Fade to Black – UB Control


image from manadeprived.typepad.com

by Ian Baker

Ian "The Doctor" Baker makes a case for dropping the W from U/W Control. What does the deck gain by adding black instead? I'll give you a hint. It starts with a "C" and ends with a "reeping Tar Pit." Oh, and a bunch of other really good cards too.

Well, the 2010 Provincial Championships are over and done with, and (Spoiler Alert!) I didn’t win. I did manage to once again, in the words of Paul MacKinnon, pull a “Portland Special” and put myself within one win of the top eight, but a wise man once said that you don’t get any cigars for almost making it…or something. Before I really get into the meat of this article, I want to go over something that came up at Champs that I wish I’d done differently.

Headed into my final match, I was at 3-1-1, and since I had been getting paired up fairly consistently, I was confident in my tiebreakers. Of course, I would need a win to make top eight, but I was sure that with a win, I would make it. When pairings for the round were announced, I was a bit slow off my chair, and headed over to the board. Matt Cai informed me we were playing against each other before I made it over, and we just headed to the table. We shuffled up, and while shuffling I asked him if he was 3-1-1. He responded “No.” Since I had been getting paired up consistently, I assumed that this meant he was 4-1. Unfortunately Matt was actually 3-2. Matt won the match, and neither of us made top eight.

What do I wish I’d done differently? I wish I’d either checked the pairings board to see exactly how many points each of us had, or clarified what his record was up to that point. If I had done either of those things, I could have offered that he concede to me, so that I could have made the top eight. Now, I would not have been at all angry if he declined my offer, and I am not at all angry that he did not tell me exactly what his record was at that point. He did not do anything untoward in this situation, and I want to stress that point. I missed out on the opportunity for a concession because I did not even bring it up as a possibility. The bulleted point here is that, especially in the important rounds of a tournament, you should always know exactly what your record is as well as what your opponent's record is, so that you can use it to your advantage.

image from brokencitymagic.com image from brokencitymagic.com

Heading into Champs, I was expecting a lot of Valakut and Eldrazi Green ramp decks, and a lot of UW Control. I was also expecting a smattering of WW and red aggro, as well as some Shaman decks of all colours. I was primarily right about all of this. What I failed to properly identify was just how much people in Alberta like UW control. Many of the magic players around these parts will default to control if there’s a good deck available, and since UW was the leading list at the time, many people played it. At champs, I ended up playing five straight mirror matches against UW Control. Of course, not all the lists were the same (except for the list that Dave Weevers and I ran, cause I gave it to him), but it made for a fairly grueling day of Magic. Obviously, one of my matches ended in a draw, but I won another match in turn five of extra turns by just playing the beatdown strategy with my UW deck. Shaun Mclaren, my only loss in the mirror, ended up winning champs with his version of UW. It may seem strange, then, that I am about to recommend not playing UW anymore.

One of the main things I noticed while playing UW all weekend is that the spot removal in the deck is miserable. Condemn is only really good against a handful of matchups (decks that play Vengevine, specifically) and Journey to Nowehere is frustrating because you have to play it at sorcery speed, and sometimes you really want to be Ratchet Bombing for two, but can’t, because you’d destroy your own Journeys. In terms of sweepers, Day of Judgement is still amazing, and Ratchet Bomb is great in a variety of situations, so that’s still okay.

Another issue is Wall of Omens. I almost took Mr. Scotty Mac’s (of the Eh Team Podcast fame) advice to take it out for maindeck Leonin Arbiters, and I think that I probably should have. It basically cycles against the mirror and against ramp. Considering how big a share of the metagame those decks currently take up, Wall of Omens seems pretty bad. Additionally, Wall of Omens is not great against Vengevine because it only gets to block it once. Awkward.

Also, Sun Titan was pretty good on the weekend, what with returning Ratchet Bombs and little Jaces, but I really wished I was playing some kind of split of Sun and Frost Titans. Hopefully by now you’ve noticed a theme in the cards that I was not excited about over the weekend. Yup, they’re all white.

I attempted to build a UB list a long time ago, and while the list itself was sub-par, Jared Maguire and Shawn Petsche and I eventually turned it into BUG Titan, so that worked out alright. Still, I think now is an even better time to switch from white to black. There are a couple other lists out there, including Nick Spagnolo’s New York States winning list, but mine is a bit different, and even in the areas where the decks are the same I’m going to elaborate on card choices a bit more. Anyways, here is the list that I'm going to start playing:

U/B Control

image from brokencitymagic.com image from brokencitymagic.com

Creatures (7) Spells (28) Land (25)

3x Trinket Mage
3x Frost Titan
1x Wurmcoil Engine

2 x Everflowing Chalice
1 x Brittle Effigy
1 x Elixir of Immortality
4 x Preordain
2 x Spell Pierce
4 x Mana Leak
3 x Doom Blade
2 x Stoic Rebuttal
2 x Jace Beleren
3 x Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 x Memoricide
1 x Consuming Vapors
2 x Consume the Meek

4x Darkslick Shores
4x Creeping Tar Pits
4x Drowned Catacombs
4x Tectonic Edge
6x Island
3x Swamp

    Sideboard (15)

1x Nihil Spellbomb
2x Duress
4x Flashfreeze
3x Vampire Hexmage
1 x Jace Beleren
2 x Memoricide
2x Volition Reins

Spot removal is easily handled by including Doom Blades. Doom Blade is awesome. Very few people are actually playing Black, so it kills almost everything. I’m going to run three Doom Blades, but I could be easily convinced to run four. The deck needs at least a couple sweepers, so let’s throw in two Consume the Meek. Consume the Meek is amazing, and just blows out a lot of decks. It’s interesting to note that the converted mana cost of Ezuri is three… Same with Elvish Archdruid. Hmm, I don’t think there are any elves with a converted mana cost above three. I’m going to throw in one Consuming Vapors as well, as it’s the only way this deck could kill Ulamog, and a lot of decks are just playing out single large creatures these days.

