Last weekend at PT Eldritch Moon, I played BW Control. We misjudged the metagame, but as it turned out, Lukas won the whole thing with it anyway. Our team did really well in Limited as usual, but we missed Emrakul pretty badly. One of the reasons for that was that ever since day 1 of testing we had a Spirit Company deck that almost everyone liked and wanted to play, and we just kept discarding all the slow durdle-y decks that weren’t doing well in our aggressive metagame. For that reason, Languish and Liliana were looking quite good.
On Tuesday, we got the Dredge list from Dan Unwin and started working on that. The deck was doing some very powerful things, but there were also games where you didn’t do anything and just died with a bunch of Prized Amalgams and Haunted Deads in hand. On the last day before the PT, I still had no idea if I wanted to play Noose Constrictor or Oath of Jace, and what I wanted to have in the sideboard. The deck certainly had a great matchup against the other delirium decks, but I couldn’t beat an aggressive deck like Spirits or a turn-4 Kalitas. When I found out Kalitas was sold out on the site Thursday evening, I gave up and registered BW Control.
The mana base is easy. We didn’t like Secure the Wastes, so there is no Westvale Abbey in the deck. We tried Geier Reach Sanitarium, but once we realized we wanted to be more aggressive with creatures, we cut it. Blighted Fen is great because it says “target opponent” so you cannot be forced to use it on yourself during an Emrakul turn and with Kalitas in the deck, it often also makes you a Zombie in the process. I think 16 white sources is the least you can get away with but you can certainly make room for one more colorless land by cutting a Swamp.
We tried the Angel version that showed up in the Top 8 of each of the first 2 Opens, but playing 5-mana 4/4s or paying 7 for a creature that didn’t even do anything when it came into play, when you could be casting Emrakul for the same amount of mana, just seemed crazy to me. What I did get from the deck was that both Kalitas and Avacyn were great and I definitely wanted to play more than one of each.
I didn’t know how good Kalitas would be at the time, but I’m really glad Lukas thought 3 was a good number, because the emerge decks have a really hard time beating if you don’t let it die to a Kozilek’s Return. Avacyn was just overperforming against everything and the fact that it was a very unusual main-deck choice also led to many of my opponents running their 4/4 Grim Flayers or Spell Quellers into it because they had no idea it was coming.
Linvala was a concession to Bant Company. I wasn’t very happy about playing it, but it’s so good in the matchup that we just went with it.
The first version of the deck we tested was the creatureless version with Oath of Liliana and 4 Gideon. It wasn’t bad, but against Company I just felt like I was sitting there trading my cards 1-for-1 while they were generating value from Duskwatch Recruiter and Tireless Tracker, and I would eventually lose to card advantage. We moved Gideon to the sideboard and cut Oaths entirely to make room for the creatures.
Liliana is a great answer to Selfless Spirit or any other 2-drop where it helps make them overextend into your Languish. In control matchups you can just keep ticking her up and, if they don’t have an answer, her ultimate is pretty much a quick guaranteed win. It also helps you get rid of 5-toughness creatures like Mindwrack Demon, Ishkanah, or flipped Avacyn in combination with Languish. Ob Nixilis and Sorin are just great value that you need in this kind of deck with so many answers.
Grasp of Darkness is probably the best removal spell in the format right now so it’s an easy 4-of. Ultimate Price isn’t great, but it’s a necessary evil because there is no good other removal spell for 2 mana. Anguish Unmaking is a great answer to cards like Fevered Visions, Hedron Archive, or planeswalkers, and it’s not negligible that the card gets exiled and doesn’t help them get delirium.
Transgress the Mind and Ruinous Path are two answers to Emrakul, among other things. Hallowed Moonlight usually cycles, but it’s great against Collected Company and sometimes you can prevent Ishkanah from making little Spiders with it.
Answers to Emrakul
As already mentioned, this deck actually has a lot of answers to Emrakul. I got Mindslavered many times during the tournament and I’m pretty sure I still won more than half of those games. Sure, sometimes it involves getting a little lucky with the help of Read the Bones or an extra card from a planeswalker, but between Transgress the Mind at the right time and Blighted Fen, Ob Nixilis, and Ruinous Path, Emrakul isn’t always the promised end.
The great thing about this deck is that the sideboard gives you a lot of versatility and lets you completely switch gears and go aggressive with discard spells into Gideon, which is what you are doing in most matchups.
Contrary to popular belief, Bant Company isn’t a great matchup, especially post-board when they get to bring in a bunch of counters like Negate. If they have a good draw, Kalitas usually gets bounced back into your hand the turn after you play it and then you are under so much pressure that there’s never really a good time to play it again. I’m still not sure about boarding in Duress—if you miss with it, being down a card really hurts. Maybe you are just supposed to hold it until you really want to get rid of their Negate, but it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to possibly snatch a Collected Company with it early. They should board out their Selfless Spirits, so Liliana doesn’t really do anything and Languish isn’t actually that great when they know it’s coming.
Use discard to disrupt their game plan and try to play Gideon or Kalitas on turn 4. They have a really hard time dealing with either. Try to sacrifice a Zombie into Kalitas as soon as possible so that it doesn’t die to a single Kozilek’s Return from the graveyard. Emrakul is usually your first choice with Infinite Obliteration, but there are games where it’s correct to name Elder Deep-Fiend.
You don’t need to keep more than 2 Grasps post-board because you have so many other removal spells that can take care of their creatures. Linvala also isn’t great, but when both players bring in more planeswalkers and there are Gideon and Kalitas tokens lying around, it’s probably fine.
Liliana and Languish are key here. Kill everything on sight and try to take as little damage as possible. Read the Bones goes out because you can’t afford to take a turn off and pay 2 life to draw cards.
Ultimate Price doesn’t kill Grim Flayer, but they still have Nissa, Vastvood Seer and Tireless Tracker (and sometimes Mindwrack Demon), so you need to keep them. You don’t want too many discard spells, because the game usually goes long and you can’t afford to draw a card that does nothing when you are in a topdeck war. I’m still not sure if you should board in the Infinite Obliteration, but with them having only 1 Emrakul, I’m leaning toward no.
GR Delirium Ramp
This was the matchup Lukas played in the quarters and it’s absolutely horrendous game 1, but you get to bring in 12 cards while they don’t really improve at all, and their cards get worse because you get more exile effects, so it’s harder for them to get delirium. Traverse the Ulvenwald and Ishkanah rarely do anything post-board and they have a really hard time beating Gideon.
UR Fevered Vision
I’ve never actually played this matchup, but I assume this is one of the decks they want to face. On the other hand, 6 discard spells and 3 Anguished Unmaking give you a lot of answers to Fevered Visions, and Kalitas can gain some life, so it’s probably not all that bad. Gideon is a beating as usual.
We clearly misjudged the metagame, so Liliana, Languish, and Hallowed Moonlight were the first cards to board out pretty much every single round. It’s actually impressive that we managed to post decent records with the deck when you realize we were playing with 9 blanks in our deck. I guess that just says a lot about how strong the post-sideboard configuration of this deck is. With that in mind, this is how I would build the deck now.
Thanks for reading, and good luck if you are playing one of the GPs this weekend!