Whenever the tournament schedule is released, I open up Google Calendar and write down every tournament I have any chance of attending. It didn’t take long for me to put a big red X through Grand Prix Memphis. I already try to avoid traveling multiple time zones east since it makes sleeping so difficult. Tack on a Standard GP in the middle of Temur Winter (and Spring and Summer), and I had zero interest.

Fast-forward to the bannings and the release of Rivals of Ixalan. It took some time for me to dive back into the format that I hadn’t enjoyed in the slightest, but I wanted to prepare for a MOCS Playoff event, since the Magic Online Championship is one of the best tournaments of the year. Although my results in testing and in the MOCS itself weren’t too impressive, I was having a blast.

The games were interactive, the decisions mattered, and deck building decisions were relevant. It felt like there were tons of decks to choose from that all give you a fighting chance, which is exactly what everyone likes about Magic! It was Modern, but better: Your decisions matter, your sideboarding choices matter, and your decision points in the game matter.

While this can be true in some number of Modern games, it’s not consistent. There will be sideboard haymakers that you need to play or you can’t win certain matchups, but there will also be cards you’ll never board in for this same reason. Trying to prepare for a diverse field is great, but only when you can actually prepare for it. When you’re trying to beat strategies as divergent as Lantern, Tron, Scapeshift, Burn, Humans, Jund, etc., you have no shot—it’s just a crap shoot. To beat various flavors of Tokens, Hazoret, and The Scarab God, you just need a little creativity.

I’ve written about the deck I played in the MOCS before. R/G Monsters has card advantage built into every creature in the deck. The early drops have eternalize or explore and the late-game threats either come back in Rekindling Phoenix or have haste and kill a creature in Glorybringer. It’s a truly fun deck that I initially thought might break the format.

While it is a strong deck, I felt it had a very weak matchup against the deck I ended up playing, U/B Control. The U/B answers line up so well against you and Vraska’s Contempt is just about the best tool around. The countermagic that is often too slow and clunky against truly aggressive decks like Mono-Red trades up in mana vs. R/G. Torrential Gearhulk, to get card advantage, premium removal, or a counter was excellent, and having to play Struggle // Survive as the only out to The Scarab God (and a deck with no actual outs to Hazoret save blocking) wasn’t the position I wanted to find myself in.

I tried hard to make U/B midrange decks work, especially with green for Vraska, but they also fell short. You’re not actually better against the red decks as all of their removal goes from dead to live and your matchup versus control is rough. You have lots of dead cards, they have none, and they can go over the top of you easily. Some of this is fixed in sideboarding, but losing game 1 just to board into a similar deck to what they’re already playing wasn’t for me either.

This left me just playing U/B Control. The deck is incredible, has game versus everything, and gets to play some of the most powerful cards in Standard. While The Scarab God is the highlight of the format, Torrential Gearhulk has consistently been even better for me. That’s not to say that the God isn’t insane, as it’s truly ridiculous, but to state how great Gearhulk is. It demands an answer and gets you something powerful out of the graveyard every single time.

My biggest “innovation,” or more accurately my biggest change to the deck from most versions, is to play 2 copies of Commit // Memory in the main deck. This is not a great answer to red decks, although putting a Hazoret into their library can be pretty nice. Against control decks, it acts as another counter and answer to the biggest threats in the format. Against white decks, Commit gives you access to a card that can deal with enchantments, sending an Ixalan’s Binding packing.

Memory is also a phenomenal spell and flashing it back with Torrential Gearhulk is your game plan in some long games. You can also hardcast a Memory, namely against creature decks, to really punish any stumble they may have. If you’re ahead on lands, getting those cards back into your hand should give you access to plenty of answers to whatever they may add to the battlefield and let you take control of the game.

I’m playing 0 copies of Censor. I’m pretty confident that’s the correct number as it’s a card you want to cycle almost every time. If I want a 1-mana cycler, it’s likely going to be Hieroglyphic Illumination. Speaking of which, I played 2 copies main and only 3 Glimmer of Genius. Glimmer is the better card, but I already have 2 Commits and 4 Vraska’s Contempts. Getting clogged with 4-mana spells in your deck is a real issue, so the “weaker” Illumination that gives me some early cycling got an extra slot.

I played 3 Search for Azcanta. The card is great. I would continue playing 3 going forward. I even had an Arguel’s Blood Fast in the main deck until the night before, but having yet another weak card against aggro wasn’t worth the slot and I didn’t want to cut a Search for it.

I played 1 Submerged Boneyard as a 9th dual land. The lone change I would make to this deck is to make this an Evolving Wilds. You don’t have that much early demand for double colors and the revolt enabler plus card in the graveyard for Search is likely better.

Some people don’t play 4 Field of Ruin. They’re nuts. Card is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Killing lands that have been flipped by enchantments is great, fixing your colors is great, and potentially color screwing bad mana bases is great. Nothing not to love here.

