Simon Says: How to Sideboard with U/W Control in Modern
I believe one of the biggest mistakes players make is to undervalue their sideboard. Statistically, you will play 50 per cent more post-board games than you will pre-board, so having access to a great sideboard is an extremely important characteristic in deck selection. U/W Control—the deck I introduced you to last week—delivers on this in spades. You get to run a smorgasbord of efficient disruption, powerful threats, and oppressive hosers; consequentially, almost every single matchup improves for U/W in post-board games. The jury’s still out on what the best overall deck in Modern is, but I think U/W Control has arguably the strongest sideboard.
Seeing as how Liliana of the Veil is the bane of your entire existence while playing U/W, packing a Celestial Purge is essential. Purge has a lot more uses than that though – it snipes all sorts of nasty permanents like Blood Moon, Nahiri, and Tasigur.
Ceremonious Rejection is a recent change to combat Eldrazi Tron, and it’s been serving it’s purpose very well. Being able to counter a Chalice for one on the draw is crucial, and Rejection is also good against Robots and Lantern.
Dispel has been super impressive as of late—it’s great in most of the combo and control matches, but the real kicker is how good it is against Collected Company.
As much as it pains me to say this, I think running Elspeth in the maindeck isn’t worth the risk. The biggest problem with Elspeth is (obviously) that she costs six, and she’s going to be dead in your hand for a large portion of the game. That, combined with the fact that she forces you to tap-out against combo opponents, makes her too awkward to run in the maindeck. However, as a sideboard card against midrange, control, and slower aggro decks, Elspeth is the most powerful card in your 75.
There’s a reason that Engineered Explosives are literally almost worth their weight in gold (yes, I did the actual math), and it’s because EE is incredibly versatile removal. I’m actually very close to maindecking a copy, but I haven’t quite found a cut that I’m happy with.
There isn’t any card in the 75 that’s responsible for more free wins than Geist of Saint Traft, and the look on a combo opponent’s face when they realize they only have three turns to kill you is priceless. As a general rule of thumb, I bring the Geists in when I take the wraths out, and that rule has served me well.
Porphyry Nodes may just be the best card you’ve never heard of (sorry Portent, but you’re too mainstream now), and it’s been putting in serious work for me against all sorts of creature decks. Even playing Nodes against one creature is really strong, unless your opponent commits to dumping their entire hand immediately, then they basically just have to forfeit their turn in order to get the Nodes off the board, and that gives you a huge tempo advantage.
Rest in Peace is obviously a slam dunk against decks like Living End, Grishoalbrand, and Dredge, but it’s also very effective against Death’s Shadow decks. I generally keep Snapcasters in when I side in RIP, because when you resolve RIP against a deck that you brought it in for, then you’re almost always in great shape anyway.
Stony Silence is similar to RIP in the sense that when you bring it in, it usually becomes the best card in your deck. Stony is obviously good against Robots and Lantern, but it’s also strong against Tron, as well as serviceable against E-Tron, Mono-White D&T, and Skred Red (although I only usually bring in one copy for these matchups).
Surgical Extraction may not be as powerful as Rest in Peace, but it’s a lot harder to deal with. Decks like Dredge can bring in Abrupt Decay to destroy RIP, but Surgical still does a great job of hosing their grave while dodging their sideboarded answers. You can also bring Surgical in against Tron and Valakut, as Ghost Quarter and Snapcaster Mage can team up with it to cripple their deck substantially.
Timely Reinforcements is basically Time Walk + Moat against the aggro decks of the format. Ok, maybe that’s pushing it a little bit, but slamming a Timely with both modes active still feels good. If I’m being honest, Timely doesn’t get sided-in enough for me to be completely happy with it, but it’s a concession towards burn that also puts in some work against the other aggro decks.
