Those who watched my Black-Green Delirium video series last week might remember that I lost to a Blue-White Control deck in round 2. It doesn’t take much for me to brew up a control deck and that loss was enough. I was particularly excited to play with Jace, Unraveler of Secrets. I always thought the card was strong—possibly stronger than Ob Nixilis—especially in a control deck, but it was the kind of card you couldn’t really play and tap out for while while Guardian/Saheeli or Marvel were legal. Ironically, the card I was most excited about is now gone from the deck. I guess I might have to reevaluate my card rating abilities.
I didn’t expect the deck to be any good, and I thought it was going be quite awful against Mardu, but I figured that I’d have my fun, tune it a bit, and be done after a few Leagues.
Here is the first version I took down to the MTGO streets:
The first League I played went surprisingly well—I ended up going 4-1, losing only to the Mono-White Monument deck, though I did not get paired against Mardu Vehicles a single time (something that would become a recurring trend). After playing a bunch more and keeping up a high win percentage, I found that the deck had very good matchups against Zombies, Temur Energy, and B/G Energy, and that my first few results weren’t a fluke.
Despite how well the deck was performing, some of the cards weren’t. I found myself wishing Immolating Glare was Blessed Alliance almost every single time, which was surprising to me as I initially thought Glare would be much, much better. I gave Blessed Alliance a shot, figuring I would wish they were Glares when I drew them, but they performed well and were superior to Glares most of the time.
The planeswalkers were doing a decent job, but Jace was still clunky at times and Gideon seemed to be all right but somehow worse in Standard than in it is Modern. I gave Dovin Baan a shot more as joke and a nod to Carlos Romao (the card was considered unplayable by many, and Carlos caught some flak for playing 2 copies of it when he finished 2nd at Pro Tour Kaladesh). It was actually decent, but I eventually decided I just wanted to max out on Glimmer of Genius and that I didn’t need the raw power of the planeswalkers.
The Quarantine Field out of the sideboard kept being absurd for me, and I was struggling a bit against planeswalkers despite Cast Out and Negate, so I moved it to the main and it has consistently been much better than an extra Fumigate or Descend Upon the Sinful. As I decreased the number of win conditions (I considered Gideon and Jace win conditions), I decided to turn the third Fumigate into a Descend Upon the Sinful as I figured it probably wouldn’t hurt to have an extra way to kill them as well as giving me a bit more flexibility and exile effects. With the current version of the deck, you do often get down to your third and final copy of Torrential Gearhulk, but I haven’t lost a game yet due to running out of win cons (even though I do suspect I would struggle if I played against something like B/G Delirium with 4 Dissenter’s Deliverance).
Another huge improvement was cutting the 4 Port Towns and adding 2 Blighted Cataract. I owe this one to one of my viewers, as I’m not sure I would have thought about trying it on my own. I have had to mulligan a couple hands because of it, but it’s been great overall. People have asked about Westvale Abbey in that spot, but though I haven’t tried it, I’m firmly convinced it would be much worse. I could see playing one as a 26th land or getting greedy and cutting a basic for it, but I think the card will probably be too low impact. The way the games play out, you usually spend all your mana on spells or cyclers every turn.
Speaking of drawing cards, another staple I’m not playing is Pull from Tomorrow. You need to spend 5 mana for it to be better than a Hieroglyphic Illumination, 6 for it to be better than Glimmer of Genius, and you can’t flash it back with Torrential Gearhulk. I think that what makes the deck so good and so, so much better than it used to be is that your draws are consistently very smooth now. I remember testing U/W Control for PT Kaladesh, and while the deck looked good at times, you pretty much had to curve out from turn 2 to turn 6 without missing a beat or a land drop to win your games, and you also had to never flood in the midgame. You still have to do that, but the fact that a third of your spells cycle for 1 mana and a quarter of your lands aren’t dead in the midgame helps out tremendously, and Cast Out helps you come back in the game even if you’ve let something annoying slip through.
One thing it doesn’t do is target your own permanents (every Oblivion Ring effect only works on your opponent’s permanents now) and it came up multiple times that I wished I could target my own Gearhulk to then be able to Cast Out my Cast Out and get my creature back. It would be a nice perk, though as I said above, I’ve never not been able to finish my opponent (hopefully I don’t jinx it).
The last major evolution the deck went through is to use 13 out of my 15 sideboard cards to come up with a transformational plan against Mardu Vehicles. I had been beating Temur Energy, Zombies, and B/G Energy at an absurd rate, but I almost never got paired against Vehicles. Even though winning is nice, I eventually decided to stop jamming Leagues and arrange for some playtesting against what is possibly the best deck in the format.
I played a couple matches against one of my viewers and got soundly defeated (0-4 in games). Since I needed so little help in my good matchups (I still struggle to decide what to cut against most decks even when I’m only bringing in a card or two), and my removal suit was so inefficient against Scrapheap Scrounger, Heart of Kiran, Foundry Inspector, Archangel Avacyn, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, I decided I would try boarding in a bunch of creatures in an attempt to be more proactive, giving myself a better shot at dealing with planeswalkers in the process. I still have a very small sample, but it seems like the plan might be legit.
