Why U/B Control Will Rise To The Top At Worlds

This is a great starting point to begin building a U/B Control deck for the Standard metagame. Whether it’s Worlds or SCG Open: Las Vegas you want to win, check out this solid build.

 A red/green ramp deck is performing very well in Standard, and random control decks are trying to keep up. Primeval Titan is pretty much the best card, and we’re closing in on Worlds.

Déjà vu, circa 2010, anyone?

This Standard metagame seems eerily familiar at this point in time compared to last year. It’s like the black cat is walking by Neo for the second time, signaling a glitch in the Matrix. If history repeats itself (and we all know it does), U/B Control will initially come out of Worlds as ‘the best deck.’ Of course, Caw-Go and Caw-Blade should then somehow follow, but we are unsure at this moment what form that deck will be in, so let’s look as far ahead as we can without needing a Crystal Ball. 

Even though Worlds is still a few weeks away, anyone attending who plans on winning is thinking about what deck to play and what everyone else will be playing right now.

The following is the metagame breakdown from last year’s 2010 Worlds Standard portion:

Valakut Ramp — 32.39%

Blue-White Control — 16.76%

Blue-Black Control — 14.49%

Vampires — 7.95%

RUG — 6.25%

WW Quest — 5.11%

Boros — 4.26%

(Bunch of other less than 3% decks)

Obviously, you’re not going to see decks like White Weenie Quest and Vampires (most likely), but the top of that list is probably going to be very similar this year. Around 30-35% of the field will probably be Wolf Run Ramp decks, and probably closer to 20% this year will be blue control decks (most of them being Blue-Black). After that, U/W Blade, Mono-Black Infect, Township Tokens, and the ‘breakout deck’ that many people do not know about will fill in the remainder of the ‘popular’ strategies. U/W Blade may be a bit more on the up and closer to that 20% mark after winning in Kansas City.

So how does U/B Control tackle a field of Dungrove Elders, Primeval Titans, Sword of Feast and Famine, Hero of Bladehold, Inkmoth Nexus, Moorland Haunt, Phyrexian AND Mirran Crusader, Geist of Saint Traft, Shrine of Loyal Legions, and numerous other diverse threats? Oh, don’t forget the control mirrors as well! The answer to this question is worth approximately 40,000 USD, I’m pretty sure. I’m going to run through how I would begin trying to build a U/B Control list as though I were preparing for Worlds and this metagame, and maybe we’ll see something close to what will be played in a few weeks at Worlds.

Being able to beat Wolf Run Ramp:

If your deck loses to Wolf Run Ramp, you’re not winning this tournament. Period. I made this mistake in States when I audibled to a RUG Control deck over Angelic Bant, and I paid for it.

If your deck has a well-thought out plan against Wolf Run Ramp, and you are prepared for their threats (and the deck’s possible evolutions), congratulations, you have taken the first step necessary for having a fighting chance in the Worlds environment.

However, if your deck wrecks Wolf Run Ramp but folds to every other strategy because you over-prepared for one deck, it is back to the drawing board. You can’t just cross your fingers and hope to play one deck all day.

The biggest issue with U/B Control trying to beat Wolf Run Ramp is their diverse threats. If you just side in four Flashfreeze, they’ll just beat you with Thrun, the Last Troll and Wurmcoil Engine. If you just load up on spot removal, they’ll beat you with Garruk, Primal Hunter. If you plan on wiping the board at sorcery speed, they’ll beat you with Inkmoth Nexus and Kessig Wolf Run. Now obviously, they aren’t going to have all of these things at the same time, but we need to be prepared for all of them. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what their plan is, and whether we need a Dissipate or a Doom Blade?

Enter Despise.

Why this card is not seeing play right now, I’ll never understand. For a control deck, wait, ANY deck, to have information on what their opponent has in their hand and what their plan of attack may be is invaluable. Despise does only take a creature or a planeswalker card from their hand, but let’s look at Wolf Run’s threats.

Dungrove Elder – Can’t Doom Blade him.

Thrun, the Last Troll – Can’t counter him, can’t Doom Blade him. Oh yeah he regenerates too. (This card is fair, right?)

