There was a period where Humans was the dominant deck in Modern, and players were struggling to try and figure out a way to combat that deck. I don't think that is the case anymore. Eventually players started to come to the realization that control decks are actually good again in Modern. There was a long period leading up to the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor where control decks were both poorly positioned and underpowered. However, when creature decks become dominant, the best answer is lots of spot removal, alongside some card advantage.

#5: W/B Control

There are a bunch of different directions to take W/B Control. Many are Superfriends-style decks with a ton of planeswalkers alongside removal. W/B Control is definitely a role-player in Modern, though it hasn't had a ton of big finishes. This list stood out to me because it isn't as reliant on Planeswalkers for card advantage, opting for Phyrexian Arena instead:

Phyrexian Arena is a Dark Confidant-style card, but much more difficult to deal with. There are a few different ways to gain life here to help offset the life loss from Phyrexian Arena. Suffer the Past is a pretty cool card we rarely see, and it can actually be used as a win condition, as opponents will fill up their graveyards pretty reliably. The combination of Liliana of the Veil and Lingering Souls should always be present in W/B Control, and we see it here.

The creatures in the deck are high-impact. It's nice to see both Tombstalker and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. While both cards are vulnerable to removal like Path to Exile, they are must-answers a lot of the time, and do dodge most burn spells. Since the deck is two colors it does get to play Field of Ruin, which helps against Tron, and that's important. These are the two colors that arguably have the best sideboard options in Modern, so post-board games should favor you.

#4: U/B Control

We have seen U/B Control lists pop up and find success online. The concept of a straight U/B Control deck really is just starting to catch on, so it hasn't yet made a big impact in paper play. The deck plays out quite nicely though, and there are a few different ways to build it. This version has some Torrential Gearhulks to help close games out:

Torrential Gearhulk is definitely Modern-playable as another Snapcaster Mage-type effect. Once you reach six mana it is a better Snapcaster Mage, though six mana is a big cost in Modern, where games can end quickly. Outside of the regular creatures there are four Creeping Tar Pit, and we will often see them called upon to close out games. This deck doesn't have burn spells or other forms of reach, making Creeping Tar Pit even more important.

There are lots of options in terms of what mix of countermagic and removal to play. There are a bunch of singletons, which are actively good in a deck like this that filters through so many cards. After casting the one copy of, say, Hero's Downfall the fact that there are six Snapcaster Mage effects make it easy to use the spell again by flashing it back. Cast Down is a card I was expecting to see more of, but it may be that there just aren't a lot of decks that can take full advantage of it, since the decks with red and black will play Terminate or Dreadbore instead.


There is mass removal, which is very important against decks that try and go wide. We see two sweepers in a variety of true control decks, and Consume the Meek fills that role alongside Damnation. Consume the Meek being a Torrential Gearhulk target is a nice upside, though Damnation is certainly more powerful. This deck is trying to operate at instant speed as much as possible, which is supported by the choice of Opt over Serum Visions.

The sideboard has some hits we don't normally see a lot of. People often forget there's a black Stone Rain in Rain of Tears. There are some additional sweet Planeswalkers here in Jace, Architect of Thought and Ob Nixilis Reignited, as additional grindy options and card advantage. The card advantage in these control decks usually comes in the form of Planeswalkers rather than straight-up card draw spells. Ceremonious Rejection is another card I like as a way to combat decks like Krark-Clan Ironworks combo and the traditional suspects it matches up well against.

#3: W/U Control

W/U Control was one of the most-played control deck when Tron was one of the most-played decks in Modern. The reason is that the combination of Field of Ruin and Spreading Seas provide a nice land destruction package. Compared to Jeskai Control, this deck isn't that different, as Jeskai Control is primarily white-blue based as well, but with access to burn spells. The burn does help close decks out, dealing the last few points of damage, and provides more spot removal, so there is definitely a tradeoff. I believe Jeskai Control has a better Humans matchups but W/U Control is better off against big mana. This version plays three copies of Wall of Omens as another early play, which is a little bit unusual:

Like all of the other blue control decks, the deck relies on Search for Azcanta for late-game card advantage, as this is the best card in any type of control mirror.

