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Running the Gauntlet with Huey – Standard UB Control vs. Jeskai Ascendancy Combo

My Deck List

Here’s the version of U/B control that I used for this week’s Running the Gauntlet. I got this list from Jelger Wiegersma, teammate of mine and recent fifth-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor:

The Matchup

Owen was playing traditional Jeskai Ascendacy combo, which uses a creature, usually Sylvan Caryatid, along with Jeskai Ascendancy, and a 0-mana artifact, in this case, Briber’s Purse, to loot through his entire deck, finding Altar of the Brood, replaying Briber’s Purse infinite times, and milling my entire library.

Control decks tend to be good against combo decks, however the Ascendancy combo deck is capable of constructing hands which win on turn 3. On the play, UB can’t even interact with the core combo pieces until it has three lands in play. This can make some games very comical. The combo deck simply wins before UB even casts a spell. Of course, especially in game one, if the UB player is able to get to three lands before the combo deck is able to resolve a Jeskai Ascendancy, they can just hold up Dissolve and make it very difficult for Ascendancy to win. UB can draw a lot of cards at instant speed and find exactly what it needs with Dig Through Time. It can also almost immediately close out the game at any point by untapping with a Perilous Vault in play, or resolving Ugin.

This is pretty much how the matches against Owen went. A few of my draws were quite bad, including some mana problems, but as I discussed in my UB primer, these are common problems for the deck. Also, because I didn’t know Owen’s exact list, I think I made some mistakes in sideboarding. I was preparing more for other versions of the deck that weren’t quite as dependent on Sylvan Caryatid as Owen’s was.

If we played a fourth match, here’s how I think I would sideboard:

-3 Hero’s Downfall

I would like to take out all 4, given how Owen’s deck appeared to be constructed, but just didn’t have enough else to add.

-1 Silumgar, the Drifting Death

Too slow, and too risky to tap six mana in your main phase. Also a very, very slow clock.

-1 Silence the Believers

Basically just a 4-mana Hero’s Downfall here.

-2 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

Ashiok is good against certain decks, but really, Ashiok just doesn’t do much in this matchup. Yes, eventually you can use the ultimate in order to Mind Twist. But really, you don’t want to be tapping out on turns where your opponent can just resolve a Jeskai Ascendancy. Then by turn six, you’ll often want to leave up two counters, and the game will likely be decided before Ashiok gets to ultimate anyways.

+2 Negate

A 2-mana counterspell that can hit Ascendancy. This and Thoughtseize are by far your two best sideboard cards.

+1 Crux of Fate

Not great in this matchup, but it’s at least a way to clean up Sylvan Caryatids.

+2 Thoughtseize

Naturally, Thoughtseize is at its best against a deck like this. A strategy that relies on many individual cards to win, and spends a lot of time finding those cards and setting up its perfect hand will always be especially vulnerable to discard spells.

+1 Murderous Cut

Not great, but a little better than Hero’s Downfall here.

+1 Perilous Vault

Another copy of Perilous Vault helps a lot, as if you play one on a creatureless board, you’re very unlikely to lose.

Overall, I feel like this is probably around a 50/50 matchup. Whoever gets the better hand will usually win, and the matchup doesn’t have a ton of play to it from the UB side. The combo player will mostly just have to jam their spells in game one, since they have no real way to interact with your counters, and after sideboard it will be more of a race. The combo player will try to set up the perfect hand before you’re able to get enough lands into play and counters in hand to stop them. Because they have Swan Song, and all of your instant interactions cost two or more mana, the mana advantage will prove important.

If I was looking to improve this matchup, the first thing I’d do would be add additional Negates and Thoughtseizes to the sideboard. If I was worried about improving it even beyond that, I’d consider adding some Thoughtseize to the main deck. Having a way to interact before turn three would prove to be very important and very impactful.

I hope you guys enjoyed the first edition of Running the Gauntlet! Be sure to check out Owen’s Running the Gauntlet as well. He was piloting Abzan Aggro and I played the other side with UWR.

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