U/W Control In Modern For SCG Baltimore

Mark Herberholz talks the U/W Control deck that returned him to the Pro Tour in Los Angeles before lighting the fuse on the Hot Take Cannon! Get his excellent insight before SCG Baltimore this weekend!

Guess who’s back, back again….Heezy’s back, best known as Nassif’s friend.

After a lot of years, I’m finally back on the Pro Tour by winning the Friday Modern PTQ at Grand Prix Los Angeles. I was originally planning to go to GP Los Angeles but didn’t know that the Friday PTQ existed. My amazing girlfriend and son were visiting my sister in Kentucky the week leading up to LA and were getting back late Thursday night. I struggled with the idea of leaving Friday morning to make it in time for the PTQ, knowing that I’d have to go a bit longer without spending time with them, but in the end pulled the trigger.

As much as I’d like to game 24/7, Peter Pan had to grow up and has real-world obligations like a family and job. As such, it’s hard for me to find the time to put into competitive magic. Melissa (my girlfriend) is very understanding and gives me plenty of free passes to game, but I’d just used one up to help David Williams, Eric Froehlich, Gabriel Nassif, and others test for Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. Thankfully she realized how important it was to me to try to get back on the Pro Tour and handed out another for GP LA.

I booked my flight and hotel and made the decision to play U/W Control in the Modern PTQ. A few months ago, before GP Las Vegas, I had been testing U/W Control with four copies of Opt to enable four copies of Terminus. I’d been really happy with its results and felt like Terminus was well-positioned in the format due to all of the recursive creatures running around. Its stock only went up with R/B Vengevine deck rose to prominence.

Terminus, in general, has always surprised me a bit by not being played more. I attribute this to the fact that it’s a high-variance card. It’s great off the top of your deck and dead in your opener. Control players typically hate this type of card because control decks are usually streamlined and consistent. If you want to play high-variance games, you usually sign up for a deck like Hollow One or R/B Vengevine. As such, I think Terminus never got the love it deserved.

I ended up not playing in the Modern GP at GP Vegas because I couldn’t get the time off work, but had kept the conversation going with Nassif and tuned in on his stream a lot. He wasn’t a fan of Terminus because it forced you to play Opt, which is a poor man’s Serum Visions. But I actually didn’t mind playing Opt because I liked having more instant-speed spells and being able to keep mana up on an opponent’s turn. Forcing your opponent to play around Opt into Terminus, Path to Exile, Cryptic Command, and the various counterspells U/W Control plays results in a lot of misplays. The more you tap mana on your turn, the less you get out of that aspect of the deck, something most players don’t realize.

After talking to Nassif, I sang U/W Control’s praises to Lan D. Ho. He was on board with the Terminus plan and was willing to work on the deck with me. To be honest, the list I played was only a handful of cards different from Lan’s last list. Long story short, I handed Lan an idea, and he tuned it and provided the feedback I needed to get the final changes in.

As an aside, for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time to play Magic, chats and watching Twitch streams have been incredibly helpful for me to prepare for a tournament. Being able to watch Nassif stream every morning while I have my coffee and having the added bonus of trolling him for his misplays and timeouts has been both enjoyable and educational. I would not have won this tournament without Nassif’s stream and chatting with Lan, full stop. Remember to support your streamers and help your friends, folks!

The only change I’ve made from my PTQ-winning list is swapping out a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria for a Gideon Jura, a change that has taken place for two reasons. First, Gideon is just better against the creature matchups, as it’s hard for them to answer and does a great job of protecting Jace, the Mind Sculptor to let you aggressively cast your planeswalkers to turn the corner.

Second, a couple of my matches went to time and I’m a fast player. A couple of other matches could have easily gone to time if my opponents didn’t scoop when I had full control. Ending up in the draw bracket isn’t ideal when creature decks are all good matchups, so I just wanted to have a way to win quickly, and it’s also nice that Gideon could just be a better choice if the metagame is heavy with creatures.

