Is U/W-Based Control the Best Deck in Modern?

My teammates and I narrowly missed Day 2 at Grand Prix Detroit with a record of 5-1-2, but that didn’t stop us from having a great time and learning a lot about Modern. We went with the team configuration I suggested in last week’s Grand Prix Detroit Survival Guide article (Jeskai, KCI, and Humans), and it felt like a strong trio.

If we had been able to slay Peach Garden Oath in Round 8 (we lost a close match), my teammates and I would have been sitting pretty on Day 2 with a 6-0-2 record! It’s crazy how the outcome of one game in a three-match set was the difference between a great Day 1 and a failed one.

Modern is a tricky format, because of the “matchup lottery.” Whether your deck choice ends up being perfect or awful hinges largely upon the random pairings you receive, an aspect of the game a player has no control over. If you are paired against a handful of good matchups on the day, you feel like a genius. When the pairings go against you, not so much. All we can do is choose decks we believe will give us the strongest chance of winning the most matches, search for exploitable edges, refine our lists, and practice finding the best plays.

I played a controlling Jeskai deck and was pleased with the decision and build of the deck. The way my teammates were leaning made it obvious that I would end up on a U/W control deck. Blue-White Control is metrically the “best” deck in Modern right now, and there was no way we were going to leave it out of our roster.

One of the great things about playing Magic in the South Eastern Michigan area is the strong network of talented local players in the area. There are so many great players out here and most of them enjoy working together on various decks and projects. I tried out several lists of U/W, but at the end of the day, the list I liked the best was Kyle Boggemes’s Jeskai Control build. I played an event nearly every day the week before the Grand Prix, and discussed my games with Kyle on Messenger.

Jeskai Control

Brian DeMars

The main deck is solid. From the first draft of the deck I looked at, only a few cards actually changed over the course of two weeks. The sideboard, on the other hand, is very customizable and requires the pilot to make decisions about where and how they want to hedge against difficult/popular matchups.

The two biggest selling points if you are “control inclined” are:

• The deck is extremely focused, which isn’t always true of the Jeskai archetype. Often, Jeskai decks tend to be aggressive with a lot of nimble threats and want to race. Not this list. I’m full on Terminus planeswalkers, like a U/W Control deck.

• Bolt is sooo good right now. Yes, you pay a price on mana, but access to Lightning Bolt and life gain via Lightning Helix dramatically swings several important matchups—basically, anything with a bunch of creatures. I know, U/W has Terminus, (and so do we), but you can’t always bank on spiking a miracle at the right time to clear the way for a Jace or Teferi. The additional removal is an asset to keep the board clear so your planeswalkers can survive.

Why Jeskai Control Over U/W Control?

This is the most important question when considering which brand of control to play in Modern. Both decks are completely insane and probably the “best” archetype. Let’s start with what is the same before we delve into what is different:

The reason these decks are good, in my opinion, is because these two planeswalkers are absolutely broken in half. It’s not just that they are good. THEY ARE BROKEN IN HALF.

In most matchups, it is not unrealistic to assume that if you can untap with a planeswalker the game is 90% likely over. The deck is good at leveraging card advantage to create situations where an opponent simply cannot draw enough live cards to battle back into the game because Jace and Teferi get you so ridiculously far ahead so quickly.

I mean, if the opponent couldn’t kill a planeswalker last turn, what are the odds that they’ll accomplish that next turn after I’ve drawn multiple extra cards that are all geared towards protecting my planeswalkers? Not impossible, but certainly not very good…

The other big card is Terminus:

Terminus could be the most powerful sweeper ever printed. The 1-mana, instant speed, “miracle mode” is mass destruction at an absurdly cheap and flexible rate. Being able to “double spell” on the same turn where a Wrath is played for 1 mana, especially early in the game, leads to devastating sequences and uncontested planeswalkers. The uncontested planeswalker walks away with the game.

Wait, there’s more! Terminus puts creatures on the bottom of their owner’s library, rather than destroying them. So, all of those pesky Bloodghasts, Vengevines, and Gravecrawlers that graveyard-based strategies are hoping to recur get bottomed.

I could write a similar paragraph for why two-thirds of the cards in the deck are completely insane and among the most efficient ways of doing various powerful things in Modern:

As boring as it may sound, one key to Jeskai Control’s good positioning is simply that it is a collection of the most broken cards legal in Modern. You don’t have bad cards, you don’t even have good cards—you have great cards!

Here’s the trade off: Greedy mana for better cards.

In fact, in Magic, greed is often good as long as the payoff is worth it. Here’s the other thing—the mana isn’t even that greedy. It’s reasonable to play a 3-color, fetchland-based deck in Modern. You pay a price against Blood Moon and sometimes you’ll stumble looking for a color, but it’s not like you’re splashing Cruel Ultimatum into a G/W beatdown deck!

