The UW Control archetype is generally designed to drown opponents in card advantage, answer threats one-for-one via counters and removals, stabilize the board with sweepers, disrupt mana bases, force concession through Planeswalker activations, or win through Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique, and Celestial Colonnade beats. However, the Modern format has forced the concept of Control to evolve beyond the traditional reactive, draw-go approach – i.e. UW Miracles.
As we’ve seen time and time again, Modern has historically rewarded proactive strategies. That being said, there may be metas and circumstances where playing more re-actively is the optimal way to go. For instance, the London Mulligan rule benefits Miracles more than the recent UW Control builds.
BennyHillz version with Spreading Seas, more creatures, and Walkers (Gideon package) is an example of how UW Control can be designed to be more proactive, which mitigates some of the ‘air’ (or durdling) commonly associated with the archetype’s draw-go variant, while striking a balance by retaining its reactive elements. At one point, and for a considerable amount of time, BennyHillz UW Control was the best Control deck in the format, which also made the archetype more relevant and successful than it ever was in Modern. In fact, Alex Majlaton placed 9th (9-1) with it at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan:
Alex Majtlaton [9-1 at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, 2/18]
2 Gideon of the Trials
1 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Gideon Jura
2 Snapcaster Mage
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Dragonlord Ojutai
4 Serum Visions
3 Supreme Verdict
4 Path to Exile
1 Spell Snare
1 Logic Knot
3 Cryptic Command
1 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Search for Azcanta
4 Spreading Seas
1 Runed Halo
2 Detention Sphere
4 Flooded Strand
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Field of Ruin
1 Mystic Gate
1 Glacial Fortress
2 Hallowed Fountain
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
2 Ceremonious Rejection
1 Disdainful Stroke
2 Blessed Alliance
2 Stony Silence
2 Rest in Peace
1 Celestial Purge
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Timely Reinforcements
1 Surgical Extraction
This version plays more to the board and generates more action by turn 3-4 than other previous versions. This applies pressure and forces opponents to have an answer to what we’re doing and allows the pilot to be in the driver seat (AKA more proactive), rather than remain mostly passive and reactive. This style was notably prevalent during Eldrazi Winter and rise of Grixis Death’s Shadow era.
The Evolution of BennyHillz UW Control by Francesco Neo Amati
One on One with BennyHillz (Modern UW Control) by Francesco Neo Amati
The same holds true for the way UW Control has evolved since War of the Spark with the addition of 3-mana Walkers, most notably Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils. Alongside Dovin’s Veto, Force of Negation, and Fact or Fiction, they’ve made the biggest impact on the way the archetype is designed and played since the additions of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. The archetype has a large arsenal of options to compete and adapt against pretty much anything in the format.
Of the two Walkers, the general consensus has been that Naret provides the most significant boost and new landscape to UW Control, but also has an important role in Jeskai Saheeli, and Day’s Undoing. She’s been compared to Search for Azcanta and Dig Through Time, is exceptional vs Phoenix and opposing Jace, and also provides a lock combo with Teferi’s Puzzle Box. Narset is actually transcendent this time and UW Control has transcended with her.
Teferi is seeing play in the main as a way to combat Control mirrors, which are more prevalent when it’s trending at the top of the meta, but it also changes the dynamics against Combo and creature match-ups. Whether it’s winning counter wars, forcing opponents to play at sorcery speed, stopping instant speed effects like Suspend, protecting a combo or creature in combat, granting Flash to spells like Oust, Supreme Verdict, and Timely Reinforcements, or bouncing problematic enchantments and artifacts like Amulet of Vigor, Pyromancer’s Ascension, Chalice of the Void, Blood Moon, Aether Vial, etc., Teferi provides versatile utility that is more valuable than Man-o-War and Unsummon, or only being good vs Control, which is an evaluation that undersells it.
It’s also being played in the main with the Knowledge Pool lock combo (though slower than Narset + Teferi’s Puzzle Box), Jeskai Saheeli (alongside Narset), Infect, Spirits, Esper Death’s Shadow, and in UWx Midrange variants alongside discard, Lingering Souls, and Spell Queller, which are decks that can really leverage its abilities.
