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By: Elmo The Red Monster, Sky Liu
Dec 29 2011 9:32am
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Why UW Control?

First of all everyone should know that I'm biased towards UW decks. That's because the first deck I spent a lot of time building in high school was a UW Gilded Drake control deck. When I saw Andrew Cuneo's decklist from Worlds 2011, I was ecstatic that it is back. So there is no surprise as to why I have decided to write my first article on PureMTGO about the current standard UW Control archetype. Second, I think the UW archetype in standard right now is worth looking into. When I talk about UW control decks, I'm talking about the ones that are more reactive and defensive, and wait patiently to seal the game i.e. countering whatever your opponent throws out, wiping the board clean of all creature threats and then laughing as you exile your opponent’s permanents with Karn Liberated or beating them to death with big creatures. 

So Why UW and the not UB, or Grixis or Esper? I think two colours is enough, playing too many colours means there are too many mana production considerations and I simply hate it when your hand that has a card you can't cast because you're waiting for the land to come. Ok I suppose that is fine because it is a control deck after all and that you can afford to wait, but the first couple of turns is crucial especially against aggro decks. I'd rather maximize my card advantage and pick up a Day of Judgment for aggro decks or an extra Dissipate or Mana Leak against another control.

The other reason is to do with the cards that are available. Aside from the blue cards, because it is pretty obvious what you want to put into a control deck, I think  White has a better advantage for board control:

Day of Judgment

Day of Judgment is white's best creature destruction spell. at the fourth turn, basically whatever creatures you failed to counter will be swept away. Now compare this to Black, where the notable sweeper around the 4th turn is probably Black Sun's Zenith. Realise that Black Sun is only great against a board filled with 1/1s or to give you a few extra turns. Of course there is also Life's Finale, but the cost is a bit high.

Gideon Jura

This is one hell of a tank and I think whoever has played UW control or had this in a white deck knows it's value already.

Oblivion Ring

This is a great multi-purpose removal spell. Truth be told the only spell that comes close to this one in terms of flexibility is probably Beast Within. If you had to play UB, your only solutions to your opponents planeswalker is to either force your opponent to discard or a counter spell. Although O-ring is only a temporary removal, but at least it gives you a few extra turns and makes your opponent think twice about casting another planeswalker.

Stonehorn Dignitary

This is one of those card that have saved me quite a fair bit, but I'll explain this in greater depth, later on.


UW Control Variations:

Let's first look at a few UW Control variations.

This deck is amazing against UB control and I played a slight variation of this deck at FNM when I first saw this decklist. (Had to play a variation because I was missing a few cards and the fact that I stopped playing Magic for about 1-2months during the launch of Innistrad.)

The only problem I had with this deck was to do with speed. Since this deck didn't really have big beaters to finish off the opponent and it was more a reactive deck, I had problems matching up against GW Tokens and Wolf/Ramp decks. The Ratchet Bombs were good at stopping certain unwanted cards at a certain mana band, but it wasn't the best answer and I think perhaps Oblivion Ring is better. (Buried Ruins) allowed me to recycle the Ratchet Bombs, but it is just too slow and sometimes did not deal with the threat in ample time or just came out at the wrong moment in the match.

There were a few cards in this decklist that I should mention:

White Sun's Zenith

White Sun's Zenith is something I definitely underestimated. Although I only had one in my decklist against my matchups, this card was a considerable threat or sometimes allowed me to gain a few extra turns by chump blocking. This is to do with the fact that White Sun is an instant and I had a element of surprise against my opponents. It's one of those cards that you can play at the end of a opponents turn. Say my opponent tapped out and cast a Karn Liberated or any high cost cards and I of course countered and end of their turn managed to squeeze one or two 2/2 cat tokens with the White Sun, in this scenario, although the damage I do is marginal in my next turn, but it can make a difference in the long run.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

I think this card combined with a whole bunch of cat tokens makes a great finisher and also keeps those Inkmoth Nexus at bay.

Snapcaster Mage

Snapcaster Mage seems like a good fit in a control deck, but I find that it doesn't live up to the expectations when it comes UW control. This is because since this deck isn't UB, there is no Forbidden Alchemy or way to discard cards to give you a whole range of spell options. Tom Martell who wrote an article on 'Pristine Control,'  wrote:

"This guy is really bad in this deck. You’ll notice I went from 3 to 1 to 0 in my iterations with the deck, and he isn’t even a consideration now..."

During my matchup, I just found that there wasn't exactly a great use for him. Against another control deck, I wouldn't even have enough mana to flashback my Mana Leak because I would have needed to pay for Snapcaster's 1U cost. Paying 6 mana for a Day of Judgment or 3 to cast Ponder, was a complete waste of a two card slot. Hence, like Tom's version of UW I simply put this card aside.

Let's have a look at Tom's Version of UW Control.

This deck is much better, with the inclusion of Pristine Talisman, I found that I had more mana to dedicate to the X cost spells. Unlike some control decks that ran Consecrated Sphinx for card advantage, putting in a talisman to feed Blue Sun's Zenith, definitely helped quite a fair bit. In a match up against another control deck, you'd find that you had a slight mana advantage against your opponent and to me that's something worth considering.

Pristine Talisman

Another feature of the Talisman is to do with life gain. Imagine having 2-4 of these things in play. Basically whenever you tap for mana using the Talisman you would gain life. Now that there is no longer manaburn rule, you could even tap it without using the mana. More life acts as a buffer against fast aggro decks. (No infect of course).


What I Ended Up Playing:

As I mentioned before I stopped playing magic for 1-2months because I had switched jobs and just didn't have the time. When I returned, I lacked a lot of cards. So I did the next best thing...SUBSTITUTE.

I was missing a Gideon Jura, Karn Liberated and Snapcaster Mage plus a few sideboard cards. I needed to find something to replace Gideon and Karn's advantages and I came up with the Stonehorn/Venser combo to replace the cards that I didn't have. Since I didn't have Snapcasters I realised that this deck you didn't really need it at all and even when I bought it and had it running in the deck for a while, it just wasn't that useful.

When I said that the Stonehorn Dignitary saved me in a a lot of occasions, I was quite serious. Against aggro decks, this put my opponents in a Standstill and regardless how many creatures they had in play, they had no combat step, which was a ok substitute for Gideon. Playing this deck I realised how good Venser was. In most of my games I managed to get enough turns to pull off Venser's ultimate and recurring spells like Blue Sun's Zenith, (White's Sun's Zenith) and flashback Think Twice gave me extra ammo for it. In addition to this, Venser's most neglected 2nd ability, worked really well with White Sun's Zenith. Five Unblockable 2/2 cat tokens can be a scary thing.

As I mentioned before, (Ratchet Bombs) were simply too slow, and I think Oblivion Ring would be a better choice for removal, but after seeing Tom's list I decided to trade the bombs in for the Pristine Talisman instead. (Ponder') was great for situations where I simply drew too many lands, but late game it is horrible and you could probably live without it (since games usually go for a long time anyway).

For the sideboard, I kept some of the cards and put in a Blade package, but it didn't work out too well either so I ended up changing the sideboard.

Here is my current list:

Frankly I am still not sure about Divination, since I haven't done enough play testing to make a decision. But the O-rings are a good addition.

I may want to consider dropping a Divination for another Blue Sun's Zenith. Since, the few games I've played so far I just found I rarely drew that card to make it useful.

Anyhow I hope in the following weeks I'll be able to write about my results and strategies for this deck so...

Stay Tuned & Happy New Year