Really? Control in modern?

I’m taking a break from standard this week so I have some time to get the new cards online and get some decks tested, but let me just say that I hadn’t seen the card Hour of Devastation until this week so that explains my color choices in the last article.

Now, you don’t really need white since devastation is just a better and cheaper revelation. For this week, I will talk about how I got my love of uw transferred to modern. I had been looking for a deck to play Sphinx’s Revelation in since it rotated out of standard, and when the eldrazi took over modern previous winter, the opportunity finally came. Supreme Verdict was an absolute beast in that format and while uw eldrazi was the best deck at the time uw control at least had a good eldrazi matchup.

After Eye of Ugin was banned modern became wide open again which, as we all know, is a poor sign for control mages. I briefly reconnected with the deck while preparing for the WMC but we didn’t spend that much time on it. Then came GP Copenhagen in late May with GP Las Vegas soon after and I took the opportunity to continue working on the deck. I have GP Birmingham coming up so I have been playing the deck a lot the last couple of months and while I’m no modern master (I didn’t even like the last Modern Masters set) I think I’ve gained a lot of insight into the deck that could be valuable to share.

The first question to answer is if you want to play Ancestral Vision or not. For a while, I thought it was about whether you wanted to be better against creature decks or combo decks since ancestral usually leads away from Wall of Omens and lots of planeswalkers, but now I think it’s just about card flow and consistency. Ancestral Vision is obviously a powerful card but oftentimes drawing three cards on turn 5 is just not as necessary as seeing an extra card or two on turns 3 and 4. You see, the real reason uw can be successful in modern is because of Supreme Verdict and white sideboard cards. You would think that modern having so many different archetypes that you can all realistically run into during a large tournament would make it impossible for control to succeed, but for the most part modern is all creature decks and decks that fold to various hate pieces backed by a counterspell and/or a verdict. This is quite a statement and should be looked into a bit more thoroughly. Let’s look at the decks presented in Reid Duke’s recent article on the modern metagame (https://www.channelfireball.com/articles/the-state-of-modern-july-2017/) and how uw stacks up against them. First, my current decklist:

UW Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (2)
Snapcaster Mage

Spells (33)
Path to Exile
Serum Visions
Spreading Seas
Wall of Omens
Blessed Alliance
Negate
Gideon of the Trials
Detention Sphere
Cryptic Command
Supreme Verdict
Jace, Architect of Thought
Leyline of Sanctity
Gideon Jura
Sphinx's Revelation
Lands (25)
Island
Plains
Celestial Colonnade
Flooded Strand
Hallowed Fountain
Tectonic Edge
Mystic Gate

Sideboard (15)
Leyline of Sanctity
Stony Silence
Spell Queller
Vendilion Clique
Rest in Peace
Dispel
Blessed Alliance
Jace, Architect of Thought
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Grafdigger's Cage
Celestial Purge
Timely Reinforcements

At least one kid must dream of a
boogeyman that looks like this

Death’s Shadow:

The consensus best deck relies on its namesake and a few more 1 mana black threats backed by discard, Lilianas and cheap counters. They often can’t play out more than one threat at a time because of verdict and that means that pretty much all of our spells buy us at least one turn. The goal is to get to a point where you either run them out of threats or can remove their current one at the end of their turn so you can untap and say go with Cryptic Command up and a clear board (as is often the goal when you play a deck with Cryptic Command). Outside of that general plan we have some jokers like Gideon of the Trials (who is, ironically, still in the deck on a trial basis) and Spreading Seas.

Gideon shines here as, since they often only have one big guy in play, he can bubble it and force them to extend into verdict. He is also great at pressuring Liliana of the Veil and Liliana, the Last Hope varieties, and they pretty much can’t remove him without combat damage. Spreading Seas has gotten worse since most shadow players started including blue but it can still be quite useful to keep them from turn 3 Liliana and sometimes off black mana altogether. The matchup has gotten a bit harder compared to when it was Jund and the color swap is actually a big reason for cutting Ancestral Vision. Turn 1 suspend used to be pretty much gg but when they have the possibility of countering it turn 5 it can completely destroy the plan you had for the game.  On the bright side, some people have continued switching colors to include Lingering Souls. That seems like a bad thing for a control deck but it really just makes them slower and slow is good. Verdict is already often just a 1-for-1 so killing 2 or 4 tokens isn’t that much of a downgrade and if they just have 2 in play you can easily just take 2 damage for some turns. 

