Last weekend I played Standard for the first time in what felt like months. With Pro Tour Atlanta being Block Constructed and Grand Prix Atlanta plus the other big events I played in being Sealed, I have not thought about Standard in quite a while.
Those following the SCG Open in Providence last weekend may have seen that I finished in the Top 16 of the event with UW Control. Today I'm going to discuss the list that I played, what I did or did not like about it, and how to sideboard.
Most people would think that finishing in the Top 16 of a local event is nothing to brag about. Believe me, I know that it isn't. While Top 16 is no Top 8, I do think the deck I played was pretty good and my 8-2 record with the deck is not much worse than the 8-1-1 record required to make Top 8 anyway. Ten rounds is a long day and winning eight of those rounds is nothing to be ashamed about. When a deck has a win percentage of 80% on the day it's definitely worth taking another look at. Here's what I played.
You may think this is a pretty interesting list. Zero AEtherling. Two Elspeth. Three Jace. There were definitely a lot of non-traditional choices going on here. Before I get into why I made the choices I did, I have a confession to make:
I didn't make any choices in this list. I netdecked a list that went 3-1 in an MTGO Daily Event.
Netdecking is something that we all do. Even if we don't copy a list card-for-card, most of us use the internet to get ideas or at least get an idea of what the metagame looks like. I knew I wanted to play some type of UW Control deck, but I wasn't too sure on the exact numbers. Here's what I knew.
I didn't want to play UWR. While UWR was a deck that I advocated playing in the past, it had a pretty big weakness. The red cards in the deck gave you game against aggro opponents, but playing red put you at a significant disadvantage in both the mirror and the Monoblack Devotion matchup. I knew that I wanted to play a deck that had a chance against Monoblack Devotion, and I also knew that players in New England had a weird preference towards playing control decks, so playing UWR was out of the question.
I didn't want my manabase to be inconsistent. While I like Esper Control, it's really hard to get the mana to work. First, most control decks want to play between eight and twelve scrylands, especially three color control decks. After adding the scrylands and four Hallowed Fountains to the deck, there wasn't much room for many non-UW shocklands. You also want to play two to three Mutavaults which will also give you color issues. With Esper Control decks requiring black mana early for Thoughtseize and even double black mana for Hero's Downfall, I didn't feel comfortable building a manabase with 12 shocklands, Mutavaults, a bunch of shocks, and very few basic lands.
That left playing UW Control. I always liked UW Control in this Standard format. I played it at GP Albuquerque last year and usually play it at any premier event in which I choose not to play Monoblue Devotion. I began scouring Magic Online Daily Decklists for ideas and stumbled upon a 3-1 list piloted by Reid Duke. His list had a lot of things I liked about it, and I was running low on time, so I decided to give his list a shot for the SCG Open.
I have a few rules when it comes to netdecking. One is to take any decklist with a grain of salt, especially one you find on Magic Online. Magic Online is much different from real life for a few reasons. 3-1 in a Daily event is nothing special, and there is no way of knowing how a particular list went 3-1. There are a lot of budget decks on Magic Online. Card availability online is much different than it is in real life. For example, there are a lot more Monored aggro decks online than there are in real life. A lot of players can't afford to invest in Standard cards both online and in real life, and you can definitely see that in events that are low cost and high EV, like Daily events.
Going 3-1 in a Daily event isn't event all that special. If I play a deck that made Top 8 of an Open event, I know that the deck has to be good. Losing only one time in ten rounds is definitely something. Losing one round out of four is...not very impressive. Like I said, you have no way of knowing how a deck went 3-1. Did their opponent get mana screwed one round? Did they play against Maze's End in round two after losing round one? Was the player playing a new brew for funsies? This is why you have to be careful when getting decklists from MTGO Daily events.
I played a list that went 3-1 in a Daily event because I already knew what kind of deck I was looking to play. I knew I wanted to play four Azorius Charms. Most UW lists are straying away from a playset of Azorius Charms but I think that is wrong. The card has many uses for two mana and I really like the versatility. I also wanted to play one Elixir of Immortality, a card I think is a necessity in any UW based control deck.