While not necessary, but certainly viable, this proactive approach has even extended to the Sideboard where players are adopting a transformative plan B with creatures (taking a note from UW Midrange) such as Monastery Mentor, Spell Queller, Geist of Saint Traft, and Restoration Angel to attack from a different axis against various archetypes where pressure and pivoting with creatures is a better plan (I.e. Tron, Humans, Spirits, Dredge, and Bridgevine). This angle involves combat math, which may take some traditional old school Control players out of their comfort zone, but challenges present the opportunity to grow and improve.
The following list by SoulStrong is the first to win an MTGO Modern Challenge since War of the Spark, and includes Force of Negation and Fact or Fiction from Modern Horizons:
SoulStrong’s UW Control [6-1 Modern Challenge, 6/19]
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Narset, Parter of Veils
1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
1 Teferi, Time Raveler
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Vendilion Clique
2 Supreme Verdict
2 Cryptic Command
1 Dovin’s Veto
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Logic Knot
2 Force of Negation
4 Path to Exile
1 Spell Pierce
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Detention Sphere
1 Blast Zone
2 Celestial Colonnade
4 Field of Ruin
4 Flooded Strand
2 Glacial Fortress
2 Hallowed Fountain
1 Polluted Delta
1 Dovin’s Veto
1 Teferi, Time Raveler
1 Celestial Purge
1 Ceremonious Rejection
1 Disdainful Stroke
1 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Lyra Dawnbringer
3 Rest in Peace
2 Restoration Angel
1 Stony Silence
1 Timely Reinforcements
1 Wrath of God
SoulStrong’s Twitter: Mtg_SoulStrong
Other players have been reporting positive feedback and results with this version, which makes it a great list to work with moving forward.
For instance, McWinSauce placed 5th in the following Modern Challenge with a similar 75, but with Timely Reinforcements in the main and Cataclysmic Gearhulk in the side. SoulStrong has recently updated his list to include them, too.
McWinSauce’s UW Control [5th Place Modern Challenge, 6/19]
McWinSauce’s Twitter: McWinSauce
UW Control Core Template
Note: Wall of Omens is generally underrated. It protects you and your Walkers, forces overextension into sweeper, staves off damage from 1-3 power creatures (solid vs Burn, Humans, & Dredge), ramps you with Path, replaces itself with cantrip, and has synergy with Restoration Angel & Teferi, Time Raveler.
Note: Keep in mind that Narset’s ability to dig and filter allows you to design UW Control with more one-of’s to diversify your answers and threats, similarly to Search for Azcanta.
4-6 Cantrips/Card Advantage
Note: Opt is currently better because of opposing Narset, Parter of Veils, but you can also play a split with Serum Visions. Hieroglyphic Illumination is solid, too, but Fact of Fiction is a more powerful option.
Note: With the addition of Narset and Teferi, as well as Force of Negation and Fact or Fiction, Cryptic Command can be trimmed to 2, but 3 is still fine. Force of Negation should be a minimum of 2 in the main.
Spot Removal: 4-6
Note: Oust takes care of creatures UW typically has issues dealing with, such as mana dorks, Dark Confidant, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Meddling Mage, Kitesail Freebooter, Gaddock Teeg, Voice of Resurgence, Tireless Tracker, Thing in the Ice, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, etc. It also works with Jace’s +2 or Field of Ruin/Ghost Quarter. You also have the flexibility of targeting your Snapcaster Mage or Wall of Omens and gaining 3 life. However, you can also split it with Condemn, which is better vs recursive strategies like Dredge and Bridgevine. Winds of Abandon may be worth consideration, too.
Note: Prioritize Supreme Verdict, but you can include Wrath of God or Settle the Wreckage to diversify your sweepers vs Humans. Settle the Wreckage may have the edge, though, due to Force of Negation and the prevalence of recursive creatures.
Note: The flex spots are reserved for meta tech (i.e. Surgical Extraction, Timely Reinforcements), cards to address issues, and personal preferences, such as additional creatures, Planeswalkers, or spells.
