(Modern) UW Control with MTGO’s BennyHillz

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.

BennyHillz MTGO Data

BennyHillz UW Control – Sideboard Guide

Note: I’m going to base this off of the list I used for most of my trophies, although I changed the sideboard slightly recently. I added 2 Surgical Extraction and 1 Crucible of Worlds.
Grixis Shadow
• +2 Rest in Peace, 1 Condemn, 1 Verdict /// -3 Mana Leak, 1 Negate.
Mana Leak and Negate are fine, but they become a lot worse when the opponent knows about them, which is usually the case since they play so much discard.
Eldrazi Tron
• +2 Stony Silence, 1 Elspeth, 1 Verdict, 1 Negate /// -1 Gideon of the Trials, 4 Serum Visions.
I’m not positive on this plan, since Serum Visions is great for consistency, but the games go long and there’s usually a Chalice of the Void on 1, plus most other cards in the maindeck are good. I like Gideon of the Trials but he’s weak to Reality Smasher and I needed another cut.
• +2 Dispel, +2 Negate, +2 RIP, +1 Cage, +1 Clique, +1 Geist /// -4 Seas, -1 Gideon Jura, -2 Gideon of the Trials, -1 Verdict, -1 Think Twice, -1 Snapcaster.
We just want counterspells and ways to mess with their graveyard, but we also need to have enough outs to Empty the Warrens which is why I leave in 2 Supreme Verdict, 2 Jace, Architect of Thought, and 2 Detention Sphere.
• +2 Stony, +1 Verdict, +1 Timely, +1 Condemn, +1 Clique /// -1 Think Twice, -2 Gideon of the Trials, -1 Negate, -2 Wall of Omens.
Wall of Omens doesn’t do much because so much of their creatures fly, but Vendilion Clique trades with one of their fliers. Leak is good on the play because it can hit Plating, but on the draw I generally cut a Mana Leak for one of the Gideon of the Trials.
• +1 Timely, +2 Negate, +2 Dispel, +1 Condemn, +1 Geist, +1 Clique /// -3 Verdict, -2 Jace, -1 Think Twice, -1 D Sphere, -1 Cryptic.
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.
• +2 RIP, +1 Cage, +1 Verdict, +1 Elspeth, +1 Timely, +1 Geist /// -3 Leak, -1 Negate, -2 Gideon of the Trials, -1 Gideon Jura.
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.
Living End
• +2 RIP, +1 Verdict, +1 Elspeth, +2 Negate, +2 Dispel /// -2 Wall, -2 Snap, -2 Gideon of the Trials, -1 Gideon Jura, 1 Detention Sphere.
I cut all the creatures to turn off Demonic Dread and just go all-in on control since we have so many counterspells. I like Dispel because it hits Beast Within and Richochet Trap.
Vizier Company
• +1 Verdict, +1 Cage, +2 Dispel, +1 Elspeth /// -1 Negate, -1 Leak, -1 Gideon of the Trials, -1 Think Twice, -1 Jace.
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.
Humans Company
• +1 Verdict, +1 Condemn, +1 Timely, +1 Elspeth, +1 Clique /// -3 Leak, -1 Negate, -1 Think Twice.
Counterspells aren’t great against them because they have such a low curve and they run Cavern of Souls. I just want cards to trade and stay alive.
Titan Shift
• +2 Negate, +1 Geist, +1 Clique /// -1 Gideon Jura, -3 Verdict.
If they’re on Through the Breach, then I also bring in Dispels for Path to Exiles. I like Wall of Omens because they can deal a surprising amount of damage with Sakura Tribe Elders.
Ad Naus
• +2 Negate, +2 Dispel, +2 Stony, +1 Clique, +1 Geist /// -3 Verdict, -4 Path
• +2 Negate, +1 Geist, +1 Clique, +2 Stony, +1 Elspeth /// -3 Verdict, -1 Path, -2 Wall, -1 Gideon Jura
UWx Control
• +2 Negate, +2 Dispel, +1 Geist, +1 Clique, +1 Elspeth /// -3 Verdict, -2 Path, -1 Gideon Jura, -1 Leak.
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.
Link to Francesco Neo Amati’s UW Control on MTGGoldfish


I’m also considering testing the following options:
-Surgical Extraction (1 SB)
-Grafdigger’s Cage (1 SB)
-Dismember (1 MD/SB)
-Spell Snare (1-2 MD)
-Disdainful Stroke (1-2 SB)
-Disenchant (1 SB)
-Runed Halo (1-2 SB)
-Rule of Law (1-2 SB)
-Crucible of Worlds (1 SB)
-Spell Queller (3-4 SB)
That about wraps it up. Thank you for reading. Now go Spread ’em.
-Francesco Neo Amati
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.

3 thoughts on “(Modern) UW Control with MTGO’s BennyHillz

  1. Congrats for the results and the interview, it explains your choice and it’s very helpfully!

    Can I ask an explain about this note?
    “I’m going to base this off of the list I used for most of my trophies, although I changed the sideboard slightly recently. I added 2 Surgical Extraction and 1 Crucible of Worlds.”
    What do you have cut and why?

    Many thanks

  2. I feel as if 3 Leak would be terrible in this build where we look to go lategame in every match. Maybe a 2/1 split of Logic Knot and Leak?

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