Stark Reality – Controlling Orlando

It’s been a while since there was a constructed deck that I was particularly enthused about. The last time I won consistently with anything in Constructed was the extended R/G Scapeshift/Primeval Titan deck that I took to a second place finish in GP Atlanta. I wasn’t playing much Magic in the time leading up to Worlds in San Francisco last year and wasn’t too familiar with the Standard metagame at the time. When I got together with the team a few days before the tournament and started playing the decks in our gauntlet it seemed like they were pretty terrible. Not our decks per se, just the stock lists of the popular decks. There was no doubt that the [card]Tempered Steel[/card] list we ran with [card]Moorland Haunt[/card] and [card]Etched Champion[/card] was a sweet list with significant upgrades from previous Tempered Steel lists and a great deck choice for that tournament. However, the stock versions of Illusions/Wolf Run/Humans/Solar Flare etc. just seemed pretty bad to me.

I remembered that Jeremy Neeman had won a standard GP with UB Control but it seemed like no one was playing it. I figured there were 2 main possibilities:

1) The deck wasn’t very good and Jeremy had won with it because of how well he plays (since he is one of the best players in the world and Luis’s Neemesis of course).

2) The deck was good but it didn’t catch on with the masses post-GP because it was too hard for people not of Jeremy’s caliber to pilot.

After piloting it for a day or so I realized it was definitely option number 2. Everything is a decision with this deck. Do I counter that or do I flashback [card]Think Twice[/card] since I am only holding 1 land and don’t want to miss land drops later on in the game? Do I kill that now or [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] and take some damage but get that selection out of the way now? Do I take the land off the Alchemy which will give me land 7 to flash it back in 2 turns, or do I take this [card]Mana Leak[/card] I have no clue if I will need or not? I told the Channel Fireball guys I thought the deck was good, but they said basically even if it was it was too late to start working on a new deck and especially a control one. They were definitely right, as it’s a long and hard tuning process for control decks that expect to play with half to three quarters of their library every game. These are the kind of decks where adding just one of something or changing the number of a card by 1 can greatly alter your win percentages in matchups. You can’t just decide to start tuning a deck like this 2 days before the tournament. So I started testing the deck with [card wild nacatl]Pat Cox[/card] for fun and the future and resigned myself to play our sweet Tempered Steel list at Worlds.

The testing started with Pat telling me GW beat UB. Then I beat him like 6-1 with my only loss being a mull to 5 or something and he was like “well, you are playing the deck differently than other people were in our testing”. Basically the key to that particular matchup was not [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card]ing for 2 when they played a [card]Mirran Crusader[/card], but rather waiting until you had 6 mana and could [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card] with [card]Mana Leak[/card] open for the Planeswalker they could play on the turn after you Zenith. Even if that meant literally going to 2 life or so, they aren’t playing mono red, they can’t really burn you out save the rare occasional [card]Mortarpod[/card], and you have so many counters and removal. The thing with UB is that every matchup is like that. You have to learn how to time your spells and figure out which cards matter most and your best plans to victory in every matchup. I firmly recommend this deck to anyone who is going to play Standard right now. It has a favorable Delver matchup and crushes the other anti-Delver decks like Wolf Run and Chapin’s sweet removal/control deck that he annihilated delver with in GP Orlando. Basically any form of control is usually pretty favorable. You do have matchups where you are less than 50 percent to win. However, with so much removal these matchups are very winnable. Don’t think I am saying you will just beat everything though, since you are an underdog against Tempered Steel, Mono red, and Humans with Mana Leaks.

Ben Stark
GP Orlando 2012 Standard

[deck]4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
3 Ghost Quarter
7 Island
2 Nephalia Drownyard
7 Swamp
2 Snapcaster Mage
3 Black Sun’s Zenith
2 Blue Sun’s Zenith
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
3 Dissipate
2 Doom Blade
3 Forbidden Alchemy
4 Mana Leak
4 Think Twice
2 Tribute to Hunger
3 Virulent Wound
1 Karn Liberated
2 Liliana of the Veil
1 Batterskull
1 Black Sun’s Zenith
2 Bloodline Keeper
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Negate
2 Nephalia Drownyard
3 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Phantasmal Image
1 Virulent Wound[/deck]

