Two weekends ago I played at PT M15, in Portland. I finished 27th, with a 10-5-1 record—7-2-1 in Constructed and 3-3 in draft. Today I’ll talk about the deck I played in the Standard portion: UW.
Testing for this tournament was miserable. All the decks seemed the same as they have been for a year and the new cards couldn’t match the powerful Theros cards and synergies. We tried multiple different decks—things like Mono-Green Devotion, Slivers, Maze’s End, Generator Servant decks, and so on—but nothing could reliably compete with the triad of Mono-Blue, UW/Esper, and Mono Black that has dominated Standard for so long. Other decks were viable—Mono-Red, Naya, GW, RG Monsters—but nothing truly new seemed good.
Because the metagame was so established and so full of decks of similar power levels, we decided that each person would just play whatever they were more comfortable with. We didn’t have a team deck, because no one felt like their deck was good enough to try to convince anyone else to play it. For me, that deck was UW. I’ve played it for years now, and I thought I could pilot it better than I could pilot any other deck. I also felt like the deck was quite strong and had many advantages that other people were overlooking. Two of them stood out to me:
1.) The deck is easy to mess up against. UW is not necessarily a complicated deck to play, at least in games you’re winning, but it’s often not trivial to play against, and it gives them lots of opportunities to throw away the game. Jace and Verdict combine to create a situation similar to Mistbind/Cryptic Command, where if they play around one they get beaten by the other. It also has many planeswalkers, giving them opportunities to attack the wrong target, and can really capitalize on a bad judgment call—something like not attacking into a potential Azorius Charm, for example, could just give you the time to cast Revelation and win. Or sometimes they decide to kill Jace and then you play another Jace.
It’s not only flat-out mistakes you capitalize on, too; there is no way for them to know what you have. The best player in the world might make the best percentage play against Jace/Verdict, but they can still get it wrong—and it’s still possible that you have both and then they will be in trouble regardless. Sometimes it’s right to not attack with Obzedat into Azorius Charm—but doing that could cost you the game. UW is a deck that punishes people for having incomplete information, and that is a very good thing.
2.) The deck has the highest number of very good matchups in the format. With a deck like Mono-Black, you might be slightly ahead against everything, but you don’t demolish anyone. No one would go to the tournament with a deck that got utterly annihilated by Mono-Black. With UW, it seems like people don’t mind. They will think, “I can’t beat UW, but that’s OK.” In a sea of slightly even matchups, UW will always find some number of extremely good ones. Now, it’s not any of the decks I mentioned, but if people show up with decks like Naya Tokens, Mono-White Devotion, Mono-Green Devotion, etc., they really don’t want to play against you. Having some free wins is a huge drawing toward a deck for me and, while UW doesn’t necessarily have them inside games by drawing a great card early, it has them on pairings.
This was the list I chose:
This is a pretty standard build, as far as UW decks go. There’s nothing radically different going on with it. Some questions you might have:
- Why UW over Esper? I thought aggro decks would be more popular—stuff like Naya, GW and Mono-Red—and the mana base from Esper was slightly more painful than I wanted. I also thought Azorius Charm was a pretty decent card for the metagame—often being better than a normal removal spell—and since I didn’t necessarily even want the black removal, the appeal of black was greatly diminished. If you don’t play black, you sacrifice your matchup against the mirror a bit for a better matchup against the aggro decks, and I thought that was the best thing to do. If the metagame changes, Esper could be correct again.
- Why Detention Sphere over Planar Cleansing? I feel that my version is better than Ivan Floch’s. Sure, he won the tournament, but that’s only one tournament (and we had the same Constructed record). The Planar Cleansing deck is better at winning if it gets into a bad situation. I’m not going to deny that the ability to instant-speed clear their board is awesome—but it’s also much better at getting into a bad situation, because it has nothing to play early on! Rather than having a desperate measure to salvage games I could not win otherwise, I’d prefer to not put myself in those situations at all. In the end, there are just too many things I feel the Planar Cleansing version has a problem with. If you don’t have Detention Sphere in your deck, a turn three Thassa, or Domri Rade, or a Purphoros, could singlehandedly beat you. You aren’t going to be able to remove an Erebos reliably, and an Underworld Connections will draw them at least three cards. You also have far fewer ways to deal with something as simple as turn two Pack Rat or turn two Voice of Resurgence. The Planar Cleansing version has more raw power, but it’s so much worse in the early game that I don’t think it’s worth it.
