For the last several years, one of the most common things we’ve heard about Commander is how terrible white is to play. Well, I’m here today to say something that I believe needs to be said on behalf of white players everywhere. Something that has needed to be said for a long time. That’s right, readers: White is not a bad color in Commander.
Yup, you heard me. I said it, and I’m not taking it back. But before you close out of the tab, let me defend my audacious claim.
First, I want to make it clear that I am not saying that white is the best color in Commander. In fact, I feel confident saying that white is the worst color in Commander. But being the worst color does not necessarily make it a bad color. I am also not saying that there is no room for improvement for white. Wizards has made it clear that they are willing and able to print cards to boost white’s power for Commander. We have already seen such cards in recent sets.
I will touch on some of these cards a little later in the article, but first I want to talk about white’s strengths as a color, why it struggles so much and how to change the way we think about playing white.
Let’s start by talking about white’s philosophy. In Magic, white is the color that most cares about order, security and the good of the group. It is enemies with red and black. It opposes red’s tendency for chaos and recklessness and black’s urge to seek what’s best for the individual at any cost. White also provides rigid laws and structures to maintain equality and fairness across the board. It builds up its own forces equally and doesn’t single out an individual as better or worse than any other individual.
In the physical card game, this philosophy translates into some powerful abilities. First and foremost, white has the most answers to the most threats:
- Swords to Plowshares
- Path to Exile
- Generous Gift
- most efficient board wipes
- a handful of counterspells
These cards give white the flexibility to deal with problematic permanents and spells more effectively than any other color.
Another way we see these philosophies in the game is through making good sized armies of small creatures. that it then buffs with anthem effects and/or +1/+1 counters. Cards like Cathar’s Crusade and Glorious Anthem are staples in this kind of strategy. They increase the power of all your little creatures at once, turning weenies into legitimate threats. White has dozens of these effects, meaning they could be the core of an entire deck on their own or used more sparingly to add a little extra umph.
White also has a lot of taxing effects. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Aura of Silence are two excellent examples of white’s ability to slow down their opponents’ progression. This exemplifies white’s ability to create structure and equality and keeps its opponents on even ground with them.
So, then what’s the problem?
Beyond anthems and Stax, there are a handful of other niche white strategies like:
- superfriends (yes, I’ve seen a very powerful mono-white superfriends deck led by Djeru, With Eyes Open).
These strategies are strong enough to be competitive in other formats, but in Commander they all seem to be too weak to redeem white. What do all these strategies have in common? They go against the social contract.
The social contract is the single most detrimental thing to white’s power level in Commander. At some point, Magic players cumulatively decided that it feels bad for white to do some of the things its best at.
Stax strategies as well as board wipe tribal, land destruction, pillowfort, lifegain, and other slow decks like superfriends violate the social contract. Therefore they cut a large chuck out of what makes white competitive in other formats.
Furthermore, Voltron, equipment strategies, and white weenies are so vulnerable to the kinds of removal that are so popular in Commander that we can cut them right out of the conversation.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we should all just play against Stax decks and like it. Nothing is worse than playing a 4-hour game of Commander against a deck that does nothing except not lose. I am simply getting on the same page with everyone about why building a white deck can be such an uphill battle. Its not that white is bad, but rather that people despise the things that white can do (which are typically quite powerful).
So, what’s a white mage to do? Just avoid playing white until Wizards prints the tools it needs to be good enough?
All you have to do is think a little outside the box. Then you can make a white deck that is both legitimately fun and powerful.
Thinking outside the box
There are a couple of underappreciated white themes floating around out there. Specifically, I want to talk about reanimator, blink, and combo and how they can be viable strategies by themselves, as well as add a much-needed power boost to white decks overall.
Let’s talk about reanimator first, as I think it can do the most good for the color. Throughout the years, sacrifice and discard strategies have become increasingly popular in other color combinations.
Both sacrificing your creatures and discarding your hand are, at face value, downsides. However, they can easily become upsides, if you can get the cards back from your graveyard. In other words, reanimation makes your graveyard an extension of your hand.
I think white players already know about how good this can be to a small extent, since Sun Titan is the 5th most played white card in the format (according to EdhRec.com). I believe that this part of white’s identity can be leaned into quite a bit more aggressively to bump up the power level.
