On Monday January 1st, 2018, FacetoFace Games Toronto held their first Sunday Showdown of the year. The format was Modern and the event was taken down by local powerhouse Edgar Magalhaes piloting Amulet Titan. As stated in Keith Capstick’s recap article over at ManaDeprived.com, this was a very atypical top 8 configuration for the city of Toronto. With the city shifting away from GBx decks, this opened up some space for others to shine. The top 8 concluded as follows:
1 – Amulet Titan (Edgar Magalhaes)
2 – Lantern Control (Austin Matthews)
3 – U/R Storm (Peter Howe)
4 – Burn (Elliot Tzaneteas)
5 – Bogles (Stefan De Lassa)
6 – U/B Control (Les Walderman)
7 – Lantern Control (Ryan Sandrin)
8 – Temur Moon (Matthew Dilks)
There is a very healthy mixture of different decks here and it’s almost refreshing to see that Bogles can still pop up at anytime.
The deck that stood out to me the most here was Les Walderman’s U/B Control deck. For a change of pace, this week we’re going to explore this deck as a clearly competitive rogue option in modern. Dimir (U/B) Control is not considered top tier and has many differences than the more typical UWx and Blue Moon control decks. This week, I caught up with Les Walderman on Facebook, and to my surprise he graciously accepted an interview on his deck. Let’s check out the list Les played to a 6th place finish:
2x Torrential Gearhulk
2x Liliana, the Last Hope
2x Jace, Architect of Thought
2x Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
4x Serum Visions
4x Fatal Push
3x Spreading Seas
3x Cryptic Command
2x Mana Leak
2x Supreme Will
1x Tribute to Hunger
1x Logic Knot
1x Hero’s Downfall
1x Vraska’s Contempt
2x Watery Grave
4x Drowned Catacombs
4x Field of Ruin
4x Polluted Delta
2x Bloodstained Mire
3x Flaying Tendrils
3x Rain of Tears
2x Surgical Extraction
2x Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1x Summary Dismissal
1x Echoing Truth
1x Hero’s Downfall
Les Walderman’s first introduction to Magic: the Gathering was all the way back around the time of Tempest and Fifth Edition (approx. 1997). Although he played casually at the time, Les took a break and ended up revisiting M:tG competitively during the Return to Ravnica / Theros standard in 2013. As many people do, Les started off competitively in standard but quickly started competing in drafts and the modern format as well. It was then he found his love for the Modern format and of blue based decks. He’ll play anything now from draft to Legacy, but particularly enjoys the Modern and Legacy formats. Les is known in his immediate circle of friends and magic community for never being able to close events. His track record boasts multiple top 8 finishes at Premier in-store events, as well as six second place close calls in Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers.
Let’s see what Walderman had to say about his deck;
Q1: This is a little bit different than what is considered a “top tier” control deck in Modern. Can you explain how you ended up on U/B Control?
A: I have played every type of blue based control deck in modern: Grixis, Jeskai, Blue Moon, Esper and UW and I have had issues with each of them. Control is typically very hard to play in Modern because you have to have answers to such a wide variety of decks / strategies. Most recently there has been a shift towards UW control that revolves around Gideon Planeswalkers and Supreme Verdicts. […] My main issue with the deck is Path to Exile. It is both fantastic and terrible in UW and there’s nothing you can do about it. The deck also has serious issues dealing with Planeswalkers in a non-permanent based method (i.e. Detention Sphere). Black has a variety of removal that matches up way better against early aggressive creatures and Planeswalkers […] Generally speaking black gives a player a method to interact with almost everything an opponent is doing on their side of the board at instant speed. The largest boon of blue-black based control is the fact that it reduces the amount of permanents you need to play and increases the amount of instant speed interaction that you have.
Q2: How does this deck function? How does it typically approach and/or close out a game?
A: In the early game you are sculpting your hand with Serum Visions and Opt to find interaction that will carry you into the mid and late game. At this point in the game you are typically casting Fatal Pushes and disrupting mana production by means of Spreading Seas and Field of Ruin. The goal in the early game is to keep the board clear enough so you can land a Planeswalker to start generating card advantage. […] You are either going to win the game by ultimating Planeswalkers or beating in with Torrential Gearhulks. […] Whatever the case may be, you usually have one permanent that you need to invest your resources into protecting and that permanent will see you win or lose the game.
