A few years ago I played a Black/Red deck in a PTQ. All my lands had to make black and/or red mana because I had Demigod of Revenge and other color-intensive cards in my deck; so utility lands like Mutavault were a no-no. Nothing like hitting all your land drops but being unable to cast your spells.

More than that, I wanted to play as many lands that made black AND red mana as I could. My deck started on first-turn Figure of Destiny but had black-intensive cards like Stillmoon Cavalier, too. So even though I committed to Auntie's Hovel (with Tarfire, Goblin Outlander, and the aforementioned Boggart Ram-Gang helping to set that up), Dragonskull Summit, Graven Cairns, and even a pair of Reflecting Pools, I wanted more. More!

My friend Josh Ravitz was my deck patron that day. The list I asked of him had four copies of Savage Lands in it.

The deck he handed me round one did not.

Crumbling Necropolis?

"Crumbling Necropolis is better in this deck. It can tap for both black and red just like Savage Lands..."

I cut Josh off. "No it's not!" I held up a Boggart Ram-Gang, with its tri-Gruul upper-right. "Savage Lands can tap for the green in Boggart Ram-Gang!"

Josh was taken aback a second. It was true. Savage Lands could tap for green.

"You know you can just tap for red, right?"

Of course I knew.


And Josh was right.

Jund is a different deck from BR Bbeatdown; but Jund is relatively close in range to BR. Both decks played Blightning. And while Jund was not as aggressive as BR, it could potentially still come out quickly with cards like Putrid Leech on the second turn. If Savage Lands was a signal to Jund, it could potentially arm the opponent to thinking defensively in a "Who's the Beatdown?" context. What do I have to do to defend myself? How do I play this turn to protect the maximum life total? Stuff like that.

Crumbling Necropolis, on the other hand, was a strong signal to Grixis Control. Almost no other decks played Crumbling Necropolis. Players who saw a first-turn Crumbling Necropolis might be more cavalier with their life totals or make decisions jockeying for the beatdown early. Against a super quick deck with high quality burn and tons of amazing haste creatures, screwing around with even a couple of life points could prove fatal.

Remembering the anecdote around Savage Lands tapping for Boggart Ram-Gang, I knew when crafting Make the Play Monday this week there was no other possible Celebrity Guest than my old pal Josh.

Let's get to it, shall we?

As a reminder, our Weapon of Choice:


Patrick Chapin and I made this deck during a spontaneous brew session on our podcast, Top Level Podcast. Listener Chad Hardman did us proud by taking down a Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier the very first weekend he could...

Just won my PreTQ with the a UB list inspired by @TopLevelPodcast. Big thanks to @fivewithflores and @thepchapin! #UginFinishesEverybody

— Chad Hardman (@ChadHman) February 16, 2015

...and my prep for this week's article duo was largely my prep for my own planned PPTQ adventures (I hope to follow Chad's footsteps). So making the best play is super important for YT this week too!

Scenario One:

Play your first land.

"I think UB Control might be uniquely positioned in the metagame right now. Having a hugely favorable matchup against the aggressive RW strategy is where you need to start now — a much different place to be than a few weeks ago when Abzan was public enemy number one. With that in mind it's definitely going to be important to know how to play against UB in addition to knowing how to play it.

"Mike isn't wrong when he says scenario number one is easy. You have two choices and one of them is significantly worse for you. Your options are play Opulent Palace or play Dismal Backwater. Playing one land will reveal what deck you are before the game has begun; playing the other one will leave it ambiguous for at least one turn cycle. You play Opulent Palace here in the hopes that your opponent puts you on either "Fabiano-style control" (Sultai Superfriends) or actual Sultai Reanimator with Sidisi, Brood Tyrant. Since this is the only advantage we can get from our turn one land drop, it's important to take advantage of it. Playing Dismal Backwater will leave your opponent with essentially perfect information about your archetype and their decisions for the rest of the game will reflect that. Conversely, leading Opulent Palace will leave them guessing for a turn cycle, maybe more. Once they see Radiant Fountain - if they know the format - they'll know exactly what you're doing, but again, that one turn cycle of Misinformation was probably the best we could do here, so we should do it."

Josh Ravitz's Play: Opulent Palace

I think it's easy to look at Opulent Palace v. Dismal Backwater and say to yourself that it is a minor difference. "Even if I trick him for a turn, he's just going to course-correct by turn three..."


