I wasn’t always going to play UB Control, and it is weird that between the title and the opening line I basically told you the entire storyâ€”I played UB Control and made the Top 8 of my Nationals, good bye everybody and thank you for reading! No, no, you came here to read a story of passion and determination! You want to see an underdog prevail over the shark infested waters of a National Championship! Well, here it goes!
The Top 8. A competitive frontier. I tried to picture groups of Pros as they played through the rounds. What did they look like? Angels, Gods? Were the decks like unstoppable machines? I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see. And then, one day… I got in.
Part I – Fool’s Parade
I wasn’t always going to play UB Control, in fact I didn’t even know what I was going to play until a week before Nationals. You see every time I’m going to tackle a tournament, I start by writing a list of my favorite decks and archetypes that I think have potential (even in my dreams). The list usually consists of some old favorites and some not in the current format that I would like to see. For Nationals this was my list:
- UW/UG/UGW/RUG Turbofog.
- Runeflare Trap.dec
- GB Rock
- GBW Junk
- RBW Midrange
- GW Elderazi
- BUG/RUG Control/Ramp
- URW Control
- Pyromancer Ascension
- BW Midrange
Each of these were theoretically paired against each other deck in the metagame and imagine how would each match play out. I have no way to test physically and my Internet is bad enough to discourage any kind of testing on Workstation or Magic Online (there’s also the cost issue of testing on Magic Online, there’s not enough to build every bad deck in the list) AND my Nationals was right after M12’s Release so I had to wait until the entire set was spoiled in order to have any real idea of how the metagame would shape up. Anyway, back then I knew the format would involve a variety of Control (UW/UB), Valakut, a joker with Pyromancer Ascension (not me), Splinter Twin (not me either, surprisingly), and so much aggro (My Nationals had 55 people and almost 35 had Aggro decks) that TurboFog was looking really appealing. Ironically, considering how Puerto Rico’s player base plays and thinks, I knew that the Top 8 was going to have the same old players and next to no Aggro.
The other thing I had to take into account was that our Nationals has never been more than 6 rounds split between Standard and Draft. Thus, my deck choice had to be able to go at least 2-1 in Standard and I had to go 3-0 in Draft in order to realistically make it to the Top 8 comfortably. I didn’t want any of this 4-1-1 business or going 4-2 and cross my fingers that my tiebreakers were good enough to make it in as the 8th seed. So, if I want to do well in Standard I need a deck that could beat whatever I was going to face in those three rounds and the other three of the Top 8. Needless to say, I had a lot of work to do.
Part II – Fever of Temptation
One month ago:
â€œGrim Lavamancer is getting reprinted? I have to play this card in some X/R Control Build!â€
We all know that Mr. Grim in red based Aggro, but what about in Control? It works in Legacy and could have worked in Extended back in the day; why not in Standard? I literally fetched out a notebook in a heartbeat when I saw Mr. Grim getting reprinted on M12 and began scribbling Control lists. UR was out of the question, clearly the best thing you could do with UR was Splinter Twin, if I was going to ignore the Combo then I might as well not go plain UR.
There’s also a matter of having a plan, I clearly wanted to be a Control deck with the same old card draw and counter-magic, in a bit of burn in Lightning Bolt and Incinerate, but that’s just not enough. Do I want to control everything and plop down a Titan? If so, other decks do that better, like UW and UB Control. Not to mention that these decks had better mana bases, better removal, and Man-lands. UR Control was just not going to cut it, even with Dismembers (which is terrible against Aggro and Titans). Pyroclasm and Slagstorm made a good argument in that at least it had very decent board sweepers and the Burn is nice enough to keep other decks in check. I could’ve added the Combo as a secondary win-condition, yet that raised another question: How the hell do I fit ALL those cards into the deck?
Definitely, this was going nowhere. I mean, there’s definitely potential here (not that Twin Combo really needs any more help), however, I’m not that great of a deckbuilder. I’m better at tweaking buildings and fixing them to my liking, not building them from scratch, if you know what I mean.
