I’ve been having a blast trying to find the best Torrential Gearhulk deck in Standard. Last week, I was working on U/B, but this week I’ve turned my attention to U/R. The idea came about when I was thinking of ways to create more early interaction against aggressive decks. I discussed the inherent weakness of control against these strategies last week, and while Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is a nice answer, Dynavolt Tower is another enticing solution. Once you do that, U/R becomes a much more attractive option than U/B because you have cheaper spells to fuel the Tower. For reference, here is Pierre Dagen’s Top 8 list from PT Kaladesh:
U/R Dynavolt Tower
A lot of what I was working on came from this original list, but the metagame has shifted since the PT and there’s a lot of room for improvement. First off, I think the world has recognized Torrential Gearhulk for the absolutely backbreaking end-game card that it is. I can’t really imagine playing a control deck without 4 copies.
Similarly, Glimmer of Genius is practically stapled to the Hulk as a way to pull ahead on card advantage and actually help close games. On top of pure card advantage, Glimmer is even more important in this deck because the energy it feeds into Dynavolt Tower. Simply casting a Tower into a turn-4 Glimmer plus an Aether Hub will give you an activation right away, and that helps fuel your future turns while also making sure you don’t fall too far behind before you can use all those new cards.
Once you’ve decided to increase the mana curve, you really have to add more lands to the deck. I’ve decided to jump from 24 to 26 since I really don’t want to miss a land drop. Card draw also works better with extra lands so that you can chain additional spells within a turn. As an additional bonus, this requires fewer main-phase Anticipates to hit land drops, and you can instead use those to help find whatever spell you need. Here’s my updated version of U/R Dynavolt:
U/R Dynavolt Tower
Another big pull to U/R Control was the number of interesting sideboard options. Some of those are powerful transformational sideboard plans like Niblis of Frost, which Dagen had. It can come in and surprise unsuspecting opponents who board out removal and decimate them out of nowhere. Thing in the Ice can perform a similar role, but I’ve cut that from the current version because I think it’s worse than Fevered Visions, and against aggressive decks you have Towers and an abundance of removal to slow them down anyway.
Note that Fevered Visions doesn’t play into a transformational plan because it gets hit by the same answers that Tower does, which your opponent will usually have some number of post-board. But it does such a good job at beating the slower decks that I think it’s still worth the risk. G/B might bring in a few enchantment hate cards because you have Towers, but Tower isn’t even that good and it’s a card that could be traditionally shaved in the matchup. Are they going to have 4 answers just for Tower? Even if they do bring that many answers in, what if they have a grip full of answers with no pressure and just die to your counters instead? That’s the catch 22. Because you get to board in all these different angles of attack, your control deck is very hard to predict post-board.
As for Niblis, which is your actual transformation, it has gotten worse since the PT because players know about it, but it hasn’t gotten much worse. Cards like Grasp of Darkness are just horrible versus your deck, so if G/B players decide to keep that card in because they fear sideboarded creatures, they will get horribly punished when you just don’t draw your Niblis. There will almost always be a couple of answers because cards like Murder can kill Gearhulk, and there’s overlap in killing Niblis, but in those spots you are actually overloading key removal spells by bringing in Niblis as long as you don’t carelessly run your creature into a removal spell at an important moment.
Week to week you can change up the direction of your board depending on the matchups you expect to face, but your opponent will always have to respect the sideboard options at your disposal, and will have to guess correctly at the right sideboard plan of their own. On top of this, they’ll still need to draw the right combination of pressure and answers, and if that doesn’t go perfectly for them you just get to run your classic answers-plus-Gearhulk plan to close the match.
Which is Better, U/R or U/B?
This is the go-to question now that I’ve presented arguments for both decks. I think U/R is better able to handle small creature decks. The fact that you can cast removal spells as early as turn 1 makes a huge difference, and U/R is also a much better Tower deck than U/B can ever be. Tower helps you stabilize versus aggressive decks while turning into a win condition by itself. That said, U/B isn’t that far behind because Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet can help end a game faster than U/R ever can against an aggressive strategy, and U/B also has better tools for controlling the pace of a slower mirror thanks to Transgress the Mind.
In the end, the two decks are pretty close. They draw upon similar strengths and weaknesses and even have a lot of crossover in terms of card choices. The better choice will fluctuate under differing circumstances based on the metagame you expect to face. Even though I’ve made the case for U/B over U/R in a slower metagame, I don’t think it’s that far ahead, because Fevered Visions goes a long way toward turning that around by becoming the entire focal point of the matchup. Both are good choices, because Void Shatter puts an end to any crazy, over-the-top strategy your opponent might be trying to pull off. Emrakul, the Promised End is pretty tough to deal with because you don’t have any good answers to a 13/13, but if you can Void Shatter it, the Mindslaver isn’t always that backbreaking and you can often recover.
Control is well positioned if you have an up-to-date and tuned list, and I think this list has real strength in this exact moment. It offers up flexibility and rewards knowing when to and turn the corner and blast your Towers straight at the opponent’s dome. It’s a fun and different experience than attacking with Smuggler’s Copter, and I’ve been enjoying the games themselves. I’m excited to keep battling with U/R and U/B, and then finding something new and spicy for the next Brewed Force deck.