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Silvestri Says – UBlack to the Future

Now that this weekend is in the books I can finally talk about potentially the best deck in Standard in actual detail instead of just mentioning it was a better deck than Solar Flare. Last week in my pre-States article I talked about how I felt two color control decks were stronger than their esper flavored counterparts and now I can finally talk about specifics.

Originally I didn’t want to talk about UB Control in detail because my initial outing with the deck was less than outstanding. However in testing the deck proved to be very powerful and though chatter with Alex McCormick, part of the Australian team which took UB to Brisbane I confirmed my suspicions. Once I found out there was a group of them lined up on a UB build, it seemed a little crass to use a bunch of good discussion material gained from them and write it in an article right before the GP. Now instead of merely suggesting UB Control is a powerful strategy I can just point to GP Brisbane.

*For those who aren’t familiar, the land down under actually has some skilled players that aren’t just people flying in to grind. Just look at who Jeremy Neeman and the team he was on consisted of essentially every good player in that region.

What I find interesting is that we’ve essentially traveled back in time and have the same players from a year ago with a different wardrobe. A couple of Mono Red decks, UW pre-Squadron Hawk, a RG Ramp deck and UB Control. The main difference being that we’ve seemingly accelerated the process a couple of months to get to this point. As Patrick Chapin pointed out, we’ve gone through 3 months of last years meta in less than a month. It’ll be very interesting to see what the future trends are and what decks gain and lose traction as actual pillars of the format rise up.

As for UB over Solar Flare, my general points about the deck comparisons were that the mana was a lot more reasonable in UB and you had room for more utility then Flare lists. By not dedicating so much space for [card unburial rites]Rites[/card] / [card sun titan]Titan[/card] / [card liliana of the veil]Liliana[/card] as an engine you freed up 8-10 slots depending on exact numbers. What I also wanted to mention is that not only do you get a cleaner manabase, but you also get access to sweet lands which are effectively extra spells and win-cons. Not much of a shock there but you would be amazed how many people write this off as a non-factor when looking at the advantages of a deck. How many people even brought up [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] as a realistic option? Now it seems even clearer that having a mana base which can support some combo of Drownyard, [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] and [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] is a huge boon compared to other potential control strategies.

Lands and mana in general has been undervalud in general since the rotation took place with only token nods given to decks with good mana until Wolf Run Ramp came along. I honestly underrated how powerful the lands would be outside of aggressive strategies and just didn’t fully appreciate how strong they were until seeing Wolf Run in action. [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] was the same way, once I played a few games with it and saw how effective it was for the Aussie lads I knew it would be the new go-to way to win grind mirrors.

Before States I posted this on my Facebook to highlight the single thing I was sure about pre-States / Grand Prix:

Gumball: “79% of stair accidents happen on the stairs.”

Wait, sorry, wrong quote.

“My only advice for States / 1k / standard that doesn’t involve W/u Humans or UB control: Absolutely make sure you have a way to interact with lands or otherwise disrupt their effect in some way. [card]Frost Titan[/card], [card]Ghost Quarter[/card], [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] and a few other cards are v. reasonable at this. If you can’t interact with them meaningfully, you best be sure you can race or avoid them ([card]Devil’s Play[/card] or [card]Sorin’s Vengeance[/card] for example).”

The next month of Standard tournaments is going to be defined in part by decks that use various utility lands well. Even older ones like [card]Glimmerpost[/card] and [card]Buried Ruin[/card] may have a chance to shine if [card]Primeval Titan[/card] decks continue to evolve down different paths. I certainly don’t see [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] or the four played utility INN lands going anywhere in the near future and maybe even [card]Stensia Bloodhall[/card] will see some play when all is said and done. The lack of effective ways to interact with lands only bolsters their strength and reminds everyone that [card]Primeval Titan[/card] is still the best Titan.

Enough broad strokes though, let’s look at the nitty gritty details.