In fact, aside from Blood Moon matchups, the only place where the mana feels noticeable is against U/W Control, if the game goes long. Game 1 often goes long against U/W, but there are a fair amount of games where an unanswered planeswalker ends it quickly. Bolts are great at burning out opposing planeswalkers and pressuring life totals, so while fewer basics is a cost, the burn spells themselves are fairly useful in the matchup (and stay in post-sideboard).

In the sideboard games, I’ve found that the games are actually fast because both sides are boarding in more threats and cheaper interaction. The games are less about attrition and more about jamming treats until something sticks. It’s a big advantage that you can bolt U/W’s Snapcaster Mage and Vendilion Clique, but they have to Path to Exile yours, especially early in the game when jockeying for position and resources is so important.

One of the interesting things I’ve done with the sideboard is to cut Ancestral Vision.

“You will pay the price for your lack of vision.”

Don’t worry. That is just some condescending thing Palpatine says before he gets thrown into the abyss. Over a large sample size of control mirrors, I’ve noticed something unique about playing from the Jeskai side: Ancestral Vision is not what I want to be doing with my sideboard. In fact, I found a correlation between drawing the card and losing. The games are so compact with so much pressure on each exchange that drawing a card that doesn’t progress my plan for 4 turns is quite bad.

Geist of Saint Traft is the best mirror match card. It comes down before planeswalkers. It pressures planeswalkers and life totals hard. It is difficult to get off the board. U/W, for instance, will likely only be able to interact with it post-sideboard by trying to block with Vendilion Clique or Snapcaster Mage. Well, you have a bunch of Lightning Bolts and Lightning Helix, so good luck with that…

Bringing the Hate in the Sideboard

I’m pretty satisfied loading my sideboard with cards that eviscerate my worst matchups—decks like Tron, Valakut, and Storm.

The deck has so much removal that it is extremely strong against opposing creature decks, but the overload on removal makes you weak against combo decks.

Tron is one of the worst matchups, but it’s not as bad as playing control against Tron in the past. You can actually win game 1 if they don’t Tron up on turn 3. Your planeswalkers can put you into a position where you can counter every threat they play and pressure with Snaps.

After sideboard, I get really hateful with Alpine Moon, Damping Sphere, and Stony Silence. I’m looking to slow them down and put my counterspell shields up.

I’m in love with Alpine Moon. It has won me multiple games against Tron and Valakut already and the value for 1 mana in those difficult matchups is absurd. You can play it on turn 1, or you can play it on turn 3 with counterspell back up to protect it from removal.

I love loading up on the hate enchantments and artifacts in a deck full of counterspells. Most of these cards create a situation where an opponent is completely hamstrung for as long as the card remains in play, and you have far more ways to say “no” to their ways to remove your enchantments than they have answers.

There are notably zero Rest in Peace or graveyard hate cards in your sideboard. I don’t want to board out Snapcaster Mage against anybody, and I have Search for Azcanta. The first time I played the list I was a little annoyed when I went to the sideboard and didn’t have Rest in Peace against Hollow One. I won anyway. I’m basically X-0 against graveyard decks. It’s amazing how unbelievable Terminus is against Dredge and Hollow One. These matchups would be unwinnable for a control deck with four Supreme Verdict, but Terminus (on its own) makes these matchups close.

Honestly, that simple fact may be the reason why U/W-based control is the best deck. Typically, control would struggle with recursive graveyard decks, but Terminus puts an end to that nonsense.

There is nothing to say that you couldn’t play Surgical Extraction, or even Rest in Peace, but I decided to use my sideboard space to focus on other matchups.

It is also worth noting that the deck is highly customizable, especially in the sideboard. Kyle and I played the exact same main deck 60, but had completely different sideboard strategies and both had very good records with the deck at the event.

It goes without saying that if you are playing at the LGS level, you can swap sideboard cards around to make sure you have a solid plan for the types of decks that are popular in your area.

The deck is definitely sweet. It’s powerful. Jace and Teferi are among the most busted win conditions legal in Modern. Terminus is one of the most devastating things you can do to over half the field. It’s also challenging and rewarding to play: you have to think strategically about how you will sequence your cards so that you have a planeswalker that can survive at the end.

The deck also doesn’t have a ton of awful matchups. It certainly has more favorable ones than poor ones, which is a huge upside. I basically use a lot of my sideboard to swing those popular bad matchups—Tron, Storm, Valakut—and to get an advantage in the mirror (even though it’s basically an even matchup).

Either way, the list feels really good and I’ve been enjoying playing it for basically the past week straight. It will likely be a Modern deck I will continue to work on and play in the future. It’s the strongest Modern deck I’ve piloted in some time.


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