As many people know, I’m a control player at heart. I’ll play other things, of course, but if control is at the top of a format, it’s very rare that I won’t choose to play it. Since Pro Tour Fate Reforged a couple weeks ago was Modern, I hadn’t had time to play much Standard for a while, but now with Grand Prix Miami coming up, the time has come. Naturally, the first deck that I hoped would be great was a control deck, this time U/B.
Like most control decks, Blue/Black Control seeks to remove the opponent’s threats while preserving its life total and gaining card advantage—either by using single cards to remove multiple threats or by using card draw spells.
The black elimination spells like Bile Blight or Hero’s Downfall can be used to remove single annoying creatures and/or planeswalkers. Cards like Crux of Fate or Perilous Vault can be used to remove several threats at one time, putting you far ahead in the card advantage battle and empowering your counterspells to keep you alive and in control for multiple turns afterward. The counterspells provide a safety net against cards that are difficult to remove otherwise, or cards that will provide your opponent with an advantage even once you remove the card itself—notably planeswalkers like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion or Xenagos, the Reveler or creatures like Siege Rhino or Wingmate Roc.
Deck Difficulty: Above Average
I think control decks tend to be a little more difficult to play but not overwhelmingly so. One of the biggest challenges with control decks in general is knowing exactly when to use counterspells and removal spells. Sometimes it’s obvious, but in other cases we might be getting pressured by only a 2/2 creature while we have a high life total, and have to decide when we should use our last removal spell on it or whether we should keep taking 2 while saving our spell for a bigger threat. For these reasons, I’d say that the deck difficulty is above average.
What is a Favorable Metagame for this Deck?
Control decks are best in formats that are filled with midrange decks. Control decks can go over the top by using cheap interaction to remove threats that often cost more than the spell being cast, and use odd turns here and there to cast expensive card draw spells. Midrange decks are often slow and clunky when it comes to attacking a life total. Because the control deck has better late game, the midrange deck is forced to be the aggressor. While it is able to be the aggressor better than the control deck, it’s not able to exploit the weaknesses of the control deck as well as an aggressive deck can. Decks like Mono-Green Devotion are going to be the best matchup for the deck, since those decks have very little way to recover from a card like Crux of Fate or Perilous Vault.
Unfortunately for U/B Control, the most popular midrange decks are getting better and better against control decks. A big reason for this is planeswalkers. Wrath effects like Crux of Fate don’t remove them from the board and Hero’s Downfall, while effective, will often leave behind a Satyr from Xenagos, three Soldiers from Elspeth, or kill an Ajani that has already found another threat or replacement Ajani.
Perilous Vault is a very good answer to a board of threats including planeswalkers, but the Abzan midrange decks are even playing Utter End a large percentage of the time, which can be devestating if it picks off an important Perilous Vault. Also, as I will discuss later, Thoughtseize is one of the best cards against U/B Control, and all of the black midrange decks in Standard have access to 4 copies.
Aggressive decks put many threats into play very quickly. This forces you to spend cards and mana to trade down for their threats. For example, casting something like Hero’s Downfall on a creature like Soldier of the Pantheon would be considered trading down, since we’re spending a 3-mana card to remove a 1-mana threat. Aggressive decks seek to overpower the control deck. Effectively they are able to empty their hand way faster than we’re able to answer it, causing us to “need” to be able to sacrifice a Perilous Vault or cast a Crux of Fate on turn five, otherwise our life total will be too low to close out the game.
This might sound like a bit of a cop-out but I think the biggest weakness of the U/B deck is itself. The biggest problem I have with this deck is that even at 28 lands, it’s too hard to guarantee hitting your land drops. Whenever this deck is forced to keep a two- or three-land hand, you’re really at the mercy at the top of your deck. Because all of your sweepers and card draw are so expensive, the need to hit land drops is exceptionally high.
One might argue that the solution to this would be to include cards like Divination in the main deck. Unfortunately, this is a format where you can’t afford to tap out on turn three to cast a card draw spell. This is in large part due to Goblin Rabblemaster and Mantis Rider. Those cards put you on the back foot so quickly that you need to be sure that you’re able to cast Bile Blight, Hero’s Downfall, and Dissolve immediately or risk falling too far behind.
