If you are anything like me, the last few weeks has consisted of endless PPTQs with a couple of GPTs and small patches of sleep in-between. Fate Reforged might be a small set but the new cards have substantially effected the composition of the current metagame.
The last time I covered UW Heroic, we looked at the three main archetypes at that time: Abzan Control, Sultai Whip, and Jeskai Tokens. Since Fate, these decks are not really appearing at the top tables, so along with an updated deck list we can consider how to tackle some of the new top players in the format: Red/White Aggro, Abzan Aggro, and Blue-Black control.
Here is my current deck list (played to four PPTQ Top 8s in the last two weeks):
UW Heroic by James Fazzolari
The most interesting thing with this deck list is what is not included—there are no new cards from Fate Reforged! Try as I might, I just could not get Monastery Mentor to work in the archetype. It was just too expensive to get going and ultimately proved less effective than the Heliod’s Pilgrim package (in no small part because the Pilgrims pull double-duty as both spells and creatures). Monastery Mentor is undoubtedly a powerful card and will find a proper home in an archetype better equipped to support it.
Despite my high expectations, Valorous Stance has similarly failed to impress in the evolving metagame. As the format’s curves become lower and the creatures get smaller (or the big creatures are called Stormbreath Dragon), Valorous Stance has trended toward being a bad Feat of Resistance, so it needed to be cut. If the format moves back toward larger midrange decks, Valorous Stance will be an easy include.
The decks that we are focusing on today try to gain an advantage by leveraging their cheap interaction (removal or discard) to leave you without a hero to utilize your many spells, stranding many cards in your hand. While you can play to minimize this as much as possible, a realistic view is that your first creature will not go all the way against these archetypes, so the deck needed more capacity to rebuild after losing its first investment. With this in mind, I have returned to a fourth Heliod’s Pilgrim and even added a Treasure Cruise in the main.
Hornet Queen is seeing much less play right now (Whip archetypes are very weak to Ugin), while Stormbreath Dragon is spiking in popularity, so the 1 Aqueous Form and 1 Stratus Walk split is currently better (Stratus Walk could not get past a Hornet Queen, whereas it can falter a Stormbreath Dragon).
In the sideboard there have been a number of changes to accommodate for the new metagame. One of the strengths of the UW Heroic deck is its ability to remain a hyper-focused aggro-combo deck while making small adjustments that substantially improve whatever matchups you identify as important. Typically only a few switches are necessary to really change the nature of a matchup. Recently, Disdainful Stroke was added to help with Blue/Black Control and larger Abzan decks where it answers Siege Rhino, Crux of Fate or even an Ugin (which is entirely unbeatable if it ever resolved). Triton Tactics is extremely strong against the new base-red aggressive decks: Red/White and Red/Green Aggro, where it lets your creatures play both offense and defense, which makes racing nearly impossible.
Turning now to the new matchups:
Red/White Aggro (Unfavorable)
Red-White Aggro is unsurprisingly picking up a lot of steam—it blends a mix of efficient threats and proactive answers which generate a huge tempo lead. This is the hardest matchup I have found with UW Heroic so far. While Jeskai Tokens was initially problematic, eventually we found that so long as you could keep them under pressure and stop them from taking initiative, the deck was relatively easy to beat. While Red/White Aggro shares that same weakness if you can ever get in front of them, the efficiency of their removal makes that very difficult.
This is the best configuration I have found for the matchup so far (I have a slightly losing record). The board plan is a concession to how difficult it is to build a single large creature (which makes Stubborn Denial much worse), and the nature of Red/White Aggro’s removal (exile effects are problematic). I initially thought Brimaz would be a powerhouse here, like it is against Jeskai and Mardu which are strategically similar, but the tempo loss from Chained to the Rocks is too great.
Generally, you do not want to go too deep on any one creature. Building a board of medium creatures lets you better control their board (blockers for Seekers and Rabblemasters) while minimizing the impact of Chained to the Rocks so you are not losing as much value on every exchange. It is important to value each creature quite highly as they have a lot of removal, and try to be conservative with your life total too.
