Today, I'd like to talk about UW in Modern. There are a lot of variations of UW being played right now, and even more if you want to include UWR builds (with or without the Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo). I have to mention UWr when talking about UW, because many of the cards overlap and the biggest difference lies primarily in Lightning Bolt. I'm going to focus on a basic, value-oriented list first, and see where we can go from there.
I say basic, though there are a ton of one-ofs. Let's start with the lands. Four Seachrome Coast seems like a lot, but they're the best land to cast our variety of three-drops with, from Vendilion Clique and Jace Beleren, to Geist of Saint Traft and even Mirran Crusader out of the sideboard. Full sets of Celestial Colonnade and Tectonic Edge are pretty self-explanatory, as they let our lands double as spells. There are only three Hallowed Fountains for the sake of taking as little damage from our lands as possible, while still giving us enough to fetch for if necessary. Even with only five basics and two fetches, it gives us a slight bit of insurance against Blood Moon. Singleton Mystic Gate and Glacial Fortress are the most flexible slots in the mana base, but I like the split. The Mystic Gate helps our Eiganjo Castle and Plains cast Cryptic Command. On that note, one Eiganjo Castle is a freebie, occasionally letting Geist of Saint Traft and Vendilion Clique live through the likes of Pyroclasm and Electrolyze (in the Faerie's case).
Occasionally it's worth noting cards that aren't in the deck, particularly Temple of Enlightenment. Seachrome Coast and Celestial Colonnade are both entering the battlefield tapped after turn three, which means one of those likely needs to be cut to make room for another. If you're playing a similar UW deck without as many three-drops I would probably go with Temple of Enlightenment over Seachrome Coast.
Getting to our spells, this deck plays 10 one-drops, as it's important to start trading one-for-one as early as possible. While casting Path to Exile on turn one is not ideal and rarely correct, it's still a fantastically efficient removal spell. Dismember is never getting cast for black mana, using it on turn one to kill a Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch is ideal, while having the additional removal that is strong enough to kill a Deceiver Exarch is a nice bonus over the similar option in Lightning Bolt.
Mana Leak and Cryptic Command are glue that holds the Snapcaster Mage - Restoration Angel package together. There were initially two Supreme Verdict in the main and two Hallowed Burial in the sideboard, but four sweepers overall felt like too many, and I wanted two copies of Hallowed Burial for the Birthing Pod matchup, where Supreme Verdict falls terribly short. In addition to persist and other "when this dies" triggers such as Voice of Resurgence, Supreme Verdict fails to kill Thrun, the Last Troll, a card which can be problematic.
Snapcaster Mage may be the best card in Modern, and I don't think I need to explain in detail the many reasons in which the card is powerful enough to build a deck around. Restoration Angel is similarly powerful, but goes above and beyond in this deck, where blinking a Geist of Saint Traft almost always leaves a lethal amount of fliers on the table. There are two copies of Wall of Omens to buy us a little more time against decks with a back-up beatdown plan, which is accelerated by our use of Dismember. Additionally, Wall of Omens is yet another good target for Restoration Angel's trigger.
One situation that has come up more than once recently is the additional utility of Wall of Omens to turn into a land via Path to Exile. In matchups such as Scapeshift or Storm, excess copies of Path to Exile are often dead. The extra land can assist in winning counter wars or let you activate Celestial Colonnade a turn before your opponent thought was possible.
Vendilion Clique is an overly efficient card, supplementing the "kill your opponent with flyers" plan, and providing additional disruption. Jace Beleren was Sphinx's Revelation for a while, and might still be better as a singleton copy of Revelation or another draw spell, but I'm grouping both Clique and Jace here for another reason. Both of these cards are vulnerable to Lightning Bolt, a card which is ineffective against the rest of the deck. These three slots might be better as something else entirely, especially if you expect most of the field to be playing Bolt.
As far as the sideboard, many of the cards are self-explanatory. For the cheap Counterspells and removal spells, bring them in when they have targets. Stony Silence completely hoses affinity, but we're already strong in that match up anyway. It's really best for us against Tron, where it shuts off much of their deck at low cost, as Disenchant-ing a sacrificial artifact isn't ideal and you need Counterspells for threats, as opposed to affinity where a removal spell will do the job the majority of the time.
