Pro Tour Born of the Gods has come and gone. Modern was ready for change, and after the big shots took a crack at it, the format hasn’t shifted much at all. We all knew decks like Twin, Affinity, Zoo, Pod, Storm and U/W/R Control were going to be the big ones at the party. A few modifications and enhancements were made to some of the big decks, but the big shift that I was hoping for after banned list changes didn’t really occur. The older the format, the more originality and creativity can be used in an attempt to break the format. There was one deck that took me off guard, and it’s a deck that I have a tremendous amount of respect for.
My love for Vedalken Shackles knows no bounds, and Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir is a card that helped me get to the Top 8 of U.S. Nationals. We all know how powerful blue is, especially in older formats, and if a reminder is needed, you should take a brief glance at the top decks of Valencia. It’s blue as far as the eye can see, and even those who wanted to attack with Tarmogoyf decided to slap a Splinter Twin shell on it. Today’s article is a reinforcement of my piece a few weeks ago. I liked U/W then, and I really like it now with just a few changes to adapt to Blue Moon and Storm in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour.
I Hate Blood Moon
Blood Moon is one of those cards that easily places in my Top 5 of most irritating cards that are just dropped into play as you get Lightning Bolted to death. These horrific memories come from the days of Extended and Standard where the card was played heavily. I remember assembling Tron ever so gently and then some fella just slamming that enchantment, making my universe explode. Not today friends! There are a few things about the list you probably have noticed that will help against the Blood Moon strategy.
The biggest aid is the inclusion of a second basic Plains. Plains are kind of weak in this deck because of the heavy commitment to blue. The second Plains is necessary due to the fact that the best win conditions require a second white in order to be cast. With two basic Plains, you have the unique opportunity to Path to Exile one of your own dorks (primarily Snapcaster Mage) to hit the mandatory lands to play your powerful spells. There are also multiple Islands in the deck for the same reason and two blue fetch lands to get them early against a deck that is known for its Blood Moon shenanigans.
Wall of Omens is cute but has been cut. Many of your comments and tweets mentioned that Wall of Omens is one of the weaker cards, and you were right. The big reason why it’s weak in this deck is because U/W already crushes Zoo without batting an eyelash. The combination of Supreme Verdict, Path to Exile, early countermagic, Snapcaster Mage, late game Cryptic Commands, and game over planewalkers is too much for the big or little Zoo decks to handle.
I used to subscribe to the “Cryptic Command is only good against combo/control” mentality until I played in Pro Tour Amsterdam and boarded it in against Mono-Red Aggro. Cryptic Command is a fantastic card across the board, and cutting any copies of it against any matchup is probably a mistake. Wall of Omens got cut for a copy of Repeal and the fourth Spell Snare, which are both good against decks that Wall of Omens is good against as well as the entire field.
Repeal is a card that can help combat Blood Moon due to its easiness to cast. There are also neat tricks with Repeal and Detention Sphere that come up from time to time, being able to remove things permanently and get an additional use out of them. I’m sure we all remember the Oblivion Ring tricks from old Standard, and they live on in Modern.
Blue Moon isn’t as tough of a matchup that I thought it would be. Their sideboard is pretty scary, with access to an array of countermagic; Vendilion Clique; Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir; additional Spreading Seas; and Combust. Lucky for us, I think most opponents will board out Lightning Bolt due to the very few targets in our maindeck, and then we can surprise them with Meddling Mage.
Meddling Mage is my favorite card in the sideboard and combined with the other hate bears can provide an aggressive force backed with countermagic that is very tough to beat. There are a few occasions where Blood Moon doesn’t defeat our deck if resolved on turn 3, but that hope never comes to fruition if our opponent casts Spreading Seas on a Plains prior. Keep in Spell Snare, play tight, and hate bear your Blood Moon opponent out of the game.
You may have noticed I cut Luminarch Ascension from the sideboard. It was one of the toughest changes I’ve ever made to any deck. It wasn’t tough because Luminarch Ascension is format breaking or the greatest card in Modern but because it’s easily one of my favorite cards in Magic. I have won many matches instantly on turn 2 with the resolution of the enchantment due to the inability of the opponent to damage you.
There were some comments on the last article that brought up the point that even control decks can apply pressure, which is true, but they can’t do it forever. You resolve Luminarch Ascension, and it gets a counter at the end of turn 2 easily. What’s their play? They Lightning Bolt you and later Snapcaster Mage with an additional Bolt? I won’t lose to U/W/R if that’s their post-board game plan. That strategy works if you’re hanging back and playing draw go with no spells, but we all know that U/W Control isn’t going to go down like that. I defend Luminarch Ascension because I plan on bringing it back in the deck once the Storm craze dies down.
Which leads me to this card:
Ethersworn Canonist has been Storm’s bane since it was printed, and for those who remember the old Angel’s Grace / Ad Nauseam combo from Extended, it’s back in Modern. That version of Storm rolls to Ethersworn Canonist with ease, but the Pyromancer Ascension version is much more resilient to it. They have access to red removal but know that we can name it effectively with Meddling Mage to help protect Canonist. I thought about using Rule of Law, but the massive amount of power brought from the sideboard to the maindeck gives U/W Control some teeth in the early turns and gives the wielder another dynamic that is hard to defend.