I think playing correctly here can yield profound advantages.

Imagine for a second that your opponent is RW Tokens; and mayhap one of the versions that has main deck Erase or Abzan Advantage. The opponent plays a first turn Temple of Triumph and sees his main deck enchantment removal card...

If you show him Dismal Backwater -- giving him, as Josh commented "essentially perfect information about your archetype" -- he is going to [correctly] push that enchantment removal card.

But if you show him Opulent Palace? What is he going to assume? Dismal Backwater is only played in UB Control. But Opulent Palace? Better than 50% to be a deck with Courser of Kruphix, Whip of Erebos, Doomwake Giant, and more. The exact reason to play maindeck enchantment removal! Put another way, we can get the opponent to mulligan.

Or what if the opponent is one-drop heavy Abzan Aggro?

Maybe the opponent has the option of a Soldier of the Pantheon or Warden of the First Tree? Against Dismal Backwater he might see the path as being free and clear: Get in there, 2/1! But if he fears a turn two Satyr Wayfinder, he might go for the 1/1 (that can power up to 3/3) so he can bust through Satyr Wayfinder instead of getting his Soldier of the Pantheon killed. We would much rather fight a 1/1 than a 2/1 here, either saving a point or stealing two mana. This one isn't close: Opulent Palace strikes again!

Mike's Play: Opulent Palace

Scenario Two

Play your second land.

"Scenario number two is a little more difficult, because while we are again choosing what land to play, we are now trying to plan the rest of our early game turns rather than basically playing turn by turn. In this situation, if we cannot cast our Bile Blight because our opponent has not played anything for us to kill, casting our Divination on turn three will leave us needing to discard. Not optimal. In the event that our opponent does NOT play anything for us to cast our Bile Blight, it may be because they again missed their land drop, which is great for us. I don't want to win every game by having my opponents mulligan and miss land drops, but if it happens once in a while I'll take the easy win. Now, let's assume they hit their land drop and play Hordeling Outburst. We want to Bile Blight that, but if we don't do it this turn it's not the end of the world. We can just untap and do it and play our Dismal Backwater this turn and have essentially used "all of our mana." In the event that they hit their land drop and play Goblin Rabblemaster (which they will be happy to do against our one tapped and one untapped land) it's somewhat disastrous for us to not be able to cast Bile Blight during their turn. By playing Dismal Backwater in that situation we're incinerating two mana and at least one life point, and they're going to net a Goblin Token. Really bad idea. The worst thing that can happen to us by playing Swamp in this situation is that they hit their land drop and play Brimaz, King of Oreskos. In the event that they play Brimaz, King of Oreskos our Bile Blight isn't going to be doing much, but maybe our Perilous Vault can help us out.

"Given the potential likely composition of our opponent's deck and the fact that even if they are playing all three cards there's a much better chance that they'll play one of the red cards rather than the white one, so we should plan accordingly. If they'd somehow revealed their whole hand and we knew their hand was just Brimaz and things that cost more than four mana we could safely play Dismal Backwater. So, if it isn't clear, in this situation I play Swamp."

Josh Ravitz's Play: Swamp

For my part, I think it is important to note that we just drew the Dismal Backwater. Otherwise this scenario is a solution to Scenario One.

I think this is an interesting one because we can conceivably play any of four different lands; each of them says something different about us and our hand.

The most attractive option is of course Dismal Backwater because we want to get the enters-the-battlefield-tapped card out of our hand; but there are some pretty good reasons not to do that; well, one ( Bile Blight).

At this point the opponent has done us a gigantic favor. He is the beatdown and we are the control and he has done nothing with his first two turns. Beatdown decks tend to accumulate most of their advantages in early turns, before the control deck can get his more expensive tools online. But here? Nada and nada.

If we let the opponent run out a Goblin Rabblemaster on turn three -- unchecked -- we are basically undoing all the edge we currently hold.

There is only one interactive card we can play right now, and it requires us to play Swamp.

So we should.

BTW - He had the Rabblemaster :)

Mike's Play: Swamp

Scenario Three

What are you going to do in combat?

"Scenario number three is the most involved. This requires a slightly more advanced understanding of how this matchup is going to be played out, and how the UB deck has to be played.