Remember that Favored Hoplite gains damage prevention when its heroic ability is triggered—it is possible to leverage this to catch up on tempo in many situations. For example, a Favored Hoplite with a single mana free locks out a Seeker of the Way from attacking after they cast a turn-three Hordeling Outburst (because of Defiant Strike). With a threat-light hand, I will often not cast a Favored Hoplite on turn one so that I can play it on turn two with protection of some kind.
This configuration has been prone to being walled out by Stormbreath Dragon, so it is worth spending some time finding a way to keep in the Aqueous Form. There are also versions of Red/White Aggro that play a much larger number of white creatures (Soulfire Grand Masters and Monastery Mentors specifically) so Glare of Heresy becomes a viable choice then too.
Abzan Aggro (Even)
This archetype rose to prominence in response to the brief popularity of Jeskai Tokens. It has staying power in the format because of the high quality of every card in the deck with the advantages that brings. There are two ways that games against Abzan Aggro can play out: they try to race you with a creature draw, or they try to control your board with removal. The games that involve racing are mostly in their favor, on account of the efficiency of their creatures and quick clock. UW Heroic is slower and relies on the efficiency of its protection spells to generate tempo—so when a deck solely tries to race it is easy to fall behind. Conversely, the draws where Abzan Aggro has to play a control role are very favorable—3-mana removal just is not where you need to be against Gods Willing.
This is a relatively unintuitive configuration, but we arrived here after a lot of testing. As mentioned, the games that you lose are because Abzan Aggro is able to quickly develop its board and apply enough pressure to put you away before you can stabilize. Brimaz and Glare of Heresy have the ability to catch you up from behind quickly and let you start getting your own game going.
The pace of the matchup makes the Pilgrim package too slow, so your cards need to stand on their own more. Their sideboard strategy, in my experience, is always to bring in cheap removal, which means cards like Aqueous Form go down dramatically in value. There is an advantage to be found in the greater spell density that UW Heroic enjoys, which a second Treasure Cruise exaggerates.
Blue/Black Control (Favorable)
There is renewed interested in the format’s premier control strategy now that it picked up a trio of new toys: Crux of Fate, Ugin, and Silumgar are all powerful additions. Blue/Black Control became much stronger, with each of these cards helping to address previous weaknesses.
The bad news first—a resolved Ugin is completely unbeatable. Silumgar is beatable but very difficult. Crux of Fate is the weakest of the three but still a substantial improvement over Perilous Vault. The singleton Disdainful Stroke was added to my sideboard to specifically address all three of these cards.
Despite all of this, I have lost only a single match in about a dozen against the archetype. The slow pace of their deck, its propensity to flood out, and the high cost of its answers all play directly into your strategy. Your role is that of the classic aggro-tempo deck—you want to apply just enough pressure to maintain a reasonable clock while holding enough back to recover from a Crux of Fate.
Be very careful with your spells. You need to get maximum value from every one to keep up with their card draw later on. The idea is to add the first heroic counter with a Defiant Strike early, or wait until you can add an Ordeal with a protection spell ready. Once you can crack your first Ordeal of Thassa that will typically cascade into an advantage you can ride to victory.
Finally, there is a tension between using your counterspells for their card draw or for their sweepers and threats—there is no universal approach that is correct. Try to be aware of how fast your clock is and what the sequencing of their plays tells you about the contents of their hand. In general I lean toward letting draw spells resolve if I have two creatures out because I am more worried about a Crux of Fate or Perilous Vault in that position.
As much fun as it is to sit around and try to run them out of cards, the Pilgrim Package tends to be too slow and mana inefficient, given that Pilgrim itself applies so little pressure. In contrast, Brimaz and Treasure Cruise are much more impactful and demanding. Otherwise, the principle is pretty simple here: evasion and life gain are unnecessary while more protection and counterspells are excellent.
Given my recent results, I feel that UW Heroic remains an excellent choice for any upcoming events. There are enough decision points and intricacies in the matchups that you have many opportunities to leverage play skill, while the deck is proactive enough to punish any awkward draws from your opponents. If nothing else, you get to be the only person playing Treasure Cruise.
[Editor’s Note: This article originally listed Stubborn Denial both in the “Add” and “Remove” sections of the RW Sideboarding segment.]