I went to GP LA last weekend and played a tweaked version of UB control to a record of 11-4 (three byes). I didn’t want to learn a new deck from scratch in three days—I got home from Hawaii on a Monday and had to drive to LA on a Friday. I knew my preparation was basically nonexistent so I figured I’d rely on all the work I did for the Pro Tour. I played almost the exact same deck list I wrote about last week, with one major change:
Moving to four Disdainful Strokes in the main deck was really strong for me in this tournament. I feel strongly that as long as that card is Standard-legal it will be an important part of any deck that has blue in it. It reminds me a lot of Spell Snare which was a multi-format powerhouse. The beauty in cards like Spell Snare and Disdainful Stroke is they always trade for a card that costs more mana than it does—they “trade up.” Trading up is one of the best ways to win a fast-paced game of Magic since it’s a great way to either play two spells in a turn or catch up from behind. If you Lightning Bolt a Juggernaut, you got a good deal.
I also quite liked that I expected the format to be Abzan midrange and Jeskai tempo and each of those decks has really high impact cards they’re trying to play at 4+—whether it’s Siege Rhino or Dig Through Time. In many cases against Jeskai tempo, their plan A is to just burn your face until you’re dead, and having a card that trades with Stoke the Flames no-questions-asked is excellent. Their plan B after sideboard is to go over the top with Ashcloud Phoenix, Prognostic Sphinx, or Keranos. Disdainful Stroke is excellent here as well.
Thoughtseize has fallen in value a bit. I don’t think it’s the best way to combat Jeskai tempo since it’s a bad topdeck and really poor if they’re on the burn plan. It was originally added to the deck because it was a cheap card, a great way to get some cards in the graveyard for delve, and just a super good Magic card. Putting Thoughtseize in your black deck is good right? The other thing I dislike about Thoughtseize is that it seems like half the time I get paired against an Abzan deck, it’s the Demonic Zoo list where Thoughtseize is less good—still great in your opening hand but the window in which it is effective is very small.
After the event, I wasn’t so sure I wanted Perilous Vault . I was paired against Jeskai tempo five times, and so I automatically sideboarded it out quite a bit—but on the flip side I lost to Abzan decks twice, and Perilous Vault would have been the best card in both instances.
Here’s the list, for reference:
Most of the sideboarding with the deck is straightforward as you have ten cards in the form of Murk Lurker, Drown in Sorrow, and Pharika’s Cure that you sideboard in almost exclusively against red aggro and the five remaining cards that are good against non-aggressive decks. There’s some slight deviation, but nothing that can’t be explained easily.
The most interesting part about my sideboard plan in this matchup is the choice to run only two of the four possible Jorubai Murk Lurkers, but I’m confident it’s correct. The original purpose of the Murk Lurkers in this matchup was to come down as an early threat to help mitigate Goblin Rabblemaster and his tokens, but many Jeskai players are cutting the card. I also quite like Murk Lurker as an alternate win condition that makes it so you don’t lose to burn as easily. People always try to win by burning my from 20 to 0 and this is simply less likely to happen when I have access to Pharika’s Cure and Jorubai Murk Lurker.
I have tried playing with four, I never wanted the card in my opening hand. Additionally, the more my list and strategy became known to people the more they would just leave in Banishing Light after sideboarding or just use Jeskai Charms to put the Leech on top of my library over and over, these plays can be a disaster in the early game. Lastly, it’s not like a 2/4 is some total surprise threat that the opponent can’t deal with, at the end of the day they can still just cast Stoke the Flames on it.
I would classify a deck as Abzan Midrange if it has both Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix and not Fleecemane Lion. This seems to almost always be the case, if I see Sylvan Caryatid I can rule out Fleecemane Lion and if I see Fleecemane Lion I can rule out Sylvan Caryatid. This isn’t set in stone as people can build their deck however they please, but it’s fine to sideboard out Bile Blight against these slower Abzan decks and make yourself weaker to Fleecemane Lion, since you always have Hero’s Downfall and Perilous Vault.
Negate is a really excellent card against this deck after sideboard since it’s common for them to try to win with Nissa or other high-end threats. I’ve seen my fair share of Thoughtseizes and Read the Bones to make me always want Negate over Bile Blight in this matchup. Thoughtseize isn’t amazing but I think you still do want three. It answers Nissa, Worldwaker which is a problematic card, using Thoughtseize to stop their Thoughtseize is totally reasonable, and lastly when their deck plays 24 land and 4 Sylvan Caryatid that means half their deck is mana and sometimes they will have starting hands with only one or two action cards, so Thoughtseize will play the same way it does against Mono-Green Devotion in that way. This won’t happen every game but it happens often enough to make it a viable strategy.
Abzan Aggro/Demonic Zoo
That’s right. In this matchup I do not adjust my deck at all. There’s some chance I should be sideboarding out my two Thoughtseize for Negate or possibly Pharika’s Cure but I’ve found that Thoughtseize can be a lucky card here and a good way to trade one-for-one with Fleecemane Lion or Rakshasa Deathdealer. At the Pro Tour I beat both Sam Pardee and Mike Sigrist playing this deck but it didn’t feel like a good matchup and even now I’m sure their deck is advantaged, but not by much. Perilous Vault is insane against that deck and it makes it very hard for them to win once you get it into play. This is one of those matchups where when you win the deck feels like a well-oiled machine. It’s just all removal for their creatures, card draw, and counterspells. You know, pure Magic.
I usually sideboard out one Pearl Lake Ancient whenever I add some number of Jorubai Murk Lurker since I’m less reliant on that card as a win condition. This was the best mix I’ve found against the all-in weenie beatdown decks that pop up occasionally. Between the last Grand Prix and the Pro Tour I’ve sided in Drown in Sorrow in a total of 2 of my 22 matches played. Sadly, I foresee continuing to play them in my deck since the matchup is that bad that you want to have something to beat it and my sideboard just wouldn’t be utilized much better even if I had more space. Standard is small right now and playing a two-color deck means my options are limited. It’s also worth noting that you never know when one week people will just spaz out and all want to play beatdown decks. It’s good to be prepared for something even if you personally don’t view it as a deck that will be popular or successful.
UB Control or Esper
I almost didn’t list how to sideboard in this matchup at all since it’s so unlikely to come up, but somehow, twice on Day Two of the Grand Prix I played a control mirror. Of course, Jorubai Murk Lurker isn’t the strongest card for a control on control showdown but it is for sure better than a card I’m sideboarding out and it has been nice to randomly have a cheap threat that your opponent has to do something out. It can randomly pressure planeswalkers or if you draw more lands than the opponent you can press your advantage. Oddly I’ve found the Murk Lurker to be totally insane in games where my opponent and I both have Pearl Lake Ancient. A very nice unintended side effect of having that card.
Moving forward I think Blue/Black Control is a very good choice for the current Standard environment. I want to try a few more cards and configurations and I think I’ve only begun to scratch the surface as to what the optimal build of this deck will look like. I went 3-2 against Abzan, 2-2 against Jeskai, and 1-0 against Mono-Red Heroic, Esper, and the mirror. Not the best results I could hope for against Jeskai and Abzan but that’s to be expected. It’s extremely difficult for any deck to be advantaged against the two best decks in the format. I also know I got unlucky in some of those matches that I lost and it could have broken either way. That was one of the biggest reasons I stuck with the deck, I know I can get hands that crush Jeskai and Abzan and it wouldn’t have surprised me at all to be X-0 with some luck against those decks.
Thanks for reading and see you all next week!
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