#2: Mardu Pyromancer

In my opinion, Mardu Pyromancer is a control deck. I'm not sure most players think of it this way, but it tries to answer opposing threats, fill up the graveyard, and eventually win with card advantage. This is certainly one of the more unique strategies in the format as it also plays out similarly to a Jund-style deck because of its discard and removal suite, but its token theme, with the combination of Lingering Souls and Young Pyromancer, makes the deck truly unique. Mardu Pyromancer has been rising in popularity to the point where it has surpassed decks like Jund, at least for now. This list is from the Top 8 of last weekend's Invitational:

One of the most hit-or-miss cards in the deck is Blood Moon. There are no basic Plains in the deck, so it is possible for Lingering Souls to become stranded in hand with a Blood Moon on the battlefield. We see lists of Mardu Pyromancer with various amounts of Blood Moon; there really is no agreed upon amount to play. Three is on the higher side, as it doesn't really interact favorably with cards like Young Pyromancer and Bedlam Reveler. With that being said, this is one of the few decks in Modern that actually has the opportunity to play Blood Moon, and so it does want access to it.

The sideboard is flexible, similar to other control decks of the format. You want to use sideboard cards to help with some of the tougher game-one matchups. Leyline of the Void can be hit-or-miss, but this deck does play Faithless Looting to be able to discard Leyline of the Voids that aren't needed. Since Mardu Pyromancer utilizes its own graveyard, Rest in Peace is out of the question. Tron is typically one of the most difficult matchups for control-style deck, there are a bunch of Molten Rains to pair the Blood Moons after sideboarding.

#1: Jeskai Control

Humans is a relatively new Modern deck, and it happens to be a creature-based deck that successfully shuts down most of the combo decks in the format. It is a beast that is tough to handle, but Jeskai Control has a good matchup against it. In fact, we are coming to an environment where suddenly Jeskai Control is one of the top decks in Modern. Gerard Fabiano made Top 8 of the Invitational with an innovative list:

This deck optimizes cheap removal plus Snapcaster Mage. Path to Exile and Lightning Bolt are extremely important ways to deal with early-game threats, but Fabiano actually shaved removal spells in order to make room for an even stronger late-game. He isn't even playing Electrolyze, one of the most commonly-seen cards in the archetype: a removal spell that also has additional value attached to it in the form of card draw.

While I'm not sure I agree with completely cutting Electrolyze and going down to two Lightning Helix, his additions are undeniably sweet. This deck definitely wants at least three ways to gain life against aggressive strategies like Burn, and the Timely Reinforcements provides both a lifegain spell and a way to get creatures on the board. This is a card we don't traditionally see maindeck in control strategies, but that doesn't mean it's not reasonable to have a single copy. Fabiano has also found a way to beef up his threat count compared to most other versions of the deck.

Beyond the obligatory four copies of Snapcaster Mage, there are a couple of Vendilion Cliques and a Restoration Angel as well. A couple Vendilion Cliques in the 75 is typical, though they aren't always maindeck. The more creatures in the deck with enters-the-battlefield triggers, the better Restoration Angel becomes. Restoration Angel works well with the other creatures, and is a nice surprise that opponents won't expect out of this deck. The additional creatures make it noticeably easier to close out games, especially against opponents with very little removal.

The other additional threats come in the form of Planeswalkers. There is still a big debate brewing as to whether Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is the better Planeswalker in this deck. Personally, I'm on the Teferi, Hero of Dominaria side of this debate, but also see the argument for playing a combination of both like Fabiano did. The most surprising Planeswalker in the list is Karn, Scion of Urza. I'm not sure how much sense this one makes, though it did look pretty solid when Fabiano played it. The fact that it comes in with such a high loyalty count is what makes it so valuable, but in a deck without many artifacts, the -2 ability becomes much less impressive.

Thanks for reading,
Seth Manfield