Garruk (Primal Hunter or Relentless) – Can’t Doom Blade a planeswalker, don’t have Creeping Tar Pit anymore.

Primeval Titan – Even if you Doom Blade him, the damage has probably been done.

Wurmcoil Engine – If you Doom Blade him, there’s still six power of creatures left behind.

The (almost) Mono-Green versions also rely heavily on their one-drop accelerants, so Despise on the play can take their Birds of Paradise and leave them possibly doing nothing until turn three or four. Despise is a card that does a very good job of helping U/B Control defend itself against the multiple threats that Wolf Run presents and could actually be one of the only ways with dealing with some of them. Granted, it whiffs on instants, sorceries, artifacts and enchantments, but Sword of Feast and Famine seems to really be the only big deal of those mentioned.

Did I mention that information on your opponent’s hand is invaluable? Say you Despise (or maybe even Distress) your opponent and take a Dungrove Elder and leave them with a Garruk, Primal Hunter in their hand. Your hand does not currently have a way to deal with Garruk, but you do have a Forbidden Alchemy. Now, when you look at those four cards, you will know you need to take one of them to either deal with the Garruk or somehow win the game without him being relevant. Understanding your opponent’s strategy and plan, along with how they want to stop you from winning, makes formulating YOUR plan much, much easier.

Oh yeah, and it’s a sorcery, which means you can flash it back with Snapcaster Mage, but more on that later. While Despise is not going to singlehandedly win you the game against Wolf Run Ramp, it will certainly help you more than if you weren’t running any at all. Distress is also another option and could possibly be a sideboard inclusion as well. The Mono-Black Infect decks have been utilizing Distress recently, and for good reason.

Despise also helps us against the U/W Blade decks that run problematic creatures like Mirran Crusader and hard-to-deal-with planeswalkers like Elspeth Tirel. Overall, Despise should be seeing much more play, and U/B Control is a great home for it right now.

Our answers versus their questions:

Building a control deck basically comes down to coming up with answers to a number of questions presented. The questions, in this case, are the number of different threats we are predicting to face. Being able to answers these threats efficiently and reliably is our key to victory.

We already mentioned a number of the threats above, so let’s begin discussing our possibilities of answers.

Despise/Distress – See above million words.

Mana Leak – Bread and Butter counterspell that we can’t leave home without. Diminishing returns if the game goes long, but we can’t not play at least three maindeck.

Dissipate – A strictly better Cancel and necessary hard counterspell in this format. We’re probably going to need at least two main.

Psychic Barrier/Negate – Depending on the exact metagame, one or both of these could be considered for the main deck and possibly sideboard.

Doom Blade – This has been the premier spot removal spell for the past few weeks. Black infect creatures such as Phyrexian Crusader and Plague Stinger have begun seeing more play, though.

Dismember – A lack of good Dismember targets in this metagame has caused this card to begin seeing less play. I can’t see us not trying to play at least one of these, though, since we have black mana.

Go for the Throat – With Inkmoth Nexus and Wurmcoil Engine being the only really relevant artifact creatures being played recently, we could possibly go back to playing at least one of these maindeck.

Wring Flesh — Good, cheap removal if we’re expecting a lot of small cheap creatures.

Tribute to Hunger/Geth’s Verdict – Which of these is certainly up for debate, but the fact that we may need one of them is certainly not. One is slightly easier to cast in a two-color deck and gains life; the other is cheaper to play but a little tougher on the mana. I personally lean more towards Tribute.

Black Sun’s Zenith – It’s no Day of Judgment, but could possibly be necessary as a wrath effect. Life’s Finale is also a possible inclusion, but costing six mana is rather rough.

Ratchet Bomb – A great way of sweeping tokens for cheap and also ticks up to help us deal with pesky permanents that we have few other answers for (Sword of Feast and Famine, Oblivion Ring, planeswalkers, etc.).

Disperse – This is a card that I feel that needs to be looked at. Bouncing a Sword of Feast and Famine that is equipped to an attacking creature can be a great tempo play, along with bouncing other non-land permanents that we don’t have a lot of answers to. It’s no Into the Roil, but we have to at least consider it.