"Maximizing our mana for the duration of the game — until we've completely stabilized — is going to be the most important thing for us from here on out. Perilous Vault is in play, which is great, but it costs five to use. Having it in play and not using it is akin to having destroyed four mana one turn, but that's okay because I think we should use the Perilous Vault, just not right now.

"So, let's look at how this game plays out from here.

"We have 11 life, we take three damage down to eight. Since they're playing Hordeling Outburst they're almost certainly playing Stoke the Flames. If they have two of them we're going to need an answer to at least one of them or else we'll just be dead. That means we are specifically looking for something like a Counterspell to protect ourselves. In this particular build of UB there are two Disdainful Strokes main which is interesting. However, we do not have an untapped land in our hand which means we may really not get to seven usable mana next turn either. Another good way to answer the threat of the Stoke the Flames is to simply play a Radiant Fountain or two, of which we have three remaining in our deck. Even just a Dismal Backwater will get us out of threat from two Stoke the Flames specifically, assuming we take no more damage for the rest of the game. Of course, that's not how this game is going to play out.

"Now, let's step back. If we activate our Perilous Vault during combat this turn, it encourages our opponent to play more things to the board. They see the coast is clear and deploy whatever their best card is to the battlefield, especially given that not only is our Perilous Vault gone, we are tapped out.

"If we leave Perilous Vault in play, we lose three life and they will either play Seeker of the Way or something else that's not particularly valuable to them or play nothing at all and pass the turn to us. At which point it will be up to us to spend our five mana.

"Our choices are realistically, at end of turn, cast Dig Through Time (delving three), cast Jace's Ingenuity, or activate Perilous Vault. Of these three, activating Perilous Vault is the worst choice. If we activate it, they will be inclined to play a pre-combat Stormbreath Dragon next turn. We will either have found a Counterspell or not, or use our Hero's Downfall or not. But, if we leave the Perilous Vault in play, we'll have at least one more turn of no Stormbreath Dragon. There's a problematic consideration to trading Perilous Vault for Hordeling Outburst, in that it's not a "good" one-for-one. Trading Bile Blight is much better, and that's an option that we lose once we activate our Perilous Vault here.

"So, now that we have decided not to activate Perilous Vault our choice is between drawing three random cards or casting Dig Through Time. Earlier I noted specifically that we need either Counterspells or lifegain, but those aren't the only "good" cards in our deck for us. We won't lose if we don't draw one (we may) but drawing a Bile Blight or even just more untapped land would be good for us. And, if we don't cast Dig Through Time now, it will be cheaper to cast later (at least one mana less given that Jace's Ingenuity will hit the bin.) It's also important to note that taking lands with Dig Through Time is just not what you want to be doing. Most of the time you cast Dig you're probably going to want to take either a Dig and a removal spell or a Dig and a Counterspell. Sometimes you're going to want to skip the extra Dig in the event that your hand already has a [spare] Dig in it. It's just not a good use of resources to try to Dig for a land here. So, my vote is for casting Jace's Ingenuity and seeing what the three plus one cards from our spell and draw step net us. We could find exactly perfects (Radiant Fountain, Disdainful Stroke and Bile Blight) in which case we will again not use our Perilous Vault and force our opponent to play in a specifically uncomfortable way, and if not we can always use Perilous Vault and have Hero's Downfall for their next single creature."

Josh Ravitz's Play: Do nothing now [Jace's Ingenuity later]

I made the same play as Josh here (or, didn't make the same non-play).

No one wants to take three from a deck with Stoke the Flames, but if we blow our Perilous Vault (tapping out by the way) what are we supposed to do about his post-combat Outpost Siege? (or whatever?)

So, I took three and played Jace's Ingenuity like Josh suggests here. My rationale on Jace's Ingenuity over Dig Through Time is 3 > 2

Plus, Jace's Ingenuity now means Dig Through Time gets one cheaper next turn.

Mike's Play: Do nothing now [Jace's Ingenuity later]

I've gotta say, I'm pretty happy being in-sync with Josh (who not only put up a Top 32 at Pro Tour Fate Reforged but 2nd place in a PPTQ with UB Control) on all three of these; I've actually got some PPTQ action this week myself!

Who else agreed with Josh / the both of us?

Jeerod Balangan did! Nice job with those answers, Jeerod. A $25 TCGPlayer.com gift certificate to you!

Brandon Mealer too! Well played Brandon. A $25 TCGPlayer.com gift certificate to you, too.

Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prize!

Thanks to everyone for reading and participating.