Standard UWR Control Primer by Peter Deane
Before we get started, I should probably introduce myself.
I’m Peter Deane, an aspiring grinder. Over the last year since moving to Glasgow, I’ve started travel around the UK, attending more PTQs and recording more consistently good finishes. I’m looking to push my performances over the edge and win an event by focusing my practice further.
To this end I’ve been testing Standard and the different control lists online.
At the last PTQ in Dublin, I ran Dollar’s GP Esper and lost my win and in round for the Top 8. The deck was solid but I wanted to give the other options a try.
‘Huey’ Jensen got to a GP finals running UW and helped popularise it shortly afterwards. I played the deck and it runs smoothly, however it had a lot of trouble against Mono Blue and certain cards like Obzedat, Mistcutter and Stormbreath could be a huge beating.
Playing online, Mono Black variants are the deck you’re most likely to face. Despite assertions from various pros that you should crush the matchup, you can certainly just lose to terrible top-decking in the mid-to-late game. In light of this, I wanted to give Assemble the Legion a try as straight Mono Black is completely cold to the card.
After trying a few different configurations of UWR I’m now running the following:
Four Turn and Burn? What the hell are you doing?
Well, let me explain. I started with a couple and gradually crept up to the full set in the main. The card kills basically everything you need to kill. Obzedat, Stormbreath, Baron, Mutavault, Soldier of the Pantheon, Ash Zealot, Thassa, and Desecration Demon?
At a stretch, you can even use it to remove pesky creatures you’d normally want Last Breath for such as Necromancer, Voice and Nightveil Specter. With people running cards like Lifebane Zombie and Daring Skyjek, it is nice to not have to Verdict them one for one. I wanted a versatile card that interacted early, but was not dead late and this card delivered in full.
I found that most of the aggro decks were very Verdict resistant and might even be slightly favoured in game one. To combat this weakness, my list is down to only one copy of Divination and has an increase in anti-aggro 2 drops. I couldn’t afford to draw too many card-drawing spells in the early game, as that often spelled death.
Counterflux is only really an upgrade in the mirror, but it does stop train wrecks like this happening (for the record, I won the battle but not the war).
Being able to counter the few relevant cards in game one of the mirror is certainly a huge advantage and there is little a UW player can do.
The rest of the list is mostly as you would expect. I’m running 27 land rather than 26 due to the reduced number of Divinations and no Quickens. I tried Aetherling for a long time, but all you want to do is survive and Elspeth is a lot better at facilitating this even if she dies to Hero’s Downfall a lot.
3 Assemble the Legion – This was one of the main draws for adding red. It’s great against Mono Black and can be fine to bring in against control decks as an additional win condition.
3 Gainsay – This is a very common choice, amazing against Mono Blue and also solid against control. They can slip things past it like Elspeth, Baron and Obzedat though so you need to be mindful.
3 Fiendslayer Paladin – AKA awesome ninja dude. He is amazing against aggro decks and some lists have no way to remove him or have to board back in removal they would prefer to leave out. I tried Izzet Staticaster in this slot but she was dead against Toil and Trouble Burn so I stuck with him instead.
3 Archangel of Thune – A wise man once told me that Mono Blue was easy just bring in Archangels, slam them on the table and shout good games. It is obviously not that easy, but there are very few cards in their 75 that can interact with an Archangel, on the table or the stack. They often have to resort to Cyclonic Rifting it to buy time and if you’re not too far behind then you’ll be able to resolve it again and win the race. Archangel will usually come in with Fiendslayer and have a beautiful life gaining party.
2 Pithing Needle – I had one for a long time, but increased them when I found myself constantly wanting to name Mutavault. It can also shut off Connections and various Planeswalkers which you’d be forced to have a Sphere for otherwise.
1 Wear and Tear – Tear is great against Mono Black and it can be brought in against control decks to combat their Spheres as well. It certainly feels pretty good killing a Whip and a Connections for only three mana.
In game one they have a lot of dead spot removal whilst all your cards are useful. Aggressively minus Jace as they’ll likely have a Downfall waiting to be used anyway. The most common way to die here is to multiple grey merchants after stabilising, if you keep this in mind and don’t throw Verdicts away 1 for 1 with Spectres then you should be in decent shape.
For games 2 and 3 I bring in; Assembles, Needles, Wear and Tear. Assemble is a great win condition, although beware of Golgari Charm and Tear from splash colours. Needles usually have a target unless you’re already winning. Tear is just another out to Connections and Whip.
I take out; Elspeth, as she’s just Downfall fodder, Azorious Charms as they’re the weakest of our removal and then 2-3 Counterfluxes.
Post-board you’re going to be facing 6+ discard effects, Erebros and no more dead spot removal. You are boarding into more of a tap-out deck that is just looking to draw its way out of the hole you’re being put into. If you tried to leave up Counterflux all the time they can just lead with Thoughtsieize and then resolve what they want, better to play more proactive.
The matchup often comes down to a topdecking war and if you never get your Jaces or Revelations you will lose, but if you get one of your Revelations for 5+ you’ve likely just won.