Jeremy Neeman – 1st GP Brisbane

[deck]4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
2 Ghost Quarter
9 Island
2 Nephalia Drownyard
6 Swamp
3 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Grave Titan
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Black Sun’s Zenith
4 Doom Blade
1 Geth’s Verdict
4 Mana Leak
4 Dissipate
1 Negate
4 Think Twice
3 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Wring Flesh
Sideboard:
1 Black Sun’s Zenith
1 Negate
2 Nephalia Drownyard
1 Nihil Spellbomb
3 Phantasmal Image
3 Ratchet Bomb
3 Spellskite
1 Wring Flesh[/deck]

Why is UB Control a legitimate strategy even after the loss of its life-sustaining [card]Jace Beleren[/card] blood was removed? As it turns out, [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] make for a better card advantage engine then Jace ever did. Snapcaster rebuying relevant cards is huge and [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] digs just deep enough to be a very strong card instead of just being window dressing. Just as mono red players get to complain about fighting against [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] multiples times a match, now everyone gets to weep about the four [card]Doom Blade[/card] you used in a game or the second* [card]Sorin’s Vengeance[/card].

With the explosion in popularity of Wolf Run Ramp this weekend, winning something like 20 States / Provinces and potentially more (I don’t have access to all the results as of this time) the heavy countermagic suite is a godsend. Being able to shut down Wolf Run’s biggest non-land threats effectively and before they can gain any sort of advantage is one of the only reasons UB is advantages over RG. Additionally you could also use [card]Despise[/card] as a weapon against them which hits nearly every relevant spell in the deck and can easily be bought back with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] on turn three to turn most RG hands into only mana. In fact [card]Despise[/card] may be one of the best cards in the format if the metagame shifts back toward green midrange, red, tokens and control.

Moving on I want to talk about the main win condition of the deck… No it isn’t [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card]. I’ve already gushed about [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] and until you play the card you may be incredulous about how many games you’ll really win with it. As it turns out, putting [card]Millstone[/card] onto a land makes it more than playable and I bet you’ll win half your matches with milling, and possibly more in a metagame where everyone except red and GW durdle around before enacting their main strategies. In the mirror or against Solar Flare nearly every game will come down to milling action and whoever gets ahead on cards in library barring an absolutely atrocious draw by one side. Doing this also plays around every traditional late-game trump these decks have used in control mirrors.

Sure a [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card] and [card]Karn Liberated[/card] can end a game just fine, but more often than not they’ll be rotting in your land for a signficant period of time while you set up your play. Plus now that [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] is a card it’s even harder to get more than a single usage from them assuming they don’t just use Mr. Tiago to just rebuy a [card]Negate[/card] or [card]Dissipate[/card]. As people catch onto this plan it’ll lose some effectiveness and creatures plus planeswalkers will even things out a bit, but right now the mill plan is a very real advantage UB has over other control strategies in the format.

As for non-Drownyard win conditions the classic UB Control triplets of [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card], [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] and [card]Grave Titan[/card] all make appearances in the deck. Though I believe with the new metagame beginning to settle and actual pillars establishing themselves that players will move away from [card]Grave Titan[/card]. The more I play with [card]Grave Titan[/card] against the other decks I think are real, the only times I like [card]Grave Titan[/card] over other options is against G/W Tokens since the army in a can mode can maximize the amount of life you save. Past that it just doesn’t have the same impact as the other Titans or Sphinx as a finisher.

Just as [card]Primeval Titan[/card] has become the next [card]Primeval Titan[/card], [card]Frost Titan[/card] may be heralded again in the upcoming weeks as a solid compliment to [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] and [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card]. Once again if Titans are mainstays of the metagame, [card]Frost Titan[/card] wins those mirrors and can shut down [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card] and kill off [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] as necessary. It also is nowhere near as obnoxious as [card]Grave Titan[/card] if the opponent copies it with a Clone and is one of the only ways UB can beat a resolved [card]Shrine of Burning Rage[/card] or [card]Shrine of Loyal Legions[/card].

As for [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] it wasn’t at its best when you absolutely needed a board presence, but I doubt that will be anywhere near necessary anymore. There are effectively five or six legitimate strategies that will see any significant amount of play and only in one of them is Sphinx significantly worse than any other option. Otherwise, drawing cards is just as powerful as it’s always been and being able to absorb the bulk of a powered-up [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] swing in a pinch has won me more than one game.