- Why Aetherling over Elixir? I feel very strongly that Aetherling is correct. I’ve touched on this point many times, and my opinion hasn’t changed; they’re both kill conditions, but Aetherling is a real card, whereas Elixir is not. In many games, you play all your cards and then you’re left with your last spell. If that’s Aetherling, you win the game. If it’s Elixir, you still need to topdeck a Sphinx’s Revelation. In seven rounds, I won three games on Aetherling alone that I would not have won if it was an Elixir—partially because of time constraints (I won twice on extra turns) and partially because my opponent had insane board presence (things like Liliana, Connections, and Obzedat) and I had to kill them before they could capitalize on it. Aetherling does that, Elixir does not.
- Why four Jace? Because it’s Jace! The question you should be asking yourself is why other people don’t play four. I really don’t understand playing less than the maximum number, it’s such an important card against any deck that wants to attack you with a bunch of small guys, and it’s never horrible.
This is how matchups go:
Black is a good matchup game 1 and a bad matchup games 2 and 3. That would normally make the matchup overall bad, but I think you’re a bigger favorite game 1 than you are a dog the other two games, so I think the matchup is pretty even and, though I don’t hope to get paired against Mono-Black, I also don’t fear it. I beat four Mono-Black decks at the PT.
In game ones, they have a lot of dead cards and little to stop you. Unless they get a particularly great sequence of draws, you should be able to take the game to the late stages and overpower them with Revelations and planeswalkers. I tend to tap out a lot in this matchup, and I’ll use removal spells freely unless it’s my last Detention Sphere, in which case I’ll try to save it for Underworld Connections. If they are playing white, I try to tap out less, because of Obzedat and Elspeth. Often if they play a turn three Lifebane Zombie I will just Detention Sphere it, so that I can then play Jace and minus on the following turn without risking it being killed.
I board like this:
+2 Jace’s Ingenuity
+1 Pithing Needle
+1 Banishing Light
+1 Negate (If I’m on the draw)
-1 Last Breath (If I’m on the play or if they don’t have Specter)
-Some Supreme Verdicts and Azorius Charms (If they don’t play white, I like taking out all Azorius Charms. If they have white, I think you need some to be able to deal with Obzedat, then you need to take out something else.)
After board, things get worse for you because they replace bad cards with great cards. The cards you’re boarding in are also good, but the cards you’re taking out aren’t actually bad; if you had no board versus Mono-Black, it wouldn’t be a disaster. The idea is to combat their discard spells with, well, topdecking. They will probably have eight of them, so they will be able to strip your hand, but you’re still left with many great cards to topdeck—Ingenuity, Revelation, Jace, Elspeth, Aetherling. Even if you end up with no hand, you will eventually draw one of those cards and win the game. I’m much more likely to keep a land-heavy hand than a spell-light one, because I know I will have to topdeck my good spells anyway, so I might as well do that once I have the mana to cast them.
I think this matchup is very good. It’s great pre-board, and I think it’s still favorable post-board. People seem to think Mono-Blue has the edge post-board, since it boards in a bunch of counterspells, but I do not think it does. You can also board in a bunch of counterspells if you want, but the rest of your deck is still better than the rest of their deck. They rely on being cohesive, not on raw power, and they are removing their synergies for counterspells, whereas your deck is naturally more powerful. In many spots, you will kill their early drops and they will start drawing counterspells, and then those won’t actually do anything. If both players are playing draw-go, you’re advantaged, because you will eventually resolve one of your key cards. What will they eventually resolve, Frostburn Weird? Tidebinder Mage? Judge’s Familiar?
On the play:
On the draw:
I’m not sure if this is the correct way to board. People seem to like Dispel a lot more than I do in this matchup. As I said before, I don’t think you need to react much to their sideboard plan—your deck does that naturally. If you take out a bunch of removal for a bunch of noncreature-spell counters (Dispel and Negate), you run the risk of just dying to creatures.
I think Pithing Needle is very good against UW and I’m surprised people don’t board it in. First, one of their sideboard plans is Jace, Memory Adept. Pithing Needle stops that for one mana. The other card they might board in is Aetherling, and Needle is also fine versus that. Then, there are usually two other cards that beat you: Mutavault and Thassa. Needle doesn’t stop Thassa herself, but Thassa’s ability is their only way to break through Elspeth. If you have the Needle + Elspeth combo, they can very rarely win.
