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By: Sabi0, Kyle Lewis
Oct 31 2018 11:00am
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A spooky halloween-themed hello readers. U/W control recently experienced an ascendancy and for a few weeks was considered the best deck in Modern. Spirits, Dredge, Jund and Humans have all started to pick up steam again, but U/W still seems to be a very strong choice. I’ve been playing U/W in Modern for the better part of this year, and wanted to share my thoughts on the deck. In this article, I’m going to cover the list I’ve been favoring, general points for playing the deck, and some pointers on sideboarding and matchups.

The Deck:

 

Card Selection:

 

 

The list is almost a card for card copy of Joel Larsson’s second place deck from GP Stockholm. The one substitution is -1 Celestial Colonnade +1 Plains in the main. There are several matchups where I really value the extra basic, particularly against Blood Moon or Field of Ruin. I’ve also found you aren’t winning with colonnade very often, multiples are usually not great, and it’s functionally always advantageous for your lands to come in untapped. More recently, Assassin's Trophy has raised the stock on basic lands and made colonnade a little worse. I’d typically be happy to run four Colonnade, but I didn’t want to cut the Ghost Quarter because of Tron (GQ being one of few ways to meaningfully interact with their best hands on the draw), and all the other duals seemed better than colonnade, so it’s what got cut.
 

Control is known as an archetype that rewards players adapting to the trends in the meta. While I think that is certainly true, I would advise U/W players to do so with caution. If you change an established list, do so slowly, in small incremental ways, and keep track of what you change. For my part, I would rather play a few-months old, very tuned list from a pro I have confidence in than a bleeding edge list which 5-0ed a league. In the same way that subtle changes can increase your win percentages, undeft alterations can also cause the deck to crash and burn spectacularly.
 

In addition to Larsson, Gabriel Nassif is a pro who regularly works on and writes about U/W control. It’s worth paying attention to anything these guys have to say on the subject, and trying out their lists whenever possible.
 

In trying out previous lists, I’ve run tried out a few things that I ultimately think simply don’t work. To save you time (and tickets), here are a few inclusions I think you can safely skip: planeswalkers that aren’t JTMS or Teferi, duals other than those included above, Crucible of Worlds, Runed Halo, Rule of Law, Damping Sphere, Spell Snare, the fourth Cryptic Command, and the fourth Snapcaster Mage.

 

Pacing Yourself:

 

 

Playing control in modern is a delicate balance. Trying to overextend and win too quickly can often spell disaster. You don’t want to be tapping down to attack with Celestial Colonnade if it’s going to stop you from playing a spell, and playing a Teferi only to have it quickly killed can be a huge setback.

Conversely, you can occasionally be punished for not being more proactive and die with a bunch of cards in hand to multiple spells in the same turn, some form of reach, or an unexpected haymaker.

Decisions on when to be proactive or reactive depend on the matchup, but can also vary based on starting hands, board state, or individual cards. As a rule, you can usually afford to take your time with this deck. You are almost always favored the longer the game goes on, and against experienced players, most of your games will end with a concession.

In our Magic Online world, the dynamics are different than in real life and some players may attempt to time you out. In net, the Magic clock system is probably better for the control player because it’s within your power to finish all your matches. That said, it does ask a lot of you, and being able to make the plays you need quickly is a necessity and makes getting in a lot of reps with this deck an asset. If you’re a slow player, you probably don’t want to take this blind into an important event, but playing it over a few weeks might help you to speed up your overall game.

 

Openers:

 

 

U/W isn’t too difficult to mulligan with. A lot of your cards are pretty interchangeable. In longer games, particularly control mirrors, hitting your land drops is the most important thing, and keeping land heavy sevens is often fine. Against more aggressive decks, you are usually looking for answer heavy hands even if they are mana light. As long as you have a white mana up Terminus is always an option so a two mana hand with a lot of cheap answers is fine. Many matchups fall somewhere in the middle; the important thing is to identify what your opponent is going to do early and be ready for it. Once things go long, you should be in your comfort zone so staying in the early and mid game should be at the forefront of your mind when taking a mulligan. As far as specific cards go, seeing Search for Azcanta or Ancestral Vision in your opener is great. Oust, Timely Reinforcements, and Path to Exile are what you want to see against aggro. Any of your cheap cantrips or Search for Azcanta make awkward hands a lot more appealing. In general, your scry effects are much better once you know if you want lands or spells so time them accordingly. The fewer Terminus in your opener the better. I wouldn’t be too worried about having one, and sometimes it’s nice to have the option once you hit six mana. If you’re keeping a hand with two you need a very good reason.

After sideboarding, don’t go too crazy with mulliganing for Stony Silence or Surgical Extraction, you have the tools to dig for them. If a hand is close though, fishing for a silver bullet might be a reason to mulligan.

 

Sideboarding:

 

Karma

 

Let’s start looking at individual matchups and sideboard choices.