It would take a massive amount of time to go over my sideboard strategy for every deck in the format, so I’ll just briefly touch on some of the most common matchups. For reference, here is the full 75 I described last week:
Simon Tubello, U/W Control:
OUT: Shadow of Doubt x1, Snapcaster Mage x3, Spell Snare x1,
IN: Ceremonious Rejection x1, Elspeth Sun’s Champion x1, Engineered Explosives x1, Porphyry Nodes x1, Stony Silence x1
Earlier I mentioned that I basically never side Snapcasters out, so I thought it would be appropriate to immediately fire-off a post-board strategy that involves removing them. The thing with E-Tron is that they usually bring in Relic of Progenitus, and the 2/1 body is also fairly irrelevant against the big Eldrazi, so this is one of the few scenarios I like to take them out in. With some tuning I’ve done in the past month, I think this matchup is favourable for UW, but E-Tron can still have some explosive draws that are incredibly tough to beat.
Grixis Death’s Shadow
OUT: Blessed Alliance x2, Logic Knot x1, Spell Snare x1
IN: Celestial Purge x1, Elspeth Sun’s Champion x1, Rest in Peace x2
This matchup can be hard if your opponent has multiple pieces of hand disruption into Liliana of the Veil, but otherwise you’re a reasonable favourite. Rest in Peace is an absolute house, and even though Elspeth can be hard to navigate through hand disruption and counterspells, she’s nigh-unbeatable once in play.
OUT: Blessed Alliance x2, Cryptic Command x2, Mana Leak x1, Negate x1,
IN: Dispel x1, Elspeth Sun’s Champion x1, Engineered Explosives x1, Porphyry Nodes x1, Surgical Extraction x1, Timely Reinforcements x1
Abzan CoCo is a tricky matchup, but I think the sideboard plan is good enough that UW is at least even against it, if not slightly favoured. It’s also worth mentioning that infinite life isn’t the end of the game, because you can stabilize the board with wraths and planeswalkers long enough to finish your opponent off by Ancestraling them to death (and yes, I’ve done this before – it was awesome).
OUT: Condemn x1, Supreme Verdict x3
IN: Geist of Saint Traft x3, Surgical Extraction x1
This used to be a good matchup for UW, but the list I’m currently running right now isn’t very heavy on counterspells, so I’d say this one’s pretty close to even. Shadow of doubt is sick, but you’ll still need to draw some number of GQs and counterspells if you want to win. Or just play a Geist of Saint Talent on turn three and bludgeon your way to victory.
OUT: Ancestral Vision x3, Negate x2, Shadow of Doubt x1
IN: Ceremonious Rejection x1, Engineered Explosives x1, Porphyry Nodes x1, Stony Silence x2, Timely Reinforcements x1
When you’re on the draw you’ll sometimes be too slow to beat robos, but overall this matchups is still pretty good for UW. Spell Snare is an absolute beating, and once you hit wrath mana it’s easy to close the game out, not to mention the fact that you have two copies of Stony Silence. Blood moon can dummy you if you’re not careful, so make sure you fetch out basics as often as possible.
OUT: Ancestral Vision x3, Cryptic Command x1, Jace Architect of Thought x1 Supreme Verdict x1, Think Twice x1
IN: Celestial Purge x1, Dispel x1, Engineered Explosives x1, Geist of Saint Traft x3, Timely Reinforcements x1
Burn is one of the tougher matchups, especially pre-board when you don’t have a good way to apply pressure. The Geists help out a lot in the post-board games, but they’ll still be nail-biters.
OUT: Blessed Alliance x2, Condemn x1, Gideon Jura x1, Supreme Verdict x3,
IN: Ceremonious Rejection x1, Geist of Saint Traft x3, Stony Silence x2, Surgical Extraction x1
Almost every Tron player is convinced that they’re favoured against control, but unless they’re packing some serious anti-control tech, then this is one of UW’s best matchups (second only to Cheerios). My personal match record is 34-1 against G/x Tron with UW, and once you play against it a couple of times it’s easy to see why – Path is extremely effective at dealing with all of their big creatures, and it’s very hard for them to ever resolve Karn or Ugin. On top of that, you have GQs to disrupt their Tron lands and a great sideboard plan.
That about wraps it up for the sideboard plans, but feel free ask about any other matchups in the comment section. In the final part of the article, I’ll be going over some of the cards that the other UW lists are playing, and explaining why I’ve opted to steer clear of them – I’ll also be taking a look at a sweet new configuration that makes use of the Legendary Planeswalker rule.
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.