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The Week That Was: The Plains Are Alright

March 31, 2023
Corbin Hosler

Move over, Sheoldred.

That's the resounding message coming out of the Regional Championship circuit this week. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse dominated Standard since its release (and helped Nathan Steuer to the World Championship), but the arrival of Phyrexia: All Will Be One shook things up with Poison-based decks, and the fallout in the weeks since has slowly begun to make the apocalypse a little less apocalyptic these days.

Just ask Philippe Gareau, who forgoed the Sheoldred shells entirely. In fact, he eschewed a secondary color entirely as he took Mono-White Midrange to the title at the F2F Tour Championship in Ottawa that served as the second Canadian Regional Championship of the cycle. Long story short—I'll just say that none of us on the coverage squad had a mono-white deck featuring the full playset of Ambitious Farmhand and The Restoration of Eiganjo winning a Regional Championship on the bingo card.

And we certainly didn't have it winning two in the same weekend. But when Jiang Yiren won a Regional Championship title at the China Open with the same deck, that's exactly where we found ourselves. Another format, another curveball—we're two Regional Championship cycles in and it's been a rollercoaster in these six-week sprints leading up to Pro Tour March of the Machine. Which, speaking of, is now just 35 days away at MagicCon: Minneapolis.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I've been writing The Week That Was for something like nine months now and it's easy to get too excited about the tournaments and metagame evolutions and high-impact sideboard choices and all that nitty-gritty stuff that comes along with the week-in-and-week-out nature of the dozen Regional Championships that feed the Pro Tour three times a year—plus the World Championship late in 2023. The truth is there's a lot going on with competitive Magic these days. The Pro Tour circuit is back with a bang in 2023 and crisscrossing the globe to follow along with the latest results has been a heck of a lot of fun—it feels very much like the years when I was covering a Grand Prix every other weekend for the entire year and along with the many late nights came the opportunity to watch a Standard or Modern format evolve right in front of my eyes. I'll never forget the GP where I spotted Skred Red playing for the Top 8 as I was perusing the top tables (in the days before digital decklists, spotting spicy decks was a well-honed skill). I read The Week That Was myself when I began to get into competitive Magic, and I was enthralled by seeing the latest piece of "technology" that gave the week's big winner their big advantage.

This week that technology belonged chiefly to Gareau, and the dominant weekend for a Mono-White Midrange deck that oftentimes feels a lot more like Control qualifies as a legit shocker given where the Standard format stood just a month ago and where Mono-White fits into that.

With that in mind, let's go back in time to an age when Nirvana was new and so was Serra Angel: the 90s. To really put the victories by Gareau and Yiren into context, it helps to understand where things began.


Tom Chanpheng was the first to pair the power of Savannah Lions, White Knight and Armageddon en route to winning the 1996 World Championship, and soon the archetype would become iconic to Magic. Which in itself is a bit ironic, as Chanpheng's deck was technically Blue-White—but Chanpheng forgot to register his Adarkar Wastes on his tournament decklist and was forced by the rules to play basic Plains instead, leaving him with an uncastable Sleight of Mind.

Odd way for a deck to come to prominence, but we live in a world where Ghoulcaller's Bell won a Constructed Pro Tour—Magic doesn't always make sense and it's all the better for it. And thus, Mono-White Aggro decks were born. It's a classic archetype that is represented in Cubes, Drafts, and Standards across the world: Plains means pain. When I entered Magic, Kithkin was the Mono-White Aggro deck of the time, with Goldmeadow Stalwart, Knight of Meadowgrain and Wizened Cenn winning Cedric Phillips tournaments across the United States.

Let's turn to a more recent example. You might remember the famous Settle Wreckage play from Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas, commonly cited as one of the ultimate outplays in modern Magic. You might not remember exactly what event it was, but you've probably picked up rumors of the play through LGS osmosis. But the pivotal moment came in Game 3 of the semifinals at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica with Scott-Vargas staring down a massive attack from former Player of the Year and Pro Tour Theros winner Jérémy Dezani, who was looking to add a second PT title to his resume. The matchup was a math teacher's dream, with the mirrored white-red aggressive decks trading huge attack steps—but none quite like the one that has gone down in Pro Tour lore.