The lack of Serum Visions and Ancestral Vision is covered above, but to reiterate, I don’t like tapping mana on my turn if I don’t have to. Playing these cards also comes up in the U/W Control mirror, but instead of them, I have a couple more counterspells. The games go so long that it’s hard to pull ahead and usually your threats/counters line up and whoever has more in their deck comes out on top. Game 1, there are so many dead cards that it’s hard to really get an edge or know when you should initiate a fight. Hitting land drops is very important and those cards do great work there, but with how long the games, go I’d prefer to just have more counters/threats. I won my PTQ mirror match 1-0 by decking my opponent in Game 1.

I wanted more shuffle effects to go with Jace and a bit more consistency with the mana, so I added two copies of Scalding Tarn. Most decks play basics in this slot, but with Cryptic Command and wanting early white for Terminus and Path to Exile, the manabase was a little inconsistent. Scalding Tarn was great for me and worth having fewer lands in your deck for the U/W Control mirror and being slightly more vulnerable to Blood Moon.

This slot is typically the second copy of Detention Sphere, but I wanted to try Academy Ruins in the sideboard for the control mirror to rebuy Crucible of Worlds or Torrential Gearhulk, and having more lands to always hit your land drops is ideal. Once you have Academy Ruins, Engineered Explosives goes up in stock. I think Explosives was net better than a second Detention Sphere, as it acted like a sweeper versus Humans in a couple of spots where Sphere wouldn’t.

I felt like with Oust, Terminus, Path to Exile, Engineered Explosives, and Detention Sphere, I had enough variety against Meddling Mage that Wrath of God wasn’t necessary. The fourth Terminus took this slot and I was happy with it.

Oust was great for me all weekend long. When Lan originally had it in his list I was skeptical, but he said it overperformed for him and it did for me as well. I aggressively cast it against Humans to buy some time on their Turn 1 play and it was great. If the format shifts to more R/B Vengevine and less Humans, I could see Condemn taking this slot, but for now I like Oust in the deck.

Academy Ruins is the sideboard card that could be cut, as it’s the lowest-impact. It’s mainly for the mirror to try to ensure Crucible of Worlds hits and to rebuy Torrential Gearhulk, but also gets sided in against most decks for Ghost Quarter because it provides some small utility. I used it a few times, but I’m unsure moving forward if it deserves the slot. I need to get more reps in against the mirror to know if it’s actually good there.

Sometimes you just wanna win quickly, and this was the best option.

You sideboard Spell Queller in against pretty much every deck and it’s always pretty good but not great. Because of its versatility, it deserves the spots, and don’t be afraid to throw it out there to block rather than wait to hit a spell.

Sideboarding Guide

VS Storm



In this matchup, they go for Empty the Warrens after sideboarding, so you need to keep in a few sweepers. If you resolve a Rest in Peace, you can start aggressively playing Jace without any punishment. Vendilion Clique shines in this matchup and here’s where you want it the most and miss the second copy that some decks play. Teferi felt too risky to tap out for, and if the game got to that state, it felt like I was winning anyway.

VS Humans, Hollow One, and R/B Vengevine



In these matchups the counterspells suck, so they are natural exclusions. Torrential Gearhulk helps you win quickly because all these decks can win in a few turns and you can’t, so if they grab a game and make you actually win rather than concede, it can lead to a draw.

VS Infect



This matchup is all about the first few turns. If your hand doesn’t have Path to Exile in it, it’s almost always a mulligan. The alternatives would be if it also had no copies of Terminus to maximize your chance to miracle one and cheap counters. When they attack you, just take the infect damage unless they play a pump spell and Path it in their end step, as this reduces the blowout potential from Blossoming Defense and Vines of Vastwood.

VS Mono-Green Tron



In this matchup I’m not sure if Terminus or Path to Exile is better, so I am somewhat hedging. I suspect Path is better and that’s how I got to keeping four copies in.

VS Ironworks



Mulligan aggressively unless you have Stony Silence, Rest in Peace, or Negate after sideboarding. They’re likely bringing in Sai, Master Thopterist, so keep in a couple of copies of Terminus as a hedge.

