The Fundamental Differences Between Control and Midrange
A concept that is often overlooked and undervalued by Control players is “Who’s the beatdown?” To be fair, winning through combat isn’t generally in Control’s DNA. These types of decks are designed to drown opponents in card advantage, answer threats one-for-one via counters and removals, stabilize the board with sweepers, and force concession through Planeswalker activations. However, role assessment is a perspective Control players should adopt more often in Modern because we don’t have the control spells to inevitably lock down our opponents like in Legacy, nor is the format as fair and slow as Standard.
When certain decks pose an issue to a Control deck, the common instinct is to add one-two more draw spells, one-two more removals, one-two more counters, or one-two more hate pieces; there’s hardly, if ever, an emphasis or plan on how to actually win besides finding ways to not lose. The addition of Baneslayer Angel and Lyra Dawnbringer to the sideboard was a step in a progressive direction. I first suggested this plan back in March of 2018 before Benjamin Nikolich placed with them in Jeskai Control.
For more on this duo, check out my primer: Baneslayer and Lyra Primer
The last time UW Control had a beatdown plan was in BennyHillz’ proactive version with Spreading Seas and the Gideon package.
Midrange decks take a different, more hybrid approach. Their formula has a balanced ratio of interaction, draw/cantrips, and threats. Their gameplan revolves around playing just enough disruption and removal to make their opponents stumble, then deploy threats that apply pressure, cards that typically force action, as a way to pivot, turn the corner, and gain incremental advantage of the game state. These types of cards put you in a position to win. If you don’t capitalize on your interaction, durdling will only give your opponent windows of opportunity to recover and execute their plan, especially in this format that rewards proactive decks that generate advantage through explosive tempo plays within the first few turns.
Who’s the Beatdown?
“Here is a list that caught my eyes (and actually made me want to write this piece in the first place). I would not necessarily go as far as this guy Curryvore went, but I think it is a great example of all the options at your disposal to adapt going forward. I especially enjoy how he solved our main issue UW has versus Human, which is the lack of spot removal that let you kill (Thalia) when you need to, but simply jamming creatures and save time to drop more lands into play.
As you can see, all the options are still open: Control, Midrange, and even the combo-est deck of all are fine options if you put in the effort to adapt. Have fun beating Aggro!”
Sometimes, you just need to break the mold and be bold, even if it means standing alone.
Saito Takaya, aka Curryvore, who is a master of his craft, has boldly and confidently stood alone. He recently did it again by adding Cataclysmic Gearhulk to the archetype, which pairs exceptionally well with Restoration Angel as a response to Humans and Spirits. When paired with Rest in Peace, it’s also a bomb vs Dredge. In case you missed it from the last article covering UW Midrange, here’s more on Gearhulk’s role in this deck:
Fresh off the presses of Curryvore’s latest 5-0, this boy is some spicy tech that the rest of us overlooked. Gearhulk does a lot of things for this deck out the board. First of all, it is a nightmare for Humans and Spirits. It dodges Thalia & Gaddock Teeg, it can’t be taken by Kitesail, Reflector Mage would be foolish to bounce it, yet no one in their right mind would ever name Cataclysmic Gearhulk with Meddling Mage. Against Spirits, it completely ignores Mausoleum Wanderer, Spell Queller, and Selfless Spirit. Secondly, it turns the corner very quick for us. With normal sweepers, you need a threat to go along with it otherwise you will merely durdle. With Gearhulk, it is the sweeper and with a 4/5 Vigilance body, it will get to pound town very quickly. Lastly, with Restoration Angel, you have the concurrent threat of bouncing Gearhulk if your opponent ever happens to rebuild their boardstate. Seriously, take a hint from GW Value Town and keep Gearhulk in your sideboard.
When creature decks are low to the ground and Burn is prominent, Wall of Omens and Kitchen Finks are good as they force over-extension into sweepers and buy you time to stabilize by preserving your life total.
Restoration Angel generates additional value from the deck’s creatures, but it’s also a modal spell with the ability to pressure Planeswalkers, block/kill several x/3-4’s (with Lyra Dawnbringer) and relevant fliers, such as various Spirits, Kitesail Freebooter, Mantis Rider, Arclight Phoenix, Flamewake Phoenix, Narcomoeba, and Stinkweed Imp; or she can help turn the corner by beating back and closing the door faster than traditional Control can. Coupled with Cryptic Command and Settle the Wreckage, this becomes a very effective offensive strategy, which also makes combat miserable for your opponents.
This is important against many resilient decks in the format. Pros, such as Reid Duke, have also emphasized this philosophy vs aggressive strategies.
If you’re interested in having a deeper understanding of Modern’s principles, adapting to the meta, ways to approach various archetypes, design theory, and improving as a player, check out Duke’s coaching course at Spikes Academy.
Lastly, any deck that can effectively utilize Rest in Peace without diluting its own plan is in a good spot. This deck can comfortably play four.
Curryvore 5-0’d again on 11/16/18 with the following update that emphasizes the Instant speed angle of the deck. He removed Kitchen Finks, but added more Snapcaster Mage, Blessed Alliance, and counters. He also prioritized Settle the Wreckage over Supreme Verdict and Ceremonious Rejection over Stony Silence. His reasoning for omitting Stony Silence was because the decks it typically comes in against have answers for it, which is a similar logic Miracle players have adhered to, even going as far as reducing Search for Azcanta.
