At the tail end of Dominaria Standard, it was clear that blue and black were two of the best colors in general, and that the U/B combination in particular was putting up great results. U/B Midrange, U/B Control, and Esper Control have all been putting up great results, and are the go-to choices for many of the elite Standard players.
That said, the release of Guilds of Ravnica and the rotation out of Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks are sure to change things. For the better or for the worse remains to be seen, but it’s certain that U/B will have to evolve.
What We Lose
The most obvious losses are The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk. These are the power players of the U/B color combination, and typically serve as the win conditions for any deck that has access to them.
We also lose much of the instant-speed card drawing that’s available in Standard. This means that we’ll need to find a way for our control decks to operate without Glimmer of Genius, Hieroglyphic Illumination, and Pull from Tomorrow.
Finally, we lose a lot of the go-to creatures for U/B Midrange. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Champion of Wits were engine cards that allowed U/B Midrange to smooth its draws and sometimes score easy wins against control players. Some fringe creatures like Gifted Aetherborn and Gonti, Lord of Luxury are also making an exit.
What We Keep
Most importantly, we keep Vraska’s Contempt, which is the premium answer card for control and midrange alike. Being able to answer anything from an indestructible creature to a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is incredibly valuable. And the incidental life gain allows you to stay afloat against beatdown, or anyone trying to bleed out your life points.
What we lose in instant-speed card drawing can be replaced by sorcery speed options. Search for Azcanta and Arguel’s Blood Fast are still out there. But the game plan of passing every turn with permission mana and instant-speed card drawing may no longer hold water.
[Note: At the time of writing, Chemister’s Insight had not yet been previewed.]
What We Gain
My working theory is that U/B will have to transition more towards a tap-out control deck. Since it will have to focus on sorcery-speed card advantage options, it has to be more proactive and navigate towards situations where it can stick a planeswalker or another permanent-based source of card advantage.
Thankfully, a new card has been previewed that plays perfectly with this game plan.
Thought Erasure is the perfect early play. It’s proactive, and can therefore be played on turn 2 against any opponent. It helps you smooth your draws, digging you to lands or the right answers against whatever threats you see. Finally, it can help you punch a hole in the opponent’s game plan and set up a threat for a few turns down the road. The fact that it plays so well with Search for Azcanta is just gravy.
This is my starting place for U/B in new Standard. A small amount of permission is important for locking up the game once you get ahead with Azcanta or Teferi. But at the heart this is a tap out deck that uses Thought Erasure to set up in the early turns, followed by powerful permanents and Secrets of the Golden City to get ahead. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria remains a cut above the threats available in U/B (based on what’s been previewed at the time of writing), and is therefore worth the splash.
There’s a lot of room to play around with blue and black in new Standard. But it seems clear that the colors need to be reworked, instead of simply trying to shoehorn new cards into old archetypes. Thought Erasure might be the key to making things work, and it’s a card that I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes on.