Traversing Four-Color Control In The New Modern

Delirium builds of Four-Color Control featuring Unholy Heat and Traverse the Ulvenwald are taking Modern in a new direction. Dom Harvey breaks down the build’s strengths, weaknesses, and future.

Traverse the Ulvenwald
Traverse the Ulvenwald, illustrated by Vincent Proce

It’s tough to avoid the grumbling about Four-Color Control in Modern these days. The play patterns, pace of play, and price tag are just some of the causes for concern. If you have found yourself wondering why a round at your Regional Championship Qualifier (RCQ) is already ten minutes over time and shows no signs of ending soon, the answer is usually Four-Color. 

Omnath, Locus of Creation Solitude Wrenn and Six

The saving grace here is that there’s a surprising amount of variety. You know you’ll see Omnath, Locus of Creation joining forces with Solitude and Wrenn and Six, but there are lots of inventive ways to fill out those extra twenty slots. You can double down on the Elemental subtheme with Risen Reef or Ephemerate synergies with Eternal Witness. Alternatively, you can build towards Bring to Light or Brought Back – or sidestep the time concerns by killing on Turn 3 with Planebound Accomplice and Vivien on the Hunt! Others stick to the ‘play the good cards’ mantra or the ‘money pile’ label and lean on Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer instead. 

A Fresh Take on Four-Color

The latest take on Four-Color Control puts some familiar cards and themes to use in a new way in this shell. Former SCG Tour stalwart Jonathan Rosum’s finish with this new take is likely to be the first of many.

Unholy Heat

The main draw to the delirium theme isn’t Traverse the Ulvenwald, but the same innocent-looking common that has kept that mechanic on the map since Modern Horizons 2 and is the backbone of decks like Izzet Midrange and Grixis Death’s Shadow. Once you pencil in Prismatic Ending, you want additional cheap interaction in your 80-card deck, but the other secondary options are all lacking in their own way. Lightning Bolt isn’t what it used to be, and March of Otherworldly Light is too clunky too often.

Unholy Heat is exactly what you want – a one-mana answer to an early Puresteel Paladin or Goblin Guide, but also a much-needed instant removal spell for Omnath, Locus of Creation or a Wrenn and Six that’s racing towards its ultimate. Overloading specific interactive cards – such as presenting a stream of threats that can only be answered easily by Solitude – was one way to get an edge against Four-Color Control, and Unholy Heat fills that gap. 

It’s less clear how much you have to or want to warp your deck to accommodate Unholy Heat. If it takes you a lot of time to become delirious or there’s some chance it never happens, is that acceptable? Are you willing to play cards that wouldn’t make the cut otherwise?

Unholy Heat Enablers

Mishra's Bauble

Mishra’s Bauble is a repeat offender in Modern, and one of the reasons that reaching delirium is so trivial elsewhere. In Four-Color Control, it isn’t teaming up with Ledger Shredder or Lurrus of the Dream-Den, but with this many fetchlands, the build-your-own-Opt is easy, and with this high a curve, it’s more important – smoothing your early draws is crucial since you have so much mid-game power. 

Expressive Iteration

Bauble also powers up your Expressive Iterations, which embody the clunkiness of the classic builds – if your deck is full of other two-drops and short on one-drops, it’s hard to find a good window early to get several spells back from Iteration. Bauble is a perfect Iteration hit in that sense, and the delirium package offers more one-drops in the form of Traverse the Ulvenwald and Unholy Heat, slimming that mana curve for Iteration. 

Traverse the Ulvenwald and Friends

Traverse the Ulvenwald Eladamri's Call

The most natural comparison for Traverse the Ulvenwald is Eladamri’s Call, a common feature of other lists and the backbone of the Risen Reef builds. Traverse promises a more flexible tutor at half the cost – but only if you jump through some hoops first. In the early-game, this makes them very different cards – if you need that maindeck Endurance ASAP against Living End or Reanimator, only Eladamri’s Call will bail you out. Unlike decks that explicitly rely on delirium, Four-Color Control can’t race towards it even with some of these adaptations.