Currvyore’s UW Control [5-0 November 16th, 2018]
4 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Vendilion Clique
4 Wall of Omens
1 Serum Visions
1 Blessed Alliance
3 Cryptic Command
1 Mana Leak
4 Path to Exile
2 Settle the Wreckage
2 Spell Snare
1 Detention Sphere
1 Cavern of Souls
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Field of Ruin
4 Flooded Strand
2 Glacial Fortress
2 Hallowed Fountain
1 Mystic Gate
2 Cataclysmic Gearhulk
1 Celestial Purge
2 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Disdainful Stroke
2 Lyra Dawnbringer
4 Rest in Peace
As you can see, he’s opted out of currently playing any Planeswalkers, but if you’re inclined to play any, the top 3 options have been Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and Gideon Jura. Gideon of the Trials and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar are reasonable, too.
When I interviewed Curryvore, he explained why he chooses to play this UW variant in Modern over traditional Control, and why he’s designed it the way he has:
Neo: How long have you been playing Magic? Why UW Midrange over other UWx archetypes, such as UW Control, in Modern?
Takaya: Hi, nice to meet you! I’ve played MTG around 16 years. I played a white Aggro deck for most of the time. However, I was impressed with the UW control I saw on Twitter by JB2002 a few years ago. I have been using UW control ever since. My deck employs many creatures, but I’m playing this deck as control instead of midrange.
My goal is to make a control deck that accepts all the decks that dominate the meta. In Modern, there are Aggro, Combo, Controls, and various other deck types. I believe that adopting a wide range of effective cards is a way to achieve that.
For example, I don’t want to draw more counters against Aggro decks, removal spells against Control, expensive spells against Combo, etc. I’m using many creatures to mitigate that variance. They support the early stage as a removal, acquire advantage, and become finishers in the later game.
I recently discovered this is why he never plays any sorcery speed five plus cmc spells in his main. If it doesn’t have Flash, like Archangel Avacyn, which is essentially like a combination between Restoration Angel and Celestial Colonnade attached with a board wipe, it will likely be delegated to the sideboard. If you decide to play any at sorcery speed, particularly at a local meta, don’t play more than one-two and prioritize Gideon Jura, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Dragonlord Ojutai, or Lyra Dawnbringer (this gets a pass because of Restoration Angel).
Given that Modern is home to at least 30+ different relevant decks, he wants to ensure his main is efficient and versatile enough against the format’s inherent variance. He believes this core design allows him to be interactive, flexible, and adaptable since it can operate from multiple axis, similarly to BGx.
His philosophy and approach to UW is similar to what Ben Friedman echoed in this article: Flash is the Savior of Modern
Adopting UW Midrange to Adapt to Modern
Several players in my community have been taking UW Midrange to their events after positive feedback from their testing. It seems like we’ve come to an established core for the archetype with only variations coming from the flex spots.
For instance, Runed Halo is a viable option in the 75, and is also worth consideration in the main if Infect, Storm, Shift, and recursive decks, like Dredge, Hollow One, and Izzet Phoenix, are higher in meta share. It also allows our creatures like Resto to go on the offensive rather than sit back and take beats, especially from decks that pump out creatures faster than we have defense for. It’s a versatile card for this type of deck. Not only does it hit combo spells, but can also be used defensively vs creatures.
Other Links of Interest:
This type of deck has been around since it was referred to as “Delverless” from the post-Caw Blade era, but it’s still relevant today, albeit underrated. It’s well-positioned not just for this meta, but for the nature of this format. The element of surprise and unfamiliarity is also virtual advantage as players are unsure how to approach the match-up and board against us sub-optimally.
A common question I get about UW Midrange is what match-ups it’s better against compared to UW Miracles.
Here are the top 5:
- Grixis DS
It can also pressure better & close faster vs recursive decks, Control, Combo, & Tron.
Here’s some feedback from a few who’ve been playing it:
“As a traditional Grixis and UW Control player, UW Midrange doesn’t make me feel behind on board state. It allows me to apply pressure whilst leaving the option open to counter or use instant removal if preferred. When correctly utilizing the creatures with Flash, clean sequencing, and multiple line plays, it can feel overwhelming, but with practice, rewards accordingly.
This deck is designed to out-value your opponent 2 for 1 and certainly achieves this outcome with practice. It can turn the corner fast for a 3 turn clock using Restoration Angel + Celestial Colonnade, if necessary.” -Brodie Lane
“After playing Jeskai/UW Control for most of my time in Modern, I recently tried out the UW Midrange list that’s been posted about here quite frequently. Didn’t know how it was going to go, but I love it. I’ve found that I really like the ability to be proactive in UWx; given that I tend to durdle a lot, playing Midrange has encouraged me to play more to the board (when applicable) when I decide to pick up my Control lists. It’s made turning the corner and closing the game out a lot more intuitive.” -Marc Catanzariti
“I’ve been surprised how quickly you can turn the corner as opposed to a hardcore control deck. It feels like you are giving the opponent less of a window to come back.
Having almost everything at instant speed is obviously great. I love having 4 lands untapped and the opponent has to guess if I have Cryptic or not, and if they pass, I might have Resto.
Wall and Finks have also overperformed. I was quite certain that, while they were fine cards, I was certain that they had passed the zenith in power since Pod and UWR Twin were no longer forces in the meta. They have been forgotten, and the curve of Omens into Finks is just superb against many aggressive strategies.
I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by Lyra. I knew she was good, but just how good was a different matter, especially with Restoration Angel. The same can be said about Gearhulk.
Curving out with this deck is actually a thing, something I did not anticipate. Opt-Omens/counter-Snap/Clique/Finks-Resto/Cryptic/Sweeper-Lyra/Gearhulk gives you a fighting chance against almost anything and that’s rare for a very fair deck.” -Mikael Johansson
Modern is an aggressive and generally unfair format. That won’t likely change anytime soon, but you can certainly change your perspective.
Assess & Adapt.