U/B Control

Eric Froehlich, Top 8 at GP Memphis

The deck played out like a dream. I went 7-1 Day 1, losing a match to R/B Aggro that I think I just played abysmally. Day 2 went even more smoothly as I started 5-0 before being able to draw into the Top 8 at 12-1. I didn’t play against any token strategies, which is my worst matchup, but I also didn’t face any G/B Snake (the best matchup). Here’s what I did face:

1-0 vs. U/B Control
3-0 vs. Grixis Control
1-0 vs. Mono-Black Aggro
1-1 vs. R/B Aggro
2-0 vs. Mono-Red
1-0 vs. U/B Midrange

While none of these matchups are absolute blood baths in your favor, I love how this deck is positioned versus the field. Versus the midrange decks and Grixis, they have dead cards where you don’t with a similar late game. You have all of the answers versus aggro with even more in the sideboard, although if they play tight the matchup is always going to be very close. My win percentage against aggro has been incredible and I’m inclined to believe that U/B Control is a slight favorite against red, but if that’s true it’s definitely going to be slight and I don’t have near the sample large enough to know for sure.

Sideboard Guide

Vs. Mono Red

Out on the Draw

Out on the Play

In

This is a close matchup that doesn’t change much after sideboarding. If they flood out, get screwed, or draw too many lousy burn spells in game 1, it’s very hard for them to win. If you stumble or draw too many clunky cards without the early interaction, it’s very hard for you to win. Your good draws match up very well against their good draws when you’re on the play, but you can fall too far behind on the draw.

You get a little less clunky after board and have more cards that only cost 2 while they add some powerful threats to their deck that aren’t actually very good in the matchup. Rekindling Phoenix is a great card, but a 4-mana creature without haste against a deck with 3+ copies of Essence Scatter, Disallow, and Vraska’s Contempt is just mediocre and it doesn’t hit hard enough. Your creatures are are brick walls. An unanswered Chandra or Glorybringer beats you, but your deck has tons of answers to those cards. This is the reason why you can’t cut many Disallows, and keeping all 4 is totally reasonable.

Vs. U/B Control

Out

In

You’ve got lots of cheap interaction and 5 flip enchantments in your deck. I cut a little of the creature removal that can handle bigger threats because you don’t want to get flooded on it and players rarely cast their big spells into the open mana anyways. Blood Fast completely annihilates decks that can’t put a clock on you and having 3 Search for Azcanta is important to push that advantage.

Vs. R/G Monsters

Out

In

There’s almost no sideboarding here as your main deck is their nightmare. You have all the removal and counters that line up with their threats extremely well and often net mana. This gives you time to fire off card drawing spells and run away with the game with Search for Azcanta. The biggest problem after sideboard is Carnage Tyrant, which is the main reason Last Reckoning is in my sideboard. Having the sweeper, 2 Commits to put it into their library when on the stack, and The Scarab God and Gearhulks to block means that it’s a good threat but far from unbeatable. Putting a Carnage Tyrant into their library (or Nezahal vs. control) and then casting Memory if you don’t have a good answer or board presence is a pretty sweet line.

Vs. Grixis Midrange

Out

In

I don’t want to go too heavy on answers to spells in Negate and Duress, but having access to a couple is solid. You need a few answers to creatures like Siphoners and Virtuosos, but you can’t have a ton of Fatal Pushes in your deck or you risk too many dead cards. Taking hits for a few turns, even when spending it on a Blood Fast, will still allow you to get ahead. Essence Scatter is much better on the play than on the draw to handle Siphoner, so feel free to mix and match as you see fit.

Vs. Tokens

Out

In

You have more bad cards to take out than good cards to bring in. You need to keep some answers to Vraska and creatures out of the sideboard, but removal spells are pretty bad against tokens. Having an early Duress or Negate to stop their Stockpile is great, but you don’t always have it and can fall far behind. Commits give you some answers to enchantments, but this is your worst matchup for a reason. Luckily, you have lots of card advantage and they have a reasonably high fail rate (many of their cards just don’t do anything without the other pieces), so you always have a chance. If the deck picks up in popularity in paper tournaments, a River’s Rebuke will find its way into my sideboard (likely over the Deadeye Tracker).

Figuring out how you want to sideboard and play out most matchups is luckily pretty intuitive in this deck. You have early interaction for aggressive creatures and clunkier spells for slower matchups… fix your deck for the appropriate matchup! Just make sure not to cut too many slower cards and counters against red since they do bring in lots of expensive cards after sideboard and you should be fine.

U/B Control feels like it’s easily the best deck in Standard right now, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tons of great options. There are so many decks capable of taking down a tournament on any given weekend, so pilot what you know and love, just be prepared to beat control!