Last week, I wrote about the power of Terminus in the current Modern format. Not only are sweepers terrifically positioned, Terminus shines due to the preponderance of graveyard decks (Hollow One, Bridgevine), its ability to play through otherwise resilient or problematic creatures (Hangarback Walker, Selfless Spirit), and of course the fact that it can be cast for one mana and – when the stars align – at instant speed.
The weekend's Modern GP in Prague saw White-Blue Control sprint towards the finish line, stumbling right at the end of the Swiss rounds to miss out on Top 8. With a huge presence in the Day Two metagame and a very strong showing in the final standings, it's very clear that the deck is tremendously well-positioned to dominate Modern, and it's no coincidence every build that broke into the Top 32 featured either three or four copies of Terminus.
White-Blue Control ended up occupying a full quarter of the Top 32 decklists – in the hands of some of Europe's finest, to boot. Kowalski, Dezani, Blohon, Floch, Dagen: these are some of the best players on the continent, and all of them judged the deck to be the best choice for the weekend. Despite this, White-Blue Control ended up being the bridesmaid of the tournament rather than the bride, unable to break through to that all-important Top 8.
Nonetheless, the future looks very bright indeed for White-Blue Control. Other strongly performing decks at GP Prague – for example Spirits or Humans – have pretty unfavourable matchups against White-Blue Control, and the eventual winner of the tournament Lauri Pispa characterized the Hardened Steel vs. White-Blue Control deck as extremely difficult. All of this is good news for those looking to rumble with Celestial Colonnade, and with more Modern tournaments coming our way with GPs Detroit and Stockholm, White-Blue Control will remain an incredibly strong contender in the coming weeks.
Of course, much of the dominance of White-Blue Control has to do with the sideboards it's possible to construct alongside the main deck - particularly with access to enormously potent white post-board cards. Today, we're going to break down all the commonly-played (and some not-so-commonly-played) sideboard options to which the deck has access and evaluate the best configuration of these cards.
Good against: WU/Jeskai Control, Burn, Storm, Mardu Pyromancer, Jund, Tron, KCI Combo, Bogles
Negate is a top-shelf interactive element against much of Modern, to the extent that it generally sees main deck play. Rarely truly dead, it shines against a wide variety of decks – from the huge haymakers of Tron to the grindy engines of Mardu and Jund. Additionally, it can be a massive spanner in the works of combo decks such as KCI and Storm, and gaining three or four life against Burn is a fine use of the card. You want access to at least two and probably three Negates between the main deck and sideboard.
Good against: WU/Jeskai Control, Burn, Storm, Mardu Pyromancer, Bant Spirits, Infect
Dispel is a critically important counter post-board, playing two highly distinct roles. A highly defensive card, Dispel is best put to use either defending your own big spells (for example, casting a Jace or Teferi with Dispel backup), or ensuring a key opposing spell doesn't resolve (Collected Company in Spirits or Gifts Ungiven in Storm). Just like with Negate, trading a Dispel for a Boros Charm is perfectly acceptable. Given its importance, especially in the mirror, two to three Dispels are advisable.
Good against: Tron, KCI Combo, Affinity, Hardened Steel
Ceremonious Rejection is, rather obviously, an insane answer against decks with high concentrations of colorless cards. Snagging a turn-three Karn or Krark-Clan Ironworks for one mana always feels incredible, and it's just as good at keeping resilient creatures like Hangarback Walker or Arcbound Ravager off the table. However, the likelihood you'll play plenty of Stony Silences, the importance of Ceremonious Rejection falls off.
Good against: Tron, UW/Jeskai Control, Hollow One, KCI Combo, Storm
I don't like Disdainful Stroke very much. While very good against Tron and serviceable against other decks, there's rarely a time I'd prefer it over a Negate. Eldrazi Tron has backed off, Scapeshift isn't really around any more, and in all the matchups where it hits key cards there are more flexible options to be had (for example, Negate hits Karn or KCI, while Dispel counters Gifts Ungiven). I don't see much of a reason to play Disdainful Stroke.
Good against: Humans, KCI Combo, Storm, Bant Spirits, Infect
Spell Queller is a good post-board option if you feel like you need more threats, but its ability isn't at its best in White-Blue Control. Spell Queller naturally lends itself to a more tempo-oriented game, which isn't a great fit in a deck with so few win conditions. Spell Queller does its best work against removal-light creature decks, where it acts as an Oblivion Ring that can attack and block, or against uninteractive combo decks where it presents a relevant clock.
Good against: Humans, WU/Jeskai Control, Burn, Hollow One, Bridgevine, Bant Spirits, Grixis Death's Shadow, Affinity, Hardened Steel
The Angel package is now industry-standard. We've seen hard-hitting threats like this in the past – Gideon Jura or Elspeth, Sun's Champion come to mind – but Lyra and her old mate Baneslayer pull an exceptionally effective double-duty against slow decks where you need to become more threat-dense as well as acting as a huge roadblock for aggressive creature-based decks. Don't leave home without these cards.
Good against: Humans, Burn, Hollow One, Bridgevine, Hardened Steel, Bogles
This card does exactly what you'd expect it to do: it's an early Stabilizer that helps bridge you to powerful late-game cards that will take over. Against the aggressive decks of the format, you'll generally have both sides of the card active, but don't be afraid to deploy it for half value when necessary (particularly against Burn, where six life is huge). Finally, don't make the mistake of bringing this in against decks like Spirits – Timely Reinforcements is only really good when the Soldiers actually get to block.
