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By: AKMatt, Matthew H Jones
Jan 05 2015 1:00pm
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While Tron and Mono-Black Control have been two relatively popular options for control-oriented players in recent months, another subset of similar decks has been making decent showings now and again.  UB Control in Pauper has many different flavors, and in some metagames it is exactly the right deck to play.

The three main varieties that seem to resurface often are the mystical teachings version, the ETB triggers version, and the creatureless version.  Each has its distinct advantages and disadvantages.

ETB Triggers

The ETB Triggers variant is probably the truest successor to a popular deck around the time MTGO started offering competitive events in the Pauper format: a deck called Parlor Tricks.  To the best of my knowledge, the deck was created by a player named "KingRitz" on MTGO, and it revolved around lots of removal, a few creatures with triggers on entering the battlefield, some card drawing, some library manipulation, and a slight graveyard recursion theme.  It involved the Grixis color combination, and it made life hell for nearly the full duration of a match before closing in for the kill.

 

The deck was basically three parts Ravnica Block draft deck and 1 part Skred, and it fit its metagame very well, thoroughly stymieing aggressive opponents in a time when the metagame was rife with cheap creature decks and counterspell decks (and not quite so many decks featuring both as we have these days).

A more recent example of the kind of gameplay Parlor Tricks offered would be this concoction by 99999, which showed up in a daily on December 8th:

 

What's fun about this deck is that you get to reuse a lot of your creatures, you get to keep the removal package, and you get to carry over a slight graveyard theme without being completely reliant upon it.  This list focuses a little more on its creatures than what you would typically think of as control, but falls pretty well into the same category as MBC in that respect.  There are various flavors of this deck, and not all of them rely so much on Ninjutsu, but I think it's a pretty solid choice whenever counterspells start trending.  Other variants involve a greater reliance on Undying Evil, which anyone who has had a chance to cast on an evoked Mulldrifter knows is pretty fun.  These versions also tend to utilize Chittering Rats, which seems like it could find its way into this shell, also, if not for the stress it places on the lowish curve on which this deck would like to operate.  Trinket Mage is another fun card that slots well into these kinds of shells.  I was really tempted to include a decklist for UB Trinket here, also, as it operates on the same principles, but unfortunately my searches didn't yield any immediate results for that version of the deck in this post-KTK metagame.

 Mystical Teachings

Mystical Teachings is one of my favorite magic cards, but unfortunately, it's one that also gets a lot worse the more people are delving secrets.  Renowned Mystical Teacher obZen brought this spicy meatball to a prominent showing last month:

 

 

This is a control deck in the classic sense.  You are bringing just one resilient threat to the table, and relying upon your multitude of answers to guide it through the perilous path to victory.  If that doesn't work, it's down to Mulldrifter and Crypt Rats to bring the beats, which isn't something they are especially well-suited for.  Piloting this kind of deck is a very special kind of living on the edge.  You have to navigate very carefully to reach a game state where it's safe to start trying to win.  This approach has had enough success in the past to still be a contender when the right conditions emerge, and I think it's among the stronger options for facing down the dreaded Familiars matchup but it's not particularly well-placed to fight the pure burn decks that generally accompany a metagame packed with Familiars.

Speaking of which, there is a version of UB Control which brings a few answers to the red menace, while matching up favorably against a host of popular decks.

Creatureless Control 

 

Many takes on this deck have proven successful over the last two months.  In part because of this variability in the lists, in part because of its multiple showings in dailies, and mostly because the deck has been a solid performer for me in the 2-man queues, this is the version of UB Control to which I'm going to devote the most focus.  Its role in the metagame so far has been as a fringe deck, and I am convinced it's a little better than that.  The version I've shown above has the most in common with a list played by jsiri84 four weeks ago, on a weekend which saw newplan achieve impressive results with a very similar list.  More recently, fer_magic has posted a strong weekend with the deck, and several other players have made showings over the last two weeks.

The core of the deck couples an edict-based removal packaged (ranging from 10-16) with a standard suite of counterspells, Curse of the Bloody Tome, Evincar's Justice, and Pristine Talisman.  The counts on all of these latter elements tend to be pretty universal, with a 4th Evincar's Justice sometimes appearing in the sideboard or even the maindeck.  In a format where so many games are settled by direct damage, the value of Pristine Talisman cannot be overstated.  Coupled with the fact that it lets you use Evincar's Justice as a win condition, it becomes clear just how essential this card is.

The variability in decklists comes mainly in the card drawing package, the lands, and especially the sideboards (which I would recommend changing going into each and every event, based on recent results).  Regarding the card-drawing package, decklists can focus on either Deep Analysis or Treasure Cruise.  With cruisin' for a bruisin' being all the rage, these days, it's easy to be drawn to the potent combination of Forbidden Alchemy and Treasure Cruise, but my experience has led me to the conclusion that the original specimen appears to be broken.

Deep Analysis vs. Treasure Cruise

Deep Analysis has many points in its favor in my experience:

  • Hedges against discard effects.
  • Less likely to get stuck in hand.
  • Can target opponents for the coup-de-grace.
  • Draws 1 more card total.
  • Amusing flavor text.

