I’ve recently decided to take a break from poker to give full-time Magic, including streaming and producing regular content for CFB, a shot.
My next big tournament is Pro Tour Kyoto, but I’m waiting for the next round of bans to be announced to get back into Standard seriously, so I’ve mostly been playing Modern—and by Modern, I mean Blue-White Control. I have been playing the deck on and off for years now, playing it in back-to-back Modern PTs in Valencia 2014 and Washington 2015. I cashed in Valencia, going 7-3 in Constructed, but went 0-3 drop in Washington after a 1-2 in the Draft (in my defense, I didn’t have time to playtest much at all for that tournament and all my losses were extremely close matches).
The format has changed a lot, but to give you an idea of how archetypes evolve, here’s the list from Valencia:
Since picking the deck back up a few months ago, I’ve been winning around 65% of my matches in competitive Magic Online Leagues over a decent sized sample (over 100 matches at least), but I don’t really know what win percentage good players are achieving with the best decks, so I’m not quite sure if that makes it tier 1. While the deck hasn’t changed much over that period of time, I have tried a lot of the playable options, and I’ll go through most of my card choices, especially the questionable ones.
The deck is highly interactive and doesn’t have any truly terrible matchups, especially since Eye of Ugin got banned, though Dredge is tough without enough dedicated hate. It also happens to have a good matchup against what is possibly the best deck in Modern right now: Grixis Death’s Shadow.
Here is the list I would fire in my next Online League:
Most versions play 2 or 3 copies of the uncounterable sweeper, but I’ve decided to max out as I believe it is your most important card in many matchups.
A no-brainer—a great Magic card in the early or late game, and makes Snapcaster Mage much more effective.
Not impactful in every matchup, but an essential card in the format. It might even win you game 1s in matchups where it is right to side them out. Don’t be afraid to play it on one of your lands if you think you’ll need it to cast a turn-4 Cryptic Command.
This card was hard to maindeck when Abrupt Decay was rampant, as it was your only good target. It started as a 1-of in the sideboard for me, then a 2-of. When Abrupt Decay became less and less popular, I decided to try 1 in the main and quite liked it. I thought playing a second would be clunky but I gave it a shot, since I felt like the one copy was over-performing. I’ve been liking that change ever since, especially as I shied away from counterspells to become more of a tap-out style of control deck—almost a midrange deck in some ways. I wouldn’t be shocked if I went up to more copies of the card, whether it’s main or sideboard.
I’m not sure if the format was different or if I was just building my deck wrong, but I only had 2 copies of Cryptic Command for the longest while. I quickly went up to the full playset when I picked up the deck again earlier this year play and they have been good for me, but I have been trying a main-deck Glimmer of Genius over the fourth Command and I’ve been liking it.
This is the lone real counterspell that survived my testing, as I feel they are poorly positioned right now and play awkwardly with Wall of Omens and Spreading Seas in the early turns. You have a lot of cards to take care of their creatures, so Negate makes sense.
The one big payoff card in the deck. I’ve tried 2, I’ve tried none, and settled on 1. Very powerful obviously, but also clunky. It’s a nice card to dig to in the midgame, as well as a fine card to cast on turn 5 or 6. There is a chance I end up cutting it for a second copy of Glimmer of Genius, Glimmer having the additional benefit of dodging Inquisition of Kozilek.
This one is fairly straightforward. It would be way too fancy to try to play Condemn over it when cards like Primeval Titan, Dark Confidant, and Steel Overseer are legal. You also sometimes want to use your mana efficiently and can’t wait for them to attack. Condemn is easier for your opponent to play around when they have access to discard spells, and Pathing your own creature comes up more than you would think.
One of the cards that perhaps most people will disagree on (especially playing all 4 of them), but I love them. They buy you a lot of time, force your opponent to commit more guys to the board thus making your Verdicts stronger, and help your planeswalkers survive. It’s also nice not to have to use a removal on an opposing Snapcaster nibbling at your life total.
A 4-of in most blue decks, I only play 2 because I don’t always have a good target for them in the early game, the body isn’t always relevant, and I usually board them out in the matchups where I bring Rest in Peace in. I was down to 1 for a while and even tried the deck without any, but I think the card is too powerful to leave out.
The perfect followup to a Supreme Verdict against creature decks, and a good finisher. Even though it’s hard to tap out for it in some matchups, the card has too high of an impact to not play as it is probably the best 5-drop you can have in the deck.
I was skeptical at first but gave it a try anyway. It didn’t perform that well over a small sample so I ditched it, but decided to give it another shot when I saw it pop up over and over in 5-0 Modern League deck lists on Magic Online, and it has been performing well ever since. It took Elspeth Sun’s Champion’s slot, and I’ve been happy with the cheaper option. I have also lost the mirror match when my opponent ran out of cards first but I could not get rid of his emblem.
