As I write this, it’s Wednesday in Vancouver, and the Team Ultra Pro house is discussing sideboard plans for one of the decks we’re focusing on with occasional side comments about the potential for another day of b-ball with Vancouver’s own Jeff Fung. I’ve taken a few small breaks from talk of pick orders, prep of sideboard plans, and all of the other Pro Tour work just to keep myself sane. I’ve been neck-deep in Magic Origins since the spoiler was fully out.
The view from House Ultra PRO
In the meantime, though, a ton of emails have piled up on my ‘desk’ from people interested in what the new set means for U/B Control. For the most part I’ve kept a little quiet about this, but I’m free to talk now since by the time you’ll be reading this the Pro Tour will already be underway.
One of the most common questions I’ve heard is, “What new cards are you playing?”
Well, I’m still not 100% sure that I’m playing U/B Control. But, if I do play U/B Control, I am 100% sure that I don’t want to talk about the specific contents of my list such that any competitor of mine can just look up what I’m playing. So, with that caveat, I’m sure you’ll understand I can’t just share the specific cards that I think are the best.
What I can do, however, is candidly talk about the cards that everyone has asked me about. And there are quite a few! In addition, I think that some of the cards that were already in print bear some new additional discussion as well, so I am going to revisit a couple of them at least as well.
Let’s get to it!
First of all, Hangarback Walker has no business being in U/B Control. None.
Let that sink in.
Secondly, Hangarback Walker is a great cornerstone to a Thopter Spy Network U/B deck. This deck has to be built fundamentally differently, and when I look at the work that Jim Davis did recently with this deck building on the work that Jeff Hoogland did with U/W Control, it seems clear that there is something incredibly compelling about this style of deck.
Of course, it isn’t without its problems.
Playing so heavily onto the table like this means that you can’t take as full of advantage of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, potentially one of your best cards, and you also can’t really use Perilous Vault – sure, you might be able to get away with one or even two in your 75 cards, but it is largely a nombo with everything else your deck is doing.
Giving this up is a big deal. I’ve long felt that Perilous Vault is one of the best cards in U/B Control, even though it is as slow as it is. More on that below.
Orbs of Warding is an awesome card, but it isn’t just a card you’d shove into a control deck. You might, however, use it to solve small problems that might otherwise be difficult to deal with.
I definitely think that this is a worthy sideboard card, and though obviously it is at its best fighting burn spells, it is also decent at stopping discard effects, or reducing a small army of Thopters into a silly parade of pinwheels and ignoring any number of Goblin or Soldier tokens too. This card doesn’t play well with Perilous Vault, but it certainly finds a friend in Ugin.
Colorless lands are a real issue for U/B Control. If you look at both my list from Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir and Shouta Yasooka’s U/B Dragons list, you’ll notice that both of us have something important in common: we’re both running two copies of Opulent Palace.
The big issue for all builds of U/B is that four Polluted Delta, four Temple of Deceit, and four Dismal Backwater simply aren’t enough. The power of colorless land cannot be understated, but each one you run is really asking for a little bit of trouble. Like an excited but dangerous new dating prospect, there might be a promise of something incredibly awesome in these cards but there is also a real risk of regret. If you’ve ever stared at your Dissolve and Bile Blight in hand and were unable to cast either despite having three lands, you know what I’m talking about.
Foundry of the Consuls is a card that could easily be worth thinking of as a one-of, especially in a Thopter Spy Network deck. Often you are able to get a Thopter Spy Network up and running with little to no problems, but when things don’t come together it is pretty bad. Four mana is no joke, and spending four mana to no effect is a big deal. Foundry of the Consuls is yet another card to help out with that.
Mage-Ring Network, on the other hand, is a huge boon to any deck that is going to want to spend big mana. For U/B, this can mean building up to cast an Ugin or simply building up to do multiple things in a turn. A lot of time, with U/B, you’re ending the turn with mana open. Now, while you can open yourself up to a potential scary instant by tapping down a little to build up a Mage-Ring Network, if you fear such a thing that turn you’re not required to build up your Network – but if you can afford to charge it up, it’s practically like laying another land! That is a huge deal, and long games can be blown wide open by this card.
But, of course, it is another source of colorless mana…
Those two lands, above, are in competition with this card. Radiant Fountain (or “Hallowed Fountain” as Ben Stark says around House Team Ultra PRO) has really proven its worth, but at the same time it isn’t really doing anything that seems so remarkable. Two life might not seem like a big deal, but in the grand scheme of things it absolutely is. Between Dismal Backwater and Radiant Fountain, I know I’ve played a ton of games against aggressive decks where I’ve gained six life and that was the difference between winning and losing. Turn that six life into four life, and it might actually be a loss.