- 4 Flooded Strand
- 2-4 Celestial Colonnade
- 2 Hallowed Fountain
- 1-2 Glacial Fortress
- 5-7 Island
- 2-3 Plains
- 4 Field of Ruin
- 1 Mystic Gate
- 1 Prairie Stream
- 1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
- 1 Ghost Quarter
- 1 Blast Zone
- 1 Tectonic Edge
- 1 Geier Reach Sanitarium
- 1-2 Fetch Lands
Note: If you play 24 lands, try to keep your 4+ cmc spells below 10 and limit your colorless lands to 4.
Recommended Max 4+ cmc: 8-10 (2-3 max 5+ cmc spells, 1-2 of which should be Teferi)
As for the three-spot, the higher the four plus cmc spells you play means less of three cmc’s. The maximum amount of three cmc’s should generally be 8 (excluding Snapcaster Mage and Force of Negation, since they can functionally cost less).
If you opt for 8, then you probably shouldn’t play more than 10 four+ cmc’s.
As a rule of thumb, your three-four+ CMC’s should make up 50% or less of your total spells in the main (without ramp) to maintain a reasonable curve between early/mid/late. Otherwise, you increase the probability of having clunky opening hands, more mulligans, and cumbersome draws. Balance is key.
Common pitfalls players make when building their sideboard is adding cards that are good vs fringe decks, match-ups that are already fine, or trying to overcompensate for that one match-up your deck is bad against. There’s no need to go overboard; Modern is a wide format, so pick cards that cross-perform against several decks, not only a select few (unless, of course, you know what the field is). Prioritize graveyards, artifacts, creatures, Burn, Combo, and Tron:
- Stony Silence
- Damping Sphere
- Rest in Peace
- Surgical Extraction
- Runed Halo
- Celestial Purge
- Timely Reinforcements
- Supreme Verdict / Wrath of God / Settle the Wreckage
- Engineered Explosives
- Force of Negation
- Dovin’s Veto
- Ceremonious Rejection
- Disdainful Stroke
- Vendilion Clique
These 15 cards should also complement the main, not be a separate entity. UW Control is great at being flexible and switching roles, such as having a transformational beatdown plan from the sideboard, but know which role you’ll be playing in the given match-up.
UW Control Lexicon: Part I
5 Key Skills & Fundamental Principles of UW Control
By Francesco Neo Amati
There’s numerous strategic elements and factors required to efficiently and effectively playing UW Control, but the following are some of the most important skills and fundamental principles associated with the archetype:
Note: Contextual circumstances and various nuances are factors that can influence decisions and improvisations between games, which is based on experience.
“Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength.” -Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton
Patience is arguably the most quintessential skill for any Control player. It’s the foundation that other fundamental principles are built around. Maintaining composure through difficult situations, knowing when to be conservative or turn the corner, taking advantage of different phases to play lands and spells instead of using them impulsively, and reading the game by evaluating all possible options and scenarios, are some common examples of the ways to exhibit patience.
Knowing how to sequence spells and abilities, from knowing when to cast cantrips, to determining when to resolve (and use the abilities of) creatures and Planeswalkers, is essential to establishing board position and advancing your gameplan.
- Resource Management
Resource management covers a few key areas. Using your life as a resource to progress your plan is one of the most important, such as knowing how low your life can go before acting and stabilizing. Others include being mindful of time management, knowing which spells to hold onto and which ones to cast or use as bait, and finding ways to generate the most value/card advantage each turn without exhausting too many resources, including mana investment.
- Role/Threat Assessment & Situational Awareness
As a Control deck, we’re generally planning to take over in the late game after we’ve exhausted our opponent’s resources and have established favorable board positioning. In order to execute this plan, it’s important to evaluate what the high value targets are in order to effectively utilize our counters and removals for higher pay off. If a player has poor threat assessment, they’re more likely to spew removal/counters on low value targets, then die turns later to something more threatening. You don’t have to counter or kill everything that’s played. It’s the difference between knowing when to allow or deny what your opponent is attempting to do.
