Not Your Father’s U/W/R Control

Prepare to play Standard and Legacy at the SCG Open Series in Atlanta this weekend by reading what Mike has to say about the two Top 8s in Philly last weekend and more!

So . . . I guess eight different decks showing up in Standard Open Top 8s is just going to be a thing now.

SCG Standard Open: Philadelphia


For a format with a reputation for being "solved" (or at least largely explored), we are still seeing twists, turns, new angles, and—in both the linguistic and literal cases of Junk Reanimator—resurrections.

It’s not that there is anything in the Philly Standard Top 8 that we haven’t technically seen before, but many of these decks approach even established archetypes with new or different tools, not just additions but (say in the case of U/W Flash) taking things away.

G/R Aggro

G/R Aggro continues its march to metagame greatness with Adam Van Fleet’s win in Philadelphia. "Wow," you might say, "what a great deck by Brian Kibler! Surely this must be the . . . " and then you don’t finish the sentence realizing he was one of the principal architects of Caw-Blade.

This substantial—if not best effort—by the Dragonmaster is a study in streamlined design and offense built on the stacked corpses of dead darlings. Could you imagine a year ago a Gruul deck featuring five-drops that didn’t play Thragtusk? Maybe not four, but not any? Not even in the sideboard? Okay, you could probably imagine it, but given the reputation of Thragtusk + Restoration Angel coming into the Return to Ravnica rotation, I am guessing that—like me—you would have considered Thragtusk semi-sacrosanct . . . especially given the viability of decks that might play both Thragtusk and Thundermaw Hellkite given a sufficient amount of mana ramp (which again drawing on the core set and a notion of automatic inclusions) would probably have featured Farseek.

Kibler went with an Elves-based acceleration plan here, forwarding the possibility of attacking with them, as well as acceleration into cards like Domri Rade on turn 2, as well as a hasty Flinthoof Boar at the same second.

This deck has been talked about to death at this point, but at this point the freshest thing we might say about it is . . . it seems almost completely unsalvageable. Two-of redundancy Elvish Mystic will remain, but four-of [primary] Arbor Elf won’t. The hasty core strategy of the deck—Flinthoof Boar, Hellrider, Strangleroot Geist, Thundermaw Hellkite, and even sideboarded Zealous Conscripts—are all going the way of the dodo in short order.

Alas G/R Aggro, you burned hot but fast.

Naya Midrange

Andrew Jessup take on Naya feels very influenced by the G/R Aggro deck (whether or not that is exactly fair) despite being three colors rather than just Gruul. We have seen a fair number of different takes on non-Blitz Naya decks in recent months: 9×4 decks, decks with four Restoration Angels paired with four Huntmaster of the Fells, decks with more haste, decks topping up on the maximum number of Advent of the Wurms plus a couple of Aurelia, the Warleader. The Dragonmaster-ish similarities here are in a slightly increased number of one-drop accelerators (not the six of G/R Aggro, but more than the original four Avacyn’s Pilgrims of the initial Saito decklist) as well as the two-drops Flinthoof Boar and Scavenging Ooze.

Scavenging Ooze is obviously variable in power depending on your opponent and might to a degree be a reaction to a particular metagame. Flinthoof Boar as a two-of feels relatively low power/low long-term quality for a Naya deck with access to such a wondrous array of potential drops . . . but less so if you think about this as more of an offense-minded deck of the Dragonmaster vein than the midrange deck it has been labeled as. Obviously less purely offensive than Naya Blitz, but quite a bit more offensive, less flexible, dare I say less "midrangey" than other commonly seen options like Restoration Angel.

These additions and individual choices don’t come free; Jessup’s version is shy a Ghor-Clan Rampager and Loxodon Smiter.

A note for those metagaming against Naya this weekend: Boros Reckoner isn’t just an elite defensive three-drop. Jessup played a pair of Blasphemous Acts in his sideboard, which potentially combine with the token generation of Assemble the Legion. Thirteen-point combos are a definite possibility in games 2 and 3.

Speaking of combos, one that probably doesn’t come up super often but is nevertheless possible is:

Boros Reckoner + Unflinching Courage + Boros Charm

Jessup played all three cards; players running this kind of deck can definitely give Boros Reckoner lifelink via Unflinching Courage and figure out some way to get a point of damage on the Reckoner (you know, by attacking or blocking maybe). Unflinching Courage acts like an Azorius Charm here, allowing the Boros Reckoner to profit via lifelink for shooting itself; Boros Charm makes it indestructible. Net result is that Boros Reckoner with any amount of damage on it can shoot itself over and over, gain a commensurate amount of life with every trigger, and do so an infinite number of times on account of never dying, generally provide a potentially unexpected but de facto infinite combo . . .