Good against: More or less everything
It's very rare not to bring Vendilion Clique in, hence its presence in many main decks. The perfect combination of disruption and pressure, V-Clique is also a great defensive card seeing as it can trade up as a sizeable blocker in a pinch. It's rarely bad to bring this card in, so if you're ever stuck for that 60th card post-board or are looking for a 15th card to fill out your sideboard, this flexible and versatile card is a safe bet.
Good against: UW/Jeskai Control, Mardu Pyromancer, Jund
It might be weird to have Ancestral Vision listed as a "threat," but that's honestly what it is in certain matchups. Namely, you want this card in grindy games you expect to go long, where there's no danger of losing quickly. That counts out all aggressive creatures, as well as glass-cannon combo. Ancestral Vision is good against other control decks, and insane against non-blue lategame decks like Jund and Mardu, but it's slow, ponderous, and a terrible topdeck. Ultimately, this card is too narrow for me to want to include it.
Good against: ???
This wild piece of sideboard technology was the brainchild of French Pro Tour Champion Jeremy Dezani, and I'm still reeling from seeing it. Dezani chose to play two Chromium above the first copy of Baneslayer Angel, and didn't even play a black shock land to do so – just a single basic Swamp. Chromium is obviously insane against other control decks – perhaps Dezani expected a lot of mirror matches – but seven mana is a lot and Chromium can't be brought in against decks like Burn or Humans. For that reason, I'm out on Chromium, but I'm willing to have my mind changed.
Good against: Humans, KCI Combo, Storm, Mardu Pyromancer, Bant Spirits, Affinity, Hardened Steel, Bogles, Unpredictable Nonsense
Engineered Explosives is a supremely important piece of sideboard technology in Modern. The first reason for this is its ability to act as a cheap sweeper – especially against tokens – which is very welcome in a format filled with Humans and Spirits (not to mention post-board Goblins from Storm). Secondly, however, EE is an amazing safety valve against all the silly nonsense you're likely to encounter in this wide-open format. If you get an early-round pairing against a maniac playing Enchantress or Puresteel Paladin Combo, you'll be glad you brought your Engineered Explosives.
Importance: Dependent on maindeck configuration
Good against: Humans, Mardu Pyromancer, Bant Spirits (most of the time), Affinity, Hardened Steel
Often the "extra" Wrath effects tend to be relegated to the board. Most decks play five or six in the main, but that sixth will occasionally hit the bench instead, which is fine. I would always play the fourth Terminus before the first Verdict or Wrath, but if you're expecting creature decks to continue to thrive and want extra defense against them, by all means devote an extra sideboard slot to another sweeper.
Good against: Burn, Hollow One, Bridgevine, Mardu Pyromancer, Grixis Death's Shadow, Jund
Celestial Purge is important due to its ability to hit two key threats: recursive black creatures (Bloodghast, Gravecrawler), and Liliana of the Veil. Decks that feature these are on the downswing, but I like Celestial Purge as an insurance policy against them that's also terrific in conjunction with Snapcaster Mage.
Good against: Humans, Burn, Hollow One, Bridgevine, Mardu Pyromancer, Bant Spirits, Grixis Death's Shadow Affinity, Hardened Steel
Having extra cheap answers to powerful creatures is generally a very good idea, especially when those cheap answers deal with resilient or recursive threats. Oust buys a considerable amount of time but is less permanent than Condemn, which is instead much more conditional. In either case, however, the life gain is irrelevant - you're hardly ever racing with this deck.
Good against: Tron, KCI Combo, Affinity, Hardened Steel
This is no secret – Stony Silence has been emblematic of white's ability to bring in enormously powerful sideboard cards that completely shut down a game when drawn and played in a timely fashion. Stony Silence is extremely narrow but can end the game on the spot against many artifact-based decks. As these decks seem to be on the rise, I'm playing plenty of copies of this card. Note also that it can shut down Aether Vials, but that's questionable tech at best.
Good against: Hollow One, Ironworks Combo, Bridgevine, Storm, Mardu Pyromancer
I'm sorry to say that I've finally been pulled away from my trusty Relics. Relic of Progenitus isn't as reliable as it once was, as many graveyard-based decks can and will recover from their graveyard being one-shotted. I don't like it any more than you do, especially as it means Snapcaster Mage is no longer the powerhouse he is without Rest in Peace – and I'll be looking for any excuse to cut Rest in Peace and go back to Relics.
Good against: Tron, KCI Combo, Storm
Just like Stony Silence, Damping Sphere is an extremely high-impact sideboard card, but happily it has a much wider spread of decks it hits. I'll do more or less anything to beat Tron, and this card happily beats up on KCI and Storm as well – I like Damping Sphere a lot, and am looking for reasons to increase the number of copies I play.
With all that said and done, here is my updated White-Blue Control list. This deck is still built to cast Terminus as early and as cheaply as possible and seeks to play as much instant-speed Magic as possible.
I'm covering both GPs Detroit and Stockholm and will keep a very close eye on White-Blue Control at both of these tournaments. In the meantime, I'm hoping to see both Bant Spirits and Hardened Steel continue to thrive, as these decks are not only exciting and new for Modern players looking for a fun deck to play, they also absolutely eat it to White-Blue and will be very good for anyone looking to crush Modern. Good luck to everyone fighting the good fight with Celestial Colonnade!
- Riley Knight