That being said, there’s certain match-ups and scenarios where we may need to switch gears and adopt a more proactive approach, such as playing Snapcaster Mage as an aggressive beater to present pressure and turn the corner. This important skill is called ‘role assessment’ (knowing your role), which is thoroughly covered below in Part 2. Being ‘in control’ doesn’t always mean having to answer everything. There’s opportunities where the element of surprise, forcing action and demanding to be answered, can put you in a more commanding position. This is one of the best skills to leverage.
This strategic angle requires situational awareness, or paying attention to details throughout the course of the game. It includes, but isn’t limited to, knowing when to hold back or push forward, identifying what cards you’re looking for at any point of the game (even making land drops), being aware of how to sideboard on the play or draw, keeping tabs on opponent’s field (i.e. damage calculation, cards in graveyard, land count, what land types, how many tapped/untapped) and hand/library size, hypothesizing their hand and anticipating their plan based on previous plays.
It’s also about knowing when it’s worth bluffing to pivot, recognize the situations when you’re potentially being bluffed, and even determining when it’s time to concede.
- Match-up Knowledge & Experience
UW Control is commonly regarded as a deck that excels against a defined/known meta. This means that the more you know your opponent’s deck and post-board plan, the better you’re positioned to adapt. Understanding different match-up dynamics, such as the axis of attack and defense from both players, will help you decide whether to mulligan and how to sideboard, while determining your approach and role.
UW Control Lexicon: Part II
Role Assessment, Pivoting, & Turning the Corner
By Francesco Neo Amati & Tony Johnson
This section aims to assist players with identifying the importance of role assessment, pivoting, and turning the corner in various match-ups, as well as hitting some highlights regarding card selection used to switch gears and bring the fight to the battlefield against decks that require pressure and clock to pull out a win. These card choices are used to give us the option of changing our role and adapting depending on the match-up.
As difficult as it may be to admit, there are decks in Modern that have the ability to out-value you with inevitable devastation if given enough time and opportunity to develop their game plan. This is why it’s important to be able to turn up the heat post-board, be proactive, and bring the beatdown, or incorporate a combo win condition.
For example, against Humans, we are to take the role of what we do best. We need to be the Control deck, but can implement creatures as additional defense, while also providing the ability to turn the corner when we’re ready to. More importantly, our focus in this match-up is to diversify our card choices and answers to their board in order to dodge Meddling Mage.
Against decks like Mono Green Tron, we are better off being the aggressor. Combining cheap spells like Ceremonious Rejection, Spell Pierce, Force of Negation, Dovin’s Veto, and Surgical Extraction with Flash creatures, such as Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique, Spell Queller, and Restoration Angel to interact more on the early-to-mid turns and turn up the heat on their life total. Geist of Saint Traft and Monastery Mentor would be the best non-Flash threats vs them.
We’re going to identify relevant card text ideal for creatures we choose for this transformational plan. Creatures with Flash, Flying, First Strike, Lifelink, Hexproof, and relevant “enters the battlefield” effects.
Undeniably the most powerful creature at our disposal. Many players have chosen to play Snapcaster Mage in varying quantities from 1-4 copies. Despite its obvious versatility, there are deck building restrictions behind this card. Before the printing of Narset, Parter of Veils and Teferi, Time Raveler, when Terminus builds ran rampant, the average number of Snapcaster Mage was 2-3. This was because the average converted mana cast of spells in UW control was significantly higher due to cards like Terminus and higher density of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In Current UW builds, players are playing a much cheaper curve with cards like Spell Pierce. However, 2-3 is still the reasonable # to play because there’s more tapping out and the three-spot is occupied by other cards, such as the new Walkers.
The most special thing about Snapcaster Mage is that it’s a 2/1 body can be a relevant resource all on its own. If you have played UW Control long enough, you know what it feels like to Flash in that 2/1 beat stick on turn two to throw down some pressure.