. . . That you might not have expected from a midrange deck.

B/W Midrange

I’m absolutely loving the continued success of this new archetype. It looks and feels a mite speedier than the B/G Mutilate decks. It is a rare deck that combines versatility, pressure, and disruption all at once, all laced together via wonder-drop Restoration Angel.

There are obvious anti-offense elements (Desecration Demon, Vampire Nighthawk, Mutilate and the various other removal cards). Geralf’s Messenger is such a monster. WotC really pushed Geralf’s Messenger at three mana but BBB, combining essentially inescapable offense with resiliency . . . that can go triple- and quadruple-time with the mighty Restoration Angel. And an echo of B/G, we see lots of nonblue card advantage in Sign in Blood and Disciple of Bolas (the latter of course being yet another BFF of Restoration Angel).

What makes this strategy a little something special isn’t just that you can sub in Duress (or lean on Liliana of the Veil) for disruption; that one-of Lifebane Zombie really exemplifies what it is capable of: disruption + pressure + card advantage all at the same time. Lifebane Zombie you (disrupt you for your best card), in for three (you know, pressure); Restoration Angel (disrupt your next best card), in for six (all evasive). If anything, I just really want to see all the Lifebane Zombies somewhere in the B/W 75. Lifebane Zombie has a long career ahead of itself, but the window to play with Restoration Angel in Standard is closing . . . and these two really match up well against the leading strategy of hasty 3/3 red and green creatures.

Like I said, I really love seeing the continued success of this a-little-bit-different/so synergistic strategy.

Junk Aristocrats


You see a deck like Junk Aristocrats—all four Lifebane Zombies between the maindeck and sideboard and Sin Collectors and War Priest of Thune . . . These cards are just screaming for B/W Midrange’s Restoration Angels! With acceleration like Avacyn’s Pilgrim, they all could be even sweeter than the Restoration Angel play in B/W.

Cards maybe . . . but not deck necessarily.

Junk Aristocrats chooses instead to push Sam Black favorite thing (sacrificing your own stuff) and the morbid mechanic and associated activities, building on interlaced cards to build a whole greater than its individual components.

Blood Artist is a good example. By itself Blood Artist . . . does nothing. It doesn’t even have a point of power. But anyone who has played against Blood Artist—or multiple Blood Artists—knows the pain of being unable to race the ability to rebuild life points while simply blocking.

While Junk Aristocrats only has the one kind of Aristocrat (Cartel Aristocrat), it replaces the sacrifice outlet of Falkenrath Aristocrat with Varolz, the Scar-Striped; between these creatures and the Fight! ability on Garruk Relentless, Junk Aristocrats has lots of ways to set up the bonuses on the aforementioned Blood Artist, Tragic Slip, and the whiz-bang four-of Skirsdag High Priest (in this version).

Junk Aristocrats has some reasonable disruption capabilities, though perhaps less tonnage of card advantage than B/W Midrange. Where it excels is a format of fair fights against other creature decks. A basic level of operations will yield unblockable Cartel Aristocrats, passive racing via Blood Artists, and a steady stream of huge token creatures (5/5s from Skirsdag High Priest and a range of shenanigans from Voice of Resurgence).

But tell the truth—you’d love to see a Restoration Angel pitching in once in a while, wouldn’t you?

U/W Flash

After some months of seeing U/W/R Flash decks as the default non-Jund deck in Standard, it is a mite surprising—and perhaps a little bit refreshing—to see the nonred U/W Flash variation coming back as the only blue deck in an Open Top 8.

While Kevin Jones U/W deck has a lot of Flash to it, it is maybe two-thirds Flash and one-third regular U/W Control. This deck has not only a reasonable amount of cards you have to play on your own main phase—Detention Sphere and Supreme Verdict on defense—but Aetherling and Jaces various for threats (plus a multi-dimensional offensive subtheme with Talrand, Sky Summoner after sideboarding). Small one-of but potentially important synergy to note: this deck plays Cavern of Souls.