Maybe not format breaking anymore, but still quite gross

Eldrazi Tron:  I think I would actually rather play against the pre ban uw eldrazi deck than this since tron lands powering out Karn, Liberated and huge Walking Ballistas is pretty annoying. Chalice of the Void can also be a bitch but without ancestral, but at least you no longer actually get spells countered and you can stock up spells to cast when you finally draw a Detention Sphere. And now if they remove the sphere the chalices do nothing. You will lose some games to their nut draws, but so will every other deck in the format; there’s a reason it’s number two on the list. Verdict is sick here and so is Blessed Alliance. I used to have two Ceremonious Rejection in the board for this and regular tron and they are still in consideration. I saw Corey Burkhart had a Dismember in his list as another way of getting around chalice and I will give it a try at some point. Losing 4 life isn’t typically in a control decks best interests, though.

Are the rest of the creatures in modern finally catching up to the Lhurgoyf?

BGx: Liliana of the Veil is your main concern here as verdict deals with the rest of their deck. Often in the midgame, they will play a discard spell and take your verdict if you have one and then extend the board to kill you quickly. In this spot, it’s super important to have 4 verdicts so you have a good shot at finding one to stay in the game. Of course you can also just start the game with a Leyline of Sanctity in play and it’ll be smooth sailing. One interesting thing we realized in GP Las Vegas is that Abzan cannot beat a Rest in Peace on the board. Their threats are Grim Flayer, Tarmogoyf, Lingering Souls and Scavenging Ooze (sometimes a Siege Rhino will sneak in as well but that is manageable to put it mildly) and it’s pretty intuitive for them to board out Abrupt Decay. All these matchups usually go the same way; either you win easily or the games are very close and interesting (and often winnable), can’t ask for more in a matchup. 

Collected Company:  The infinite combo with Kitchen Finks and Viscera Seer have added another infinite combo and it’s a doozy. I can’t figure out if this is a good matchup but I know it was bad when I played Ancestral Vision. Supreme Verdict should be lights out since it is more creature based than any of the previous decks but Kitchen Finks, Eternal Witness and especially Selfless Spirit give them a lot of counterplay to it. I try to always save a Path to Exile for the spirit and after board Rest in Peace helps out against the other two while Grafdigger’s Cage handles finks along with Collected Company and Chord of Calling. Wall and the extra planeswalkers are definitely better here than vision was but I’m not sure if it’s enough to turn it around. Also note that this is the first matchup where Leyline of Sanctity isn’t good. The elves and humans company decks have far less resilience in the face of verdict and play out pretty much as you’d expect a creature deck against a control deck to do. 

A noncreature spell you’re happy to see; it means creatures en masse

Hatebears:  Maybe I was a bit too brash above saying you’re happy to see Aether Vial. If they play it turn one, there is a good chance I’ll Detention Sphere it turn 3 if I can, since it takes a lot of the oomph out of Supreme Verdict. Nevertheless, the rest of the deck is all creatures and aside from vial they have very little counterplay to verdict. They basically have to keep you from casting it with Leonin Arbiter and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. The black versions have discard spells to help out, but it’s still a fine and fairly straightforward matchup. Note that Ancestral Vision is a big liability against the black versions since Wasteland Strangler can eat it from suspense. 

Affinity is easy, isn’t it?

Affinity:  Great matchup! If you have a Path to Exile and a verdict they can’t win. There is only one Stony Silence in the board because you simply don’t need help here. Spreading Seas takes out their womanlands (#feminism #landswithher) and verdict handles the rest. Remember to board in Celestial Purge for Blood Moon and Ghirapur Aether Grid. 

Valakut, meet Leyline of Sanctity

Scapeshift:  It took 7 spots before we got to a deck where Supreme Verdict isn’t good. While Leyline of Sanctity is good against some of the other decks on the list, this is why there is one in the maindeck. It has picked up a lot online recently and it can be very hard to win without leyline. They have turn 4 Primeval Titan more often than you Cryptic Command for it (especially when you factor in that you can’t counter their turn 4 titan if they’re on the play) and killing the titan after it has found 2 Valakuts still means that almost all their cards deal you 6. Spreading Seas helps but if they play turn 4 titan it’s rare that you can kill it and seas both Valakuts. If you have leyline, everything changes. Now their deck is a 2 mana 1/1 and a 6 mana 6/6 also known as complete crap. Post board they get a Reclamation Sage and maybe some Nature’s Claims that you have to be aware of along with some more random creatures like Obstinate Baloth that shouldn’t cause any problems. 