This card is great. But when it is competing with Mage-Ring Network, it really is causing a little bit of havoc. Something’s got to give, and what that is can be a hard call for these two-color control decks.
This card is one that people are scrutinizing once again as to whether it is worth it. The big reason is Languish. Languish is such an incredibly efficient card that for some people, still running Perilous Vault at all seems potentially problematic.
I’m sympathetic to that, but I think that completely running away from Perilous Vault is wrong unless you’re changing over to a Hangarback / Spy Network shell or a Dragon shell. There are a lot of crazy decks out there right now that are playing with super powerful permanents, and Perilous Vault doesn’t give a damn about any of their reindeer games. Keep them honest, ruin their fun. Play Perilous Vault.
These two peas in a pod are incredibly good just in general, but they both have been given a little boost recently as well.
Dragonlord Silumgar has gotten better because it’s just been given a whole new host of planeswalkers to prey upon. Stealing the new Nissa in planeswalker form is incredible for a control deck, and many decks simply cannot handle that move. Even taking a new, popular creature like Hangarback Walker is exciting.
On the other side of things, Silumgar, the Drifting Death is huge right now. Not only can Silumgar, the Drifting Death survive a Languish, but it can join up with a Languish in shrinking down a Siege Rhino or other creature who your opponent intended to have survive a Languish. Thopters are also very weak to Silumgar, the Drifting Death. Where before I wasn’t so hot on this card, I have to say, nowadays, it looks pretty great.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me they want to play the newest Jace in U/B Control. I have to say, I’m not convinced.
Putting out a Merfolk Looter on turn two isn’t something I really want to be doing when I’m a control deck. More importantly though, U/B Control doesn’t really have a lot of cards that it is excited about casting from the graveyard. You’re not able to cast a counterspell very effectively on your own turn, and the rest of the spells Jace might potentially let you flash back would put your shields down simply by virtue of casting them on your own turn.
Sure, you’re getting a ‘free’ card, but what you’re not getting is the ability to cast it during the most opportune time.
Don’t get me wrong: this is a great card. It just doesn’t happen to be the card U/B Control is looking for.
When Jeff Hoogland talked about Displacement Wave as a means to combat Mono-Red aggressive strategies, I was really impressed. In many ways, this can be a “cheaper” Drown in Sorrow when you’re fighting tokens, with the upside of being able to do a lot more work at higher mana.
This isn’t an auto-include for a U/B Control sideboard, to be sure. We already have Bile Blight, Drown in Sorrow, Crux of Fate and Languish – not to mention Perilous Vault – to help out with keeping the board clear. What is nice about this card, though, is the way it scales with mana, so this is an excellent card to at least be considering.
I like this card, I really do. And while I don’t think this is a card that this deck is looking for, I can see why some people have asked me about it. One of the best things that the card can do is dramatically shift the tempo of the game. Stunting the board development on two or more permanents with one card is a big deal versus an aggressive deck, and so Harbinger of Tides is worth thinking about. The big reason why I’m not completely excited about this card is that for this kind of mana I’m thinking about Languish, or spending an extra mana’s worth for Aetherspouts.
There aren’t very many cards that can stymie an Exquisite Firecraft, but this is one of them. Sure, the Meddler will die in the process, but you won’t. In addition, you can also throw this out there to suck up a lesser burn spell and actually have the Meddler survive. It might manage to block a few times in the meantime.
Totally solid, even if it is unexciting.
TSN, the best cable channel in Tolaria (or wherever it is supposed to be located), is truly an awesome card. The only real problem with the card is that you’ve got to play around it. This is going to mean three or five colorless lands that you have to dedicate to supporting TSN, not to mention Hangarback Walker.
The payoff, “Betterblossom,” is truly an incredible card. The bad thing about all of this, though, is that you’re going to have to eschew Perilous Vault and Ugin and you’re going to take up a lot of space in your deck.
The upside: it is very easy to run away with the game with an active Thopter Spy Network.
Once of the best things about Silumgar’s Scorn is the ability to stop a threat on turn two and on turn six. Clash of Wills is often able to accomplish the same feat, but without the need for UU.
Of course, the downside is that there are going to be very many turns where it won’t be able to counter anything at all.
Still, though, this is a great card, especially with its BFF, Mage-Ring Network.
If you’re already at four Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, and you’re looking for more nightmare cards for a control opponent to play against, Jhessian Thief is probably your card. If you’ve ever seen Ophidian run someone over, you’ll understand just what a nightmare it can be to have, say, eight cards that you might drop on turn three versus another Dissolve deck.