This matchup is pretty tricky because you have to decide if it’s going to come down to decking or not. If you think it is, then you don’t want to cast big Revs, and you certainly don’t want to counter theirs. The problem is when you refuse to draw many cards because of decking and then they resolve an Aetherling because they did draw a bunch of extra cards—and you feel very stupid because now you don’t even have anything to draw into in your deck. My inclination is to always assume Aetherling is going to win the game, but to keep decking in mind. Don’t go rampant on card drawing if you don’t have to, but, if you do need to draw some cards, then try to draw enough that you force them to react.
Elixir is superior to Aetherling most of the time in this matchup, since it’s cheaper and actually beats it in single combat. The best way to beat that version is to ultimate Jace and steal their Elixir. It’s actually pretty hard for them to stop Jace from ultimate’ing since their only way to deal with it costs six, and you can usually fight and stop that spell from resolving.
The cards you take out are vastly different depending on what they are playing. My sideboard is very heavily geared toward the mirror, and I expect you to be favored against any normal version, because they will have fewer cards. Normally Thoughtseize is better than any counterspells, but with Jace’s Ingenuity and with people playing Planar Cleansing that might not be true anymore. It’s easy to bottleneck them on mana if their only way to remove a Jace costs six.
If I have no reason to believe they have creatures in their sideboards, I take out all Supreme Verdicts. If I think they have Blood Baron, I keep in two Verdicts and take out Azorius Charms. If I think they have Specter, I keep in Last Breath. I usually take out two Detention Spheres. Against the Planar Cleansing version, Needle is better than Sphere, because it lets you Needle big Jace and they can’t remove it without getting rid of their Jace as well.
Aggro Decks (GW, Mono-Red, Naya)
Those matchups are all right; the faster they are, the worse it is for you (so Mono-Red is the worst of those). If you draw Supreme Verdict you’re heavily favored against all of them, and you are a big dog if you don’t, except sometimes Jace also wins the game for you. Being on the play game one is very important, but it’s not that important game two when your defensive spells cost less.
For sideboarding, you generally want to take out a bunch of counterspells. Dissolve is always bad, and Syncopate is OK on the play and bad on the draw. Negate is good versus Naya and GW, especially if they have Ajani’s Presence—you need a cheap way to deal with their anti-Wrath stuff, and it also gets their Advent of the Wurm. On the play, I think Negate is better than Dispel, since they have more targets (planeswalkers), but on the draw I think Negate might be too slow—you can Wrath on turn five, but you can’t Wrath on turn six. If they have Boros Charm, I’d have Dispel. If they don’t, then Negate. You want Rams against all of them, and probably Banishing Light (yeah, I side that in a lot. I had two main at some point).
An example – GW on the play:
This matchup is pretty good game one and pretty hard games two and three, though it really depends on the sideboard they have.
Game one, you have to understand that they have very few cards that actually matter. If you save your counterspells for those, you are usually going to win the game. It took me a few tries, but once I got a hand of the matchup, I thought it was pretty good game one. The trick is that they can tap out for threats, but you can’t tap out for answers because they have cards like Rakdos’s Return—you need to be patient. If they draw two or three cards from Courser, it’s not actually that bad. It’s not good, but it’s better than having them resolve something like Xenagos if you have no way to deal with it. If you can avoid getting Rakdos’s Returned, you should win this game one.
After board, you improve a lot—Negate is HUGE and Jace’s Ingenuity is pretty good—but they improve a lot more than you. Slaughter Games is their best card, and hopefully they don’t draw it, but if they do you still have Jace’s Ingenuity to somewhat combat it. Having three Negates lets you play more aggressively, since it speeds up your turns by one – you can now cast Elspeth/Jace a turn earlier than you could before.
+2 Jace’s Ingenuity
+1 Pithing Needle
+1 Banishing Light (better than Sphere because of Mistcutter Hydra)
-1 Supreme Verdict
-1 Sphinx’s Revelation (will get Slaughter Games-ed anyway. If you think they don’t have that, or only have one, keep it).
-2 Detention Sphere (not as good as it seems because they can remove it; you want some of this effect, but not a lot).
-2 Azorius Charm
I like keeping in Last Breath, because one of the ways you lose is having to tap out to answer a Courser, and being able to do that instant-speed is pretty good.
I think this covers most of the main matchups you’ll face in the format. I think UW is a pretty good deck, with good game against everyone and some free wins, and I’d certainly recommend it for your upcoming tournaments, though I think in this format every deck is viable. I also rather like the list I played, and right now I wouldn’t change anything.
I hope you’ve enjoyed it, see you next week!