Conversely, if you just need to hit that second land drop, Eladamri’s Call will clunk up your hand with all your other two-drops, while Traverse offers a way out. This isn’t the whole story, though – the Traverse lists play an even lower land count than the other lists (which is already lower than you might expect for a deck this mana-hungry, thanks to Wrenn and Six) because that option of using Traverse as Lay of the Land is priced in. These builds can actually run out of room for the lands they need – you want a lot of fetchlands to power Wrenn and Omnath, you need the right mix of basic lands + shocklands + Triomes to go with them, and you can just about fit a utility land or two.

Boseiju, Who Endures

Boseiju, Who Endures

That slot is earmarked for Boseiju, Who Endures. A copy or two sneaks into every Four-Color Control list, but this is the first to make it an explicit part of its gameplan. Those preview-season fears of opponents using Boseiju every turn via Wrenn and Six to systematically dismantle your battlefield never really materialized, but this list comes closer than most. With one copy in the maindeck and up to four Traverses to find it, along with the remaining three copies in the sideboard, you have consistent access to Boseiju even in a larger deck. 

Notably, in matchups where you want all your copies of Boseiju, you now effectively have a higher land count (barring situations where you draw several copies of your legendary land and don’t have a good way to convert the excess ones), freeing up a Traverse that might be on land drop duty otherwise. 

This focus on Boseiju is exactly what you want against some combo decks – the all-DFC decks like Gruul Charbelcher come to mind – and shores up your matchup against the increasingly popular Affinity or resurgent Azorius Hammer without having to use slots on narrower hate cards. 

The quad-Boseiju approach isn’t exclusive to the Traverse list at all – Andrew Elenbogen was an early adopter in a more conventional Four-Color list – but it’s no surprise to see it here. 

Emrakul, the Promised End and Others

Emrakul, the Promised End

Emrakul, the Promised End is the ultimate ‘delirium’ card and the best possible tool in the mirror or any grindy matchup. This wider spread of card types makes it easier to cast without a burst of mana from Omnath, and Traverse is a cheaper tutor for a cheaper Emrakul than in the Call lists, making Traverse for Emrakul + casting it a more realistic late-game sequence.

Dress Down

This nod to delirium is a boon to Dress Down – a card you already want with an obscure card type that places itself in the graveyard. With Urza’s Saga in the ascendant again, Dress Down is a perfect response.

Abundant Growth

On the subject of enchantments, note that putting Abundant Growth on a fetchland and then sacrificing it is a tricky way to get an extra card type in your graveyard.

Positive Matchup Swings

Primeval Titan Archon of Cruelty

Taken together, these changes have a big impact on some matchups. From the Amulet Titan side, I was already scared of the Four-Color Control matchup against a good player. Playing against this list felt impossible. Between Unholy Heat as an additional answer for Dryad of the Ilysian Grove or Primeval Titan, more maindeck copies of Dress Down, and the Wrenn + Boseiju locks, I could never rely on any of my relevant cards resolving or doing anything. 

Similarly, the Four-Color Creativity deck is the talk of the town once more, and having Unholy Heat and Dress Down makes you much more resistant to an early Archon of Cruelty.

Negative Matchup Swings

Endurance Unlicensed Hearse

This approach does have its downsides. Graveyard hate is everywhere in Modern, thanks to Living End and the other Unholy Heat decks. This hate is now somewhat effective against you, too. If you were relying on Traverse to find a key spell or a souped-up Unholy Heat to answer theirs, losing that to a free Endurance can be devastating. Unlicensed Hearse goes from a minor annoyance to a potentially game-winning threat

Rest in Peace

This goes for dedicated hate too. Azorius Control (with or without Kaheera) put up some great finishes recently (with or without Shaheen Soorani!), and the Four-Color matchup was the main thing holding it back. That problem is not easy to fix, but against this variant, those copies of Rest in Peace that earned their keep elsewhere now give you a way to buy a lot of equity in an otherwise difficult pairing. 

The Four-Color Evolution Continues

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer Risen Reef

This is not the final form for Four-Color Control, nor even necessarily the best one. As former Yorion devotee Piotr Glogowski put it, this is ‘a solution, not the solution’. Lists headlined by Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer took down the Modern $30K at SCG Syracuse as well as the Face to Face Open in Toronto last weekend, and the debates over Risen Reef will continue to rage, but I’m optimistic this new angle has what it takes to stay in that conversation.