Recently, Gerry Thompson featured an interesting take on Modern UW control in his daily decklist article series. This deck revolves largely around abusing the interaction of Flickerwisp and enters-the-battlefield triggers, along with copious amounts of two-for-one's, with an end-game trump of Sun Titan and Emeria, the Sky Ruin. It combines these powerful cards with some...interesting options...to try to eek out the slightest amount of margin it possibly can – until the card advantage engine rolls on, and you overwhelm the opponent with strong, recursive threats.
We'll be playing through four rounds today, hopefully getting an opportunity to demonstrate the best this deck can offer.
It's a little unfortunate that our opponent seemed to be relatively new to either the deck or the game in general, as I think we may have had some difficulty with this match had they played optimally. Sometimes in Magic you get to ride the upside of the variance wave, and you have to accept those times along with the downside and not get too confident based on them. Knowing the difference between a game you won because you played well and earned it, and one you won because your opponent allowed you to win, is an important skill in your development – but it's still a checkmark in the win column either way. Often these errors are a bit more subtle than a Scapeshift opponent trying to win with six lands in play, but we're all prone to make bonehead errors from time to time, so the best course you can take is to graciously accept the gift and hope your opponent will learn from their mistake – or graciously accept the loss and learn from the mistake yourself, if and when it's you making the error.
I will say that UW Value has two key factors in its favor when it comes to the Scapeshift matchup – the Lone Missionaries are effective Time Walks against this deck, as they are required to get an additional land into play when one resolves. Once your opponent has eight lands in play it can be tough to gain enough life to offset the extra triggers from the second Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. While the seven land Scapeshift deals 18 damage, the one with eight lands deals 36. Still, that extra turn is key. Second, having maindeck Ghost Quarters and Tectonic Edges (along with ways to re-buy) can be the difference. Using Ghost Quarter to off a Valakut that is put in play naturally or using Tec Edge to put them down a land can buy a fair bit of time, enough to potentially get another form of disruption online, or to begin recurring them via Sun Titan. Each of these factors are not solutions in their own right, but they are helpful in keeping the deck from simply goldfishing you.
This match showed us just how resilient the deck can be against hand disruption – something you'd expect from a deck running four Sun Titans and Emeria. While it did seem like we had some weakness to Lingering Souls, a few well-placed Detention Spheres can go a long way to negating those Spirit Tokens. Despite the fact that we never really had a chance to "go off" with Sun Titan, since he always seemed to find a path to the exiled zone, having him available as a top-deck pseudo Eternal Witness was often good enough to get us over the hump once we both were drawing from the top of the deck. I think perhaps I over-boarded, bringing in more removal than I should have, since once that top-deck mode was reached I always seemed to have removal in hand where I would have preferred threats, but having redundant ways to kill off our opponent's threats seemed important at the time. Perhaps we would have been better off leaving in some of the weaker creatures that have ETB effects, just to keep pressure on.
Note that I too, am capable of bone-headed "how many lands" errors, as I convinced myself Emeria said six Plains rather than seven. I don't know if it ended up mattering in this game, but it certainly could have.
This was disappointing to me, because I think this would have been an interesting match. It seemed like I had all the answers in the first game, which is probably why our opponent tilt-dropped, but I think his deck had the tools to race us before we could properly stabilize, given the right hand on both our parts. The nice thing about playing this deck against aggressive strategies is that between Walls and Missionaries, we tend to stabilize at a higher life total than we would otherwise – where many UW control decks are in single digits by turn 4 when they can Supreme Verdict, we get to be in the teens (or above 20) in most cases, making it much more difficult for the aggressive decks to burn or bloodrush us out. We also have a top-end that trumps most red decks, as Sun Titan gets to attack with impunity in most board states. If we ever do get to start the Titan/Emeria train rolling, we can often use Lone Missionary to put ourselves well out of range of their possible end-game strategies, and it often takes just a single late-game activation of "gain four life" to induce the concession.
This deck was cool, but I think it was misbuilt by just a little. I didn't see any Genesis Waves in his deck, but I have to assume they were there somewhere. It would be odd for a green ramp deck to eschew the best ramp target they could have. I was surprised by the Boggart Ram-Gangs, but I've also seen Wistful Selkie in that slot, and I think that's a better fit for what you want out of your three-drop. Granted, it is a little more difficult to cast off a Burning-Tree Emissary, but I think the extra card draw is worthwhile in a deck with plenty of power but very little library manipulation or draw capability. I also didn't see Eternal Witness, which is definitely one of the best ways to go off with Genesis Wave. Essentially, I think with a deck like this your best plan is just to go as big as possible, and you kind of have to assume that you're unlikely to grind it out in the mid-game against anyone who built their deck dedicated to doing that. Throwing 40 power's worth of creatures into play is great, but if you have to do that in the face of Supreme Verdicts, Paths, and all the rest of the stuff Modern can throw at you, you should be thinking of ways to beat that kind of stuff specifically.
I can't imagine this deck has much game against Twin, but let's be honest – what does?
Overall, I was very impressed with the way the UW Value deck played. I didn't mulligan much more than I'd expect to, despite running many lands that induce them. As I mentioned, I think that the Wall of Omens combined with a multitude of spells that buy time really help to offset any marginal hands, and give you the time you'd require to draw out of any awkward hands. I was a little surprised at how often my best line appeared to be "Path to Exile my own guy to hit six lands," and though that temptation was there, I tried to Withstand it as much as I could. I have a bias for killing my own creatures for value – any time where that line wins me a game is a great one in my book – but often it would be better in the long run for me to just Path an opposing threat and wait an extra turn or two to get Titan online. Emeria was difficult to turn on, even with the Pilgrim's Eyes to help get there, but when it did turn on it usually prompted a concession almost immediately.
Where I think this deck would potentially suffer is against dedicated combo decks like Twin or Storm, or against some draws from Tron where they can power through our disruption. It is definitely capable of beating up on the lower tier of strategies in Modern, but the best decks will have an easy enough time with it. Some work could be done on the sideboard to help offset this – Spellskite and Ghostly Prison may make things a little tougher for Twin, for example – but I don't believe this strategy is going to be crushing any Grand Prix anytime soon. Still, as a relatively budget deck for a player trying to work into Modern (that happens to include a few good cards that translate well to other decks), this is much better than I would have expected at first glance. It's also one of the more fun decks I've had the pleasure of playing – and as a player who can't help but smile at the prospect of getting value, beating down opponents with Pilgrim's Eye is about the best you can hope for.
I hope you enjoyed the videos, let me know if there are any constructive critiques you may have for the structure of the videos or the content. I'd like to get in the habit of doing this type of thing a little more often (with as many formats as I can muster) if that's something you're interested in, so head to the comments and let me know what you think! Thanks for watching!