Removal-wise UB excels and [card]Doom Blade[/card] is once again the staple removal spell of the format. While Neeman preferred [card]Geth’s Verdict[/card] as an answer to Hexproof creatures I rather run [card]Tribute to Hunger[/card] as I found the lifegain outweighed the extra mana cost. YMMV on that though, I simply recommend that you run some sacrifice effect to help out against creatures like [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] and [card thrun, the last troll]Thrun[/card]. Meanwhile [card]Wring Flesh[/card] is the concession to [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card] that you make in a deck without access to [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]. Having a card you can play on the draw and still kill Noble with is a big deal and only being a single B to cast means you almost never have a hand that can’t cast it early, unlike [card]Sorin’s Thirst[/card]. [card]Dead Weight[/card] was also considered, but the ability to rebuy it down the road and extra insurance against [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] gives [card]Wring Flesh[/card] the nod.

*You may have noticed I specifically mention [card]Sorin’s Vengeance[/card] as I was trying a singleton out in a number of my UB decks in the name of science. Also to do this:

With regards to general match-ups, the only match I’m really worried about playing is mono red simply due to [card]Shrine of Burning Rage[/card]. [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card] is also more obnoxious than [card]Goblin Guide[/card] was and [card]Brimstone Volley[/card] is a better class of burn spell against control that people will take for granted until it leaves the format. Think of it as a variation of [card]Staggershock[/card] in that regard. The Wolf Ramp match also isn’t a cakewalk by any stretch, however the heavy-duty counter suite gives you a good shot on the play and UB can easily adapt to make it a favorable match against the most popular versions of Wolf Ramp.

You are favored in any long grindy control mirror to a ridiculous degree thanks to the inevitability your engine cards and [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] give you and only the mirror match is a concern. By running more stack interaction than all but the most control driven UW decks, you can also dominate the stack and make it very easy to drive the control opponent into a corner where he’s forced to expand resources into losing efforts. More aggressive UW plans can fight this effectively with use of [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] and [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], but it all depends if that type of deck is still a real factor in the metagame. If it requires attention then perhaps Liliana will find her home back in the deck, most likely in the sideboard, and can help fight off the powerful three drops at WU’s disposal.

As for other types of strategies, some combination of [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card], countermagic and powerful six-drops will typically beat them into submission. If more heavy-duty planeswalker or midrange grinder decks become popular then I wouldn’t be shocked to see [card]Despise[/card] become a maindeck star. The only exception to this generalization that sticks out in my mind is Mono Black Infect, which is the real deal and one of the more powerful plans to be on in this field. Just like the emergence of Wolf Run decks, the metagame currently isn’t set-up to deal with fast Infect creatures or [card]Phyrexian Crusader[/card]. I would be wary to keep an eye on any success the deck has to stay ahead of any potential explosion in popularity.

After this past weekend the new deck with a target on its back won’t be UB Control or Solar Flare (last week’s boogeyman), but instead will be Wolf Run Ramp and for good reason. In just a few short weeks we’ve already moved past the point where playing decks that spend a billion turns durdling and just trying to overpower the opponent are viable options. Instead we have a deck that pushes out very powerful threats starting on turn three / four and simultaneously has one of the best long games in the format. Wolf Run has earned every bit of praise and with the results its had now the metagame will respond in turn.

If you play Wolf Run or plan to in the future then expect a lot more resistance and more people playing your tough matches then this past week. It may take more than a week for people to fully adjust, but I’d be very surprised if the format didn’t end up looking like Wolf Run Ramp, RDW, UB Control, UW Control and G/W Tokens. Sprinkle in some Tempered Steel, UW Aggro, Mono Black Infect and diehard Solar Flare and Birthing Pod players and you have quite the diverse crowd.

Red Aggro in particular seems undervalued at the moment and I’m a bit puzzled by how many people are brushing the deck off. It has one of the few legitimate Wolf Run matches without any major changes to the deck’s shell, is strong against UB and can be adapted to fight against any hate card in the format. If you don’t like your Wolf Run match as it stands and feel like you drifted too far toward attacking Solar Flare, then run a more aggressive curve and board Threaten effects. Both [card]Act of Aggression[/card] and [card]Traitorous Blood[/card] are really effective against Wolf Run and can have their some use against control strategies. Worried about [card]Tree of Redemption[/card] or other large green creatures ruining your fun? Instead of splashing green for [card]Ancient Grudge[/card], try the black splash for [card]Doom Blade[/card] and [card]Deathmark[/card] instead and see how you fare.

That’s all for this week, next week hopefully all the States results will be in and we can pick out the most interesting lists from them. I know Travis Woo and Gavin Verhey had a sweet brew for this weekend and a fair number of other lists have sounded quite interesting. Until then!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

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