Nevertheless, I quickly realized what the plan needed to beâ€”the Legacy decks where Mr. Grim shines are always some sort of Aggro-Control build like the UWr Blade lists now popular in the format (which I build first, although no one really remembers or cares). In light of this new revelation, I set out to work on an Aggro-Control list and here’s what I had last before I abandoned the whole idea:
To be fair, I made some changes as I wrote this since I had cards that were on the Spoiler for awhile before they were taken out like Concentrate. I had high hopes for Concentrate, but Wizards managed to disappoint me, yet again. The mana base is a bit of a mess and had not put much thought into it, regardless, it was fine back when I was testing the deck. Now to explain two strange choices:
1. Kor Firewalker: Man, I was expecting an extraordinary amount of Red-Based Aggro decks and main-decking Firewalkers seemed like the way to go; the fourth Firewalker seemed greedy, therefore I stashed it into my imaginary Sideboard. I suggest to whoever picks up the deck to cut these out for something else.
2. Steppe Lynx: This began life as a Student of Warfare, on the surface it seemed like a nice Figure of Destiny. After like ten minutes, I convinced myself that I was retarded to think that a three color deck with counters, burn, and Jaces could ever have enough White mana to level it up multiple times a turn. I still wanted a 1-drop and Steppe Lynx fit the bill perfectly. The high Fetchland count made it so that I could attack with a 2/3 or a 4/5 every turn and still have mana available to do other things. Despite, their performance, the deck still wasn’t good enough to deal with the metagame.
Coincidentally, if you take out the Red and add the Squadron Hawks the deck looks like what everyone else is playing these days. As much as I liked the idea of the deck, I had to scrap it after three days of testing. In theory, it had no game against what I was expecting or even if it did, there was a lot of work to do to shore up the weaknesses, and the Spoiler was still just forty cards in. I should’ve revisited the deck when the Spoiler was completed and see if I could take the deck into a new direction, sadly, by then, the format had other pressing questions that needed to be addressed.
After that little endeavor, I started knocking the decks of the list one by one. TurboFog has no game against Planeswalkers even with Oblivion Ring and Beast Within, Man-lands were problem, and dealing with Splinter Twin and Valakut was going to be quite an ordeal. Runeflare Trap, even with the Fog tucked into the deck like my brother was testing, was too slow and setting up wasn’t easy. The biggest strike was that the most important pieces (Temple Bells, Rites of Flourishings, Jace Beleren, Runeflare Traps, Molten Psyche), like TurboFog’s, either died to the same hate for Splinter Twin (Nature’s Claim, Flashfreezes) or to opposing Oblivion Rings.
The non-Ramp three color decks on the list all had serious problems against Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge and risking getting blown out by Mana inconsistencies was like sabotaging myself. The three color Ramp decks had the issue of feeling like you were behind all game and sometimes you either recover and win or you could stay behind and eventually lose. These also suffered from being hard to maneuver, mulliganed aggressively, and had the inconsistencies of a Combo deck without a combo finish, especially now without the Jace, the Mind Sculptor (Beleren just isn’t good in these decks) looking over our shoulder. It IS hard to argue against their card quality, however those weren’t reason enough to warrant playing a deck that has a tendency to draw into nothing more than half the time.
GB Rock and BW Midrange have the curse of not having any good mana fixing and they are the type of deck that has no way to come back from a losing game. My brother was testing GB Rock and it needs a haymaker spell, needs something that can literally turn the game around when it’s back is against the wall and this is why these deck don’t go far. In spite of a great start or great mid-game, if the game goes late and you are have no way to close a game, then scooping is always a better option than dragging the game anymore. He did try Sorin’s Vengeance and sadly, I believe that is the best these decks can do; Sorin’s Vengeance is the closest they will get to a Cruel Ultimatum. The other thing these cards lack are a good source of card advantage, something I’m sure Innistrad will rectify. Sign in Blood is ok, but the deck needs more– Dark Confidant would be pretty amazing. The deck is still on the radar for me, like I’ve mentioned in other articles, when my brother comes up with something, it is worth keeping an eye out and GB Rock is definitely worthy of attention when the next block promises to bring some nice Black cards.
