Simon Says: How NOT to build U/W Control in Modern
For the final segment of my U/W Control article, I’m going to talk a bit about some of the cards that I’ve tested with (and other U/W lists are playing) which I think are either sub-optimal or poorly positioned. I’ll also be briefly taking a look at how the new Legendary Planeswalker rule impacts the deck.
The Hall of Shame
I’ve played with Crucible of Worlds a lot in this deck, but I think it’s underwhelming right now. Sure it’s great at grinding out the opponent if it sits in play for a bunch of turns, but in U/W it takes a little too long to leverage value out of it for most matchups.
I’ve had a lot of people ask about why I’m not playing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and the reasoning is that he’s a lot worse than Gideon Jura at stabilizing the board and grinding out creatures, which is what you want in a control deck.
Serum Visions was another card that maintained a few of slots in this list for a while, but I’ve been liking Think Twice and Shadow of Doubt as replacements for it recently.hey let you keep more mana open during opponent’s turns. I’ve also tried replacing the Ancestrals with Serums, but this is a deck that can need nine lands to play Gideon + Cryptic, so actually drawing the cards is much more important. Serum still does fit the archetype, but when you’re consistently topping both cards with it, then you’re not getting as much out of it as the other decks in the format are. Do I think Serum Visions is a better Magic card, in general, than AV, Think Twice, and Shadow of Doubt? Absolutely. Does that mean it’s better in this specific deck? No.
I try to avoid maindecking good targets for my opponent’s removal, so these are more sideboard options. I like Vendilion Clique more than Spell Queller as a way to disrupt the opponent and apply pressure, but both of these simply pale in comparison to Geist of Saint Traft. Geist may not interact with the opponent’s cards in the same way that the other two creatures do, but it disrupts the opponent in a much more direct sense: it just kills them in three combat steps.
Sphinx’s Revelation is one of my favourite cards ever, and the amount of Revs I’ve cast must be well into the triple-digits, so this is one that really hurts to not play. Despite my fondness for the card, I just think it’s a little bit too clunky when compared to AV. Sure, it’s an insane topdeck, but it’s also nearly dead in your hand until turn six, and even then you need to spend your whole turn casting it. Rev and AV are equally bad and clunky against aggro, but AV is better against control (because it’s much harder to counter) and combo (because it gives the opponent a chance to resolve something like a Gifts Ungiven or Ad Nauseum). These cards are relatively even against midrange decks that run hand disruption (AV can dodge the disruption, but Rev is a much more powerful topdeck in a long, grindy game), but against Grixis Shadow specifically, the AVs are much better, as trying to navigate Rev through up to ten pieces of hand disruption, four Stubborn Denials, and four Snapcasters is like trying to do brain surgery with a spoon.
Alright, I guess I should probably explain a bit as to why I’ve come to a conclusion that differs substantially from that of almost everyone else who plays this archetype. The main problem I have with it is pretty simple: you have to cast it on your mainphase, and that really sucks when you have a deck full of counterspells. It’s not even just the two-mana ones – having to pay two mana on your mainphase can also take you off Cryptic and Snap-Leak/Negate. Seas is similarly bad with Snapcaster (and Logic Knot) because it doesn’t put anything in the graveyard. Sure, sometimes you colour-screw an opponent for a little bit, but your main spot removal is Path to Exile, so there are plenty of times when you’ll give them the basic they need anyway. After testing substantially with it, I found that I was much worse-off by trying to play something as clunky as Spreading Seas that has such a smalleffect on most games; in fact, the only matchups where I would prefer Seas over Shadow of Doubt or Think Twice are: Eldrazi-Tron, G/x Tron, Merfolk, and Living End. Among those matchups, Merfolk and Living End together comprise a whopping 3% of the meta, and you’re already a 90% favourite against G/x Tron. I suspect that people saw the Seas list first and haven’t thought to change it since, but you’ll be much better off running different cantrips.
Tectonic Edge sees a lot of play alongside Spreading Seas, and it’s another card choice that I find to be poor. Again, the plan of attacking the opponent’s mana base is a bad one for U/W, so for killing utility lands it makes much more sense to play Ghost Quarter, as it has fewer restrictions and is able to fix your own mana (which saves your skin more often than you’d think). Tec Edge is preferable to GQ against Titanshift, but GQ is better in almost every other matchup – especially Robots.
I love Wall of Omens as much as the next control player, but I’m sad to say that it just doesn’t block enough things now that all these huge Death’s Shadows and Eldrazi are running around. If I was still running Restoration Angel (an unfortunate victim of the Fatal Push printing), then I could see squeezing a few walls in, but as it stands it’s just another mediocre card that forces you to tap out on your mainphase and lowers your spell-count for Snapcaster.
I’m aware that the popular U/W Control build attempts to do something different from my variant by being more of a tap-out style deck, but I just haven’t been impressed with the land disruption package in my playtesting. Fundamentally, my configuration still has a lot of the same cards as the common version (especially the powerful sideboard), so I’m not surprised that people have still found success with what I consider to be sub-optimal flex slots. Other lists are starting to catch on to some of the spicy meatballs that I’ve been running for a while now (like Secure the Wastes, Shadow of Doubt, and even Porphyry Nodes), so hopefully it won’t be too long before everyone ditches the Spreading Seas plan.
I’ve tried playing Gideon of the Trials in this deck, and I did find it to be very good, but it had the unfortunate side-effect of infringing on the Gideon Jura slots. Jura is one of the best cards in your deck in so many different matchups, and has been responsible for massacring hundreds of opponents for me. With all this in mind, little Gideon just didn’t make the cut—but with this new rule change that’s no longer a problem.
U/W Control: Gideon Party, Simon Tubello
I’ve started testing with this build already, and it’s looking really promising. The mana is a little worse (hence the 2nd Mystic Gate), but having Jura and GotT on the field is heinous for any opponents trying to play creatures. However, the real power of GotT is that now you can actually present a clock against combo decks pre-board. Because of this, I’ve switched up the sideboard a bit. You don’t need Geist as badly anymore now that you can apply some pressure, so Vendilion Clique has been swapped in, as it provides a little more disruption. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar still isn’t where I want to be in the maindeck (too often the knight token will get hit with a Fatal Push and he’ll just be killed), but as a sideboard option against midrange and control decks, he’s incredibly strong. Ally of Talent is also serviceable against combo, because he hits for more damage than Gideon Jura at a lower cost.
Well, that wraps up my deck tech for U/W Control – this isn’t a deck that will get very many “free” wins, but it has a lot of solid matchups across the metagame, and it guarantees that you’ll be able to have an interactive game of Magic, no matter what bizarre Modern deck you end up paired against.