This matchup varies greatly depending on the skill and style of your opponent. If they want to rush you down by flooding the board and taping out then things are easier for you. If they play more conservative and have only one creature and a Mutavault attacking, waiting for you to tap out so they can then resolve a big threat then it can get tricky very fast. This is part of the reason why we have so much 2 drop instant removal, so we’re not forced to tap out for Verdict or Sphere giving them a window to work with.
For games 2 and 3 I bring in; Gainsays, Archangels and 1-2 Needles. Gainsay counters everything in the deck, Archangel is very hard for them to deal with and Needle is almost exclusively for Mutavault.
Archangels have single-handedly won me many games against Mono Blue, having all 3 means you get them nice and regularly. They handily dodge Gainsay, Negate and Dispel which covers the most common counters in the deck.
I take out; 1-2 Revelations, Elspeth, Elixir, 1 Charm and 2 Confluxes. The Revelations are very hard to resolve in the matchup as they board into so many counters. Elspeth is a good card but too many of their creatures dodge her or can simply be given unblockable. Elspeth also kills nothing with her minus ability in this matchup. Elixir is not needed as you’re going to win with Angels and you don’t want to draw it early. I mix the numbers of Charm and Confluxes being boarded out depending on if I’m on the play or not. If they’re running Aetherling then you will obviously want more Confluxes.
You are at quite an advantage in game 1. The Counterfluxes allow you to just sit there with mana up at all times and let everything that isn’t an Aetherling or Elspeth resolve. If they get a Baron or Obzedat hopefully you can just Turn/Burn or Verdict it away rather than waste a counter. In these kinds of games you are legitimately trying to mill them out, so make sure you have more cards in your deck than them and don’t really fight over anything other than Elixir.
For games 2 and 3 I bring in; Gainsays, Needles and sometimes Assembles. Gainsays allow you to cheaply interact with them and needles can be used against Aetherling, Mutavault or Jace depending on what you need. Assembles are sometimes brought in but they will likely just be removed by Sphere, so if you want to try that you likely want all 3 in to eventually stick one.
I take out; 2 Verdicts, 2 Charms, 2 Last Breaths. Leaving in some number of Verdicts is a judgement call but more often than not players seem to have a creature plan to catch you out. Keeping in 1-2 verdicts is a lot safer than being blown out by Pack Rat, Baron, Archangel, Soldier of the Pantheon or similar cards. Removing the Charms and Breaths as they are less useful that Turn/Burn.
I believe you’re highly favoured against classic UW due to the lack of relevant cards to counter. Esper lists however often have a lot more hand disruption and creatures after game 1, so there is plenty of back and forth involved.
This matchup might be the hardest for the deck. There is such a large number of ‘must answer’ non-creature spells they run and you are very limited on Detention Spheres. Hammer, Purphoros, Chandra and Stormbreath all need to be gone within a turn or so, otherwise you’re likely too far behind.
You’re looking for them to get the wrong mix of cards. If it’s all non-creature spells they don’t do enough early damage. If it’s all creatures then you can hopefully Verdict them away or hold things for a while with Jace. You need to be constantly aware of cards like Stormbreath and Fanatic, calculating if you can afford to wait on a Verdict or if you need to keep up a counter will help you greatly.
Games 2 and 3 I bring in; Archangels and 1 Needle. The Archangels give me a good card to stabilise with and to attack any stray Planeswalkers. The Needle is purely for any Planeswalkers I can’t answer quickly enough. Mono red usually will only have Chandra or Hammer, but if they splash green you need to deal with Xenagos and Domri too.
I take out; 2 Charms, Elixir and 1 Revelation. The Charms don’t work very well against haste creatures, Stormbreath Dragon or Fanatic so they’re out. Elixir is not something you want to draw early so we don’t risk it. The Revelation cut is also because we don’t want them too early or in multiples.
I keep in the full number of Counterflux as they are your best way to deal with large hasted threats and help reduce the strain on your Spheres.
You need to be aware of certain cards after board; Skullcrack, Peak Eruption and Assemble the Legion. I did manage to beat Purphoros and Assemble with Archangels but I’d advise never getting into that position to begin with.
I’m bundling the aggro decks together as you’re overall plan is very similar against them; survive and start casting Revelations. The decks I’m referring to are; G/W, Orzhov aggro, Boros aggro, Toil and Trouble Burn and Mono Red one drops. I think the games are harder pre-board but adding 6 lifelinkers helps a lot in the later games.
Ratchet Bomb shines here as it can often kill multiple creatures or deter them from playing more than one for a long time, keeping it sat on 0 against G/W is great so you can kill tokens or quickly go to 1 and get a Mistcutter the following turn.
Games 2 and 3 I bring in; 3 Fiendslayers, 3 Archangels and possibly a needle for Mutavault decks. I just want to load-up on lifegain to get myself the time I need to let my higher card quality do the rest.
I take out; Counterfluxes, 1 Revelation and either a Charm or Elixir. Their threats are often too small to warrant keeping in Counterfluxes so I just cut them. Revelation is cut so you don’t draw too many early and die. Elixir is cut against the non-burn decks where the 5 life is less important.
UWR has game against everything and if you’re looking for a control deck to play I would highly recommend this one. If you’ve found this useful please share it with people. As this is my first article feedback is greatly appreciated, please see the comments section bellow if you have questions or amusing abuse to direct at me.
Peter (tootatis on MTGO)