 

Vs Humans or “Human, All Too Human”

 

While not the monolith it once was, humans is still a large and powerful part of the modern metagame. Fortunately, this is a pretty favorable and straightforward matchup from the control side.
 

Out: 2 Logic Knot, 1 Mana Leak, 1 Jace, The Mind Sculptor, 1 Negate,

In: 1 Stony Silence, 1 Oust, 1 Timely Reinforcements, 1 Supreme Verdict, 1 Celestial Purge
 

The main thing you have going for you in this matchup is access to six sweeper effects on top of good spot removal. Oust may look like a joke, but the card is actually very strong. Being able to answer a mana dork on turn one is very big game, and even if it just hits a normal target, it’s basically Swords to Plowshares. It may not deal with your target permanently (unless you have Field of Ruin or a Jace--which is something to watch for with both Oust and Teferi), but replacing a draw step makes sure you stay even on cards while buying time to win the game. Time is very much on your side in this matchup, because humans has no real way to catch up after a sweeper.
 

Post board just gets better for you as you get to take out the dead(ish) counterspells for actively good cards. One Stony Silence seems to be the sweet spot against Aether Vial decks after sideboarding; you are never left with extras, and you don’t feel terrible if it doesn’t end up hitting anything as long as they can’t vial. As a rule with Terminus, you almost always want to play it as soon as you draw it. Terminus as a one mana one for one is still a great deal and you don’t want to risk getting them stuck in your hand. Also if you have the option of using Opt to cast Terminus on their turn, it’s usually worth doing unless they have Vial on 2 for Meddling Mage (if they know what they are doing they will wait for the Miracle trigger that makes you reveal Terminus then respond with Vial.
 

You don’t really need to worry about actually winning in this matchup. Eventually Teferi or Colonnade will put them away, but most games boil down to casting enough removal and draw spells to make them concede.
 

Vs Jund or Ancient Grudge Match
 

The Jund matchup can be tricky, but it’s far from terrible. Their best cards are the ones named Liliana. Backed up by powerful discard spells and a proactive suite of threats, Jund will sometimes just have that one card that kills you by itself. They also make it hard to leave mana up for counters when they are getting free looks at your hand all the time. On the bright side, they are just as bad against Terminus as the next deck and your best threats outclass theirs.
 

Out: 1 Mana Leak, 2 Jace, 1 Settle the wreckage, 1 Search for Azcanta

In: 1 Baneslayer Angel, 1 Celestial Purge, 1 Negate, 1 Timely Reinforcements, 1 Vendilion Clique
 

Jace is too much of a liability to keep in in this matchup; he dies to bolt or an elf if you Brainstorm and can get killed by one of their Vindicate effects if you use his +2. Search and Settle are both slow, and Negate is an upgrade on Mana Leak often enough that it merits substituting. Your biggest worry is them getting an early upper-hand and letting it snowball. Focus on shutting down their early threats and once the game starts to drag on, you can usually win if you aren’t behind. Timely Reinforcements is big game in this regard. The blockers can prevent a ton of damage in addition to the six added life
 

One matchup specific tip. If your opponent does end up with an active Liliana, look for a chance to bounce her in response to her +2. A careful opponent will play around this, but sometimes you can get people and when you do it’s back breaking. Because this list is a bit older, you might consider an extra Celestial Purge in the sideboard if you want to hedge for the matchup. It may be your best card in the matchup and it has wider application including not being terrible to bring in vs Humans. The second Oust is probably what I would cut were I to change it.
 

Vs Dredge or Snapcutter Surgeon
 

Dredge has been the talk of the town in modern lately.  It may seem odd to not include 2-3 Rest in Peace in a meta where dredge is so prevalent, but Surgical Extraction in a deck with three Snapcaster Mages fills this role surprisingly well. This is aided by the fact that all of your main deck removal either puts cards into exile or back into your opponent's deck. All this makes the dredge matchup very winnable for a U/W player, even in game one (a feat few other modern decks can match). Creature based graveyard decks like Dredge, Bridgevine, and Hollow One are a big reason to favor U/W over Jeskai right now.
 

Out: 1 Oust, 2 Logic Knot, 1 Mana Leak, 1 Negate, 1 Vendilion Clique

In: 1 Purge, 2 Spell Queller, 2 Surgical Extraction, 1 Timely Reinforcements
 

After sideboarding you benefit from being able to take out counterspells for more answers. If they keep in Creeping Chill it becomes harder to win with your smaller creatures. I think it’s still worth it to play Spell Queller, because if you manage to quell their Life from the Loam early, you can severely hamstring their ability to play lands which can give you a lot of time to set up; even hitting a Faithless Looting or Cathartic Reunion can slow them down a lot. Like many creature matchups, these games will often come down to how many times you can Terminus them. It’s realistic to kill your opponent by decking before Teferi or Colonnade can finish the job, so again don’t stress to much about actually winning. Getting to cast a surgical and snap it, is an easy way to win the game as well--Bloodghast and Prized Amalgam should be your main targets. You can also Surgical Narcomoeba in response to the trigger to prevent it from ever entering play which also stops Amalgam from triggering. Unless you are very tight on life, I think you’re better off exiling their other threats, but there are corner cases where hitting Narcomoeba is probably better.
 

