Duel with Ruel – UW Control versus Naya Shaman: The UW Control Perspective

Thursday, August 12th – U.S. Nationals and the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Denver are almost upon is, and Standard testing is on everyone’s mind. Today, Hall of Famer Antoine Ruel pits Wafo-Tapa UW Control vs Naya Shaman piloted by Manuel Bucher. Who has the upper hand?

A number of National Championships have been recently held. I was glad to see that the Polymorph deck I played during French Nationals picked up some good results there, including a win from Andreas Ganz in Switzerland. Besides this, I thought that UW Control would rule, but only a few of such decks even reached the Top 8. Maybe the reason is that only a few people like to play Control, or maybe there is a reason that I’ve missed that explains why the deck is far from being as good as I thought in the current metagame. Even so, it’s quite surprising. On the other hand, Naya Shaman seems to be the hot deck of the moment. I’ve written on how much I hated the original Boss Naya version at least twenty times, and I still did not consider it playable when they printed Vengevine.

Fauna Shaman seems to enhance the whole deck. It creates a better synergy, better answers to the field thanks to a toolbox, a better average card quality, and a better late game plan.

The only data that I have about the matchup thus far was Wafo-Tapa’s win in the French Nationals quarterfinal match. The games seemed very close, and apparently Guillaume’s opponent threw a game away, and the match at the same time, losing 3-2.

When we tested the matchup with no Worldwake, no Rise of the Eldrazi, and no M11, the matchup was clearly in UW Control’s favor, even if our testing here gave 46% main deck and 58% after board. The main difference in UW Control was the Baneslayer Angels in the sideboard (which should have helped a lot there), and counterspells instead of removal spells.

From my experience in this series, UW Control had no trouble dealing with Vengevine, which should be Naya’s main threat.

I will play Wafo-Tapa’s UW Control, which placed fourth at French Nationals.

Manu will play Aníbal Carbonero’s Vengevine Naya, first at Spanish Nationals.

Maindeck Games (10 wins, 14 losses, 41.6% games won)

On the play: 6 wins, 6 losses
On the draw: 4 wins, 8 losses

After a few games, Manu came up with this question:

“Can you ever win if I untap with Fauna Shaman?”

My answer was:

“Very unlikely.”

The card is just broken in the matchup.

UW Control with no Baneslayer Angel is a very slow deck with no pressure, and it was easy for Manu to just discard Vengevine with Fauna Shaman, regrow them with Bloodbraid Elf, and just build up a board and game plan I could not beat. There are not so many ways to handle the Shaman once it is on the table: 2 Path to Exile, 2 Day of Judgment, 2 Oblivion Ring, and 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor and his bounce ability.

The problem is that once Fauna Shaman starts its dirty work, you have to spend your removal on the creatures it searched out. If you use them on the Survival of the Fittest guy, the others will just kill you too quickly. The only game plan I had once the Green guy untapped twice was to Day of Judgment and exile all the Vengevines, which is almost impossible. The new Wrath of God needs a solid backup to win games, but Vengevine and Bloodbraid Elf provide too many threats to make it a card that wins by itself, as it once used to do.

Knight of the Reliquary, as usual, was a real pain. The only way to get rid of it was death by Day of Judgment or bounce by Jace, the Mind Sculptor. If it stays on the table, your removal won’t do anything, so be aware that most of the decks featuring the Knight run 2 Sejiri Steppe. When it is the only non-mana creature on your opponent’s board, you have to play Jace, the Mind Sculptor and bounce it. Then, on the following turn, a Vengevine or a Bloodbraid Elf would show up and kill the Planeswalker.

The ability to search for Realm Razer was also really efficient. I could never tap out. Their Sun Titan, the other “big threat,” is better than yours as it puts threats onto the battlefield, not just small card advantage.