I started off 9-0, but got really sick between by Sunday morning. Frankly, I am not going to say I would have made Top 8 and even won the GP if I hadn’t, but on Saturday I was 3-0 (6-1) games against Delver and 9-0. I started off Sunday losing 2-1 to PV, and I probably should have won both games I lost. Feeling that sick this was too hard of a deck to play, but I know if I were healthy I would have won that match. Everything after that would change, as I would have been 10-0 looking at mostly very favorable matchups throughout the top tables. Anti-Delverish decks like Conley’s and Chapin’s at the end of the GP, and mostly Delver and Wolf Run were throughout the top tables in Day 2. As it was, I played very poorly all day Sunday and finished 32nd. Right now, there isn’t much I would change about the decklist. If you expect a field of around 25-33 percent Delver and a decent amount of other decks and Wolf Runs trying to beat Delver, the deck is constructed the right way, with the only change I would make to the 75 being to cut 1 [card]Virulent Wound[/card] from the sideboard for 1 more [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]. If you expect a field of say 40-50 percent Delver like it was in GP Orlando, with the 3 bye players and into day2, then I would cut 1 [card]Tribute to Hunger[/card] and 1 [card]Blue Sun’s Zenith[/card] from the main for 1 more [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] and 1 more [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] in the main.

This is how I sideboard/plan a little for the most common matchups.

Against Delver Blade:


[draft]2 blue sun’s zenith
1 Karn liberated
2 doom blade
1 island
2 Dissipate
1 Mana leak [/draft]

(when I am on the play I switch 1 mana leak and 1 Dissipate)


[draft]1 Virulent Wound
1 Black Sun’s Zenith
1 Curse of Death’s hold
2 Bloodline Keeper
1 Phantasmal Image
3 Nihil Spellbomb[/draft]

Really this matchup plays more like a control mirror than like playing against an aggro deck. You just want to keep dissolving their threats and ways to gain card advantage while drawing cards. You don’t want to let your life fall below five or so, but in the early game if you are taking like 2 damage a turn from 15 while making land drops and casting [card]Think Twice[/card], that favors you rather than them. If they overload the board then you should [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card] away everything or whatnot. Flipped [card insectile aberration]Delvers[/card] hit hard and fast so try and kill/counter those away in the early game, but try and ignore 1-2 damage a turn from random 1/1s. Build your lands and hand and get to the point where you can clear their stuff and start landing Bloodlines and Curses with mana open to play for Leaks.

Against Wolf Run:


[draft]2 Black Sun’s Zenith
3 Virulent wound[/draft]


[draft]1 Curse of Death’s hold
1 Phantasmal Image
2 Negate
1 Jace, Memory Adept[/draft]

The main plan here is to be a draw-go deck. Counter the meaningful stuff and just keep drawing cards and making land drops. If you do that sooner or later you can [card]Blue Sun’s Zenith[/card] for a bunch and win easily. However, a lot of times the games get sloppy. You can very easily still win games where they resolve Titans and Planeswalkers. [card]Karn Liberated[/card] trumps everything and Curses make Garruks look pretty unimpressive, as well as shutting off [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card]. One of the hardest games I played came against Andrew Auburn in round 9 playing Wolf Run, where he ran me out of counterspells when I was stuck around 4 lands so I couldn’t really get my card drawing engine going. Instead, I ended up having to get a Curse out to make his Garruk more manageable, but then he started resolving Titans. I had [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card]/[card]Doom Blade[/card] so even after [card]Primeval Titan[/card]’s search ability, with Curse shutting off Inkmoth and making Garruks 2/2 wolves look a little smaller, the game stayed within reach. Eventually Karn took out Garruk, and I was able to stabilize by the skin of my teeth and win. Obviously you would prefer plan A, but Curse can lock out a lot of what Wolf Run does, so don’t be scared to get dirty.

Against Humans: This is the matchup I sacrificed the most in to make the deck good against DelverBlade. I used to consider Humans are fairly easy matchup, but now I frequently find myself on the wrong side of Human beat down. I sideboard completely differently on the play and the draw in this match.