Vs Tron or “We’re Always on the Same Team.”

 
Tron is a weird matchup. I’ve heard a lot of Tron players complain that it’s very difficult, and use the difficulty of the match up to justify bizarre, sub-optimal card choices. From the U/W side, I think this matchup is pretty close, despite having five main deck Wastelands. It seems like the vast swath of games involve either them going off before Field of Ruin does anything and getting crushed, or playing Stony Silence and crushing. The games in the middle, where you actually have the opportunity to draw cards and hold up Cryptic Command, admittedly seem very good for us. 

Out: 4 Terminus, 1 Oust, 1 Settle the Wreckage, 1 Timely Reinforcements

In: 2 Surgical Extraction, 2 Spell Queller, 2 Stony Silence, 1 Negate
 

If you’ve played either side of this matchup a few times, you know what a savage beating Stony Silence is for the Tron player. Much like Back to Basics in Legacy, Stony doesn’t usually lock them out of the game, but it slows them down to such a glacial pace that winning becomes fairly academic. Somewhat surprisingly Spell Queller also shines in this matchup, disrupting an early map or cantrip rock while developing a clock is a quiet play that can turn the game in your favor. Of course, landing a Surgical on a land you hit with Field will make it pretty easy to run away with the game. Your counterspells are mostly playable, but Mana Leak and Logic Knot are, of course, better early than late. While you are favored in the late game, you don’t want to take to much time. Tron, particularly after sideboard, is one deck that can still hang with you because their threats can be so powerful and they can play more than one in a turn.
 

Vs The Mirror or Your Own Worst Enemy
 

Out: 1 Oust, 4 Terminus, 1 Timely Reinforcements, 1 Settle the Wreckage

In: 1 Negate, 2 Dispel, 1 Vendilion Clique, 2 Spell Queller, 1 Baneslayer Angel
 

The “standard’ control mirror is one in which both players strive to consistently hit their land drops and try to eek out extra value through resolving draw spells. Often the player with the most cards wins. This can deviate in one of a few ways. If an important threat sticks unanswered it’s usually game over. Search for Azcanta on turn two can also result in an overwhelming advantage. One player hitting way more land drops than the other is also a good way to play a very one-sided game.
 

I would go into a control mirror assuming you are going to play a normal game and do your best to make your cards count. Countering Cryptic with Cryptic is one of the biggest card advantage swings and not something you want to be on the receiving end of. Game one can be a little high variance; if one player ends up drawing too much removal, they can end up falling behind. After sideboarding, most of your cards become quite good. Some players will have insane sideboard cards against you like Geist of Saint Traft or Dragonlord Ojutai or Secure the Wastes. I would wait to see these before reacting to them, but if they have them, put in some number of Supreme Verdict and Terminus. Your threats with flash can put pressure on that they need to react to, look for this to create a window to stick Teferi or Jace. A majority of games will end via a reusable engine like Azcanta or one of your walkers, so focus on having answers and hitting land drops as consistently as possible
 

In Closing
 

I hope this foray into U/W control has been a useful one. If you like playing long value focused games and can keep up the brisk pace necessary to finish your games, U/W is currently a great option in modern. As always, thanks for reading and good luck in the queues.

 

3 Comments

Nice article, thanks.When by MichelleWong at Thu, 11/01/2018 - 10:24
MichelleWong's picture

Great article, thanks.

In your experience in the Bogles matchup, have you been able to cast your Terminus or Settle before they clock you? I used to play Bogles vs Jeskai Control when that was the prevalent control build (and they ran E.Explosives and Blessed Alliance in the board), but I've never played against UW Terminus yet because I switched to Devoted Company during the last year. I am guessing 40% you cast Terminus or Settle in time/60% you don't, then give yourself another 20% percentage to account for Bogles losing to itself. So overall it seems a 50/50 matchup (with Game 1 favored by whoever is on the play), that's my rough guess but I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for the comment. Your by Sabi0 at Sun, 11/11/2018 - 12:39
Sabi0's picture

Thanks for the comment.

Your assessment is pretty spot on. Their draws really determine how the matchup plays out, but the games can often go on longer than you might expect because of cards like Cryptic Command and Timely Reinforcements. It's also a big advantage that you can kill them without damage, as life link will often put the game out of reach that way. Most games you win will be because you flipped an early Terminus and having access to it is the decks biggest asset.

As far as the boggles match up goes, I think it's close to even and probably slightly favored for the u/w player (I think you'd be hard pressed to find a control deck with a better Boggles matchup). Your biggest enemy after sideboarding is Gaddock Teeg who alone is a reason to keep all your paths in.

. by MichelleWong at Mon, 11/05/2018 - 04:14
MichelleWong's picture
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(duplicate post)