My creatures were quite inefficient when facing the Shaman, as dealing with the Cunning Sparkmage / Basilisk Collar(through Stoneforge Mystic) combo is tough. Wall of Omens would chump block exalted creatures, Sun Titan would do some beautiful things such as drawing with Jace Beleren once every two turns… which sometimes lead to a “Jace lock,” in which I would not be able to cast a freshly drawn Mind Sculptor. It is important to be careful with Jaces.

It is quite easy to handle some of the opponent’s threats at any given time, but not all of them. There are just too many creatures to kill, far more than the deck can possibly defeat with just a few removal spells. Raging Ravine was also trouble. Tectonic Edge would destroy it often enough, but as my mana development was slower than Manu’s, losing a land often cost me much more than it cost him.

In such situations, counterspells are supposed to help. But these have a huge tempo problem versus Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, or even Bloodbraid Elf. More, with twelve lands that enter the battlefield tapped, I sometimes did not have two mana open on turn 2. Whenever I was on the play, the counters helped me control the game, as they would be up for the first threats. On the draw, however, these would be out of tempo for the whole game most of the time.

Playing the counterspells is easy: just counter anything that costs two or more whenever you can, and cast Mana Leak first (it becomes a dead card very quickly), as there are only three non-creature spells in the current Naya build, against which Essence Scatter is not 100% better. Ajani Vengeant is annoying, but Celestial Colonnade deals with it quite easily. Just avoid tapping the manland when another land would have been just as good. Basilisk Collar was only good with Cunning Sparkmage, so you are not too afraid of the spells themselves, but more by what is alongside them.

Once more, the main thing in the matchup is stopping Fauna Shaman untapping, as once it is on the board, counters become dead cards. I did not hesitate to cast Deprive on a turn 2 Fauna Shaman, or even a Path to Exile. It’s easier to face one or two Vengevine and lose the tempo, rather than four of them plus Bloodbraid Elf, making tempo meaningless.

I mainly won games where I played first, where Manu had a suboptimal draw, and when things got my way but I had the right answers at the right time.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Gideon Jura were really good. Every single one of the games I won was down to those cards.

The Planeswalkers are your only win condition here, as Titan would need 18 attacks to kill without Elspeth, Knight-Errant’s help. You have to create a setup in which they have a chance to win you the game. As I mentioned before , it is important to play them to gain some tempo, even if they die, in order to improve your game plan. If you know (or have guessed) from the first turns that your opponent is playing Naya Shaman, I would recommend keeping a counter up rather than casting Wall of Omens, as there will be room to cast a cantrip chump-blocker later in the game.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant was really good with Day of Judgment, forcing the opponent to develop their board to kill it. Then Day blows the team away. Sadly, with only a couple of each, such a situation did not happen too often. Still, Celestial Colonnade beatdown is sometimes okay, with the help of Elspeth to provide chump blockers, and then a precious +3/+3 pump to win the race.

Gideon Jura was a win condition as long as I had either Planeswalkers, Wall of Omens, or removal. Basically when I was not already drawing dead (which was often the case). Once again, with only one copy, I couldn’t really plan on drawing it as often as I’d like.

Sideboard plan:

-2 Deprive
-3 Jace Beleren
+1 Oblivion Ring
+1 Day of Judgment
+1 Flashfreeze
+1 Celestial Purge
+1 Jace’s Ingenuity (on the play)
+1 Celestial Purge (on the draw)

The third Day of Judgment should help a lot, as I can now expect to draw one per game and play accordingly. Then, I would need to get rid of Vengevine and Dauntless Escort. I expect the matchup to be a little better.

Sideboarded Games (10 wins, 16 losses, 38.4% games won)

On the play: 6 wins, 7 losses

On the draw: 4 wins, 9 losses

Yuck. The games were even harder after boarding. Fauna Shaman became a nightmare when combined to Dauntless Escort. Manu would always make sure he wouldn’t lose to Day of Judgment so I would never reverse the situation and get back into the game. Fauna Shaman built him a game plan that was better than anything I could have made. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a good removal option for the Dauntless Escort. If you have four mana up, just bounce it in the right spot, and your opponent will sacrifice it to protect his creatures for one turn.