On the play I take out

[draft]3 Virulent Wound
1 Forbidden Alchemy[/draft]


[draft]1 curse of death’s hold
1 black sun’s zenith
2 negate[/draft]

On the draw I sideboard out 3 [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] and 1 [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] for the same 4 cards. The reason for this plan is that on the play it’s much easier to keep [card]Honor of the Pure[/card] off the board, and therefore you can ignore most of their little guys and start sweeping the board and Cursing them. On the draw I hope to just kill/counter each thing they play and hit a big [card]Blue Sun’s Zenith[/card] for the win. If you want to improve this matchup it could probably be done with trading some [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card]s in the sideboard for some [card]Virulent Wound[/card]s. While they would probably come in versus a few other matchups like Delver/Steel, I have found them to be unimpressive versus pretty much everything except Humans.

Against Tempered Steel:


[draft]3 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Karn Liberated
1 Blue Sun’s Zenith
1 Dissipate[/draft]


[draft]1 Black Sun’s Zenith
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Virulent Wound
2 Negate
1 Batterskull[/draft]

The main reason for the [card]Negate[/card]s, and the overall plan here, is to keep [card]Tempered Steel[/card] off the board. If you can do that, then [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] will dominate the matchup. Negate also counters Idols and Spellbombs which are the other things you are often interested in countering, while you want to just [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card] away their [card]Memnite[/card]s, [card]Vault Skirge[/card]s, [card]Etched Champion[/card]s, etc. This matchup used to be very bad, but as of late (with all the Curses), I have been beating it sometimes. I still think it is in Steel’s favor, but it is very winnable.

Against the Mirror

Obviously you board a little differently against each control deck, but in generally looks something like this.


[draft]3 Black Sun’s Zenith
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Doom Blade
3 Virulent Wound[/draft]


[draft]3 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Negate
1 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Nephalia Drownyard
2 Bloodline Keeper[/draft]

The way that you want the games play out is to try and push through [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] or [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] early with counter backup. Late game, never tap out until you would have to discard. If you can outland them and or mill them, that’s great. If you would have to discard good spells then and only then do you usually start trying to play things, and you should generally start with your cheaper threats. Resolving [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card] and [card]Karn Liberated[/card] is usually game winning, so you don’t want to throw those around loosely. It is perfectly ok if you burn a [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] or Liliana as long as you don’t allow them to resolve Jace or Karn.

I highly recommend this deck for the current standard season. Pat Cox and I have been testing and tuning it since worlds and it is very powerful and has great answers to everything right now. Just make sure you can play fast and you get in some practice before you use it in a tournament.

43 thoughts on “Stark Reality – Controlling Orlando”

  1. Pingback: Owen’s a Win – A Look at the Top 5 Standard Decks : Magic: The Gathering – Strategy, Singles, Cards, Decks

  2. Hi Ben! Sweet list =) Could you please elaborate more on why Nephalia Drownyard is one of the main win conditions? It seems really slow and the possibility to shoot yourself in the foot scares me haha. Doesn’t it feed Moorland haunt?

    Also, I’m playing a UB Tezz list atm and Despise and Distress are really useful to me in the metagame atm. It seems your manabase can support Distress too. Would you consider it? What are your thoughts on those two cards in UB today? Thanks for your time =)

  3. I love this deck. I piloted it to top 4 at a GPT and the only reason I lost there was because of my own incompetence. My version was a little different, but in a Delver heavy metagame, this deck is fun. Great article.

  4. Distress is bad, two mana you take one threat but allow them to resolve a different one, sure you get one card, but they didnt spend any mana on it,

  5. Hey bro, although both options one and two are kinda flattering, honestly I don’t think it’s either. UB control was a sweet choice when the metagame was full of these junky UW midrange decks and the old non-Dungrove Wolf Run ramp builds that didn’t have Autumn’s Veil and various control builds that folded to Nephalia Drownyard. That was right at the beginning of the season. Then shortly after GP Sydney, the metagame adjusted for UB being a real deck and Dungrove Elder and Mirran Crusader became very popular, and people figured out that Delver of Secrets was a card. At some point the two most popular decks were UW Humans and Dungrove Ramp, both of which crushed UB Control, so it became a very bad choice and fell off before Worlds – I don’t think anyone really put up results with it in December. Now Dungrove is on its way out, Autumn’s Veil is much less of a thing, Black Sun’s Zenith is effectively DoJ most of the time, and Curse of Death’s Hold is suddenly very well placed, it kills the most popular archetypes by itself. We’ve come full circle and UB is good again, even if your list is quite a bit different from the one I won Sydney with. Anyway sweet article and I look forward to brewing against you guys in Hawaii 🙂

  6. I am wondering on your thoughts on Life’s Finale. I have played with UB Control extensively ever since Jeremy Neeman(above XD) played it to win in Sydney. I have found it to be just as good as BSZ due to removing more threats they could get their hands on and thinning down the opponent’s deck. I still run BSZ for earlier wipes but it really has helped me against Delver, Wolf Run, and even tokens. Right now, I am running a mix of 2 – 1 in favor of Life’s Finale due to me not being able to get a hold on another BSZ at the moment but it really has worked for me.