Filling the Graveyard
Admittedly, white doesn’t fill its own graveyard very well. While self-sacrifice is another element of white’s philosophy, there aren’t many cards that care about sacrificing or being sacrificed. There are even fewer cards that care about discarding cards from your hand or being discarded.
However, if we add some colorless spells, we can fill the graveyard incredibly efficiently. There are tons of great colorless sac outlets including Phyrexian Altar and Ashod’s Altar which also help ramp white a little bit.
There are also great colorless discard outlets like Grimoir of the Dead and Key to the City. Each brings its own dimension to a white deck in addition to putting useful tools into your graveyard.
Then finally, and I believe most importantly, white can utilize artifacts that self-mill as well as or better than any other color. For example, Perpetual Timepiece, Altar of Dementia and Keening Stone can all put tons of cards into your graveyard throughout the game that can then be brought back with cards like Resurrection, Emeria Shepherd, and Cavalier of Dawn.
Rebuilding with white can be a struggle after a board wipe or even simple spot removal. However, being able to bring back permanents from the graveyard gives the color a lot of resiliency.
The next underutilized theme I want to talk about is blink.
Anyone who has played Standard, Pioneer, Historic or Modern lately knows how powerful Yorion, Sky Nomad is. Even if you can just blink a couple of small things you can get a lot of value out of them.
A lot of blink commanders (like Yorion) are Azorius colors, but mono-white has plenty of blink abilities that can improve your average deck. There are several spells that blink your own permanents, such as:
There are also spells give you added flexibility by blinking your opponents’ permanents. Eldrazi Displacer, Astral Drift, and Flicker are examples of that kind of card. Both effects can be valuable at certain points in a game.
Some spells let you choose if you want to exile your own or your opponents’ things. The ability to use a single spell for multiple purposes in this way is very white. A simple one-mana Ephemerate can be used in all sorts of ways:
- to draw another card with your Wall of Omens
- ramp some more with your Kor Cartographer
- blank your opponent’s removal spell
- or even remove an opponent’s creature with Duplicant
It’s so versatile! Even a few small blink effects can add a lot to any white deck.
Another reason reanimation and blink are powerful is because they have the potential to create infinite combos. White is not notorious for being able to combo off, but that does not mean it can’t. The good news is that most of its combo pieces are also good cards independent of a combo. Let’s point out a few infinite combos that could and should go in almost every mono-white deck:
- Reveillark + Karmic Guide + a sac outlet (ideally Altar of Dementia) = infinite mill. Add Solemn Simulacrum and you get to draw all your cards.
- Basri’s Lieutenant + Cathars’ Crusade + a sac outlet = infinitely large Basri’s Lieutenant. Adding Anointed Procession makes infinite tokens as well.
- Heliod, Sun-Crowned + Walking Ballista = infinite damage
- Sun Titan + Gift of Immortality + a sac outlet = infinite enters the battlefield triggers
- Cathars’ Crusade + Twilight Shepherd + a sac outlet = infinite enters the battlefield triggers for all your creatures
- Emeria Shepherd + Kor Cartographer + a sac outlet = get all Plains from your on the battlefield
- Felidar Guardian + Panharmonicon + any ETB ability = infinite enters the battlefield triggers
You’ll notice that any and all these combos have two things in common:
First, most if not all the parts of them contribute to one of the strategies mentioned in this article and are therefore useful without the other pieces of the combo.
Second, they have lots of replaceable parts, meaning other cards can substitute for them. This adds redundancy to a white deck and lowers variance. The higher the constituency level of a combo, the more powerful it is.
If you use these combos in conjunction with things like reanimation and blink as well as other powerful white abilities, they are a huge net positive for the color overall.
The Card Advantage Problem
“That’s all fine and good,” I hear you saying, “but white still can’t draw cards or ramp.” That’s fair. So far, all I’ve talked about are things that we all knew white could do. There’s nothing groundbreaking about Sun Titan or Restoration Angel; they’ve been white staples for years. The reason that I brought them up, though, is to encourage people to look at card draw and ramp a little differently for white decks than you might for green or blue decks. Let me explain:
First things first. There are over 30 mana rocks that make colorless or white mana in commander with CMC 2 or less. Some of them are kind of expensive, like Grim Monolith, Lion’s Eye Diamond and Mana Crypt. However, even on a budget there are plenty of cheap, low CMC ramp options in mono white. (All these ramp spells, and we haven’t even gotten into the actual white cards that can help white ramp.)
