The Deck I Didn’t Play: U/B Control

This Pro Tour went poorly for me. Among the members Team CFB Fire, I had the worst record at 1-5. I managed to 0-3 Draft and 1-2 Constructed with our version of Mardu Vehicles. I’d call it a disaster, but there are many lessons to take away from this Pro Tour for both myself and the team, and I want to share with you the deck I was planning on playing until the middle of the day on Thursday. This is also the deck that Rich Hoaen and myself spent most of our time tuning—U/B Control.

Lessons from the PT

Testing for the Pro Tour is a tough challenge. You have two tournaments that occur before the big rodeo—both SCG tour events you use to gather data and as a middle ground for your decks in process, but you seldom know how close those decks are to the final product. The first order of business when you have a fully spoiled set (and in this case, the banned and restricted announcement) is to begin building decks. I work to go as wide as possible with each mechanic, especially those with cost reduction involved. Cost reduction mechanics or mechanics that generate mana are the most likely to be broken. Cards Like Tolarian Academy, Cloud of Faeries, Heritage Druid, and convoke have all had profound impacts.

Thus, I started considering improvise. I spent about 4-5 days working on improvise decks, some with and without Inspiring Statuary, Aetherworks Marvel, and Metalwork Colossus. The issue with spending this much time was that I found nothing promising. Nothing in this vein competed with G/B, with Jeskai, with Vehicles, or even with control. We’re playing a format where people are attacking with 4/4s on turn 3 and play infinite combos regularly by turn 4, and I was working on many decks that didn’t interact until turn 4 at the earliest. We spent too much time in this mode, and we had other assets on our team also considering decks like this. From this, we learned that we needed to be more effective at communicating with each another about what we’re working on, how we’re progressing with the deck, and things we like that we’d want others to work on.

Communication is big for me. I’m not the most well-spoken individual, so I take extreme care in trying to make everything clear with those I work with. Putting in that extra effort up front can save hours down the backstretch, and this is true of at work and life as well. When we got to Dublin, we struggled to communicate back to those who were traveling later. We’d give a nightly update, maybe. Rich was the best about this, and there were certainly others still posting decks, but being a team that mostly prepares for Pro Tours online and then gets together in person, we still need to improve upon this. We’re getting better. We didn’t leave anyone completely in the cold, but I still think we could be more transparent as individuals and as a team.

The final lesson is to trust your teammates. This goes for all of us. When someone found a deck they really liked, many of us, myself included, wouldn’t give the person’s ideas credit unless they jumped off the page. There were extremely powerful things happening in this Standard environment and if you were looking for someone to wow you, you were in the wrong head space. In particular, Martin was the only player on our team to play the Jund Vehicles deck after tuning the initial version that Matt Severa had worked on, but none of us went back to help him with it. We need to be more willing to offer help to others on the decks they’re working on, and not just focus on our own projects all the time. Sometimes the best treasures are difficult to see, and I’m stoked that Martin was rewarded with his third PT Top 8 because of his great deck choice.

As a team, we’re doing many big things well, as we’ve had someone in the Top 8 every PT since we started working together 4 PTs ago, but we’re doing some little things incorrectly. I think improving upon these systematic errors can really improve the team as a whole and push more of us into solid finishes at Pro Tours.

U/B Control

To start, here’s the deck list we worked on:

We started working on this deck after the first Open event. With the dominance of G/B, we immediately saw an opportunity to take a control deck to battle. What scared us were the Saheeli combo and Vehicles/aggro matchups. But I think you can tune the deck to be in reasonable shape against one at the cost of the matchup versus the other.

Against G/B, you can systematically kill all their creatures, counter all of their spells, and out-draw them fairly easily in preboarded games. In sideboarded games, things get tougher depending on the amount of Transgress the Minds and planeswalkers like Nissa, Vital Forces they have in their deck. Bringing in Kalitas and Fatal Push here as upgrades to the often poor Negates and a copy of Jace is really important. Your goal in the matchup is to still be the deck with the better late game, so don’t let a Tireless Tracker get out of hand, but it’s difficult when they’re constantly playing 2+ spells from turn 4 onward. Kalitas can pay off all your removal 2/2s.

Saheeli Copycat combo, on the other hand, was a different animal. This matchup is bad preboard. You have so much dead removal, and the games play out as a pure control mirror. Make your land drops, say go, and only fight on your opponent’s turn unless you’re planning a way to resolve a haymaker spell. Be conscious of decking, because if you lose all 4 of your Gearhulks, you cannot kill your opponent (this happened in my very first game with the deck). The problem is that your deck has much more dead removal (Pushes that are difficult to turn on, and Grasp of Darkness that kills a Felidar Guardian) and this is not a great place to be when planeswalkers and flash creatures are the name of the game.

We frequently found that if you didn’t play at a blistering pace, you couldn’t finish a 3-game match in the allotted 50-minute timed round. Therefore, we moved to a board strategy of Thing in the Ice, Transgress the Mind, and Dispel for the Fatal Pushes, Grasp of Darknesses, and a Jace. This plan was effective, but it ended up costing us in other spots, like against aggressive decks.

Vehicles was the breakout deck from the Pro Tour. The de facto aggro deck, R/B Aggro, plus W/R Aggro and variants of Mono-Red were around. Each of these was a horrible matchup for U/B Control. Scrapheap Scrounger in particular kept annihilating us. It either ended up being an unkillable 2-mana 3/2, or harassed you as a 2-mana flash threat from the graveyard. The only reasonable plan we came up with to fight these decks was to bring in Thing in the Ice, Kalitas, and all of our removal for the counterspells and planeswalkers to fight for board control. Flaying Tendrils is one of the few cards in the format that can answer a Scrapheap Scrounger (my kingdom for a Magma Spray!), and it’s the best card against the deck.

At the time we got off of the deck, we determined that it was a bad metagame deck as we weren’t confident against Saheeli. We weren’t sure that we could win the match in time, but liked our matchup overall. Against Scrapheap Scroungers (the other pole of the metagame) we were seldom able to remove the threat, and were really terrified that we’d just get run over and draw 3 lands down in the home stretch of a game and lose.

I think you can tune the U/B deck to beat Vehicles/Aggro if you want to—you just have to give up on some of the better late game, like Jace, Confirm Suspicions, and other counterspells, and play more removal. I think this is a perfectly valid way to go moving forward, and if I were to play U/B this weekend, I’d register something like this:

U/B Control, Updated

Thanks for rooting on Team ChannelFireball Fire. We’re looking to improve on our results at Pro Tour Amonkhet in May.

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