Mirran Crusader is in a strange position, as half the decks it would seem good against play Liliana of the Veil. Crusader is at its best here against decks that can block Geist of Saint Traft well; this deck really wants to play a hard-to-block threat and Blade Splicer is falling just short of that.
Batterskull and Baneslayer Angel serve two purposes: gaining life primarily and serving as alternate, bigger win conditions for opponents who are fully prepared to deal with Restoration Angel and Celestial Colonnade. One downside of Batterskull is that it's the only target for Ancient Grudge in the deck, a card that might be brought in against us thinking we have cards like Spellskite or Swords (Sword of Fire and Ice / Sword of War and Peace) to deal with. While Batterskull can protect itself, spending a total of 21 mana (5 to play, 3 to return in response to Grudge, another 8 for the flashback, and another 5 for a third cast) isn't ideal. If you see Ancient Grudge, bring the Batterskull back out.
Who says Urzatron is the only deck that can play Karn Liberated?!
For those of us who are either sick of Snapcaster Mage and Restoration Angel, or would prefer to play a slightly less expected list, here's a similar deck that can transform in multiple ways.
We stick to the powerful disruption suite of Path to Exile, Spell Snare, and Cryptic Command, but from there this list takes a more tap-out approach. The Dispel in the main is rarely dead since almost every deck plays instants, but serves to help our expensive threats resolve. This deck looks to definitively take over a long game through Sun Titan recursion.
Kitchen Finks is preferred over Geist of Saint Traft in this list because it helps us get to that longer game, whereas Geist looks to end a game quickly. The lack of Snapcaster Mage means that we don't have to play quite as many instants, and actually gives us some more subtle longevity against other decks with Spell Snare.
Typically, in blue-on-blue Modern matches, Spell Snare will retain its value through to the mid- late game, where cards like Snapcaster Mage and Mana Leak are still worth countering. There are few two-drops in this deck, and while there is a Phantasmal Image, it's main purpose is to double up on a late game Sun Titan, so it getting countered and going to the graveyard isn't such a bad deal. Blanking certain cards is important when you're expecting your game to go well past turn seven.
The Trinket Mage package in the sideboard adds a lot of utility, and lets us get away with things like a single Tormod's Crypt. Mirran Crusader may still be the best card against BG decks, with Wall of Omens and Kitchen Finks providing a safety net against Liliana of the Veil's sacrifice a creature ability. Going up to three Dispel is important against other blue decks, which can operate at instant speed much better than this deck can. Perhaps a Cavern of Souls is worth a slot somewhere, but I haven't tested it, and there are already few enough blue sources in the deck for Cryptic Command that it might be too demanding.
Calciform Pools may be risky in a world of Tectonic Edge, but given that this deck has plenty of lands to target already, it's not the worst place to be. Letting it charge up to get our expensive spells through Mana Leak appears to be worth the risk.
This list is significantly worse against Splinter Twin and Scapeshift, which is also why there is a Ghost Quarter in addition to the Tectonic Edges. However, this version of UW is stronger against other midrange/control decks, as well as against aggressive decks where Kitchen Finks truly shines.A Shell by any Other Name
4 Celestial Colonnade4 Tectonic Edge
4 Path to Exile4 Spell Snare
Looking at many lists online, these seem to be the only consensus four-ofs among UW decks. Costing so little, these cards are the core of why UW can have game against almost any archetype.
Past that, Snapcaster Mage and Restoration Angel are almost always present, but I wanted to use the Sun Titan list to illustrate that they aren't a requirement.
As far as the three-drop slot goes - there are so many options.
- Vendilion Clique - Geist of Saint Traft - Blade Splicer - Mirran Crusader - Jace Beleren - Kitchen Finks - Aven Mindcensor - Flickerwisp - Brimaz, King of Oreskos - Sword of Anything and Its Opposite
Each of these cards can merit a slot and are just a sample of what people are casting just in this archetype and these colors. Playing an established list is safe, but experimenting a little when there are so many comparable options available may give you that unexpected edge.
At least for me, a little bit of the unexpected can go a long way towards having a lot more fun.
Azoriusly Yours,-Nick Spagnolo