Here we have a card that is mostly looking at burn spells as its primary target, largely because of the absurdity of fighting Exquisite Firecraft. The problem of this card, of course, is that you not only can’t stop any non-burn spells from that deck, but if you don’t have Spell Mastery (in your Dig Through Time deck), you won’t get the extra payoff.
I don’t think this is good, but it is still worthy of consideration.
Sphinx’s Tutelage is more resilient than Jhessian Thief against a rival control deck, but also less powerful.
That being said, the fact that it is incredibly difficult to get rid of is noteworthy. If you can drop this on turn two versus a deck like Esper Dragons, it isn’t difficult to imagine that between this and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver they will be in a world of hurt.
For the Sphinx’s Revelation season I was a huge proponent of Disperse, to the surprise of many. And, candidly, I think it was an incredible card for a lot of reasons. Other than being able to make shenanigans happen with Detention Sphere, you simply needed to get a card off of the table sometimes and you could always make up for the loss later with Sphinx’s Revelation. You could even protect your own cards with it, making it a pseudo-counter.
That versatility mattered.
Unfortunately, I don’t think now is the time for the card. It really doesn’t do enough without being able to be sneaky with it, and Dig Through Time is great but it’s no Sphinx’s Revelation.
In a world where Languish is a common removal spell, Prognostic Sphinx just shines. It’s at its best when it’s fighting against any other Dig Through Time deck or when it is able to block and kill opposing creatures (as opposed to blocking but only acting as a wall).
I don’t think now is the time for Sphinx, but we might see reasonable Prognostication again someday soon.
I love a lot about this card. From a pure-design standpoint it is awesome. I also love the fact that it looks to me to be like a slow-motion Cruel Ultimatum.
However, like Thopter Spy Network, you really have to build your whole deck around this card. That’s hard enough to begin with, but I don’t think the payoff is as high as it is in TSN. At least it still makes sense to play Perilous Vault and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon with this card, though.
This card in small numbers (like one or two) makes some sense to me. Getting rid of all of the Deathmist Raptors feels like it could be great, and similarly, I wouldn’t mind making sure Mogis’s Marauder or Nantuko Husk aren’t around to mess with me from a Rally deck, nor do I mind knocking out all of the Dragonlord Ojutai from Esper Dragons. But then, of course, there’s also Gaea’s Revenge. Unconventional problems require unconventional answers.
This is one of the cornerstones for why I think there is new interest in U/B Control, and for good reason. Four mana is so much less than five mana that it just can’t be overstated. In addition, -4/-4 gets around little things like regeneration or Indestructible.
Hell, there’s a way in which this card is so good, seeing play in Abzan Control in such great numbers, that you almost don’t even need to play the card because the room will do it for you…
…And because Languish is likely to warp the creatures that people play, there is actually a renewed reason to play Crux of Fate. All of the creatures that people use to dodge Languish with are mostly unlikely to be missed by Crux. Playing a mix of them can be incredibly difficult to play around for an opponent facing down an U/B Control deck, especially with a mix of the other removal you have available.
Sweet Tassy Malassy is an even more powerful spell in the world of Languish. U/B Control loves Tasigur as a means of generating card advantage and as a way to fuel more Dig Through Times. The fact that Languish doesn’t kill Tasigur, the Golden Fang is just frosting on the cake.
More life matters a lot in a world where Hordeling Outburst decks are dishing out damage in uncounterable four-damage packages. Foul-Tongue Invocation requires committing to Dragons, but if that isn’t your thing, Pharika’s Cure should at least be on your radar.
With more love to be had for colorless land, having a powerful removal spell for 1B is an important option. It is also even more important than ever because of the new planeswalkers, all of which this could kill before they transform into their ascended form. If those cards are as popular as I expect them to be, a little more cheap and easy-to-cast removal is all the more valuable.
Really, this card becomes worth of mentioning simply because of the awesome power of Exquisite Firecraft. That card is a game-changer for red, and having weapons to fight it is important.
There you have it – my review of the Magic Origins cards to think about for U/B Control, as well as some slightly-older cards to re-evaluate in the context of the new set.
On another note, as many of you know, I’ve been on a quest I’ve been calling #TheQuest4Platinum. After Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir in Brussels, there was a real possibility that I might be able to reach Platinum by the end of the season. It’s still a long shot, but this weekend’s Pro Tour is my chance to make it happen. I have to finish incredibly well. A Top Eight will do it, but so will a very high finish close to Top Eight.
I’m shooting for that Top Eight. Wish me luck.
As a special bonus for wishing me luck, here is my update to Turbo Fog. I think it is an awesome deck, but it isn’t quite ready for prime time (though if Wild Slash disappears, I think it could be).