Among archetypes that have existed throughout Magic’s history, UW Control is certainly one of them. Hated by casuals and competitive players alike, there’s no worse feeling than being told “no” over and over from the person seated across from you. You can go from having a field full of creatures wiped away in an instant to spending four minutes considering your play around the counterspell that they probably don’t have… but what if they do have it? Oh gosh okay, so if they counter this then next turn I can play that, if there even is a next turn because what if they just kill me right here? Okay, let’s go for it, they probably don’t even have the counter anyway (they always have the counter). Anyway, today we’re talking about budget UW Control in Pioneer.
Budget Pioneer UW Control by Darren Magnotti
Note: Each Pioneer deck covered in this series is built at the time of writing to a $100 budget. This is in attempt to keep things reasonable for those who are actually looking to buy into the format on the cheap while not skimping so much that the deck is completely without the power to keep up. Every deck showcased in this series has been personally tested and is being shown off for a reason, whether it’s the deck’s competitive aptitude, its ability to transition easily into a nonbudget version or its capacity to teach a newer player a vital skill required to keep up in today’s competitive metagame.
Azorius Control is a deck that aims to secure a total lockdown of the board state, regardless of an opponent’s plans, and use that lockdown to buy time in order to establish a tremendous threat that the opponent will not have enough resources to reasonably answer. The means and methods have shifted throughout the years, sometimes favoring large creatures, planeswalkers, even plans to mill out an opponent via their draw step, but the general message has remained basically the same. Answer what the opponent has going on and make it so that they can’t answer what you’ve got going on. In the words of Dr. Strange, “It’s a simple spell, yet quite unbreakable.”
The first piece of the puzzle is to shut down the opposing game plan. The simplest ways to do to make this happen is with an unending stream of removal spells. Sweepers such as Supreme Verdict and Shatter the Sky do most of the heavy lifting, as the majority of decks out there will be looking to establish a creature presence in play as their first line of offense. Spending one card to remove several card’s worth of play from the opposing side of the board is one of the reasons that this archetype finds success as the disparity in cards is often insurmountable when also trying to combat the rest of the removal suite.
Speaking of, the deck fills out with March of Otherworldly Light, Azorius Charm and Detention Sphere. These are generally capable of keeping problem permanents at bay in the earlier turns of the game while things are still getting set up. Detention Sphere specifically being able to snipe multiple copies of the same card such as some mana Elves from the mono-green deck or a couple of Thalia’s Lieutenants from Humans can be particularly backbreaking, though its capacity to grab any permanent from enchantments to planeswalkers is also worth keeping in mind.
Some opponents may choose to make things difficult though and not participate in the creature aggression plan, effectively blanking a good number of cards from the control side of things. For these troublesome rapscallions, the deck is also bringing a handful of stack interaction, ie counterspells. Absorb is generally the best that’s available in the colors at the moment, with its additional benefit of gaining the extra life needed to pad out an extra turn against an opponent that was able to sneak some early creature threat down. For matchups such as these, a good majority of the main deck cards are going to be rather dead in the following sideboard games, so there are a fair amount of additional counterspells in the sideboard to swap out for those useless removal spells in cases such as a combo matchup or control mirror.
The majority of cards in the deck are meant to trade one-for-one with whatever the opponent has going on. While this may seem like a reasonable idea at the start, those that have done the math already will be quick to point out that this typically doesn’t end well, as its quite easy to run out of gas this way.
For that reason, as well as the fact that the player who has access to more choices typically performs better over the course of a game, Azorius Control does what most control decks do and loads up on cards that offer tremendous card advantage. Sphinx’s Revelation is the best of these, with its ability to not only refill a hand but also stabilize position by gaining a huge amount of life. Resolving a Sphinx’s Revelation for five or more will typically seal up a game completely, as it has done since the card was first printed almost 10 years ago.
Memory Deluge fills a similar role here as another way to load up on cards in hand at instant speed. Being able to Deluge twice within a couple of turns is often backbreaking when up against a more grindy opponent such as a midrange deck, as they typically do not pack as much access to similar effects. Narset, Parter of Veils and Jace, Architect of Thought also play an important role in putting additional cards in hand, along with the bonus utility they provide with their other effects. Being planeswalkers that sit out on the board, they can work to put more cards in hand while being a distraction to an opponent who may not have extremely honed threat assessment skills, as they send their creatures after the ‘walker instead of toward your ever-shrinking life total.
Commit // Memory is the final link in this chain, acting twofold as an additional removal spell and as a means to wipe an opponent completely out of cards while refilling your own hand when played in combination with Narset. This one-two punch is frequently enough to seal a game on its own as the opponent is left completely barren of options.
With control of the game firmly secured, it’s probably a good idea to actually close things out. While “opponent’s concession” is a legitimate and frequently used method to win a game from the control player’s seat, sometimes playing in a Best-of-Three space while on a timer isn’t super conducive to that game plan.
For this purpose, the deck plays some “real” cards as well. Approach of the Second Sun is one of the most straightforward methods of closing out a game, since the card literally says “You win the game” right on it. With the time bought by the rest of the deck, it’s fairly simple to cast this card twice and secure a simple victory.
For opponents that want to be a little more cheeky, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is in to act as an inevitable clock that an opponent will need to choose to dedicate precious few resources to eliminating. The deck also packs a couple of win conditions that are conventionally more difficult to deal with via its lands, specifically Castle Ardenvale and Hall of Storm Giants. These creature-lands can continually sneak in for damage if worse comes to worst and all other options are spent.
On the whole though, the control deck is generally happy enough sitting back and waiting for the opponent to have had enough. By the time the late game comes around, they may be frustrated and flustered due to the nature of the removal and counter spells in the deck and having not been able to enact their game plan at all. In timed rounds, both players need to be clock-conscious, and an opponent who isn’t able to surmount the control player may just want to move on to the next game in short order.
In a general sense, Azorius Control is not for the empathetic. Most players do not like to play against control decks, and this particular flavor provides one of the most feel-bad experiences for opponents with its efficient sweeper suite and strong card advantage. The deck is quite fun to pilot as both players get to navigate its lines and options simultaneously.
Overall, the deck doesn’t feel too far detached from its non-budget counterpart. While Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and The Wandering Emperor are quite strong in their own right, sometimes it just feels good to get your grind on and go toe-to-toe with an opponent until you can eventually bury them with one of the card advantage cards.
In terms of its placement in the metagame at the moment, I think that Azorius is good enough at stopping threats that it can sit soundly as one of the more powerful deck choices that you could pick up right now. Some decks give it fits such as the low to the ground aggro decks like Heroic, but generally a lot of people are still relying on slow creatures to get the job done, which is the perfect setting for this deck to thrive. This deck upgrades extremely well into its nonbudget version, and I think that the nonbudget version can comfortably claim a spot in the top five decks of the format.
Pioneer UW Control by ivanguille
The biggest things to note as this deck gets its upgrades are the planeswalkers. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is hands-down the best planeswalker available to control decks at the moment with its mix of endless card advantage, powerful removal and inevitability in its ultimate. In combination with The Wandering Emperor, this duo establishes a tremendous threat that many opponents will struggle to dispatch. Shark Typhoon is also a versatile threat that can be deployed at any point in the game, acting offensively as its card face or defensively with its cycling ability. One of the biggest issues for this archetype on the whole is time management, and these three cards can work together to secure a win in short order which is something that the budget version is slightly lacking.
That’s all for this one. As always, I hope that everyone is enjoying this series, it’s a blast to be able to explore my favorite formats as in depth as I do. Until next time, stay safe, play smart and thanks for reading.