When I saw this list, I was sold. It looked just like a traditional UW list from last year. Few win conditions, one Elixir, a set of Dissolves, and it even had Blind Obedience in the sideboard (more on this later). The deck reminded me of Andrew Cuneo's UW Control list from GP Albuquerque with only a single Elspeth as his win condition. I knew I would enjoy playing it.
I went 8-2 with the deck, losing only to Monoblack Devotion in a match in which I had severe mana issues in game three, and a Gruul Midrange deck, arguably one of the deck's worst matchups. I defeated a UWR Control, an Esper Control, three Jund Midrange decks, Junk Midrange, Naya, and Selesnya Auras. Overall I was very happy with how the deck played out. Here are some lessons I learned throughout the day.
In round one of the tournament I faced UWR Control. We played some long, back-and-forth games but in game three my opponent made a crucial mistake that cost him the game. My opponent was winning the game with an AEtherling that I had no answer to while I was trying to keep up by gaining life with Elixir of Immortality and Sphinx's Revelation and racing with Elspeth tokens. I was actually doing a pretty good job of racing and got him to a point where my opponent was forced to attack my Elspeth with seven loyalty counters, buying me another turn to draw into more life gain. To my surprise my opponent decided to attack me instead of Elspeth. Ok, that's fine I guess. He must have Supreme Verdict to wipe the board. I can still ultimate Elspeth, attack with 5/5 Mutavaults, and hope to draw something to survive next turn's AEtherling attack. He tapped six mana to cast...Fated Retribution. Unlike Supreme Verdict, Fated Retribution can actually be countered and I did not hesitate to Negate that spell. At that point, my opponent was simply dead on board to an Elspeth ultimate which could have been avoided if he just attacked the Elspeth. The lesson to be learned here is that some Wraths can be countered so make sure your spell is going to resolve before you make a risky play like that. Additionally, if you are in complete control of the game, be aware of how you can lose (like an Elspeth ultimate) and play accordingly.
In round four I experienced the importance of Elixir of Immortality. My opponent was playing Junk Midrange, a deck that is usually a good matchup but unfortunately I drew both of my Elspeths early in the game which is pretty bad against a deck playing black cards. One of my Elspeths got Thoughtseized away while the other got Hero's Downfalled and just like that I was out of win conditions. I knew that I still had an out in Elixir of Immortality but I had to be careful while playing it. For example I could never cast Sphinx's Revelation during any phase except my opponent's end step because if he Thoughtseized me, the game would have been over. I also could not tap out to cast an Elixir because an Abrupt Decay would end the game as well. Eventually I was able to play and sacrifice my Elixir and it was only a matter of time before I drew an Elspeth again.
In the final round against Esper Control, I was able to pull out a win because I left Supreme Verdict in my deck. One would think that Verdicts are the first cards to go in the control mirror because they are very ineffective against Elspeth and AEtherling, but you never know what your opponent is going to have. Control decks sometimes board in creatures such as Brimaz, King of Oreskos or Archangel of Thune and while Detention Sphere and Banishing Light can take care of those, you don't want to be caught with no answers to those cards. My last round opponent boarded in Blood Baron of Vizkopa against me and Supreme Verdict was the only answer I had to it.
Lastly, Blind Obedience was the best card in my entire sideboard by a Landslide. I played against decks containing Mistcutter Hydra and Stormbreath Dragon five times, 50% of my matches, and Blind Obedience was an all-star in those matchups. Most UW Control decks have Celestial Flare to deal with those cards but Flare does nothing if your opponent has multiple creatures in play and that extra turn that Blind Obedience buys you is huge. It's a great feeling knowing that you are able to tap out to cast a planeswalker and you know that it will not die to a hasty attacker. You know that you don't need to save a counter for Stormbreath Dragon because there is no way that it can kill you and you can just Verdict it away next turn. The extort ability is often very relevant and is even another win condition if it's taking to too long to find an Elspeth.