There are a lot of cards that ramp specifically for Plains, for example:
While it is true that a lot of those cards don’t technically ramp you (they don’t add more lands than you would have otherwise had), even having enough lands in hand to reliably curve out can be powerful. Plus, each land in your hand from Land Tax represents one less land card in your deck for you next draw.
Smothering Tithe is another excellent white ramp card. While it comes down a little late (depending on if you think turn 4 is late in your playgroup) and your opponents have the option to pay the tax every time – it will most often help you generate a ton of mana during a game. With all these options together, I think that the claim that “white can’t ramp” is simply untrue. White’s ramp looks a little different from other colors but can still be effective.
White “Card Draw”
And now the real deal breaker. The last big argument against white’s caliber in Commander: Card draw. As we all know, white is bad at card draw. I’m not going to try to tell you that it isn’t. As of a few years ago, Mentor of the Meek was probably the only half-decent white card draw effect, which is bad.
Since then we’ve also gotten Mangara, the Diplomat and Dawn of Hope, both of which are also bad effects. Card draw is one of the most important parts of Commander, and if white can’t do it, then it must be bad. Right?
Well, sort of. I want to propose another way of looking at card advantage in Commander. To do so, I want to pose a hypothetical situation.
Let’s say you’re playing a game of Commander with three of your friends. Everyone starts with seven cards in hand, and the game lasts for ten turns. If everyone draws only one card per turn, each player has access to 18 total cards (including the commanders). Said another way, each player is playing with a deck of 18 cards, randomly generated from their 100 card decks. Each player gets the same number of cards, and the one with the best 18 will probably win the game.
Well, now let’s imagine that one of those players had a spell that let them draw one additional card every other turn. That means that the player in question would draw an additional 5 cards per game. So now, three players played with 18 card decks and one player played with a 23-card deck. Who do you think is now favored to win this game? The player with the best cards will still probably come out on top. However, now the player who drew more cards has a higher chance of drawing their strong cards, and therefore winning. This rule is not 100% accurate every time, but in general the player who has access to the most cards will probably win.
Now, let’s change the situation again. Pretend like everyone is playing with 18 cards again, but one player also milled 20 cards into their own graveyard. If that person’s deck is designed to be able to utilize the graveyard, filling up their own graveyard is similar (not equal) to drawing that many cards. They now have so many more options available to them than the other three players do. This again makes them more likely to win the game.
Drawing a card is not the only way to gain card advantage. Earlier we talked about how self-mill and reanimation is an extremely powerful tool for white decks to use. So imagine a deck full of abilities like:
- or other effects that can be used from the graveyard
In a deck like that milling, discarding, sacrificing or chump-blocking with those cards gains card advantage. It’s not actual drawing, but you still have ways to use your mana throughout the game.
Getting Lands Out
Another way to gain card advantage is to get land cards out of your deck. Fetch lands paired with Crucible of Worlds gets a Plains out of your deck every turn. This means one less Plains per turn, which makes your draws better and better as the game goes on. Endless Horizons can search your library for any number of Plains so you no longer draw them. This clears the lands that you don’t always need out of your deck. So you’ll draw nothing but gas for the rest of the game.
So, can white draw cards? No, it most certainly cannot. But I would suggest that it doesn’t necessarily need to before it can be considered a good color. Like red, white card advantage and ramp is just a little bit different from the other colors. It’s not as straight forward and requires some creative solution. However, it can do some incredibly powerful things in Commander just the way it is right now – without any more tools.
That’s not to say that Wizards should stop exploring all the things that white can do. I just think we all need to give white a break for once. Heck, let’s even try to build some more white decks and see what we can make with it.
Please let me know what your favorite go-to white cards and interactions are. You can leave your thoughts in the comments section below or find me on Instagram @dpenguinagain or on Twitter @again_penguin.