There’s always that one guy…

Burn:  I hate this deck so very much and I can’t wait to cast Oketra’s Last Mercy against it. Right now I’m relying on 2 Timely Reinforcements and to a lesser extent 2 Blessed Alliance and it’s not something I look forward to. I don’t think the matchup is unfavored beyond 40-60 but it’s just never comfortable. You struggle and struggle to stay alive and then at some point they either scoop or draw enough burn to kill you. And of course there are games where you just get demolished by turn 3, and games where they can’t remove you leyline. 

Control:  I can’t say too much about this specific mirror match since a lot of the times I face it online, my opponent concedes the match after or during game I don’t get it, why would you pick a grindy control deck if you don’t want to play grindy games? There are a lot of different control decks out there, some with more planeswalkers, some with Ancestral Vision, some with more creatures, some with Esper Charm (that card is a beating against us), but overall I would say be patient and try to keep making land drops. It’s often the first player who taps out in his turn that loses. And play quickly!

Keeping players honest since 1994

Blood Moon decks:  We’re already scraping the bottom of the barrel here but it is important to know if a Blood Moon could be coming when you’re fetching in the early turns. There are 10 basics so it’s not that good against us but if you fetch two Hallowed Fountains without thinking about it you can still lose. The rest of the decks are usually on the slower side and Cryptic Command can take the day against them. 

You don’t want to face this guy

Dedicated Combo:  Well, at least we have a sideboard, right… Storm is the most prevalent right now, which is good because path and verdict still have some use there. Ad Nauseam; not so much, and the chances of you being able to cast more counterspells than they have Pact of Negation are slim. Stony Silence is good but the other hate pieces don’t do anything. Gideon of the Trials can help but I would still hate to face this matchup. Let’s focus on storm as it’s the only one I’ve actually face since Vegas (I guess discard spells and one mana 8/8’s are not what Ad Nauseam excels against). Martin Müller recently told me that you should wait on your removal spell for their electromancer until in response to Gifts Ungiven, and you probably should more often than you do now. If they go for it on turn 3, path in response to gifts is likely to mess them up but they often won’t against 3 open mana from a blue deck. If they stick an electromancer, the most likely way to lose is to double Grapeshot, but even without their spells being cheaper, Gifts Ungiven end of turn can get them enough spells to go off. Again, leyline is lights out game one, and game two you get an extra along with 3 graveyard “removal” spells. Don’t give them an opening for Echoing Truth and keep some number of Jaces/verdicts to deal with Empty the Warrens and you’ll be fine. 

Other: The other decks I feel are worth mentioning are Dredge, Living End and Lantern. Dredge is near impossible game 1 and post board you rely on the 3 graveyard hate pieces. It matters a lot here that Golgari Grave-Troll is gone since they are a lot less explosive so you don’t have to have the hate turn 2; turn 4-5 followed by a verdict can be fine. Living End is a bit strange because on the one hand, you have more verdicts than they have Living Ends but they can kill turn 4 on the play and they have 8 land destruction spells to keep you from 4 mana. Remember that not only does Grafdigger’s Cage not stop Living End, it also doesn’t prevent cascade (which I may or may not have learned the hard way recently). Finally, we have Lantern, and it’s a slaughter. I don’t know how you’re supposed to ever beat them since you give them so much time that they can overcome whatever disruption you throw their way. They can quickly start controlling your draw step but at that point you’re probably dead no matter what you draw. If you really want to beat it, I guess you can play more Stony Silence but I don’t think it’s worth the slots and you’re probably still a huge underdog. 

Almost forgot, you’ll always face a regular tron player. This one is all about Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge trying to buy you time to get enough lands in play that you can counter their big spells and not be devastated by the cast trigger on Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. As with eldrazi tron you will lose some games to their nut draws, but have a favorable matchup overall. 

Right now, I am leaning towards no Ancestral Vision, but I plan on trying a list with one or two in it. Other than that, I am quite pleased with the list and am mostly looking at minor tweaks as I get more games in with slightly different cards. Go now and enjoy making your opponents feel miserable and helpless, the way Magic was intended.

Anders Gotfredsen
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Anders Gotfredsen

Content Producer at Snapcardster
This year, Anders played his first Pro Tour in Albuquerque 2017. He has been on the Danish WMC team twice with Standard as his main focus since it's the most supported competitive format but Modern, Legacy and Sealed have been part of the diet now and then.
Anders Gotfredsen
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