Black-white isn’t my favorite combination – that would be green-blue – but I’ve made many decks over the years that have stuck with me as favorites. Innistrad and New Phyrexia had dark themes that make combining darkness and light a pleasure, so now’s as good a time as any to explore the fun you can have with them. I’ll talk a little on the strengths/weaknesses of the color pair and then bring on the decklists. Let’s do it!
Black excels in targeted removal and is good with board sweep. White is the other way around. Both have temporary exile effects, white more than black. Both have reanimation, black more than white. Both have lifegain, though from different events (black from things dying, white from combat or things living, i.e. damage prevention).
You can make a white deck that looks a whole lot like a black deck, or you can mix-and-match while adding some extra strengths. White can take care of artifacts and enchantments so that the black half doesn’t sit helplessly by. White’s got a slight edge on flying beaters as well.
Also, black-white looks really cool. There’s that.
Black has more fast mana and card draw than white, but it’s far from reliable. Both are terrible at fixing their mana as well, which is a problem given that the top-end synergies in black-white come with some nasty color commitments. If you can curve out in black-white, you’ll do great; if you stumble on color, you’ll find yourself struggling, as you’ll be at the mercy of your top card far too often.
Decks about it
I have three 60-card decks together in black-white. My Lady Evangela Commander deck is mostly black-white, but it deserves its own article, and even the small presence of blue makes it play very differently than a dichromatic deck.
4 Howling Banshee
4 Ghosts of the Innocent
2 Suture Spirit
2 Souls of the Faultless
3 Tainted Sigil
3 Devouring Greed
4 Rend Flesh
4 Spiritual Visit
3 Ethereal Haze
2 Horobi’s Whisper
2 Candles’ Glow
2 Terashi’s Verdict
4 Orzhov Basilica
I’ve alluded to this deck a few times, but here it is in its resplendence. It’s a deck centered around Ghosts of the Innocent. Ghosts of the Innocent is a great build-around for several reasons:
- It has a unique effect (cutting all damage in half);
- Its ability is cumulative (drawing multiples is fine);
- It’s in a relevant creature type (Spirit); and
- It’s dirt cheap (people might just give these to you.)
There are two strains of life drain – damage and life loss. Devouring Greed, which wants you to have a lot of Spirits to sacrifice, works with life loss. Therefore, unlike combat damage or burn spells, it isn’t affected by Ghosts of the Innocent, which itself is a Spirit. So there’s the battle plan: hide behind sheets of damage prevention/reduction and removal while building up Spirits and/or making everyone lose life, which still works as normal.
The life loss/gain plan runs a few cards: Devouring Greed; Exsanguinate; Howling Banshee; Souls of the Faultless; and Tainted Sigil. The Sigil in particular works nicely with the Banshee, as draining everyone equally leads to some tidy lifegain for you. Of course, all of this matters more when you have a Ghosts of the Innocent out or, if you’re lucky/mean, multiple Ghosts out. You might think cutting damage by 1/2 is tolerable, but when you get 2 of them out and damage goes to 1/4 rounded down, many decks can’t do anything about it, especially since a 4/5 Ghosts now requires 20 damage to burn it out.
On the other side, there are the Spirits. Suture Spirit in a sit-there deck is quite good; the option to regenerate any creature is fantastic if you can spare the mana. The 13 instants are all Arcane so that you can splice Spiritual Visit multiple times; when your damage prevention/removal nets you a token, you’re feasting on tempo, as you mess up a combat while setting up your Devouring Greed. The more time you buy early, the tougher it is for anyone to deal with your late game.
This deck is for all you players who don’t distinguish between damage and life loss as you play. I’ll make you remember! YARRRGH! Or something.
4 Vile Deacon
4 Suture Priest
4 Avacynian Priest
4 Doubtless One
4 Entomber Exarch
4 Skirsdag High Priest
2 Akroma’s Devoted
2 Beacon of Destiny
4 True Conviction
4 Profane Prayers
This deck has its mana issues, largely all the 2BB spells when you’re ending with 3WWW – but if it gets its second Swamp it can do nasty things. Black-white Clerics was my second deck ever, thanks to the Ivory Doom preconstruct, and I’ve loved the theme pretty much since I started playing.
The build-around here is Skirsdag High Priest. With so many 2-drops it’s fairly easy to get 2 more creatures for the Priest to call on when a creature dies. Normally, the first few creatures that die in a multiplayer game aren’t your fault when you play this deck (unless you just want to kill Beacon of Destiny). Once you start getting demons, having huge Clerics in Doubtless One/Vile Deacon, or go over the top with True Conviction, your chain of death is inevitable. A 5/5 flying/double strike/lifelink Demon needs a blocker, which lets you use the Priest to make another Demon. Same with Doubtless One, which has “old” lifelink already and therefore loves real lifelink.
