Usually when I Top 8 a Grand Prix, I’m excited. This time was a bit different. I didn’t feel as enthusiastic about my finish because I didn’t love my deck. Not how it played out—just how it functions.

U/W Control

As you can see, this is similar to the deck list Leo Lahonen played to a 2nd-place finish at GP Birmingham in the infancy of Dominara Standard. His deck is designed to win by achieving complete control of the game by exhausting the opponent of resources, stranding them with dead cards, and using the ultimate on Teferi, Hero of Dominaria somewhere in that mix. Then the deck can finish by Teferi endlessly tucking itself or getting a few hits in with Gideon of the Trials. I remember watching at the time and thinking “wow, this guy broke it.” For Grand Prix Birmingham, the deck seemed legitimately broken to me.

After a long and exhausting weekend at GP Las Vegas, I wasn’t sure what to play in Standard. My instincts were to avoid playing a red deck because everyone was gunning for it, and at the Pro Tour it honestly didn’t feel overwhelmingly good to me. Goblin Chainwhirler has warped the format in some ways, yes, but that damage has mostly been done. Adjustments have been made, and Goblin Chainwhirler doesn’t get you as much value as it used to. Don’t get me wrong—it’s still a great card, but it’s not what it was in week one.

I really liked B/W Vehicles leading up to the Pro Tour. It was a midrange deck that could adjust to play an aggressive role, or board into a more defensive strategy. Sam Pardee knew this, and pointed me in the direction of a deck that won an Open event played by Raja Sulaiman. Here’s Raja’s deck list.

B/W Vehicles

This deck looked great to me. It lost the Vehicle package and had more midrange elements that made it better against the red decks. Profane Procession was  impressive against R/B decks, which was a big draw to the color pair. I took the deck to battle in various iterations, including playing all eight 2-drop Knights, and I quickly came to one conclusion. This deck that used to have an incredible control matchup felt was suddenly struggling. The adjustments made it better against red, yes, but at the cost of an aggressive game plan. History of Benalia is great against control, but it can’t do the job on its own. You have to get underneath them with a card like Toolcraft Exemplar and punish their slow draws.

At this point, I considered Mono-Red. Mono-Red had a solid matchup against R/B but felt weak to different versions of B/W and control. Mono-Red, to this point, has won a few major events and of course eventually ended up winning GP Pittsburgh as well. Having very little time, I did not play a League with Mono-Red and decided that I could likely play it from past experience. I left it as my fallback plan and considered other options.

U/B Midrange? Well, I really don’t want to play a bunch of X/1s when half of my opponents will have four Goblin Chainwhirler. I guess I’m off that.

Then I thought about tuning R/B to be able to win mirrors. This entire time, however, in the back of my head I’m thinking about how well positioned control might be. This is like GP Birmingham all over again. The red decks are making adjustments to beat each other, and in turn they lose a ton of points against control. Bomat Courier gives you so many points against control and is incredibly poor in mirrors. Cutting it is the first adjustment you’d likely make.

B/W Vehicles, a deck that once had a terrific control matchup, now transformed into a midrange deck that I felt had an unfavorable one. All the trends for the tournament seemed to indicate that I should play control.

While all this is going on, Matt Costa tweeted this:

I immediately asked if I should play it, and he seemed confident that I should. Matt has a tendency to be pretty confident, and I know that he has a bias toward control, but I decided to try it in one League to see how it feels. I played one Magic Online League, went 5-0, and was actually able to finish my games in a reasonable time frame. I did play against Mono-Red and Mono-Green twice, two decks I board Lyra Dawnbringer in against, which helped me close games quickly. The deck felt great, so I decided without any further testing that I was going to play it. One League, lock it in.

I was worried about not having true win conditions, and discussed it briefly with Matt. The conclusion we came to was that it does just make your deck worse, and you can usually mitigate it with fast play. Gideon of the Trials is a pseudo-win-condition and removal spell that can also prevent you from being burned out. In theory, Gideon seemed solid as that one-card slot. In reality, it was basically blank cardboard I would occasionally draw instead of a real card. Decks were either flooded with planeswalker removal, like Vraska’s Contempt or Cast Out, or were swarming you with creatures, which made it a mediocre life gain spell. Its impact on games in general was just too small in my experience. There was not a single matchup in I was excited to draw the card.

