Simon Says: How to build UW Control in Modern
It seems that with the rise of Death’s Shadow, a lot of people have been taking a keen interest in U/W Control, and some notable pros have also posted content about the archetype. I’m here to say that a lot of people have been building the deck incorrectly, and U/W Control is way better than people think it is.
First off, who am I to say that PT and GP winning pros (looking at you, Shaun and Cory) are playing a bad version of a deck type that they’ve gained considerable acclaim crushing scrubs with?
Well, I’m a guy who’s been playing control in almost every Modern and Standard format since RTR, and I’ve also been rumbling with U/W for the better part of half-a-year now — for a time, I was even playing this deck seven days a week. I’m not saying that you should blindly trust my judgement on this, but hopefully you’ll see that my card choices have solid reasoning behind them.
Alright, now let’s get to the good stuff. Here’s the decklist I’m currently playing:
Simon Tubello, U/W Control
This list is the result of extensive trial and error, hundreds of reps, and significant input from the scrubs that I test with (especially my partner in crime Kevin Besta).
I figured I’d start off with the most vanilla UW staples and work my way down to the real spicy meatballs. Mana Leak may be about as standard as it gets for a control deck, but it’s cheap and easy to cast, which makes it perfect for stopping your opponent from killing you before there’s a chance to play your other sweet cards.
Path is another card that doesn’t seem particularly exciting, but it’s really the backbone of the deck, and I don’t think there’s much that needs to be said about its power level.
Snapcaster Mage is the other cornerstone of U/W control. It’s Path to Exile 5-8, a way to pressure Planeswalkers, an ambush bear, a chump blocker, a card advantage engine, and a win condition all rolled into one. I think it’s absurd to play any less than four copies of this, and it’s probably the card that gets sided-out least often.
While Negate might not be spicy it its own right, running two copies maindeck might surprise a few people. However, Negate has been a consistent all-star (que dank Shrek meme), and with the plethora of creature removal you have, Negate does a great job of helping the pre-board combo/control matchups. I was even maindecking three not too long ago, but I swapped the third out to hedge against the Eldrazi Tron matchup.
I’d say that in about 25% of your games, Supreme Verdict is the worst card in your deck – basically any castable spell would be better — even a Slitherblade. In another 25% of your games, Supreme Verdict is an over-costed removal spell that can potentially net you a 2-for-1. However, in the remaining 50%, Supreme Verdict is easily the best card in your deck, and acts as the perfect way to stabilize a board that you’re overwhelmed on.
When you get to Spell Snare basically anything you feel like a genius, and getting to Snare something like a turn-two Bob or Cranial plating when you’re on the draw can steal you a game that you might otherwise have no business winning. In a deck full of clunky cards, having something that trades up in mana is hugely important to regain some tempo, even if Snare ends up dead in your hand sometimes. I would also strongly advise to side Snare out against Living End – even if you come across some absurd scenario where you somehow could’ve Snared your own Negate that was Ricochet Trapped towards your Rest in Peace, then you should just admit that you got bodied.
Cryptic Command has bailed me out of more situations than I care to count, and it’s easily one of the most powerful cards in the deck.
Gideon Jura feels like he came straight out of a Pulp Fiction sermon to protect you getting dumpstered and unleash his vengeance upon the opposing board state. I really can’t say enough about how absolutely insane this card is against aggro and midrange decks – he’s a perfect follow-up to a wrath, grinds all sorts of creature decks completely out of the game, and often kills the opponent in three hits.
Think Twice doesn’t seem too exciting, but it’s a great curve-filler that generates some card advantage while letting you keep mana open on your opponent’s turns.
A lot of other U/W lists I’ve seen appear to not be on the Ancestral Vision plan, but I just don’t see why not (you’re welcome Luis). Sure, if the games are ending by turn five, then playing AVs in your deck would be pretty loose, but that’s just not the case here. Win or lose, the vast majority of games with this deck last eight turns at the very least, and that’s plenty of time to suspend an AV that was drawn several turns into the game. AV is also great against all the black midrange decks like Grixis Shadow, because it hides itself from their hand disruption and generates card advantage that’s extremely hard to grind through. That being said, the card is still clunky, and I’m not afraid to side them out against decks like Burn and Robos.
Having some incidental lifegain is always welcome in control decks, and Blessed Alliance does a solid job of stabilizing the board while keeping your life total above the DAAANGER ZONE. It’s also great for dealing with annoying cards like Etched Champion and Reality Smasher, while also acting as a gain-four in a pinch (I even got to Alliance, Snap, Alliance in response to a lethal Scapeshift once). Some people think that Alliance is good against Death’s Shadow (since you can make your opponent gain four), but I consider them a liability because of how hand disruption can snipe them in the pre-combat mainphase, and they only kill small shadows with lifegain.
Logic Knot is usually very close to Counterspell in my games, but I would never run more than one in a deck that has four Snapcasters and zero Thoughtscours.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to play infinite copies of Path to Exile, so a Condemn has squeaked its way into the 75. I’ve actually been reasonably happy with Condemn, as it’s often better than Path in the first few turns of the game. It suffers from some of the same weaknesses to hand disruption that Blessed Alliance does, but the fact that it’s a wrath for Death’s Shadow is awesome.
Detention Sphere is remarkably well positioned now that there are few Abrupt Decays milling about. It may be a little on the chunky side, but having another catch-all is super strong.
Mindsculptor this is not, but it’s still a great card all the same. The -2 is the main strength of Architect of Thought, and even when you play him and -2 to have him die immediately after, that’s still decent. When you get to -2 multiple times is where he really starts to pull his weight, and the +1 can help keep him alive until you’re able to wrath, while also randomly hosing cards like Lingering Souls. Jace doesn’t reach ultimate very quickly, but the text on it is pretty close to “win the game” against a lot of decks, so it’s hard to complain.
Getting to bamboozle opposing fetches and Scapeshifts with Shadow of Doubt is like living the dream, but the fact that it replaces itself is what makes this card good; also, a big part of the appeal with SoD is that you don’t have to run it out like an idiot on your mainphase *cough* Spreading Seas *cough*.
Secure the Wastes is the real deal. You’d probably be surprised by how good just making a bunch of random dorks is in Modern, but being able to spew out an army of guys at instant speed is fantastic. Even sometimes just two or three warriors is enough to pressure opposing walkers and life totals while you keep counter magic up, and it works similarly well on defense when you’re in sore need of chump blockers or creatures able to trade. Once you get into the late stages of the game, this card becomes ridiculously powerful, and often ends the game when you get to resolve it for X = 6 or greater.
Well, that’s it for the maindeck. It’s primarily configured to give you good matchups against midrange creature decks like E-Tron and Grixis Shadow, while still having game against control and hyper-aggressive strategies. The combos matchups can be sketchy pre-board, and they’re largely contingent on how many Supreme Verdicts and Path to Exiles you can avoid drawing; however, that’s where the sideboard really comes in. Literally – I mean if you ever play against Cheerios, then you get to bring in like twelve cards and it’s just complete a massacre.
Anyway, make sure you’re on the lookout for next part of the article, where I delve into the strongest part of U/W Control: the sideboard.
If you liked Simon’s article and are hungry for more Modern come out and join us this Sunday for our Modern 1k Showdown at Face to Face Games Toronto. If you can’t make that, mark your calendar for Sept. 16 when we’ll be holding our inaugural Open+ 5K which will be Modern and hand out travel stipends and invites to the SCG Invitational for both first and second place.