Again, two aggressive, base-white decks (while they dipped their toes into red for Heroic Reinforcements, the Healer's Hawk/Adanto Vanguard/History of Benalia was at its heart a Savannah Lions deck). Armageddon had been replaced by Conclave Tribunal, but the gameplan was the same: early threats backed up a key piece of late interaction or sometimes both in one; careers have been built on Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. (Ask Craig Wescoe!)

Which brings up back to the present day, and another Mono-White deck winning a big tournament.

30 years in, Magic stays great because it stays Magic. And you know what to expect from Mono-White even after all these years… wait a minute, where are all the Savannah Lions?!?

"It's 2023, and white is the color of drawing cards," Gareau explained. "It used to be blue, five years ago it was green, now the card advantage is in white and I was able to draw more cards than anyone else over the weekend."

In retrospect, maybe that Luid Scott-Vargas Settle the Wreckage clip was a bit before its time—that's a white-red aggro deck and its most famous turn was a player casting a reactive removal spell. Fast forward five years, and the trend has continued. Gareau is right—with Reckoner Bankbuster, Loran of the Third Path, and Wedding Announcement all available without splashing a second color, the Mono-White deck of Phyrexia: All Will Be One Standard looks nothing like that Mono-White decks of tradition. Of course, The Wandering Emperor and The Eternal Wanderer certainly help.

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That's what Gareau and Jiang's decks had in common with the similar decks you've seen at Friday Night Magic. But here's what I find really cool about competitive Magic: when I talked to Gareau about his deck, it was what his deck didn't have that he wanted to focus, and where he directed the credit for his victory.

"Everyone has been playing Field of Ruin, but the other decks have adapted," he explained. "And it can really hurt your mana and your Lay Down Arms if you don't have enough sources. So I made sure to fill my deck with Ambitious Farmhand and The Restoration of Eiganjo—I might not have as many lands as other decks, but I pull them out of my deck consistently to make my land drops and then my draw steps in the late game are all gas because I've pulled out so many lands.

"Importantly, that allowed me to play the full four Roadside Reliquary. And it worked out—I drew more cards than the other midrange decks could keep up with, and my mana wasn't a problem and I won one mirror match where my opponent was stuck on only Field of Ruins colorless mana."

Roadside Reliquary Ambitious Farmhand 583596

Technology, indeed.

It was the kind of meta call that has to be made week-to-week in a changing format, and it played perfectly to the strengths of the GP Montreal 2016 Top 8 competitor. Gareau's favorite format is Cube, and he spent the last few years working on dozens of different Magic Cube designs while tabletop play was unavailable. His one self-imposed stipulation? No card could be shared across two Cubes. The experience helped him to experience more cards in very unique environments, a practice that probably comes in pretty handy when you're reimagining what a tournament-winning Mono-White Magic deck looks like.

Minneapolis will be Gareau's fourth Pro Tour, and the World Championship awaits beyond that. It's more than Gareau ever expected to find on his path to the Pro Tour, but the noted deckbuilder is back at it and back at the top of his game—and he's got a reassuring message for fans of Mono-White.

"I actually won some of my most important sideboard matches by going on the aggressive plan with Steel Seraph!" he admitted with a laugh.

Looking Ahead

The Regional Championship cycle that leads to Pro Tour March of the Machine has surprised week to week, and now we'll see if it has any surprises left in store for the last handful of Regional Championships. Play begins this weekend with a Regional Championship in South America, followed by the United States' Dreamhack Regional Championship in San Diego on April 8.

That will set the stage for the final sprint to Minnesota, where teams will convene for a week or two ahead of the event to cram as much March of the Machine Limited as possible!

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