Throughout most of the tournament I was enjoying myself. I had some long, drawn out matches on Day 1, but all of them came to their natural conclusions. I was constantly picking up the pace of my play from round to round to make sure that I could finish on time. Day 2 got off to a rocky start, as I played a one-game match against a former Team USA teammate, Joel Sadowsky, on Esper Control. We played the game through a flashbacked Memory and I was able to deck him in the end by exhausting him of relevant win conditions. I wasn’t looking forward to doing that again.

I played one-game matches a total of three times on Day 2, and after each one I felt a little less happy with what my deck was doing. I never really liked how Teferi, Hero of Dominaria could tuck itself and become its own win condition. After this tournament, I feel that you should just have to play a card like Approach of the Second Sun as a win condition so that games end naturally. Once you establish a Teferi lock in game 1, your opponent is heavily incentivized to concede before you deck them so that they have time to finish the last two games of the match. This makes cards like Approach that are essentially 14-mana “I win” cards unnecessary, especially in game 1. If it were up to me, I’d errata Teferi to say “other permanent” so that the U/W decks would be forced to play with a win condition.

As a professional player, I’m going to do what I feel gives me my best chance of winning, but as a fan of the game I don’t like what playing one-game matches does to tournament Magic. It reminds me a lot of Grand Prix Miami a few years back when G/W Devotion was a deck, and players gained hundreds of life with Mastery of the Unseen and it was extremely difficult to finish a game of the mirror. Playing control mirrors with pure U/W Control felt just like that. If a game went beyond 10 turns, it was going to go 50 turns. Despite how fun it may be to play if you like that sort of thing, it holds up the tournament and creates an unpleasant viewing experience for spectators.

So when I say I didn’t love my deck, it was not because of how it felt or how it performed. In fact, it felt like the best deck I’d played in a tournament in a long, long time.

Once the deck stabilized, it almost always shut the door.

With Nationals coming up, a tournament I haven’t decided if I’m going to attend or not, if I were to play this deck I’d definitely squeeze in a win condition. It’s physically taxing to play such long matcheswith the speed you need to deck your opponent. Approach of the Second Sun looks like the best option, and I’d definitely cut Gideon of the Trials for one copy, and perhaps the Commit // Memory for a second. This does completely change the dynamic of the deck and cards like Pull from Tomorrow become less relevant because you don’t need to bury them in card advantage if you have an “I win” card like Approach of the Second Sun, so I’d probably play Glimmer of Genius main deck instead, and potentially sideboard Torrential Gearhulk as a win condition that works around Negate and Duress.

What I’m describing is almost exactly Brad Nelson’s deck from Pro Tour Dominaria:

U/W Control

I would probably opt for more Lyra Dawnbringer in the sideboard and fewer copies of other win conditions, but having access to Torrential Gearhulk, Lyra, and a potential History of Benalia in the sideboard as well would make matches end much more quickly. This is the direction I’d go this weekend if I were to play this deck again, but only because I don’t want to fight the clock. I think that having no win conditions would be correct if the clock were not a factor, and I think the design of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria leads to that, unfortunately.

Sideboard Guide

Here’s the sideboard plan Matt Costa worked on. I used it with only minor tweaks for Grand Prix Pittsburgh.

Red-Black Aggro/Midrange

Out

In

Mono-Red

Out

In

If you see Scrapheap Scrounger you can bring in Aether Meltdown as well. I saw Sorcerous Spyglass from an opponent at the Grand Prix and shaved a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria for a Search for Azcanta so that my card engines didn’t all get shut off by one card.

Blue-Black Midrange

Out

In

Esper Control

Out

In

On the draw, I’d consider leaving in the third Seal Away and trimming another Syncopate.

Blue-White

Out

In

Green-Black Constrictor

Out

In

Mono-Green Ghalta

Out

In

White-Black Midrange

Out

In

If you see Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, keep in two Seal Away and cut Commit // Memory and a Settle the Wreckage

Blue-White Gift

Out

In

While I made Top 8 of GP Pittsburgh, I still didn’t like how my deck functioned. As a professional player I’m looking to win with the cards they give me, but no-win-condition control is pushing the boundaries. I had a lot of positive feedback about the sweet one-game control mirrors from lovers of control, but for others, I understand why they’d get bored watching a game for an hour with no result. If this is your thing, I do legitimately think the deck is great, and if you can figure out a great plan against U/B Midrange for post-board games, I feel pretty good about all of the matchups. I don’t know if I’ll go to Nationals, and if I do, I don’t know if I’d play this deck. If I do, one thing’s certain: I’ll play more win conditions if I do.