Well, we’re playing blue, so we’re going to need a bunch of Jaces. I think that five is probably the right number, with three big and two little. I’m planning on running a lot of countermagic, so that should be enough to make sure you’re the one that sticks a Jace. Pretty much anyone who is playing blue is playing Jace, so you need to win the Jace race. I’ve never really liked Liliana Vess that much, and while Sorin Markov is pretty cool if you need a finisher, I think that this deck wants creature finishers more.

Counter Magic
Of course, four Mana Leaks are effectively essential in most control decks these days. This deck can cast Stoic Rebuttal for two on occasion, and it’s a strict upgrade from Cancel. I thought for a long time about including Spell Pierce in my UW deck somewhere, and barely cut it, but it seems really good in the early game Jace wars, or against turn three Cultivates.

Star City Games’ Shaheen Soorani advocated against Preordain, as it doesn’t provide any actual card advantage and is easy to misplay with. While this is true, Preordain has great synergy with big Jace, and really smoothes out your draws, allowing you to dig much more easily. Additionally, it can be cast easily in the mid/late game while still keeping counter Magic available. Casting one on turn one is not always the right play, but I think that sometimes it is. Additionally, even if you place important spells on the bottom of your deck, this deck contains Elixir of Immortality to shuffle them back in. Since this deck contains no other draw spells, it will rely heavily on the various Jaces to accrue card advantage.

People have finally started to come around on a card that I’ve been loving for a while: Frost Titan. The finishers are heavily weighted towards him, because he’s hard to remove, and effectively takes their best creature out of the picture while he’s around. He helps you out whether or not you’re ahead or behind. I’ve included one Wurmcoil Engine over Grave Titan because the lifegain may be relevant in a few matchups, and he’s better against an opposing Day of Judgement.

Trinket Mage in this deck allows you to play a variety of one-of artifacts that have a variety of uses. I am only running four searchable artifacts, but Elixir of Immortality is probably the most important one here, as nearly all of the removal is spell-based. You can effectively shuffle it back into your library as many times as you want. Bittle Effigy adds a bit to the removal package and gets rid of black creatures as well as things you need exiled. The two Chalices mean that Trinket Mage is also effectively ramp. Additionally, the Trinket Mages in the main mean that you can run additional toolbox artifacts in the sideboard. Memoricide rounds out the utility cards. I know playing one in the maindeck is kind of jank, but it should be easy enough to figure out what to name against most matchups, and it does a great job of wrecking Valakut if you name Primeval Titan.

One of the other advantages of going black is that you get to play the best of the manlands: Motherfucking Creeping Tar Pit. Activating Creeping Tar Pit is so cheap that it makes it easy to use them to keep opposing Planeswalkers off the table. Also, in the mid/late game you can easily attack with them while keeping countermagic available. Additionally, they are fully unblockable as opposed to just flying. Seriously, Tar Pits are amazing. Try 'em sometime. Some people are running less than four fastlands in their control decks, but I ran four Seachrome Coasts on the weekend and they never seemed to be an issue. They are especially good for early Preordains and Spell Pierces. Since the deck is only two colours, and I am running 25 land, it easily supports four Tectonic Edges, for opposing manland control, as well as accentuating colour screw. And hey, you can shuffle them back into your deck with Elixir of Immortality almost whenever you want!

The extra two Memoricides obviously can come in later, when you’ll have a better idea of which cards you want to be naming. They can be devastating against Valakut by removing Primeval Titan, and are good against any deck with only a few win conditions. The Flashfreezes are also solid against Valakut and Mono-Green ramp, and can be brought in against mono-red. Vampire Hexmages are going to be good against stopping early opposing aggro, as well as being an efficient method of killing non-Jace planeswalkers. They are a little hard to cast, but should always be coming out by at least turn three. Volition Reins and the extra little Jace help shore things up against opposing control matchups. Duress is once again quite good against ramp, and decent against control. One Nihil Spellbomb against Pyromancer Ascension/Vengvine should be enough, because it can be nabbed with Trinket Mage, and can be reshuffled with Elixir. The sideboard should of course vary depending on your local metagame, but these are some pretty good choices.

I’ll admit that I haven’t done any solid testing with it, but I’m going to be putting together the cards online ASAP, and put in some solid work. I will keep everyone appraised of how I think the deck is performing from week to week, and if I’d still recommend it to the control players out there, although my focus will probably be on Scars of Mirrodin sealed for the next little bit, in preparation for the upcoming PTQs. If I have enough time, I’ll try and make next week a Scars draft article.

Until next week,

Ian “The Doctor” Baker

This article is brought to you by the Broken City School of Magic.