    Any opinions?

  7. I play near the same list, but with 2 army of damned MD as a win con over 1 karn and 1 blue sun´s zenith

  8. I played some games against delver decks with this list today, not a whole lot, probably 12 or so games, and while i won a reasonable amount cnsidering i am inexperienced with the deck i found that often times the most backbreaking play they could pull was Geist on the play. The deck barely has answers to him that aren’t sorcery speed, which means i’m forced to tap out since if i don’t they will hold mana for counters and i can’t afford to let them hit me with it until i have leak mana up or 6 lands in play to pay for theirs.

    Every tme i drew Virulent Wound postboard i wish it was Geth’s Verdict. What do you guys think about swapping a virulent for a verdict? I want to have the option to force sacrifce at instant speed and the difference between 3 mana and 2 is much bigger than 2 and 1 in this deck.

  9. I enjoyed the list, would be interested in a tournament report as decks that have this many options tend to yield interesting reports.

  10. For the person that asked about mono-red, my advice (admittedly from fairly limited testing with this deck) is to add one or more Witchbane Orb to the sideboard for a mono-red heavy FNM. The problem with mono-red is that this deck is built to allow them to beat you down a little bit, and your life total can get low, at which point they can burn you out with their shrine or just Brimstone Volleys etc. With Orb, you not only turn off all their burn spells and shrine, but you also turn off Chandra’s Phoenix (assuming they play it). It’s a nice simple fix to keep the deck mostly intact while greatly improving your mono-red matchup.

  11. I find it a bit strange that you board in Bloodline Keeper in the control mirror. It seems that to win the matchup, milling/lands is far more important. If they’re on the Drownyard/Draw-Go plan, then you really can’t play Bloodline Keeper unless you have loads and loads of mana up.

  12. @anthony Drownyard dominates the control mirror, because it forces your opponent to play into you. Control mirror is all about not tapping out, and out mana-ing your opponent so you can resolve your six-drop or karn with mega counter backup. Usually the player who taps out first gets countered out and pretty much loses on the spot. Drownyard makes them start trying to get ahead with spells, or just get milled. Games go realllly long, and having something to do with your mana every turn while you hold up counters just trumps the traditional gameplan.

  13. Call me whatever, but what are you winning with in the main deck? I see Bloodline Keepers and a Batterskull in the board, but that’s it.

  14. Thank you for the detailed sideboarding info.
    Its always frustrating to figure out how to sideboard with a deck you are not totally familiar with.

  15. First up, love the build Ben! Karn is a great wincon, mill is definitely a wincon.

    Not sure if I like Bloodline Keeper. How do people use him? Just swing in? Or make tokens and swing? I mean, if I am going to run something like that, I like Consecrate Sphinx so much better because it allows me to dig every turn. In the mirror, whoever digs out lands and answers first usually wins. Plus it is Liliana fodder. It is just the 2BB cost that you like or also the immunity to Doom Blade?

    I like Life’s Finale. I think it depends on the Meta. Against the Dungrove Ramp and R/G Wolf Run decks, removing 3-6 creatures and wiping their field 1-2x is just huge. Turn 6 is way too late against U/W Tempo decks.

    U/W Human Swords is much faster and nastier than U/W Delver Pike. It really isn’t all that hurt by Nihil Spellbomb because of the swords, it is faster and it’s creatures grow (Champion of the Parish, Honor of the Pure), it can easily use Oblivion Ring, and it has nasty stuff like Mirran Crusader and Grand Abolisher alongside Geist of Saint Traft. Add in Mana Leaks and they can establish very quickly and they only need to fend us off for a couple of turns. Turn 5 Curse of Death’s Hold not only won’t kill most of their field if any, but we likely won’t land it because they wait to Mana Leak two cards: BSZ and Curse of Death’s Hold. Anything else they can cope with. Game 2 they side in Negates and a Dissipate or two.