Yet another great card that I undervalued at first because it hadn’t been so great for me in past formats. It is versatile and threatens to take over the game fast if your opponent can’t pressure you. Turn-5 Jace plus Path is another absurd Supreme Verdict followup and almost always game-winning. It might also just be a turn-4 Anticipate plus Fog, but sometimes that’s all you need.
The Mana Base
It’s more useful to discuss the lands I’m not playing than the ones I am.
I have tried both, gone back and forth, and decided that Tectonic Edge played out better. The deck is about incremental gain, you usually get ahead 2-for-1 after 2-for-1, and Ghost Quarter doesn’t fit the plan. Even against Tron, I think Tec Edge is better. They usually play 2 basic lands, and even if you keep them from assembling Tron for a while, the hit you take is hard to make up for. Tectonic Edge combos nicely with Spreading Seas, and the double Tec Edge on turn 4/5 to bring them down to two lands is pivotal. You might lose the game because your Affinity opponent only has 3 lands and you can’t get rid of their Nexus, and even though I don’t think playing Ghost Quarter is bad, I still believe Tectonic Edge is slightly better. Someone also suggested playing a mix of both and I might actually try a 2/2 or 3/1 split next time I play the deck.
You don’t have enough late-game spells to make Pools viable, and the colorless mana in the early turns is just too costly.
Other Cards I Don’t Play
This one is tough. I played with it and felt like it made my deck worse, but not by much. I even played a couple of Leagues with 2 copies of the card before I could get my hands on more, and it was fine. It comes with a lot of variance and is hard to judge, but my educated guess is that you’re slightly better off without it in Blue-White Control.
This is probably the best main-deck counterspell I am not playing. Once again, it is a close call, and a lot of lists run it, and a lot of people I talked to like the card. I’m not convinced, but I probably haven’t played enough with it, and might try it over Negate again.
It used to be a staple, and is still a good card, but I feel like the main reason not to play a copy or two is its awkwardness with Serum Visions and all of my 2-drops. Playing 1 main deck is probably fine, and it is an interesting sideboard option.
I had some copies of each in the main for a while but decided I’d rather have 4 Verdicts and 2 Detention Sphere then more cheap removal. If you want more than 4 Path to Exile, I’d suggest starting with Condemn, though Blessed Alliance is a better sideboard card.
I have tried this card and don’t really get the appeal. It was consistently weak for me. Sure, sometimes it will do what very few cards could have done for you, but I’m not a fan.
I haven’t played with this card in my main deck much—mostly as a sideboard card, and I was never really impressed. I’m actually pretty sure I’ve lost more games than I’ve won when I drew Crucible against Tron because it is either too slow or you don’t have the lands to combo with it, though to be fair, it probably is better with Ghost Quarter than with Tectonic Edge. While I haven’t found it great against Tron, it has been okay for me against other control decks.
My latest cut in favor of Gideon of the Trials, but it was always good for me and you almost always win when you resolve it against Death’s Shadow decks or Jund, so I could definitely see the card making it back into my 75.
Another card that is awkward with Wall and Spreading Seas, and I’ve picked my camp. You could play a copy or two for extra card advantage, but I have really been liking Glimmer of Genius as it is more mana efficient and digs deeper.
A solid all-around card but usually a bit underpowered. It is awkward with 4 Supreme Verdict, so my 1 copy is in the sideboard. It isn’t your typical hoser, but it helps out your sideboard plan in many different matchups, making sure you have fewer dead cards post-board.
Modern rewards knowing your deck and the format inside and out, so it might be wiser to play a slightly worse deck if you’ve been playing it for a while now (you obviously don’t want to push that reasoning too far). In the last Modern PT, for instance, I thought Infect might be the best deck in the format, but decided to play Affinity because I had so much practice with it and only believed it was slightly inferior.
It isn’t easy to go through every matchup in Modern, as the 5 most played decks probably only represent around 30% of the field (as opposed to the over two-thirds of the field Standard sees right now), but I’ll try to give you some tips against each of the “major” archetypes, as well as sideboard guides.
Grixis Death’s Shadow
I’ve had good results against what many consider the best deck in the format, and expect to be somewhere around a 60% favorite. Their late game is not very scary, and you can safely Path to Exile their creatures on your turn to play around Stubborn Denial as they don’t have anything to punish you. Liliana, the Last Hope and Liliana of the Veil are scary, but I think most Grixis versions don’t play any planeswalkers main (the green versions usually do, which can make the matchup a bit trickier). Make sure you keep an extra land in hand in the midgame if you can afford to so you don’t get wrecked by Kolaghan’s Command.