Pyromancer Ascension was one of the first decks to actually hit the garbage can. I may have had a good run with this deck in the past, but contrary to popular belief, I’m not married to Ascensionâ€”I am if Time Warp‘s legal. Pyromancer is NOTHING without Time Warp. Time Warp is the card that made it possible to swim out of the toilet while being flushed, it was the card that made it possible to beat Aggro decks all day, and the card that helped you get out of a Control deck’s vice-grip. Without Time Warp, it is a merely a race to see how fast you died to Goblin Guides or a question of how many hits did it take a Squadron Hawk to get to the center of… Well, humiliation. Between Nature’s Claims, Celetial Purges, Oblivion Rings, Beast Withins, Into the Roils, and other annoying Sideboard cards, Pyromancer has no chance. Not to mention that everyone still thinks that counters are still good in this deck, which they aren’t. Many times I have been in the verge of comboing only to draw into counters and lands and die; Mana Leak is also no Counterspell. Mana Leak gets very bad, very fast in today’s metagameâ€”it is awkwardly terrible against Aggro and equally awkward against Squadron Hawks. There are ways to build this deck and Standard does not have enough tools to build the deck the way it deserves. Trust me, I know, I’ve been married to this deck before (divorce is such a bitch).
At this point, I was losing it. I couldn’t come up with anything remotely capable of having a 50/50 match against everything in the field. I didn’t want a deck that relied on hate that was easily dealt by counter-hate (ex. Side in Leyline of Sanctity against Valakut and they Nature’s Claim it or Beast Within and I still lose), didn’t want to rely on Firewalkers in order to beat Mono-Red (they DID have Dismember for it), I didn’t want to play Aggro (I’m terrible at playing Constructed Aggro decks; Draft is another story), or play a Combo deck everyone was gunning for. I couldn’t rely on Spellskites because I had no money to buy them and no one was willing to lend or trade for them, so that even affected my Sideboarding options, most notably in my UB Control deck.
Part III – Would You Love a Monster Man?
Two weeks later, amidst of all the frustration, the Spoilers revealed a few more cards…
â€œHoly crap, they reprinted Solemn Simulacrum and O-Ring? Surely there must be a deck out there where I can put these awesome cards!â€
While it wasn’t exactly what I said, that is basically what I and a million other players thought when they got Spoiled. I went back to doing some research and felt that I could revive an age old archetype, but which?
And a voice cried out to me from the depths of my soul and said: â€œChris… Chris… Back in the original Mirrodin, Solemn Simulacrum saw play in a variety of Midrange and Ramp decks, most notably Tooth and Nail. Tooth and Nail consisted of ramping up until you could pay the mana cost and the Entwine, that way you could search for the two creatures AND put them into play in one go. The two creatures usually interacted in some insane way together, insane enough to win the game by themselves (ex. Mephidross Vampire/Triskelion, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker/Darksteel Colossus).â€
It is interesting how the voice changed its eerie tone once it began lecturing me. At any rate, this deck sounds crazily similar to what the Eldrazi do, huh?
Once I knew that I wanted to unleash Eldrazi monsters of Hell (or of Zendikar), I decided I wanted to play Oblivion Ring somewhere in my 75 as well. Honestly, White has too many powerful anti-metagame options in the vein of Celestial Purge, the Ring, Kor Firewalker, Day of Judgment, Leyline of Sanctity, Grand Abolisher, and more. Here’s what I had in mind:
Pet the Destroyer
GW Eldrazi was incredibly decent in the most traditional senseâ€”it does what it was build to do every game or it dies trying. Why didn’t I play this at Nationals? Unlike the Mono Green version, this deck was extremely slow. Pet the Destroyer really knew how to take its time and set up, but against Control, I had the possibility of losing before I ever even played an Eldrazi, while Combo dealt with my hate and combo’d out while I was still ramping. I could have focused on making the ramp faster, but I would be trading the utility and synergy this deck has for a more streamlined and linear gameplan. In that case, I might as well play Valakut, no? As I tested against the worst case scenario (a Destructive Force deck), I realized that the deck was better off either being a Mono Green Eldrazi deck or Valakut, thus I gave up on it. In spite of the unfortunate weaknesses of the deck, this was a fun build to play and worth giving a try on kitchen tables (unless you don’t mind the â€œwhat does your deck even doâ€ remarks, then you can play it at FNMs).