When you see a deck that has Aetherling, you start making certain assumptions. Aetherling is basically elite at one thing: closing out games that have not otherwise been already lost. In fact, when considering that function, Aetherling excels in particular against other blue control decks; and when we are talking about beating blue control decks, you had best be capable of resolving your Aetherling. Like I said, Kevin Jones can put the two one-ofs together to make beautiful music and splatter slow opponents.

B/G Midrange

We think of—and even refer to—this deck as "The Rock," but from a Next Level Deckbuilding standpoint, it is actually a Non-Blue Control deck (for this metagame, the B/W Midrange deck is actually the closer Junk/Rock). Why does this matter?

B/G Midrange is at least nominally a midrange deck, but it is really functionally a removal deck with card advantage. Let’s make this clear. There are eighteen noncreature cards in this deck, and fifteen of those kill creatures (and the other three are Sign in Blood). A lot of the cards, including the creature threats like Thragtusk and Desecration Demon, are powerful, but the deck itself is not particularly flexible.

Two things to keep in mind if you are considering B/G Midrange:

1. It absolutely excels against creature decks without reach; this includes even combo-esque decks like Bant Hexproof. If your local metagame includes a lot of Geist of Saint Traft and Invisible Stalker, Vampire Nighthawk and Golgari Charm match up awfully well against those cards. Given the decline of Loxodon Smiters in Bant Hexproof, Liliana of the Veil is better than ever (not that she was ever anything less than very good), and Mutilate trumps supposed answers like Rootborn Defenses and Boros Charm (depending on how arcane an opponent’s defenses might go). But to stay square . . . The deck, again, has a lot of powerful potential stuff, but the further away you get from the concept of "creature decks without reach," the less pronounced its edge.

2. This deck can be out-midranged. The idea of being out-midranged might be new to some of you. Certain midrange decks can reconfigure and beat control decks via a tonnage of something (usually disruption and/or card advantage); this deck certainly has some routes to card advantage, a mite of disruption, and some good threats. As long as it doesn’t get buried under multiple Sphinx’s Revelations, it should be able to compete with control. Not so other midrange decks. Two words: Rakdos’s Return. Not just that card, but Rakdos’s Return as a concept: a powerful, disruptive, card that attacks on multiple dimensions. Damage—Fireball like—to the jaw; card advantage—and punishing card advantage that can overcome and exploit the inherent vulnerabilities of spells like Sign in Blood; and inexorability—B/G doesn’t play Counterspell. Rakdos’s Return (or whatever) is going to resolve.

Rakdos’s Return is not unbeatable or anything, nor will this deck beat an opponent like Hexproof 100% of the time. It’s just important when you choose a deck that is basically a bunch of removal to keep in mind where you are strong versus where you are less so such that you can protect your maximum margin via prediction.

The Aristocrats

It may be convenient to lump all the B/R/W creature decks with morbid / self-sacrifice themes under a single umbrella, but what we think of as The Aristocrats actually covers a wide spectrum of decks from the original with Restoration Angel and Zealous Conscripts to the uniquely focused Act 2 (which often felt like a combo deck rather than a straight creature deck).

Luis Alfonso’s version of The Aristocrats is much more offensively minded—and conventionally so—than many other versions of The Aristocrats. Some specifics:

1. Champion of the Parish on one – As in this deck plays Champion of the Parish. Not all versions of The Aristocrats did or do. Starting on Champion of the Parish gives the deck a way to start getting in early, softening the opponent up for something red later.

2. Gather the Townsfolk – As in it is not only present but present over Lingering Souls. Gather the Townsfolk is the weaker card in general but allows for a double buff on Champion of the Parish on turn 2.

3. Brimstone Volley – As in this is a pretty unusual choice for this strategy . . . but one that makes sense. With all the morbid setup cards (Cartel Aristocrat, Falkenrath Aristocrat), it is not difficult to set up the full five. Incidentally the same outlets that get morbid are going make Mark of Mutiny very advantageous at the same mana cost.

Junk Reanimator

Given the continued popularity of Scavenging Ooze (and to a lesser extent Deathrite Shaman), Junk Reanimator, should it continue to be viable, needs to diversify out of the graveyard. This deck plays Farseek to play more like a straight midrange deck.

You’ll note that this version has tons of cards that generate advantages on their own (Fiend Hunter, Shadowborn Demon, Thragtusk, etc.). The sideboard in particular allows the deck to rebuild itself in a particular way to press a specific strategy. Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice; Rhox Faithmender; and Blood Baron of Vizkopa create a hell of life gain, while Sin Collector and Acidic Slime give Restoration Angel more high-value playmates that will generate card advantage and an opportunity to gain the upper hand against another midrange deck.

