Duel With Ruel – U/W Control versus Boss Naya: The UW Control Perspective

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Thursday, March 18th – While Jund is the best deck in the format, the metagame has its fair share of pretenders to the throne. The two most popular second-string choices – UW Control and Boss Naya – face a battle to the death today! Antoine Ruel brings us the lowdown from the UW side of the table today, with Manu coming tomorrow to talk all things Naya.

A lot of people wished that LSV and Nassif had met once again in a Pro Tour top 8 in San Diego, but Gab lost the deciding round. Today, we will try to find out which one of them should have won this hypothetic epic match by playtesting the matchup between their two decks.

Anyone following the coverage of Grand Prix: Kuala Lumpur probably noticed that there were tons of these two decks playing on Day 2, piloted by some of the best players in the room, but eventually, none of them broke through to a Top 8 seat. Maybe I am getting old, as I keep saying the same things, but once again, Jund ruled the tournament by placing six players into the Top 8, and that makes it really hard for another deck to shine.

Martin Juza, Sam Black, Brian Kibler and other pros played a counter-less version of Blue/White Control, but even though Black managed to reach the Top 16, the best result with the deck was 9th (Sukhum Kiwanont), and he was playing the “normal” version of the deck.

Manuel Bucher will work on the matchup with me; it will be really interesting to see which of these two “new” decks will come out on top.

Here’s the list I ran:

And Manu ran LSV’s latest Naya build:

The matchup should be very good for Blue/White Control, as Day of Judgment and Martial Coup seem really powerful, even though the Naya player can still answer these by casting a scary Bloodbraid Elf immediately afterwards and manage to still have pressure. I will try to counter his Ranger of Eos (yeah…) and Planeswalkers, as those are his scarier long-term threats, and I’ll make sure I don’t die to the Manlands.

Maindeck Games (11 wins, 13 losses, 46% of games won)

On the play: 6 wins, 6 losses
On the draw: 5 wins, 7 losses

I thought that Day of Judgment and Martial Coup would give me a decent edge on the preboard games, but they did not. Back in the glorious day of control decks, you would cast Wrath of God on turn 4, kill 2/3 guys, and you would pass the turn with 14 life, then your opponent would cast an enormous 2/2 guy. Nowadays, you cast Day of Judgment turn 4, you are on 13 life and your opponent follows by a 3/2 haste dude that puts a 3/3 into play. The problem is the same as last week: the aggro deck makes more card advantage than Blue White control deck.

A typical game looks like this: you destroy all his creatures thanks to the White sorcery spell, then he plays threats and you untap with 3 useless counters in hand. It is really hard to cast Day of Judgment with some countermagic up. If you play it too late (at low life), the Manlands and Lightning Bolt will finish you off. I did not win a single game without casting a mass removal spell, and won almost every single time I cast two.

Ranger of Eos, Bloodbraid Elf, and even Stoneforge Mystic (!) are instant card-advantage on quality spells. Of course, Basilisk Collar is a dead card, and so is Birds of Paradise when revealed on the cascade, but you can consider his Manlands as card advantage as you have to handle them every single game (you can also consider that Knight of the Reliquary transforms Plains and Forest into threats). Any of those after a Day of Judgment will be a huge problem that will need to be dealt with quickly.

Stoneforge Mystic is a good answer to Martial Coup, as it searches for Behemoth Sledge. The equipment almost annihilates the tokens’ effect: a single Wild Nacatl becomes 5/5 Trampler, which cannot be chump-blocked and trades with 5 soldiers (you will need to block with one more than strictly necessary if you can, to avoid getting one Bolted and thus missing the already expensive trade).

This is a HUGE problem; the tokens should not only be a good way of surviving… they should act as a kill condition as well.

Killing is the tough part of these games. You can gain the control of the games very early, but then you need to keep it, and it is pretty hard thanks to the cards I mentioned earlier. As Jace, the Mind Sculptor is very easy for him to kill, it does not have enough time to be decisive (and even less to activate its ultimatum). Most of your card advantage will be via lands, thanks to Treasure Hunt. Of course, it helps you dig for good cards and cast your expensive spells, but these do not handle the scary creatures and threats you’ll be seeing early. Mind Spring is good, but you often need to tap out to cast is efficiently. It then needs to be followed by a mass removal spell.

As I said last week, I was really surprised about how good Celestial Cannonade was. Once again, it was my main threat and a really good blocker. You just cannot allow yourself to miss an attack with it, as the Naya side of the board might become huge really quickly, and you might lose the game.

The other card I really liked in the deck was Everflowing Chalice. Naya is a bit slower than Jund was last week, which allows you to cast it for four mana and benefit from it with the “X” spells, or to activate your Celestial Colonnade (or even two of them on the same turn sometimes, which is a guilty pleasure). The mana artifact is also pretty good against Ajani Vengeant’s +1 ability, which might turn too quickly into an ultimatum if you struggle dealing with the creatures because of your mana development problems. Good luck winning if Ajani fires off his ultimate… I guess Chalice is your only small hope here.

