red has more excellent commanders and power in the command zone to make up for any deficit in utility.