Here's how I would sideboard against all of the major decks in Standard:Midrange (RG, Jund, Naya)
-3 Divination-1 Deicide-1 Elixir of Immortality-1 Azorius Charm
+1 Reprisal+2 Blind Obedience+1 Fated Retribution+1 Pithing Needle+1 Negate
This matchup is all about keeping their Planeswalkers under control. Both Xenagos, the Reveler and Domri Rade are bad news for you. Negate gives you another way to counter a Planeswalker on turn two, while Pithing Needle can shut one down for good. As I've explained above, Blind Obedience is MVP here. Reprisal and Fated Retribution give you more options for removal and both are great to cast after your opponent has bloodrushed a Ghor-Clan Rampager. If your opponent is playing Jund, they will have Abrupt Decay, so you may want to side out a few Detention Spheres for more Divinations. I like Banishing Light over Detention Sphere because it is one of your few ways to remove a Mistcutter Hydra.Monored Aggro
-2 Divination-1 Deicide
+3 Last Breath
This is a matchup in which you don't have time to cast Divination. Depending on how many haste creatures they have, you may also want Blind Obedience. Fated Retribution may seem good but seven mana is way too much against this deck.Boros Burn
-1 Divination -1 Deicide -1 Banishing Light -2 Supreme Verdict
+1 Negate +1 Dispel +3 Last Breath
This matchup can be very hard for you because they can play most of their spells on your end step. Counterspells and lifegain are very important while Last Breath can take care of Chandra's Phoenix and Mutavault. The Detention Spheres aren't great because there are not many targets for them, but you do need ways to kill Phoenixes without them actually going to the graveyard. Monoblue Devotion
-1 Elixir of Immortality -4 Azorius Charm -1 Syncopate -1 Divination
+3 Last Breath +3 Gainsay +1 Deicide
This matchup is really good for us. They will have a huge advantage if they resolve a Thassa, God of the Sea, so it's really important to keep that card off the table. Our Supreme Verdicts can really cripple them and they usually can't beat a resolved Sphinx's Revelation.Control (UW, Esper, UWR)
-4 Azorius Charm -2 Supreme Verdict -1 Detention Sphere
+3 Gainsay +1 Negate +1 Dispel +1 Jace, Memory Adept +1 Deicide
Like with all control mirrors, this matchup is very grindy. It's really important to hit every land drop and the scrylands help tremendously with that. Once you get a bunch of lands in play, you can start resolving threats like Jace or Elspeth. It's really important not to have a counter war over spells that don't matter, like your opponent's Detention Sphere or even their Jace, Architect of Thought because you may find yourself without a counter for their AEtherling. As for Sphinx's Revelation, I wouldn't counter one unless it's for four or more, especially in the early game. You really have to use your counters wisely. Elixir of Immortality is a crucial card in the matchup to shuffle in your used Counterspells and Sphinx's Revelations and make your deck more potent.Midrange (Junk, Orzhov)
-1 Deicide -1 Azorius Charm
+1 Reprisal +1 Fated Retribution
This is one of the easiest matchups because they can't beat a resolved Sphinx's Revelation. Most of their creatures are not problems but you could randomly lose to Obzedat, Ghost Council so it's important to have ways to deal with that card in your deck. If they have Voice of Resurgence and Mutavault in their deck, you will also want to bring in Last Breaths in place of Azorius Charms.Monoblack Devotion Variants
-4 Azorius Charm -1 Banishing Light
+1 Pithing Needle +2 Last Breath +1 Deicide +1 Negate
This matchup can be very difficult if you do not draw a way to deal with their Underworld Connections. Game one is usually fine for us but after board they have a lot of Thoughtseizes and Duresses as well as more Underworld Connections which can be a problem. If they are splashing green, they will have Abrupt Decay which means you will want to side out your Banishing Lights and some Detention Spheres as well. You do need to leave in a few copies of Detention Sphere because it deals with Pack Rat and all of its tokens. Divination is one of your most important cards because it helps you recover from Thoughtseize and Duress.
Overall I liked the deck a lot. The one downside I saw with it was it can take a very long time to win. If you are a slow player or not familiar with the deck I would recommend adding an AEtherling over a Banishing Light just to give you another win condition but more importantly a way to win the game quickly. I'm looking forward to running this deck back at the TCGplayer Diamond Open in Orlando this weekend. If you're there, feel free to say hi!
Melissa DeTorahttp://twitter.com/MelissaDeTora on twitterwww.facebook.com/melissa.detora on Facebook