Ben Hill, also known as BennyHillz on MTGO, has been steadily climbing to the top of the competitive league rankings over the past few months. He has a whopping 19 undefeated trophies as of June, 2017!
How has he done it? With none other than UW Control.
Grixis Shadow may be the best deck in the format, but Benny has proven that UW Control may very well be its kryptonite while also holding its own vs other competitive decks in the meta.
I reached out to Hill to delve into his deck and perspectives including MTGO data and a sideboarding guide.
BennyHillz UW Control Deck
Francesco Neo Amato: How long have you been playing Magic and UW Control in Modern?
Ben Hill: I started playing in 2011, but not competitively until about 2 years ago. I started with UW in Modern back in 2014, but that build was very different. I just borrowed my friend’s Jeskai deck and cut red since I didn’t like Bolt.
FNA: Of all control decks to play in Modern, why UW Control – particularly this build – over Esper or Jeskai?
BH: The biggest benefit of straight UW is the manabase. It only takes 1-2 damage from lands per game, it’s better against Blood Moon, and it means we can run 4 colorless lands. Those lands play really well with Spreading Seas, since it means UW can consistently cut opponents out of a color. For example, Grixis Shadow typically only plays 3 red sources, so with 8 maindeck answers to lands, it’s very easy to cut them out of red mana. The card quality may be slightly higher if you splash a color, but having better mana makes the deck more consistent, which is important if you want to be able to have game in every matchup.
FNA: On MTG Salvation, I read that you’re 26-4 vs Grixis Shadow and you’re hovering around a 71-73% win ratio in 400+ games. That’s very impressive. What has attributed most to your success?
BH: Now it’s actually 36-6! I think it’s really just experience with the matchups. Since UW isn’t a super popular deck at the moment, and people don’t test against it much, I almost always know the matchup better than my opponents. Since the games tend to go long and there’s a ton of decisions, that difference in experience is magnified, so I can take advantage of that asymmetry in experience. Beyond that, I also just think UW is very good against a lot of the popular decks.
FNA: Considering your consistent performance and record, what do you have to say to the common notion that Control isn’t ‘GP-competitive’ enough in Modern? Do you think the archetype needs help, such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or simply commitment and experience?
BH: Definitely commitment and experience. I would definitely be thrilled to see a Jace unban, but I think that the archetype already has the tools it needs to succeed against pretty much any deck. I definitely think that UW control isn’t a deck you can just pick up though, even though the deck is good right now, there’s going to be a steep learning curve for anyone just getting into it.
FNA: Do you think there’s an advantage, or benefit, of sticking to a particular deck, adapting through different metas, and mastering it? Craig Wescoe immediately comes to mind as he always sticks to his guns – regardless of format: GW Hatebears.
BH: I think there’s a huge benefit. I’ve been playing UW for almost three years now, during which time there’s been some massive shifts in the metagame. It’s obviously important to tweak the list and accept it if the metagame just isn’t right, but I think that most decks, at least decks that rely on interaction, can be tuned to most metagames, so I’m a huge advocate for learning the ins and outs of your deck very well.
FNA: From your experience, what are the most important design elements, particularly in UW Control, that you make sure to cover when putting together a 75?
BH: I really emphasize giving yourself a chance to win every matchup, so I take huge steps to make my lists as consistent as possible. That starts with the mana (hence the high land count), but I also think that cheap cantrips really help out with consistency, which is why I want at least 10 cantrips that cost two mana or less.
FNA: Control master Shaheen Soorani expressed his disappointment with Gideon of the Trials, even going as far as claiming it isn’t competitive enough in Modern. Your top performing list has run 2 since its inception. What is your assessment of GotT? What match-ups are the the best and worst for it?
BH: I like having a few slots dedicated to buying time against aggressive decks and attacking versus combo decks. Kitchen Finks used to fill that role, but I like Gideon more in this metagame because the 3/2 body on Finks isn’t as great as it used to be with all these Reality Smashers and Death’s Shadows running around. He’s also very good with Wall of Omens and Supreme Verdict, since they are forced to overextend to take him off the table. Gideon is absolutely insane against Death’s Shadow decks, because they rely on having one massive creature, which Gideon shuts down, and they damage themselves so much that he can kill them in just one or two attacks.