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6 thoughts on “Is White Really THAT Bad in Commander?”
Good article. I have had a long history of dislike for what magic has done with white. Even before commander got popular. That being said, it has still bothered me that white is so weak outside of limited formats like standard. I feel that white is in need of a change of philosophy or that other more powerful colors like blue are going to have to make some concessions to it’s identity. Like how they eventually let red have some draw discard effects that previously you could only really find in blue. Then red got it’s own thing with the exile and play until stuff. Maybe white will get it’s “own thing”. Maybe something exile related? Look at Parallel Thoughts then look at Endless Horizons. It might be monarch or clues or treasure, look at Smothering Tithe. Maybe creation will be the key? Could white perhaps create…lands? White likes equally, but why does that mean everyone has to be equally lame (Balance). Why not equally great instead?
I totally agree with you. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens in the next year or so. Maybe they’ll give white a much-needed overhaul. In the meantime, it’s fun to get creative with the things that we currently have available to us in white.
As a mono-color deck, maybe white will get left in the dust, but in a 2 color deck white can be great support.
The oldest example was using Circle of Protection: Red with Orcish Artillery. White can usually work well with red for a hyper aggressive deck. And together they have enough board wipes to make the whole game salty.
Green and white. Ramp while going wide with tokens! While we are at it, go tall as a skyscraper while going as wide as a football field.
Blue has it’s own ways to win, just combine with white for some artifact and enchantment removal.
Black and white not only have reanimation in common, they also have lifelink and life gain in common. Which is good because black tends to spend life like it is going out of style. And the sac outlets for black are too many for me to count.
there are multiple ways to push white without the usual carddraw or ramp… in my opinion cards “that dominate combat” like opposition/glare of subdual or umezawas jitte and even fervent champion are white effects… they could print stuff like that in a commander set…
-wwww “sorcery” exile all creatures your opponents control
-2ww “enchantment” tap a creature you control to tap any creature + x mana to create a x/x creature (probably 2-3 mana for 1/1)
-ww “legendary equipment” equiped creature gets +x/+x haste and whenever you “either deal damage or attack” choose one… create a treasure token and/or investigate, put 2x +1/+1 counters on up to 2 creatures and “either those gain lifelink or gain x life”, exile up to 1 target creature or artifact or enchantment… equip cost 2…
-ww2 “creature legendary” x/x flying+persist, whenever an equipment gets attached to any of your creatures create a 1/1 flying knight spirit, when this comes into play create a +2/+2 equipment with equip 2 and whenever equiped creature deals dmg put a +1/+1 counter on one of your creatures
(combo with “there are 3 in total” 0 mana equipments or skullclamp)
-ww1 “creature/instant” 2/2 first strike + whenever turned up “morph or megamorph” exile target creature, “instant” destroy target artifact or enchantment and either gain life equal its casting cost or create a token equal to casting cost
-ww “instant” you may exile target creature its controller investigates, kicker or escalate exile target artifact or enchantment
-www “creature” 3/4 lifelink+vigilance, whenever you attack or block with this investigate
-ww “creature” 2/2 fly or first strike, whenever this comes into play or dies investigate
-ww “creature” 1/3 vigilance, whenever this comes into play or dies create a treasure
-www “creature” 2/4 fly+vigilance, whenever you attack or block with this create a treasure
-ww “creature” 2/2 first strike, equip abilities that target this creature cost 2 less
-ww1 “creature” 3/4 flanking or intimidate, equip abilities cost 1 less and equipped creatures get +1/+1 for each artifact or creature you control (not both)
-www “creature rebel” x/x, tap a rebel you control to tap a creature + whenever it gets untapped create a 1/1 rebel
-ww2 “creature rebel” x/x, when this comes into play you gain monarch, whenever a creature attacks you or a planeswalker you control its controller has to pay x for each attacking creature, whenever an opponent targets this the spell or ability costs 1 more for each rebel you control
just some thoughts but most of the ideas synergize with other white effects…
Yeah, I completely agree with you. White has the potential to be really powerful without changing the color pie. Wizards just hasn’t pushed the design space for them too much yet.
I mean Mardu and Esper are just so strong with that white spice.