One of the most timeless tools used in Blue decks and for good reason. A 3/1 Flash and Flying body that disrupts your opponent’s hand is what you get at face value from Vendilion Clique. There are a few interesting tricks and interactions that make Vendilion Clique one of the most relevant creatures in our UW arsenal. This feisty Faerie can be anything from an upgraded Ambush Viper against sticky and disruptive Humans, to a disruptive and resilient clock against decks that aim to out-value you (i.e. decks like the UW Control mirror, Tron, and Amulet Titan). Vendilion Clique can also be used to push an irrelevant card to the bottom of your deck to draw a new card. It even synergizes with Narset, Parter of Veils‘ static ability, which basically turns it into a draw step Thoughtseize on a stick.
Often played in varying numbers between 2-4 copies. Celestial Colonnade is arguably the best “creatureland” ever printed. It has very relevant stats as a 4/4 body with Flying and Vigilance. It even gives you the ability to use the mana from it even after you’ve beat your opponent with it. Colonnade is often an effective way to deal with tedious Planeswalkers.
Ojutai is one of the safest 5 drops for the main (but is a fine SB option, too) because it can immediately protect itself upon resolution, making it relevant against removal, Teferi, Jace, Karn, and more. It also gets around Spell Queller. Notably, several decks, including the mirror, have trouble dealing with it outside of sweepers or sacrifice effects (but Snapcaster Mage and Wall of Omens can mitigate this). It’s even more devastating alongside Teferi, Time Raveler as you can cast it uncontested and will be protected from removal in combat. Force of Negation also makes it safer to tap out for it.
Furthermore, its ability is like activating a Search for Azcanta, but with the ability to net any card, which can put you significantly ahead. It can also be backbreaking when you’re untapped and have Restoration Angel, Cryptic Command, Dovin’s Veto, Blessed Alliance, or Minamo, School at Water’s Edge ready to protect it. More often than not, untapping with Ojutai means you’re likely winning. If you’re playing Ojutai, be sure to include a copy of Minamo, School at Water’s Edge. It’s worth noting that Ojutai isn’t as good at defending or if you’re playing from behind. Watch out for Phantasmal Image, too.
Players have been asking why and where it’s played. Coming from someone with a lot of experience playing her since 2012, here are the reasons Resto is relevant:
- Played where removal is trimmed, but is immune to Bolt.
- Pressure vs Walkers and where clock matters, such as Combo and Tron.
- Value with EtB creatures (Omens, Snap, Clique, Hulk, etc.) and Lyra. I.e. getting multiple Clique triggers is valuable vs Combo and Tron.
- Defense and removal.
- Solid vs Phoenix, Humans, Spirits, Dredge, Bridgevine, Control, and GDS.
- Good vs decks that will naturally play more Force of Negation, Dovin’s Veto, Negate, Dispel, & Spell Pierce against Control.
Remember the relevant effects we talked about at the beginning of the segment? Well this card is packed full of them. A Flying, Flash creature with the ability to Cloudshift your creatures. She’s essentially a modal spell that gives you limitless lines of play, including combat tricks like blocking with creatures such as Snapcaster Mage or Wall of Omens, then blinking either with Restoration Angel before damage to stent damage, reserve resources, and getting another EtB trigger. Additionally, the 3/4 Flash and Flying body can also make for some surprising blowouts in combat against creature decks, which is complemented very well with Cryptic Command and even Runed Halo (more of a sideboard option with creature plan). If you’re playing it, be sure to consider Lyra Dawnbringer and Cataclysmic Gearhulk, too, which has become a common package.
Tip: The Runed Halo Guide
Perhaps the most experimental creature in our bag of tricks. This card just got a huge synergy boost with the printing of Teferi, Time Raveler. If Spell Queller would die, the spell stuck underneath it would normally return on the stack for free, allowing your opponent to choose new targets; however, if you have Teferi, Time Raveler in play, your opponent can only cast the spell anytime they could play a sorcery. This means their spells will be permanently exiled as long as Teferi remains on the field. You can also trigger the permanent exile effect and target other spells with Cryptic Command, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Teferi, Time Raveler, Restoration Angel, and even Oust. Spell Queller can even capture uncounterable cards like Dovin’s Veto and is valuable in snatching Narset, Parter of Veils and Teferi, Time Raveler in the mirror, Karn, the Great Creator vs Tron, and creature spells cast through Cavern of Souls.