I also made a slight tweak to the main deck, as I’m now playing two Aether Meltdown in an attempt to further improve my Mardu matchup. The card has some of the same issues Blessed Alliance has, as it’s poor against cards like Tireless Tracker or Rogue Refiner, but it is much stronger against Scrounger and co.
Having said that, here is what I would register in my next event:
I’m still not sure I like Gideon of the Trials in that deck but I don’t feel super comfortable with only 3 Gearhulks and a Descend as win conditions. I’ve tried Glyph Keeper and it wasn’t bad at all, I’ve tried one Kefnet in the main, but I was boarding it out a lot. Gearhulk #4 might be good but it seems greedy to me. Gideon’s huge advantage is that it doubles up as a curve play and even if it rarely takes over the game, it might save you 12 to 15 points of damage.
I have very little experience with the matchup, but this is what I have been doing. It does feel bad to board out all the Gearhulks, and it might be wrong. Negate probably has more value on the play since it can counter Heart, so you might want to keep both in if you’re going first. Unlicensed Disintegration is their best card after sideboard, hence the Dispel. Keep in mind that most Mardu lists don’t run Glorybringer anymore, and that it’s a big reason why this plan might work.
It’s possible you want at least one Shielded Aether Thief on the draw to have extra outs against Longtusk Cub, and I would probably cut Quarantine Field or the second Negate for it. Chandra, Torch of Defiance hasn’t been a huge issue so far, and I think you should be fine with 4 Cast Outs.
I still have very little experience with the Thief and I haven’t tried the second one yet, but I think the card is good. As I said, I’m not quite sure how to sideboard in most matchups and it’s possible you don’t even need the second Descend here.
Try not to get into a spot where you lose if they have Negate for your sweeper (this is usually after sideboard, but some versions play Negate main). You’re also going to want to mainphase cards like Glimmer a lot if they’re tapped out, and sometimes even Gearhulk as they might bring in Essence Scatter against you (they usually don’t play that card and it only happened to me once, but you don’t need to risk it in most cases).
I’ve mostly been playing against the mono-black version, and you probably want to keep in Negate for Gideon against W/B. Once again, I have limited reps with the Thief.
As against Temur Energy, you might want some Thieves on the draw to deal with Cub, and you can probably board out the second Negate as Nissa, Voice of Zendikar isn’t very scary and they usually don’t have many noncreature spells you’re worried about. Blossoming Defense isn’t popular yet, but watch out for it and try to play around it if you can afford to (spoiler alert: you usually can’t).
I haven’t played against B/G Delirium as much but I believe the matchup is tougher, unfortunately.
I believe U/R Control is terrible, and I’ve beaten it the three or four times I’ve played against it, but it’s probably a close matchup. I also believe my current version is poorly positioned against it as Meltdown is significantly worse than Alliance or Glare as Wandering Fumarole is a problem. I also played against it a couple times at a point where my sideboard was ridiculously stacked against control (more Negates, Kefnet, Sphinx of the Final Word, Summary Dismissal for their Sphinx), since I didn’t feel like I really need that many slots for the other matchups and hadn’t come up with the Mardu transformational sideboard plan yet. Spell Queller is probably decent against them, but I wouldn’t even be surprised if I were a slight underdog.
You might have noticed I never board out any of the cycling cards. It is tempting to trim some after sideboard, especially when you’re struggling to find room. Don’t do it. I have tried, and I have regretted it every single time.
Those cards are the reason the deck functions and they are also part of some of the most interesting decisions you will have to make. One thing to notice is that given the curve of the deck, with lots of 2s and lots of 4s, it is often right not to cycle end of turn on turn 2 so you’ll have the extra info of your next draw step and still have 3 mana to cycle and play a 2-mana spell. You might also want to cycle main phase in case you draw Prairie Stream or Irrigated Farmland and need to play it right away to maximize your chances of casting Glimmer of Genius into Fumigate on curve.
I had an especially interesting decision the other day playing against either B/G or Temur. My hand was Gearhulk, Gearhulk, Descend, Cast Out, it was the end of my opponent’s third turn, he had no board and three lands and so did I (a dual, an Island, and a Plains). I could untap and draw for my turn, see if I draw a fourth land and decide to cycle, then if I didn’t draw a land, I could cycle the enchantment right away. It would probably take some sick Frank Karsten math to figure that spot out, but my “gut” (20 years of playing Magic combined with basic math skills) told me that the parlay of drawing land plus draw spell, Dissolve plus X, 2cc plus cycling spell, etc. made it worth cycling on end of turn. Another basic but important concept about the deck is that your main goal is to get the Gearhulk/Glimmer engine going, and cycling Cast Out right away in that spot works toward that goal.
I have been doing great with the deck, winning around 80% of my matches in competitive Leagues (I think I’m something absurd like 10-1 against Temur Energy, the one loss being most likely due to me punting) but you should obviously take those results with a grain of salt, especially since I’ve played so little against Mardu (and yes Andrew, I know, I’m 0-1 lifetime against your New Perspectives deck).
It’s a ton of fun to play (maybe not so much for your opponents), the decisions are numerous and interesting, and I’m excited to get more reps in against Vehicles and find out if U/W Control is legit tier 1.
If you like playing control and have hated your life every time you’ve tried playing Blue/Red, give this deck a try!