Ottawa MDSS

Our neighbors up north held a sizable Standard tournament of their own this past weekend. Kar Yung Tom of Mana Deprived held a Mana Deprived Super Series event in Ottawa that broke out thusly:


The Ottawa MDSS featured The Official Miser’s Guide fan (and Pro Tour Champion, and Grand Prix Champion, and former Rookie of the Year) Alexander Hayne in the Top 8 with his U/W Control deck, as well as a nice variety of different strategies (though not eight different decks or anything). But rather than hashing them all out one by one, I figured I might just highlight this one:

Not Your Father’s U/W/R Control Deck

Hamel’s deck shares colors and to a degree shares a name and an overarching strategic identity with a deck that you know . . .

. . . But it doesn’t look like anything we have ever really seen before.

Young Pyromancer in your control deck?

A little over one-third of this deck can trigger Young Pyromancer; plus, just as a 2/1 for two, it can initiate an offense that you rarely see out of these kinds of decks (Snapcaster Mage can technically do the same, but you wouldn’t normally see a U/W-ish player extending that way).

Archangel of Thune in your U/W/R deck?

Archangel of Thune is a stud (or at least as much of a stud as a girl Angel can be), but it’s not the kind of card you typically see in a strategy we more commonly associate with flash creatures like Restoration Angel. But when you consider the potential small army of a Young Pyromancer (or Moorland Haunt), the offensive bonus from Archangel of Thune starts to make sense. Blind Obedience, Azorius Charm, Sphinx’s Revelation, and Warleader’s Helix are of course catalysts to Archangel of Thune bonuses above and beyond its own lifelink.

Now on the subject of lifelink . . . Boros Reckoner.

The Lucky Charms combo is nothing new:

Boros Reckoner + Azorius Charm + Boros Charm

These three cards together allow a lifelinking, indestructible Boros Reckoner to damage itself any number of times, gaining de facto infinite life. Infinite life is nice, but it isn’t necessarily a win; plenty of U/R/W players have still gotten decked with more zeroes on their life pads than an opponent can reasonably deal.

But together with Archangel of Thune?

We also have the opportunity for lots and lots of damage.

I am not suggesting that this or these represent the central difference that makes the difference of this U/R/W build. Heck, Hamel played only a single Boros Charm main. But it is important to note that the deck is capable of jumping through some of these hoops, and of course the first two mentioned creatures make for quite a different deck than you are probably used to discussing in these colors.

It’s like the title says: Not Your Father’s U/R/W deck.

For more on the MDSS Ottawa Top 8, click here.

Looking at Legacy

Like the Standard portion, the Legacy Open in Philadelphia showcased eight different decks. A star-studded Top 8 event, this tournament featured SCG contributors like Jim Davis and Brian Braun-Duin getting it done and culminated in a win by fan favorite birthday boy Reid Duke with Elves!



I would of course recommend you check out Reid’s tournament report for the max lowdown on this one. Just to hit some major points:

1. I want to say this is the first big win by Elves since Gaea’s Cradle got super good via recent rules changes. The modification in the legend rule allows you to tap a Gaea’s Cradle and play (and tap) a second Gaea’s Cradle, keeping the second rather than simply burying them both. Obviously this makes for tons of available mana in short order.

2. Reid’s deck is super streamlined. Tons and tons of one-mana Elves, little of anything else. One-mana Elves make for a super redundant and predictable progression, which Reid favored over explosive powerhouses like Priest of Titania or Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary. The double Dryad Arbor is actually a redundancy of one-mana Elves, as you can Green Sun’s Zenith for Dryad Arbor and just pretend you drew a Llanowar Elves.

3. Double Craterhoof Behemoth, no Regal Force. It is rare that Regal Force will win a game that Craterhoof Behemoth won’t.

4. Savannah and Bayou are primarily there for sideboard cards like Cabal Therapy or Qasali Pridemage.

Elves is no secret, but the particulars of this deck, largely coming to Reid via Andrew Cuneo, make for a unique look at the celebrated strategy. Of all the important factors, the modified legend rule is probably the most important.


I don’t know what you think when you read the word "Maverick" in the context of Legacy, but Jacob Lindy’s deck is neither the standard G/W nor the Grove of the Burnwillows / Punishing Fire variation; rather, it’s a Junk take including Dark Confidant. The black splash helps this deck get a little more percentage out of the already excellent Deathrite Shaman and helps out substantially in the sideboard department.