VS U/W Control



As with any blue-based control mirror, the best strategy is to not do anything on your turn. Keep land-heavy hands with no action, as everyone is always too scared to go for it, so keeping a seven-land hand is actually realistic in this matchup.

The Hall of Fame Conversation

Yes, it’s negative this year. Yes, it’s a lot of buried grudges coming to the surface. But yes, I feel these conversations still need to happen. Magic has had such a long lifespan that it’s incredibly rare for someone to be familiar with everyone eligible for the Hall of Fame. As a result, I feel that the onus is on the voter to reach out and learn more about candidates they aren’t familiar with.

Ask players who were from the same era about the candidate, because almost everyone is responsive on social media. If someone has a negative story, take it with a grain of salt and not as the complete truth. I personally use such a story as a data point, not a binary, and if a candidate has many different people telling many different negative stories, then enough data points add up and they don’t get my vote. Obviously, those conversations can come across as negative, but how else can you be informed? I never knew what Willy Edel did for his local community before the Hall of Fame conversation, and that led me to learn that he’s a very deserving inclusion. Sometimes it’s not all bad.

Cheating in Magic

Let me preface this with the fact that it is impossible to play Magic for a significant amount of time without creating a scenario in which you could be labeled as a cheater. I once cast an Extirpate in response to a spell when my opponent had Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir on the battlefield on camera in the Top 4 of a Pro Tour. My opponent, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, and I both missed it, and in fact we both got annoyed when the judge stopped us to ask about it and pointed out the card had split second, so it had to resolve. I simply got lost in a train of thought with the pressure of the match and forgot about Teferi.

I’m sure some people saw this and labeled me as shady, and I’m certain that many more would’ve if I wasn’t an American, I wasn’t well known, I didn’t have a group of Pro friends, and I didn’t have a resume of good finishes. It was an embarrassing mistake and I’m happy I lost the match and it wasn’t relevant, but Magic is too complex to play cleanly all the time. Sometimes you just have a mental lapse.

The best way to stop cheating is if there is ever an instance of miscommunication, slow play, or the like, call a judge during the match and tell your story to the community afterwards. You should share your story because there are many players out there who do intentionally cheat when the opportunity presents itself, and the best way to catch these people is to build awareness by surfacing more stories from different people of similar infractions. The collateral damage is that some honest players who made an honest mistake will catch a temporary bad rap. I view this as a cost we as a community must pay to catch cheating.

The only caveat I would like to provide, and something I have been guilty of, is to give players the benefit of the doubt if they are not native English speakers. Magic is an incredibly complex game and has many unique terms, so it’s only natural for misunderstandings to occur that can look like cheating. I feel like as a community we are too quick to label someone a cheater, and in doing so, non-English speakers catch the brunt of this because of language barriers. It’s fine to share a story to build awareness, but I think it’s important to withhold judgement of the player until you hear more stories from other sources or lack thereof. Sometimes people just make innocent mistakes.

Women in Magic

Yes, they exist and yes, we should try to get more to exist. I was once a teenage guy and I once stupidly commented on a girl’s appearance. If you see a woman during coverage, or on a stream, or literally anywhere in life, please understand that their goal is not to have you comment on how they look and your level of attraction to them. If you see a woman at a Magic tournament and you want to be friendly, ask her how she is doing or what deck she is playing, not if she is here with her boyfriend. If you want Magic to grow and love this game, please realize that women present one of the most underrepresented demographics and best chance to quickly grow the game if there is adoption.

Buy-A-Box Promos

Yes, Nexus of Fate is good for Magic, and yes, they should have made nonfoils. Wizards of the Coast has historically been terrible at marketing Magic, as the game is too complex to explain why it’s great in any traditional advertising. Buy-a-Box promos are an amazing marketing tool. They’re low in cost, they support the community and local game stores, and they generate revenue. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better return on investment in the history of WotC’s marketing efforts. Please don’t hate on one of their best ways to increase sales.