Ethersworn Canonist, Meddling Mage, early countermagic, Vendilion Clique, and Snapcaster Mage provide an early game that will make it difficult for any Storm player to combo off. The true problem for U/W Control is the sideboard. Because there are so many different decks in Modern, we are forced to dedicate key slots to cards like Grafdigger’s Cage, Stony Silence, Rest in Peace, and now Ethersworn Canonist to give us game against the field. People think that Magic thrives when the metagame is diverse, and they may be right; however, we control players thrive when the format has only a few decks so we can tweak our lists to bash them easily.
A few of the comments on my last article tried to compare this list to U/W/R Control. These two decks are just simply too different to compare to determine which is strictly better. U/W/R has access to better removal spells like Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix, but the strain on the mana and the power of Blood Moon makes me want to distance myself from that strategy. The biggest difference between my take on control and theirs is the absence of Supreme Verdict.
I think Supreme Verdict is as good as it gets in Modern these days. It’s a fantastic card against Pod, Affinity, Zoo, Twin with Tarmogoyf, and even Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. Having access to board sweepers is just one of those perks that come standard with playing control. I couldn’t imagine being overrun by Affinity and not having that kill switch to take them out. U/W/R Control does specialize in spot removal though, with the power to Electrolyze, Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, and Path to Exile their way out of trouble.
The sideboard of Shaun McLaren’s U/W/R Control is something I wouldn’t write home to mom about either. I’ve never been a huge fan of one-ofs unless I have a great deal of card draw, which this deck doesn’t. I do love Logic Knot, Crucible of Worlds, Celestial Purge, Timely Reinforcements, and a few other gems, but in the real world there are scary decks that require a dense number of answers. I think that McLaren’s U/W/R Control is a fantastic choice because it has many of the same control elements that can lead any mage to victory. I wouldn’t fault any of you for sleeving up the red splash and taking it to Richmond, but the planeswalkers of U/W Control in combination with very powerful removal is what I’ve decided to go to war with.
I like Baneslayer Angel over Batterskull. Call me old fashioned, but the evasion of Baneslayer Angel and the inability of opponents to kill the flyer after board are the reasons I side with old faithful. Zoo, Affinity and similar aggro decks that Baneslayer is great against remove Path to Exile and similar removal spells against our deck ten out of ten times. With that in mind, Baneslayer Angel is a flyer and has first strike, which are very relevant against a deck like Affinity. With cards like Gideon Jura and Elspeth, Knight-Errant, there isn’t a shortage of win conditions if they somehow do slay the Angel.
Baneslayer Angel is an absurd blocker the turn it’s cast, and once you connect in the skies for the first time, the vigilance ability of Batterskull isn’t a huge advantage. You have to remember that against aggro decks we aren’t sitting around and twiddling our thumbs but untapping and continuing to do what we do best: control the game. This is another debate between two very good cards, and although I feel strongly about Baneslayer Anger, there are matchups where you’d rather have Batterskull. Choose whichever best serves your strategy and continue to bash the aggro menace.
I don’t think Sphinx’s Revelation is as absurd in Modern as it is in Standard. I haven’t run into the problem of a lack of cards in this deck that would warrant cranking the land count up and adding Sphinx’s Revelation. This is an early turn tapout style of deck that will cast Serum Visions to smooth out draws and Mana Leak / Spell Snare / Path to Exile / Repeal into the tapout three- and four-drops of the deck. The goal is to stop something early if you can, and if you can’t, you cast Supreme Verdict to catch up. Then once that’s finished, you drop a planeswalker or two and throw Tectonic Edge at them. There is no building of resources in this control deck but instead early board development into the Celestial Colonnade / Tectonic Edge endgame.
I’d rarely have the opportunity to cast Sphinx’s Revelation for more than three if I included it, and that’s just not needed in this deck. After board you could argue that this version of U/W Control is more midrange, as it’s all about attacking your opponent to death with hate bears. Sphinx Revelation is sweet—there’s no other human being that knows that as much as I do—but this Modern deck runs very similarly to my Legacy deck, where Sphinx’s Revelation isn’t necessary either.
A few weeks ago I didn’t have a chance to respond to all of your feedback until three days later, but I really try to get to it within 48 hours. If you posted a question after the last article, please check back to see my answer. This week I’m going to perfect the sideboard of the deck, so be sure to follow me on Twitter to see my posts containing the details. If you’ve been following me for the last few weeks, I’m sure you’ve noticed me ranting about Standard. My Magic Online Standard record has always been impressive until recently. It has been tough to lose after modifications that include a Gild, four copies of Thoughtseize main, and the removal of Aetherling for Obzedat, Ghost Council number two.
This article discussed U/W Control in Modern and the changes I made to it due to Pro Tour Born of the Gods, but don’t forget about the SCG Invitational in Charlotte, North Carolina just around the corner that features Standard and Legacy. I think Esper is prime for a breakout, and I have that warm fuzzy Top 8 feeling again. I hope you feel prepared for Grand Prix Richmond, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to chat with me in person. I’m a pretty friendly guy, and I’d love to help in any way I can.