It does have a couple significant drawbacks, of course:

  • Does not have the potential to be as mana efficient as Treasure Cruise.
  • In certain matchups, the 3 points of life really matter.

I found that the total impact of Deep Analysis in a game made it well worth the nod over Treasure Cruise, which has a more immediate impact in a single turn.  With as much incidental setup as this deck does, however, a single copy of Treasure Cruise seems like a worthwhile inclusion.  Forbidden Alchemy, another fine choice and natural inclusion alongside Treasure Cruise, missed my list due to incongruences with a sideboard plan that I take against many of the format's popular archetypes.  Namely, sideboarding out win conditions.

This sounds stupid, of course.  The point of most Magic decks is to win.  Given the preponderance of decks that play fewer than 20 creatures and a lot of cycling/cantrip effects, however, it becomes feasible to play a deck where your win condition is just having more answers than your opponent has threats, and carefully maintaining a safety buffer that will lead to them decking out first.  Casting that Preordain shouldn't necessarily be a preordained action.

The most extreme example of this would be the "Eye Candy" decks, also known as UR Fiend or UR Cyclops.  I don't know that I've ever seen a version of this deck packing more than 14 creatures.  Between your host of edict effects and the certainty that you only need to counter creatures, you are more than equipped to stop this deck from ever doing anything, and it's as close to a 100% matchup as I've ever seen in Magic.  Hexproof is similar, though without quite as many cantrips on their side, you have to monitor your card drawing a little more carefully if you want to go the Curse-less route.  Granted, we're probably leaving Evincar's Justice in against both archetypes, so we aren't truly without win conditions.

The Tron matchup is a wholly different matter.  Evincar's Justice just isn't very good against them.  However, like the two matchups previously mentioned, they have very few ways to actually win the game, and they have an abundance of card drawing to get them there.  Game 1 against Tron is often a little more difficult than the post-sideboard games in my experience, though perfectly winnable, as long as you can get to a pair of Counterspells and hold onto them for the big Rolling Thunders.  Post-board, with your curses and justices typically going out for some combination of countermagic and Duress (and don't forget Crypt Incursion), you can always count on them cycling through their deck a bit in the early turns.  Here, Deep Analysis shines as the game-ender.  Crypt Incursion often works well as a Rolling Thunder foil that Pyroblast can't hit.  Tron players prefer to keep their creatures out of the exile zone, so if you're careful with your own Bojuka Bogs, you should frequently be able to find 9 life at instant speed, and it's rare for them to pour that much overkill into casting a spell against a counterspell deck.

Familiars can also present this weakness.  Well ... all right, saying that Familiars presents any weakness is a bit of false advertising.  If I had to name one deck that I consider to be the very best in the current Pauper format, Familiars would be that deck.  That said, my experience against it in the 2-man queues with this deck has been very positive.  I would chalk this mostly up to opponents' unfamiliarity with the matchup, however, as I don't see Familiars losing very many matches where they just outwait you and go off with 8 cards after the right draw step while you're sitting on only 2 or 3 instants to answer.  If they run out early familiars, you typically gain the upper hand, as you can leverage this into a scenario where you can actually survive the turn they play their Sage's Row Denizen, and clean up with an Evincar's Justice or two the next turn.

Mono-Black Control can similarly be threat-light against you game 1, though they have more than enough juice in the sideboard to fix the problem, and you will have trouble with all the land destruction and hand disruption replacing their spot removal post-board.  I would say this matchup is pretty close to 50%, with game 1 usually going to the UB deck and post-board games favoring the mono-black player.  With the recent fall-off in MBC, it's not too troubling to have a rough go of it post-boards against this deck.  You still have a pretty good shot with Duress coming in to help.  This is a matchup where you don't need quite as many of the edict effects because their creatures aren't very fast, and you can sweep many of them with Evincar's Justice.

When it comes to the Burn matchup, it depends on how many creatures they are running.  If they are the 12-creature variant, you will be in good shape, as they'll have 12 fewer cards that can hurt you, giving you time to reach a game state of Pristine Talisman with Counterspell backup.  If they are the completely creatureless variant, game 1 will probably be a loss, but you can still come back in the post-board games with your removal minimized and good things like Duress and Hydroblast to save your bacon.  Brush With Death is very solid in both cases, and Syphon Life should help, too.  If you are running Annul and they are running Curse of the Pierced Heart you may as well replace a removal spell, as something is better than nothing.

Affinity is a hard one to call, because I have not played against very much of it.  Results with the Deep Analysis version would indicate this is another 50-50 matchup, but this is where the Treasure Cruise and Forbidden Alchemy version really performed well.  Whenever the machines are on the march, it's probably worth making the switch to that card drawing engine and foregoing the cuteness of siding out Curse.