Dig Through Time is a great card at finding answers to threats and chaining together with other Dig Through Times. But when it comes to hitting land drops, Dig Through Time really doesn’t help. Or at least, you can’t afford to let Dig Through Time help you there. Although you can, sometimes, take lands off Dig Through Time, the only card that really allows you to continually hit land drops is Jace’s Ingenuity. Given that it costs 5 also, it’s too expensive to rely on.
Another major weakness of this deck is Thoughtseize. Throughout the course of the game, the U/B deck needs to develop a very concrete and detailed plan. You have to spend mana efficiently, answer threats accordingly, make sure to keep card draw spells in reserve, and make sure your opponent is unable to land a haymaker to finish us off. Thoughtseize is an effective counter to all these strategies. No matter what approach you take to gain and keep control of the game, your opponent can strip your most important card and thwart your plan unless you have complete redundancy.
Thoughtseize is also very potent against a deck like this that is extremely threat-light. A well-timed Thoughtseize or two stripping away your game-ending threat can cause the game to extend far longer than planned, and give your opponent many chances to get back into the game.
Deck Core Cards
Dig Through Time – The most important source of card selection and card advantage.
Dissolve – The best all-purpose counterspell in Standard.
Bile Blight – The best black 2-mana removal spell in Standard.
Hero’s Downfall – The best solution to planeswalkers with the added versatility of being an all-purpose creature removal spell. A clear must-play.
Pearl Lake Ancient – The best expensive finisher in blue and black, largely because of flash.
Jace’s Ingenuity – An additional source of card advantage. Necessary to get ahead in sheer volume of cards.
Perilous Vault – An all-purpose sweeper that is very good in many matchups, but you could potentially cut one for a 4th Crux of Fate. I wouldn’t cut the second, as having an extremely powerful one-of is very effective in a deck with 4 Dig Through Time.
Deck Optional Cards
Silumgar, the Drifting Death – Good at controlling weenie creatures, although expensive. Unfortunately, the slow power means that it’s very slow to actually finish the game. Great against Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.
Negate, Disdainful Stroke – Four counterspells aren’t quite enough. Negate would be the first to go, here, and a second Disdainful Stroke would be the first to add. I could definitely see upping the number of counterspells in the main deck, and I could also see shaving one, if you needed to make room for other things.
Thoughtseize – The more aggressive the format becomes, the worse these get as a maindeck inclusion. I would recommend always having access to at least a few between main deck and sideboard.
Murderous Cut – The first Murderous Cut is quite nice, but it’s not included here because the the delve cost interferes with Dig Through Time, one of, if not the most important card in the deck.
Try to control their planeswalkers using counterspells, max out on your card draw, and you gain a cheap threat in Tasigur. Hopefully this will make your opponent second-guess sideboarding out all of his or her removal spells.
Bring in cards that interact cheaply and hope not to get overrun.
Having a lot of counterspells in your deck in this matchup is a poor strategy. They interact too poorly with your opponent’s spells since they have so much redundancy. Drown in Sorrow and Murk Lurker are both great, and if you intend to win this matchup you have to draw a lot of them. Many games will come down to whether or not you have one Drown in Sorrow on turn three.
Sub out Thoughtseize to protect your life total, go up to 2 Disdainful Stroke to protect against big threats like Chandra or Stormbreath Dragon, and a Drown is Sorrow to clean up Hordeling Outburst tokens, Rabblemaster tokens, or Soulfire Grand Master.
Take out Thoughtseize to protect your life total from cards like Stoke the Flames/Jeskai Charm. Perilous Vault is simply too slow, and can force you to tap out twice to remove cards that you need to be killing much more efficiently. Murk Lurker can help you gain some life back if you’re able to stabilize.
Bile Blight is actually pretty good at picking off mana creatures, but overall your strategy in this matchup is to fight off the early pressure, cast a sweeper, and then the game is typically pretty easy from there. The counterspells, especially Disdainful Stroke, are so good in this matchup, as many games the green deck will draw a ton of mana and very few threats.
U/B Control Mirror
Would I Recommend this Deck?
Frankly, I think if your goal is to give yourself the absolute best chance to win, U/B Control is not the best choice at the moment. The deck just isn’t quite good enough in this environment. However, if you enjoy this type of deck, it’s certainly not impossible to win with or anything like that, and although it might not be Tier 1, it is pretty close.