This card is an excellent option to bring in against decks that are likely to board out single target removal spells, such as Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Fatal Push. There is nothing stronger than boarding in cards that don’t play into your opponent’s game plan.
This Angel package is an absolute beating against so many decks, most notably vs Humans and Dredge. They’re 5/5 First Strike, Flying, Lifelink bodies that stonewall creature decks. Humans have a hard time dealing with it because of how dead cards like Reflector Mage can be against us; however, since the adoption of Deputy of Detention, the Angels have lost some of their luster. I strongly recommend playing at least one copy of either Angel in your sideboard, but lean towards Lyra Dawnbringer if you’re playing Restoration Angel.
Cataclysmic Gearhulk is a powerful sideboard option for UW Control vs some of Modern’s best and most relevant decks, such as Humans, Spirits, Hardened Scales/Affinity, Whir Prison, and any deck that goes wide, such as Collected Company decks and Dredge (especially good with Rest in Peace), but it can also be relevant vs Bogles and fringe decks like Enduring Ideal and RW Prison. It’s essentially a Fracturing Gust or Cleansing Nova on a 4/5 Vigilant body, which quickly turns the corner after wiping the board.
It’s been established that it’s an absolute nightmare for Humans and Spirits. It dodges Kitesail Freebooter, Spell Queller, and Gaddock Teeg, Reflector Mage would be foolish to bounce it, and it’s highly unlikely that it would be a top sweeper to name with Meddling Mage.
Lastly, with Restoration Angel, you have the concurrent threat of bouncing Gearhulk if your opponent ever happens to rebuild their boardstate.
Geist of Saint Traft is undoubtedly our fastest clock and is difficult to deal with outside of blocks and sweepers. Its role is primarily for Control mirrors to threaten opposing Walkers and opponent’s life total (which mitigates the turns they’d otherwise have to sculpt their hand, find answers, and stabilize), some Combo like TitanShift, and Tron (especially vs post-Spark version with fewer creatures and more Walkers).
One of the best plans vs Tron is playing Geist while holding up Force of Negation. This is a potential blowout. Vs Control, I’d you have a Teferi, Time Raveler in play, your opponent can’t counter Geist, nor can they ambush him with Snapcaster Mage in combat. That’s backbreaking. Beyond those match-ups, Geist can also be effective vs Phoenix, GDS, and Burn. However, a drawback to Geist is that it can easily be stonewalled, which makes it less appealing and reliable as an offensive threat without having access to Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, or Fatal Push, but a removal like Oust can help.
Monastery Mentor has a couple of very unique abilities compared to the other options. It’s showed up in some sideboards because the deck most commonly plays Opt and has enough spells to take advantage of its ability. If your opponent doesn’t come prepared for it, things quickly get out of hand. It may not have protection or pack as much of an initial punch as Geist of Saint Traft, but its ability to overwhelm the board means you can continue to pressure your opponent even if Monastery Mentor is gone. Similarly to Geist, it’s an excellent threat vs Tron, Combo, and Control, especially alongside Force of Negation.
Assess, Adapt, & Transcend
UW control is vastly known for its consistency and conservative approach. However, one thing that UW Control isn’t the best at is closing out games in a timely fashion, while at the same time having a potent density of relevant interaction.
Role assessment (Who’s the Beatdown?) and knowing how/when to pivot to effectively turn the corner (‘window of opportunity’) are important strategic skills to have and hone, especially in this format. This skill requires you to be proficient with card evaluation and game-state awareness. Besides knowledge and experience, it’s a particularly advanced skill that arguably separates the average players from the good and great ones.
In regards to role assessment, a wise player once told me that sideboarding isn’t so much about taking out bad cards, and putting in good cards. It is more about how you want your deck to look like and what you want your deck to do in the match up. If you start your boarding process with what role you need to assume, sideboarding will be much more intuitive and effective.
We each have our own preferences and play styles, but don’t let personal biases dictate reason, or impede progress. Ultimately, UW Control needs to adapt to the rules and principles of Modern if it wants to remain relevant and competitive.
Assess, Adapt, & Transcend, Azorius Mages!