Most of the above information is pretty much already known, but the configuration of a 75-card deck is what we need to determine.

Our own threats:

Filling a deck with answers is not going to win us a game, so we need to combine them with our own threats and value/support cards.

Snapcaster Mage – In a deck filled with instants and sorceries, we can’t help but try to fit this guy into our strategy. I don’t think he needs much explanation at this point.

Think Twice/Forbidden Alchemy – Our main card draw/filtering/selection package. We’re definitely not going to have room for four of each of them, nor do we probably want four of each anyway.

Druidic Satchel – Everyone’s hot on this card in control decks. I can see us considering one or two of these.

Liliana of the Veil – A regular U/B Control shell can’t really take advantage of her +1 discard ability as much as other decks can, but her -2 edict effect is still really good. We’re most likely not playing four, but two could still be an option.

Jace, Memory Adept – This guy is actually pretty good in control mirrors, as they tend to go long, and you can either just +1 him into oblivion and bury them in card advantage, or use his zero ability to mill them out. He isn’t the best against aggressive strategies, but will certainly be needed for control.

Karn Liberated – This guy is a great catchall, seven-mana planeswalker. Another great way to end a control mirror, and possibly against more aggressive strategies as well.

Blue Sun’s Zenith – If we go on the mill plan against other control decks, this could make it into at least the sideboard to either refill our hands or ‘fireball’ their library for the win very late in the game.

‘Titans’ – Consecrated Sphinx, Grave Titan, Wurmcoil Engine, and Frost Titan are all obvious considerations for our six-drop slot. Which ones we want to play and how many is a big part of our plan. Batterskull is also an option, although is one less mana and not a creature.

Phantasmal Image/Phyrexian Metamorph – Two of the best Clone variants ever printed and a great way to deal with pesky Legendary creatures.

Utility Lands – Ghost Quarter, Inkmoth Nexus, Nephalia Drownyard, and Buried Ruin all come to mind as far as other lands we would want to possibly consider.

Now that we have gone through a number of cards to consider for the deck, let’s try to put them all together into 75 cards:

This is personally how I would configure the deck given the expected metagame, personal play style, and how I think the formal will evolve by the time of Worlds. I’ll break everything down.


3 Snapcaster Mage – With 20 instants and sorceries to flashback in our maindeck, Snapcaster Mage is an obvious choice. I don’t think the deck needs all four, as there isn’t a lot of room in the deck anyways. Everyone knows how good the card is, and three is the number for this deck.

2 Frost Titan – In a world where Primeval Titan is the ‘best’ Titan, Frost Titan trumps him. Frost Titan will always win a Titan war and can even keep Inkmoth Nexus, Kessig Wolf Run, Nephalia Drownyard, etc. tapped down if we don’t have a Ghost Quarter. He’s harder to Doom Blade, as you need two extra mana to target him, which can help you Mana Leak their removal spell. His time to shine in U/B Control is now.


1 Jace, Memory Adept – We have one of our Jaces in the main and one in the sideboard, as it’s great in the control matchups, and not very good against the aggressive decks. Having something sweet to topdeck in game one for control mirrors is awesome, or just +1’ing to draw cards to end stalemates (or just mill your opponent out). Also, obvious milling synergies with Nephalia Drownyard.

1 Karn Liberated – As above mentioned, Karn is simply a powerhouse. He gives us a colorless answer to a number of threats with his -3 ability that we normally would not have an out to (opposing planeswalkers, Mirran Crusader, Sword of Feast and Famine, among others). He can end games quickly on his own, and I wouldn’t leave home without him.

2 Liliana of the Veil – She will most likely come down and have her edict effect used first, and then have to be dealt with. We can’t exactly take advantage of her +1 ability as much as other decks, but we do have cards like Think Twice to ditch to go up half a card on our opponent.


3 Think Twice/2 Forbidden Alchemy – The full four Think Twice seemed like overkill, as we need all the room we can get and still be able to play at least three. The two Forbidden Alchemy seems like a sketchy number, but again, we can’t take as much advantage of taking one card and putting three in our graveyard as say Solar Flare. We do have our Snapcaster Mages though, and not playing any copies of Forbidden Alchemy is a crime.