Even when I successfully dealt with his early threats, the games came to the point at which I did not have enough gas to face Naya’s late-game cards, such as Realm Razer or a Sun Titan.

I ended many games with Celestial Purge in hand, but I still believe that the card was needed (especially if you do not know whether your opponent runs Manabarbs in his sideboard). It still exiles Ajani Vengeant and Bloodbraid Elf, and it provides an acceptable answer to a resolved Realm Razer, as you only need 2 lands in hand to cast it and maybe caw your way back into the game.

Wafo-Tapa won his quarterfinals at French Nationals by removing the 4/2 with the Celestial Purge in a response to its enters-the-battlefield ability, when he had a small advantage on the board.

I still won many games in which I was in total control from the beginning to the end. The sideboard helps the Planeswalkers to survive and activate more than once or twice, which is one of your very few win conditions.

Your Sun Titan becomes much better too. You do not have Jace Beleren to bring back, but the extra Oblivion Ring is more likely to be destroyed, as Naya boards in Qasali Pridemage.

The matchup is bad for UW Control. This might be the reason why the deck was not heavily represented in the recent Top 8s. On the other hand, with the new counterspells, UW Control has earned the possibility of evolution, and will adapt itself to the field. For instance, the Counterless version would be much better here, with more removal, Planeswalkers, and Baneslayer Angel, which must be the best card in this matchup.

The other possibility would be to put the Baneslayer Angels and some more exile-based removal options in the sideboard, such as Path to Exile, Oblivion Ring, or Journey to Nowhere.

Good luck at your upcoming tournaments!

Antoine Ruel

The Hall of Fame Ballot

I have many friends in this ballot, but voting for them is not the point. I think thirteen people deserve your votes this time round:

Tiago Chan: He’s a really nice guy, a strong player with some great achievements, and he’s still waiting for his Invitational card

Patrick Chapin: His dedication to Magic is the strongest among all Pros. He’s written books, about a million articles, and he’s proved how good a player he is by consistently achieving good results at Pro Tours (and creating lots of new decks).

Anton Jonsson: Probably the best Limited player in history. If he was still playing high-level tournaments, he would be elected no matter what.

Brian Kibler: His triumphant return to the Pro Tour scene was a great success, with 2 Top 8s, including a win. He is the crowd favorite.

Katsuhiro Mori: He has an incredible aura, He’s one of the two players that have impressed me the most (alongside Farid Meraghni) in 14 years of Magic, when it came down to pure skills.

Gabriel Nassif: Just take a look at his stats. There’s no way he is not inducted.

Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz: Just like Anton, if he had kept playing, he would have already been voted in.

Carlos Romão: A World Champion, with great results. Carlos is one of the guys that makes me love Magic Tournaments.

Tomoharu Saito: The best Aggro player in the world. Just like Nassif, check his resume. If he does not join the Hall of Fame this year, it will be a shame.

Bram Snepvangers: Number 1 in consistency. If he did not play such stupid decks in Constructed, he would already have won two Pro Tours.

Jens Thorén: See Anton and SteveO. Considered as one of the best players when he was on the Tour.

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa: A creative player, and insanely good. The guy just doesn’t make mistakes. The day he stops playing soft control decks of his own design, instead deciding to play the best deck, he will crush. No one in the ballot plays even half as much as he does. He also writes many articles.

Shouta Yasooka: Any Player Of the Year should enter the Hall of Fame. His skills have been strong for years.

Arita, Morita, Ideda, Fujita, and Kuroda would deserve it, but there are too many Japanese in the bracket for them to be elected. It’s the same problem for most American pros. The votes will be divided between all of them, just like last year, which culminated in a mere three inductions.