The emblem is also randomly excellent in some matchups like Ad Nauseam and Lantern Control, and I’ve even won mirrors with the emblem after both players run out of cards in library. He’s at his worst against decks that go wide with small creatures like Elves, since he’s so easy to kill, but those decks tend to be good matchups already since Supreme Verdict is so good, so I’m okay with having 2 slots that are bad game 1.
FNA: Overall, which cards have contributed to most of your wins? Are there any other cards you’ve considered testing?
BH: This may sound surprising, but Spreading Seas has won me a surprising number of games. Modern decks tend to run pretty greedy manabases with low land counts; I can’t even describe how many times I’ve beat Burn by turning their one land into an Island. The other obvious cards are Supreme Verdict and Sphinx’s Revelation, since Verdict just wins against a lot of creature decks and any time you resolve a Rev for 3 or more it’s pretty hard to lose. I’ve wanted to test Spell Queller for a while, as well as the As Foretold build, which I’ll try to do soon.
FNA: What are your most favorable and unfavorable top-tiered matchups?
BH: Affinity, any Death’s Shadow Deck, and Living End are all extremely good matchups, although I’ve also had a lot of success against most other tier decks like Burn and Eldrazi Tron. The only two tier decks that I’m under 50/50 against are Storm and GW Vizier decks, although I also think those matchups are pretty close.
FNA: Do you have any tips, suggestions, or advice for players playing control in Modern?
BH: Stick with it. You might lose a lot at first, but it’s a very hard deck to play, and if you keep grinding, you’ll have a lot of success. Also, don’t waste time, the deck takes a while to win and it’s easy to time out.
On the draw, I add the Cryptic Command back and cut Tectonic Edge. If you have a bunch of expensive stuff, it’s really easy to get run over, so I just try to bring my curve down as much as possible by cutting most of the 4 drops. Geist of Saint Traft and Vendilion Clique are good because Burn can deal itself a lot of damage so we can usually race.
Counterspells don’t do much because they can win without casting spells after turn 1. It’s all about having as much card draw and stalling as possible so you can hit a hate piece and then wrath them. I also really like Geist of Saint Traft because they tend to dilute their deck with a lot of sideboard cards, so if they have a slow draw with a bunch of Abrupt Decays, Geist can just kill them really quickly since their creatures block so poorly.
All the cards I cut here are fine in the matchup but it’s all about stopping the combo on turn 3 and then drawing into Supreme Verdict. I also bring in Rest in Peace if they’re on a heavy graveyard plan, in which case I’d cut Snapcaster Mage.
I like the creatures a lot because people tend to go all-in on out-controlling you, so you can sometimes beat them with a tempo plan of sticking a threat on turn 3 and then protecting it. Leak is decent, but it’s the worst counterspell and it doesn’t draw towards lands or pressure the opponent, so it’s the last cut.
Keenan Kelly’s UW Control – Modern Challenge (6/24/17)
The following UW Control deck, piloted by Ben Hill’s friend, Keenan Kelly, finished 8-2 at a recent Modern Challenge. Their lists are very similar because Ben actually based his version off of Keenan’s. Together, they’ve designed a consistent, adaptable, and powerful core for this archetype.
R1 – Grixis DS W 2-1
R2 – Dredge L 0-2
R3 – Scapeshift W 2-1
R4 – Junk W 2-1
R5 – Grixis DS W 2-1
R6 – Lantern W 2-1
R7 – Grixis DS W 2-1
Quarters – Affinity W 2-0
Semis – BW Tokens W 2-0
Finals – Storm L 1-2
Francesco Neo Amati’s UW Control
For a slightly different perspective, here is my version of Ben’s UW Control deck.
I’m also considering testing the following options:
Francesco Neo Amati, better known as Neo 7hinker, specializes in UWx Midrange/Control and metagaming in Modern. He is also the progenitor of the Modern UWx Control/Midrange community on Facebook and is the creator of the Esper Transcendent deck.