3 Doom BladeDoom Blade still kills more creatures in the format than it doesn’t kill. Granted, with the rise of Phyrexian Crusader and other non-targetable creatures, two and a half would probably be the correct number, but better safe than sorry.

1 Go for the Throat/Dismember – Mostly for the added diversity of our removal spells, each of these is a one-of. Snapcaster Mage provides more value for these cards after we’ve already used them. It’s possible Wring Flesh could be added somewhere, but I’m not expecting many small creatures other than Llanowar Elves and Birds.

4 Mana Leak/2 Dissipate – A fairly stock counterspell suite at this point. I tried squeezing the third Dissipate into the main, but it ended up being in the sideboard.


4 Despise – We’ve talked about this card in length more than the rest so far; we’re playing all four.

1 Black Sun’s Zenith – Our ‘board wipe,’ albeit not the best option; it’s still good to draw it against the creature decks.


1 BatterskullBatterskull is a better option than Wurmcoil Engine, as it comes down a turn earlier against aggro and eventually can be equipped to something like our Snapcaster Mages.

2 Ratchet Bomb – Amazing against the token strategies, and again, helps us against hard-to-deal-with permanents.

1 Druidic Satchel – A lot has been said about this card, and there really isn’t a lot of grey area for it; you either love it or you hate it. Satchel makes its way into the list as a one-of.

Utility Lands:

2 Nephalia Drownyard — Serves as an alternate win condition alongside Jace, Memory Adept. It’s a little tough to try and use it against an opponent with Moorland Haunts, though.

3 Ghost Quarter — A lot of people knocked on me at the beginning of this Standard when I was jamming Ghost Quarter into a lot of decks. Inkmoth Nexus and every one of the new utility lands (minus Stensia Bloodhall, I guess) are seeing serious play and are all an issue.


2 Distress – Mostly for control mirrors, can also be brought in against decks with threats for which you have little other answers.

1 Jace, Memory Adept – Solely for control mirrors, when you want more than one of them in your deck.

1 Ratchet Bomb – You’ll mostly want the third Ratchet Bomb against token decks but can sometimes be brought in against Mono Red.

1 Disperse – Sometimes you need this card. Sometimes you need to bounce a Koth or Shrine against Mono Red; sometimes bouncing an Oblivion Ring will win you the game, but it’s not for every matchup. It’s more of an experimental slot at this time.

1 Dismember – Good against the Infect deck, mostly. Sometimes you just need more spot removal.

2 Phantasmal Image – Kills Geist, kills Thrun, 90% of its purpose in the sideboard is for these two; there are other obvious implications, but mostly brought in for those two.

2 Surgical Extraction – Alright in control mirrors, still there against Snapcaster Mage and mostly against Solar Flare/Ooze Combo if that continues to be played at all.

2 Flashfreeze – You don’t really want more than two against Wolf Run, as they’ll just play a Wurmcoil Engine or Karn Liberated if you are sitting on a bunch of Flashfreezes.

1 Blue Sun’s Zenith – Again, control mirror card; sometimes it’s for you; sometimes it’s to kill them.

1 Dissipate – Another card for the control mirror and Wolf Run, the third one wasn’t able to fit in the main, so it’s in the sideboard.

1 Witchbane Orb – Superb against Mono Red if you can protect it from Ancient Grudge, and pretty good at protecting you from Nephalia Drownyard and Jace, Memory Adept, for instance.

Now, to say this exact list is going to see play at Worlds would probably be completely wrong. However, this is a great starting point to begin building a U/B Control deck for this Standard metagame. In the 15-20 games that I’ve played with it so far, I feel like it certainly matches up pretty well against the top tier decks. I’ll be ready to either say ‘I told you so,’ or choke on my own words in the next couple of weeks. As always, feel free to comment below about possible changes you would make to the deck or other concerns, and I will try to respond to any (serious) comments.


Corey ‘Milhouse’ Gaudreau