Access to Thoughtseize gives this deck resistance—or at least a turn—against combo decks, while Chains of Mephistopheles is a potential defensive bomb.

Out of the main, Lindy’s Stoneforge Mystic provides a proven, incremental strategy.


This is no kind of "Dredge" deck that most of us have seen at top tables play before. Yes, the deck has some cards with the word "dredge" printed on them, but it shares elements of the original Friggorid, as well as more than a little influence from Adam Prosak "Oops, All Spells!" deck.

Playing no lands whatsoever allows this deck to one-card combo via Balustrade Spy (you can mill your entire deck in one move) off of Dread Return.

While most "Dredge" decks can explode off of Lion’s Eye Diamond and create overwhelming offense in one turn, Theo’s deck can just attack every turn with Ichorids while setting up for Cabal Therapy or lining up threats like Nether Shadow.

So how do you start?

You have to get a dredge card in your graveyard and then draw it somehow (for your turn, Gitaxian Probe, Street Wraith) to let the shenanigans start. Some closing thoughts on this "Dredge" build:

1. It is impossible to be mana screwed; rather, you are always mana screwed, but while you can never even draw lands, you need exactly zero lands to operate.

2. Most people want to go first; this can be convenient for you, as you can draw up to eight and discard to get going. Conversely, mulligans are especially punishing. If you somehow have no catalyst card and have to go to six, you can be especially behind.

3. Street Wraith and Gitaxian Probe aren’t just pretty faces! Gitaxian Probe gives you information that will make Cabal Therapy better.

4. This deck is a bit of a glass cannon. Unlike Dredge decks that can more flexibly cast cards, this deck has little to say to an opposing hate card. Not necessarily anything to worry about depending on the structure of the rest of the metagame, but possibly can cost you everything in the wrong spot.

We can talk all we want in general terms, but I thought it might be useful to illustrate and discuss some interesting cases.

Here’s one:

You go second and draw up your seven, keep, and pass. At eight cards, you discard a Golgari Grave-Troll. Prior to your next turn, you cycle a Street Wraith (dredging the Golgari Grave-Troll back to your hand), flipping over:

Balustrade Spy
Bridge from Below
Dread Return

You make all the free Narcomoebas but curse the fact that you somehow didn’t flip another dredge card. Oh well. You draw per normal.

You have no Cabal Therapy, so you might as well get in for three. 

Post-combat you sacrifice your three Narcomoebas to make the Balustrade Spy with Dread Return, netting a Bridge from Below 2/2 for each of them (so now you have a 2/3 Balustrade Spy and three 2/2 Zombie tokens).

Also, your Balustrade Spy triggers and mills your entire deck, meaning your other three Bridges, your fourth Narcomoeba, and all your Cabal Therapys. "I hope I can win before I have to draw a card," you say out loud while wrinkling your brow.

"Might as well," you figure and Cabal Therapy for Daze using your Narcomoeba, netting yourself four Four FOUR 2/2 Zombie tokens. Your opponent (who had attacked you on the first turn with a Goblin Guide) did not in fact have the card Daze in his hand. Whatevs.

Now you sacrifice three of your seven 2/2 Zombie tokens to Dread Return Flayer of the Hatebound. Your opponent goes from seventeen to thirteen. You forgot to write down your opponent’s hand but are pretty sure he didn’t have a Daze. You now play your third Dread Return of the second turn (pretty cool, huh?), sacrificing two of your many Zombies and your Flayer of the Hatebound.

The Flayer comes back first, knocking the opponent down to eight, and then comes your Phantasmagorian, which puts him down to two.

"Argh!" you exclaim, having already attacked (though there is no way for any of these creatures you have to attack). "How am I going to do the last two before I have to draw from my library with no cards in it?" Of course, given your Flayer of the Hatebound, THERE. ARE. WAYS. 

But then you remember you have a fourth Dread Return and two more Cabal Therapys that would prevent the opponent from being able to stop you. So you just rebuy almost anyone but Golgari Thug or Nether Shadow and shuffle up for the next one.

I figure that’s like the average second turn. 

I didn’t want to go over each and every Legacy Open deck, at least not with the level of difference and complexity evidenced by the above handful of Legacy decks, but if you would like to peruse the others yourself, check them out here.


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