Part IV – New Moon Rising
A week before D-Day, looking over the metagame possibilities… â€œOnly one week to go… Valakut. Splinter Twin. Aggro. Control decks… Don’t they all have trouble with discard, counters, and Grave Titan? Doom Blade and Go for the Throat are sick in this environment, at least they kill Titans as well. Black Sun’s Zenith is pretty good right now. Oh wait, I can Into the Roil Pyromancer Ascensions, O-Rings, Splinter Twins, ‘Walkers, random pumped Infect creatures, reset Kahlni Heart Expeditions, and more, so MUCH MORE!”
And the week of perfecting UB Control began. I went back into my researched, tested against whatever I could find, no matter how random it wasâ€”all I wanted was to get a feel for the deck first. Once I had a near perfect list, I only had time to test against Tempered Steel and RDW which went close to 6-3 both times Pre-board (could not even Sideboard). The deck just didn’t want to let me down, it worked hard against both, and pulled through. Clearly Sideboarding was only going to make this matches better. Arguably my worst match up was Valakut and I could only play out the games in my mind and formulate a plan. That’s when I came up with my Sideboard strategy to play Abyssal Persecutor. Let’s be honest, UB Control really knows how to take over a game, but if you can’t close out the games you are winning in a timely fashion Combo decks can easily draw out of it, consequently, a turn 4 Persecutor was just the thing I needed to clean up after I ripped apart their hands with all the discard and counters in the deck.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone who has been reading my articlesâ€”I am such a sucker for random Sideboard plans that just happened to be good. For the record, the plan worked like a charm.
Spells – 31
1 Doom Blade
3 Go for the Throat
4 Jace Beleren
4 Mana Leak
2 Into the Roil
2 Black Sun’s Zenith
1 Jace’s Ingenuity
It had everything I could ever want from a deck for what I was expecting in Nationals. It had Disfigure for small threats, Go for the Throat for anything, Into the Roil for pesky permanents (it can even delay a Tempered Steel), all the discard and counters in the world to make sure I was the only one playing the game, the perfect mass removal at that moment, Grave Titan is nearly unbeatable compared to other Titans, all the card draw in the world, and a Sideboard to be afraid of. In short, UB Control was perhaps the best choice for me in this tournament and I regret nothing. Other than my own personal changes, the list is pretty much cookie cutter, though.
There’s not much to talk about except maybe why I decided against playing Solemn Simulacrum. Well, simple, I don’t like tapping on my 4th turn for something that isn’t Jace, the Mind Sculptor. He draws when he dies, maybe trades with something, and lets you play Titan a turn earlier, but to be honest? You don’t need whatever â€œadvantagesâ€ he gives you. Your worst match-up is still bad even with the Simulacrum and he still comes in on turn 4 when Aggro has sodomized you enough already and he won’t do anything to cure your behind or even ease the pain. Mind Sculptor can actually turn games around, Simulacrum can’t. People will play the Simulacrum, do well with it, others will do the same and get nowhere; Simulacrum is not for everyone, just like it wasn’t for me. There are decks that need him, I’d rather have him there.
The other interesting card in the deck is the Jwar Isle Refuge. The story behind is that I wanted another dual land to decrease the chances where I drew into more Islands than Swamp or vice-versa. The extra dual made sure than my hands would look closer to â€œDual, dual, basicâ€ and make it easier to play Jace Beleren and the like. Additionally, that tiny point of life can sometimes mean the difference between life and death against hyper-aggressive strategiesâ€”you never know.
And there we are, finally I have found the deck I’ve been looking for. We’ve had to split this article up into 2 due to its depth and length. Join me in Part 2 where I will be reporting on the Puerto Rico Nationals itself.
Well, that’s it for Part I, stay tuned for Part II!
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