Iona, Shield of Emeria is quite the opposite. If it was a Baneslayer Angel, I might have won at least 5 more games. I drew it far too often, and even lost with it on the table. I played it on White most of the time, to hit Path to Exile (I did not know at the beginning that he did not have those maindeck), Oblivion Ring, Ajani Vengeant, Stoneforge Mystic (the Angel actually succeeds in turning Basilisk Collar into an active card), Baneslayer Angel, Behemoth Sledge, and Knight of the Reliquary. However, it always came down too late and had to stay in defense. I would suggest you replace it with a removal spell or with a better angel (maybe there is a reason why there is a $50 price difference between the two).

Jace, the Mind Sculptor was really interesting. Not insanely good, but much better than last week. As Naya is slow, the tempo that you will get from it will be more helpful. Even if it was easy for Manu to get rid of it, or even if he did not care about it (I do not bounce either Bloodbraid Elf or Ranger of Eos), it was still a little more annoying than it was for a Jund mage.

A few important things:

Be aware that Knight of the Reliquary can search for Sejiri Steppe or Manlands.
Play your Tectonic Edge at the right moment.
Keep answers to the Manlands in hand.
Even when you are winning, keep in mind that Naya can reverse the situation quickly. Keep on optimizing your plays.
Do not hesitate to cast Martial Coup just to get tokens to chump-block, or to kill an Ajani Vengeant.
If you can, wait for a combo to play your Treasure Hunt or Halimar Depths.
Do not be greedy!

You need to have a multiple-turn game plan, and Halimar Depths is very good for this. One very important thing would be to evaluate your opponent’s skills and style of play. Is he going to be careless and lose too many creatures to Day of Judgment? Is he going to understand the game flow and pick up the information that you will intentionally provide him?

For instance, whenever I was able to untap, Manu would usually avoid the counterspell and attack with a Manland; thus, I would keep my Tectonic Edge in hand for as long as possible, to make sure he did not develop his board too much whenever I was without countermagic.

At the opposite end of the scale, I would intentionally tap out to cast bad spells (Oblivion Ring on one of his two creatures, for example) whenever I “should” have played a mass removal, so that he might decide that I did not have the answer I already had in hand, and maybe take a chance to win the game by going all-in.

This is a little difficult to explain, but try to have a clear idea about what you want to happen in the game. This might be really different when you’re against a good player or a bad player.

I think that the results were accurate. Blue/White Control should lose a few more games maindeck in this configuration, but removing Iona for anything else would probably turn the matchup into a 50/50 game.

For once, playing first or second does not really matter. The games turn around two factors :

– How many Bloodbraid Elves / Rangers of Eos / Ajani Vengeants resolve
– How many Wrath of God effects you draw

Sideboarded Games (15 wins, 11 losses, 58% games won)

On the play: 7 wins, 6 losses
On the draw: 8 wins, 5 losses

Sideboard plan:

-3 Cancel (too slow)
-1 Negate (too situational)
– 1 Iona, shield of Emeria (please do not play it main deck)
-2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor (not its best matchup)

+1 Mind Control
+3 Baneslayer Angel
+1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
+1 Perimeter Captain (nothing dreamy about it, but helpful)
+1 Day of Judgment

This is the best thing about playing Blue/White Control: boarding in Baneslayer Angel, the second-best card in the format (after Bloodbraid Elf).

In the first game, when I untapped after a Day of Judgment, I would have 2 useless counterspells up when facing an army. After boarding, in the very same position, I would just cast a Baneslayer Angel and win. Almost 60% is already a very good win percentage, and it would make me confident if I had to play the matchup.

He sideboarded out the Lightning Bolts for Qasali Pridemage and Manabarbs, which is exactly what you’d expect from a Naya deck. Him not playing direct damage any more gives you one more turn of survival each game. As a matter of fact, you can now keep your Oblivion Ring for real threats, and not waste them on Wild Nacatls to avoid dying to burn spells.

The sideboarded games are pretty much the same as game ones, unless you have a card that wins games by itself (Baneslayer Angel). Manu boarded them as well, but I had more ways to deal with them, including Mind Control, which proved to be really good.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant was better than Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and truly satisfactory as well. Most of the time, it is better to keep the first token in defense to help the newcomer block a Bloodbraid Elf.

I think it would be interesting to playtest the “counterless U/W” that runs the Baneslayer Angel main deck. I do not really see the point in boarding them every single round whenever your opponent is aware of it. Things have changed after the PT, and now your opponent’s sideboard plan has to be adapted to you upcoming 5/5s. I would almost consider that if you come to the conclusion that you do not want to play the card maindeck to avoid removal, then this statement should almost be the same for game 2 as well.

I would be curious to know if Naya beats Jund. Otherwise it would be, in my own personal opinion, a bad version of it. On the other hand, Blue/White Control became a serious contender to Jund, probably the only one in the format alongside Mono Red, but we will see how the format evolves.