Until you can set this up, you have some fine utility creatures. Avacynian Priest taps most things in multiplayer that scare you, and the colorless mana can make a difference. Suture Priest and Entomber Exarch can give you that extra edge, while Akroma’s Devoted lets your big things swing and still tap for Skirsdag High Priest’s ability.
The entire setup – play small utility creatures until something dies, at which point you start churning out 5/5 flyers that increase your odds of making more 5/5 flyers – is just what the Security Curve ordered. You’re not a threat for the first few turns of the game, and then you’re making finishers on opponents’ turns that are difficult to get rid of. If someone kills a Demon while your Clerics are untapped, then you simply make another Demon.
I don’t know how good Skirsdag High Priest is in the abstract, but it’s amazing in this deck. I love when new cards come out that take old favorites in a new and more competent direction, and the recent Clerics did that for Vile Deacon and friends.
4 Glimmerpoint Stag
4 Faceless Butcher
2 Planar Guide
2 Extractor Demon
2 Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet
4 Journey to Nowhere
4 Oblivion Ring
4 Sundial of the Infinite
4 Gruesome Encore
4 Narrow Escape
2 Treacherous Urge
4 Secluded Steppe
This is one of the top few nastiest decks I’ve ever built. Initially just a basic attempt to build around Sundial of the Infinite, a card that wants you to put some triggers on the stack so you can end the turn and sweep those triggers away, the deck has won many a game from being oppressive in its fashion.
18 spells – 10 creatures and 8 enchantments – are of the Faceless Butcher/Oblivion Ring mold. Either you’re exiling something until your permanent leaves or a turn ends or something like that. That’s okay by itself, as each turn in multiplayer you deal with the worst thing affecting you at the moment. Narrow Escape lets you reset some of them and gain some life you want to hit something more pernicious.
But it’s when the Sundial drops that things really take off. When the trigger to return the permanent hits the stack, assuming it’s on your turn, use Sundial, end the turn, and keep their permanent exiled. With Sundial, Glimmerpoint Stag is a 3WW creature that exiles a permanent forever. (You can use this trick with Narrow Escape on an Oblivion Ring you’ve just played – target the permanent and then Escape your Ring, “returning” the permanent before you exile it.) Planar Guide’s activated ability with Sundial reads “4W: Exile all creatures.” You turn your deck into a stream of Vindicates, except you’re going one further by exiling.
But Sundial isn’t just for Oblivion Ring effects. Gruesome Encore and Treacherous Urge let you take opponents’ creatures and give them haste for the one turn you have them…unless you wait for the end step trigger for exile/sacrifice, end the turn, and keep the goods. You can Urge somebody’s hand after their end step, take their best creature, then swing on your turn and pay just 1 mana to keep it. Steal effects that don’t leave paper trails are underrated, and instant ones are even better.
Sundial is also one of the few ways of keeping an unearth creature on the field past the turn of its ability. It will still be exiled if it ever leaves the battlefield, but that’s a small price to pay on creatures like Extractor Demon that with the Sundial become 5/5 flying haste beaters for 3B. Extractor’s leaves-battlefield milling trigger also works well with all the Faceless Butcher effects, giving you better Gruesome Encore targets.
Kalitas is in the deck as a basic finisher and way to destroy more creatures should the need arise. An army of Glimmerpoint Stags isn’t that intimidating, so making your own token force off someone else’s misfortune is a good backup plan.
I don’t normally include cycling lands, but the deck doesn’t need a whole lot of white mana after a point, and card draw is so scarce in the colors that Secluded Steppe is useful. You don’t have that many early plays, so the Steppe entering tapped doesn’t matter. Addressing land/cantrip needs is vital to black/white builds in a way that neither green nor blue care about, so it’s important to consider whether your deck wants a Secluded Steppe or its Barren Moor cousin.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
As I mentioned here, I maintain playlists for each color and 2-/3-color combinations. Here are some highlights to get in you the Orzhov spirit:
Hybrid – Break My Soul – My favorite song of 2010 and probably in my top 10 all-time. Hybrid nails black-white moods perfectly when they go for it. If you prefer something more downtempo from them, try Blackout. Cinematic darkness is what the color pair’s normally about, and it’s striking when songs get that mood right.
VNV Nation – Ghost – You’d hope a song called “Ghost” would be black-white, and the creeping night portrayed here matches it. VNV Nation’s lyrics and vocal stylings are some of the few that augment Magic background music, and it works great here.
Porcupine Tree – Gravity Eyelids – If you’re more in the rock mood, this will work. Card art and looking at the Orzhov guild give the game away, but black-white should sound haunting, and as much as progressive rock can haunt, this song nails it.
So that’s my summary of a beloved color pair, even if I’m not a black-white player at heart. You can kill a ton of stuff if you get the mana right, and eventually you’ll get a flyer and gain life or something. The ways in which black and white work together suit multiplayer well, and I enjoy my three decks in that pair even as they play out rather differently.