    Surgical Extraction is much better against this version of the deck than Nihil Spellbomb is. Nihil is also not as good in the mirror. I would rather Surgical their Ghost Quarter/Nephalia Dronwyard/Dissipate than anything else.

  16. Against Delver Blade you say this:

    “(when I am on the play I switch 1 mana leak and 1 Dissipate)”

    The wording is a bit ambiguous, do you mean on the play you board out 1 Disspate and 2 Mana Leaks, or all 3 Dissipates?

  17. @Dave: He probably means instead of taking out 2 dissipate and 1 mana leak he takes out 3 dissipate. Since on the play mana leaks are better since you counter sooner. I think that’s what he means. That’s how I would board it on the play..

  18. Great article and a great deck! I am very happy to see someone piloting Control where most people say it just doesn’t cut it.

    Hopefully you are feeling much better now than you did ;).


  19. @ David: Witchbane Orb is actually pretty miserable because mono-red will simply board in Manic Vandal or Ancient Grudge. They already board those cards in against Delver Blade in order to take out their equpment, so it’s not atypical at all for RDW to have artifact hate.

  20. I keep hearing about Blue Sun being a win con. do you use it to finish off their deck or draw for yourself?

  21. @Nick: Generally, Blue Sun’s Zenith is there for you to draw cards. However, in a handful of games, Blue Sun is a win condition after you have milled them extensively with Drownyard. In that kind of a game, a Blue Sun’s for a large amount actually finishes the job, or puts them within range to be decked by a couple more Drownyard activations.

  22. Against mono red I Bring in 3 nihil spellbomb 1 virulent wound 1 curse of deathold 1 batterskull 2 negate and i take out 3 black sun zenith 2 blue sun zenith 2 ghost quarter 1 snapcaster mage.

    The lack of win conditions is not a problem, blue sun is a win condition because after you blue sun for 7, you aren’t going to lose the game. You just mill them until you can blue sun them out. It doesn’t even take that long, but you do have to play fast and if your opponent is taking time every turn when they draw 1 card and nothing has changed from last turn you have to call the judge and make the judge enforce a reasonable speed of play. Most people aren’t dirty though and will just play their land and pass and then you mill them untap play a land and pass and it goes rather quickly.

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  24. Ben, I played your list in a recent tournament and did fairly well, but I’m wondering how you prevented draws? I ran out of time in two matches due to the slowness of the Drownyard plan. I’m not a slow player, I don’t think.

  25. While I’ve been playing Magic on and off for 17 years now, I am always amazed at the depth of mastery that some people have of the game. The fact that Ben Stark has a comprehensive sideboard plan specifically for large-scale tournaments blows my mind. When you’re no longer playing against your opponent, or your usual opponents, or even just a large number of random opponents, but against trends over time and statistics themselves, you are playing a great game.

    Not to say other writers for this site (official or in the comments) don’t do this regularly, though I doubt it’s common. I was just impressed by Stark’s two-sentence reference to what must be quite a calculus of judgment.

  26. @poops virulent gets the nod because of negative 1 is a counter which makes a difference going long

  27. @Chris

    The thing is, 6 mana isn’t that bad…

    I have found that through boarding in more removal I can get by and not have to worry about getting too low on life. Any U/W Aggro plan won’t have a chance once you get to six mana. If you play enough removal on them, they won’t be able to finish you off. They can’t put threats down all day. This deck has a pretty good match-up against any of those decks, in my opinion about 55-60% favored. Only their nut draws can stop you from stabilizing.

  28. Tried this on MODO. 0-2 drop. Had to mulligan 4x to 5 cards because of nolander, then got manascrewed each time, not getting over 4 lands in play. 🙁
    I think I suck at this game…

  29. With DA on the horizon, is there any potential cards that could possibly make their way into this deck? Is it just to early to tell? Love this deck and love the article. 10/10

  30. What if you were expecting a full dominance of humans in your tournament (my local metamage nowdays)? Just the ratchet bombs or does anyone have more ideas? Love this kind of deck, and I sure would like to run it, but Ben’s comment about “sacrificing for humans” made me a bit wary about it…

  31. Pingback: Owen’s a Win – Sideboarding Strategy : Magic: The Gathering – Strategy, Singles, Cards, Decks

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