I delayed mention of the Delver matchup about as long as I could because, well ... it's not great.  It's a pretty well-known attribute of Pauper control decks that they tend to flounder against the mono-blue Delver matchup.  On the other hand, you perform excellently against the UR Delver-Control variants, for the same reason your matchup against the Fiend-focused UR decks is so good.  They just don't run very many creatures.  In game 1, the key against Delver is to get them with your instant-speed removal in such a way that you blank a Spellstutter Sprite.  It's not common that this works out as you want it to, but it does happen, and you can win when you pull this off and chain it into a 2-for-1 Evincar's Justice.  After sideboarding, Snuff Out improves the matchup a little, but not by much.  The same goes for Shrivel.  Just know that on heavy Delver weekends, UB Control is not the best choice.

There are, of course, many other decks in the Pauper format, and one of the reasons I enjoy this version of UB Control is that the majority of them are creature-oriented.  Whether it's focusing on an aggressive or midrange strategy that uses creatures to win the game, or focusing on removal that affects creatures, you will run into a lot of things that just play right into your hands, when it comes to rogue decks.

Sideboard Options

There are plenty of sideboard options worth considering, and it all depends on what you expect going into the event.  The maindeck configuration I listed for this article is specifically geared for the Hexproof and Kiln Fiend matchups, as both were popular the weekend I ran it, and thus the sideboard skimped on extra gas for these matchups.  If you didn't have Devour Flesh in the main, it might be worth worrying a little more about those matchups.

Duress

One mistake I think I made in crafting that particular sideboard is loading up too heavily on countermagic.  In my experience, the matchups where countermagic is good, discard effects are even better.  I would not hesitate to run four copies of Duress in the board.

Crypt Incursion

Crypt Incursion is a card I have come to love in many matchups, but especially against UR decks and Fangren Marauders.  Life gain and graveyard hate are both good things to have at instant speed.  It's quite good against a lethal Fling also, while being a lot less susceptible to Pyroblast than various forms of countermagic.  I like it better than Faerie Macabre in some matchups, but of course there are times when being free and not a spell is better.

Snuff Out

Snuff Out is extra special.  This lets you actually break through various Counterspell decks' defenses in the mid-game skirmishes.

Shrivel

Shrivel is great against enough decks to merit two slots in the sideboard, I feel.  When Delver and Familiars are ascendant, it would probably be better to stock additional copies of Snuff Out in this slot.

Choking Sands

Land destruction is an option I haven't really tested, but which has plenty of potential.  I did face a deck recently in which it would have helped, but I also feel like I misplayed the match (against Simic Growth) and could have won if I picked better fights with Counterspell.

Hydroblast Syphon Life Brush With Death

It's hard to decide the number of slots to devote to alternate win conditions against Burn.  2 seems to work fairly well for me, and the additional help from Duress and Hydroblast usually gives me the time to find them.  If you ever get to the point where you are casting Brush With Death off of Pristine Talisman against Burn, it's going to be difficult for them to recover.

Recoil

Recoil is a card that I have seen in some lists, and it seems pretty fun.  I have yet to try it out, but it might be worth it.  It's probably good in any situation where land destruction would be good, as well as being another functional card against creatureless Burn decks.

Wrapping Up

While it's not going to alter the Pauper landscape, UB control is a metagame call that can be well worth considering.  It has many overwhelmingly favored matchups, and only one extremely difficult one among the popular decks (even if it is a doozy of an Achilles heel to have).  Even if it's not an archetype you would enjoy playing, the possibility of facing one of these decks in a daily should at least be present in your mind.

8 Comments

I love that we are getting by ScionOfJustice at Mon, 01/05/2015 - 13:22
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I love that we are getting more people interested and writing about pauper. Well done.

I thought about playing by Joe Fiorini at Mon, 01/05/2015 - 19:38
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I thought about playing pauper before. I can afford it, and it seems fun.

Pauper is a really fun by AKMatt at Mon, 01/05/2015 - 21:17
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Pauper is a really fun format. It has a few dominant staples of the meta game, but there are a host of decks just outside the top tier which can and do frequently make good showings. One of my favorite aspects of the format is that for the price of a single Standard deck you can own most if the competitive archetypes.

Maybe I could start by taking by Joe Fiorini at Tue, 01/06/2015 - 09:24
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Maybe I could start by taking all the rares and uncommon cards out of my delver deck...

And Daze would keep it from by Pujols_Teh_Destroyer at Tue, 01/06/2015 - 20:38
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And Daze would keep it from being a "cheap" deck. :)

I built a U/R Control deck, by Joe Fiorini at Wed, 01/07/2015 - 06:17
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I built a U/R Control deck, because it seemed closer to my Delver list than the mono blue versions. I only had to spend a ticket and leftover credit to finsh it too.

no love for Trinket? by ahniwa at Wed, 01/07/2015 - 11:20
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No love for UB Trinket Control? It's my favorite UB Control list for Pauper.

I gave Trinket Mage a mention by AKMatt at Wed, 01/07/2015 - 14:59
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I gave Trinket Mage a mention in the ETB portion, but at the time I was writing this I couldn't find an example of a Trinket Mage list that put up recent results. One thing I do really enjoy about the Trinket Control lists is the tendency to also include Crypt Rats, which remains awesome.