Probably your best matchup among the tier 1 decks. I’d be happy to play against Affinity every round in a Modern tournament and would expect to win between 6 and 7 out of 10 times. Game 1 is straightforward and fairly close. Cranial Plating is their best card and if you know you’re playing against Affinity, make sure you have ways to interact with them in the early turns, especially on the draw as they can easily kill you or have you drawing dead before you resolve a turn-4 Verdict. It gets easier after sideboard, but you still want to be wary of Ghirapur Aether Grid and a potential Wear // Tear on your Stony Silence when you think you have them “locked out.”
On the Draw
On the Play
This is a rough guideline, with Glimmer of Genius being a recent add. I still need to figure out if I want it after sideboard, and if so, how many copies.
A very close matchup. Chalice of the Void on 1 is annoying and often game-winning, and one of the main reasons I wanted the second Detention Sphere in the main deck. You also have a nice interaction in the midgame—bounce your Detention Sphere with Cryptic Command to get their freshly cast Chalice. This is one of the matchups where you really miss Elspeth Sun’s Champion.
I’m still experimenting with this one, as the first few times I played against it, it seemed like they didn’t have Chalice of the Void in the deck (or my opponents were running bad) and I was winning easily. Chalice is a game-changer though and I might have to hedge against it and board out Path, which could leave me light on removal.
Another very close matchup—I am likely a slight underdog. Game 1 is hard, especially on the draw, but the matchup gets much better after sideboard.
Spreading Seas might be okay on the play to keep them off Eidolon of the Great Revel, in which case you can cut more Cryptic Commands and maybe Jace, but Eidolon is also way less scary when you’re on the play as you will often get to Verdict it away before it has a chance to do much damage. A Timely Reinforcements will always win you the game as long as they don’t have Skullcrack or Atarka’s Command, so try to save it until you can back it up with Dispel or Negate.
I’ve also been asked why I don’t have Kor Firewalker instead of Reinforcements. The first reason is that Reinforcements is more versatile and comes in for other matchups. It is good against Elves, Dredge, I like bringing in a copy or two against Jeskai if I think they have Geist of Saint Traft in the sideboard, and it should probably come in against 4c Humans, a deck on the rise. The second reason is that some Burn players will bring in Path to Exile against you, making the Firewalker way less appealing.
Blue-Red Gifts Storm
This matchup is all right, but game 1 is very hard as you struggle to close the game and can’t really lock them out. Their 2-drops are very annoying, and Path to Exiling a Baral, Chief of Compliance or a Goblin Electromancer is a lose/lose, but you almost always still want to do it. As usual, sideboard games get easier as you have a lot of hate and the Empty the Warrens plan is ineffective against you. This deck was popular for a while on Magic Online. I was maybe getting paired against it 20% of the time, but I don’t think I have played against it in my last 50+ matches.
Game 1 is atrocious—by far your worst pre-board matchup. Your only chance, besides them mulliganing into oblivion, is probably to draw both your Detention Spheres, a bunch of Paths, and countermagic for their lethal Conflagrate. The sideboard obviously helps a lot, but you’re still an underdog overall. I even lost the last match I played despite having turn-2 Rest in Peace in game 3 because I was on the draw.
I’d bring in the Dispel in game 2 to protect Rest in Peace and Grafdigger’s Cage from Nature’s Claim, but probably board it out in game 3 depending on what answers you saw from them (typically cards like Engineered Explosives and Maelstrom Pulse).
I’ll also go through what my sideboard would look like if I had access to more slots, to give you an idea of the changes you can make if you have a very specific meta, which can happen especially in local stores.
16th card: Spell Snare
17th card: Spell Snare #2
18th card: Timely Reinforcements #3
19th card: Condemn
20th card: Spell Queller
21st card: Rest in Peace #4
22nd card: Celestial Purge #2
23-25th card: Spell Queller #2-3-4
I actually had 4 Spell Quellers in my sideboard for a while and they are usually great in matchups where you board out all or most of your Verdicts, but it is a pretty big commitment and those matchups are few and far between, so eventually I decided to cut them.
Why Play Straight Blue-White Over Esper?
Esper Control is fine as well, but I don’t think the black splash is worth weakening your mana base, even though Esper Charm and Fatal Push are both nice additions. I also didn’t have much fun playing the deck when I tried it. It had too much card drawing and durdling, even for me.
As for Akio Chiba’s Glory-Bound Initiate version, it didn’t look very good to me from the little I have seen, but I could be wrong.
What About Jeskai Control?
I think straight Jeskai control is probably worse than Esper and Blue-White, but Ryoichi Tamada’s version with 4 Spell Queller main deck is interesting and could be the real deal. I played it in a couple of Leagues and it seemed fine, going something like 6-4, but a bunch of players have been putting up 5-0 results with it, so it is surely worth a try.
I covered most of my thoughts on the deck, but I’d love to answer any questions you guys might have or discuss card choices. The deck is a lot of fun—it’s highly interactive and the games last a while with a lot of back and forth, so if you like playing control decks but thought that the archetype was dead in Modern, give it a try.