Q3: It’s interesting to see singleton copies of Hero’s Downfall and Vraska’s Contempt being played in modern. Do you feel these two spells in particular have translated well into the this format?
A: Planeswalkers are a large part of the modern meta at the moment and control decks need to have ways of interacting with them efficiently. […] Karn Liberated, Liliana of the Veil and Nahiri, the Harbinger, to name a few, are problematic walkers for a control deck. If any of these walkers resolve a control deck needs a way of removing the threat. Enchantment removal, like Detention Sphere, is one way but is vulnerable to Abrupt Decay. Hero’s Downfall is a clear, albeit expensive, answer to the problem. […] I frequently stabilize with this control deck below 10 life and Vraska’s Contempt helps with a measure of life gain. The exile clause on it is also very relevant. Black rarely gets exile effects, or they are very over costed. This allows my deck to deal with Wurmcoil Engine, Matter Reshaper, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on a one-to-one basis.
Q4: You play exactly two creatures in the main board. How exactly have these two Torrential Gearhulks been stacking up in modern?
A: A lot of people have issue with the fact that I run 2 Torrential Gearhulks and no Snapcaster Mages in my list but a lot of thought has gone into this. Generally speaking, control decks have been cutting down the number of Snapcaster Mages down to about two. When you have so few in the deck, most of the time you are casting Snapcaster Mage to flashback a Cryptic Command, which is 6 mana. At that point, 6 mana just casts a Torrential Gearhulk and you get a bigger body out of the exchange. Torrential Gearhulk can actually attack and block while Snapcaster Mage is a roadblock at best. You can construct a U/B control deck with Snapcaster Mages but I have enjoyed having a threat that is hard to kill and can end games quickly. There is also a high degree of synergy between the Torrential Gearhulks and Liliana, the Last Hope.
Q5: Can you provide a concise guide to your sideboard and reasons for individual selections?
A: The Flaying Tendrils is the best low curve wrath available in black. The exile effect on the spell is very relevant in the current modern metagame. Flaying Tendrils comes in against any mana dork deck that tries to go wide. It is especially useful against Voice of Resurgence, Kitchen Finks, Matter Reshaper, Lingering Souls and the Robots deck. Dispels help fight counter wars/company decks and are typically just for those match ups. Rain of Tears, which could also be Fulminator Mages, are for the big mana decks like Scapeshift and Tron where you need to disrupt their mana base as much as possible. The Surgical Extractions come in when there is specifically one card in a matchup that you cannot beat, i.e. Ad Nauseam. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is usually boarded in for mid-range and control match ups where you want a higher threat density in the deck. Summary Dismissal is for Tron and Storm. It’s an expensive “catch-all” counter spell that can save you from out of nowhere. Echoing Truth is a flexible card to help deal with artifacts and enchantments that the deck typically has issues with. More than likely this card can be replaced with Hurkyl’s Recall or even Ceremonious Rejection.
Q6: Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver doesn’t come up too often anymore. How did you end up deciding to play this underused Planeswalker?
A: Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver gives the deck another vector of attack – mill. Several decks in modern are combo decks and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver can cause major problems if left unchecked. For example, Scapeshift requires a certain number of mountains to kill you. What happens if Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver mills those mountains? […] all the Ensnaring Bridges in your lantern opponent’s deck? Besides this, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver gives you a way of beating infinite life out of Collected Company decks. Your opponent can go to infinite life and you can still kill them through mill. Although the ultimate may rarely, if ever become relevant, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver‘s minus can impact games. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver can produce threats from opponents’ decks and you can actually kill your opponents with their own creatures.
Q7: Do you have any game play tips for this deck? What are the typical “got ya” moments? What are some typical mistakes opponents make while playing against you?
A: Opponents very regularly board in Rest in Peace and Grafdigger’s Cage against me and ultimately the cards do little, if anything. I also notice that players keep in Fatal Pushes after board because they are worried that I will have threats that they can’t deal with. In the end that’s just more dead card stranded in their hands that are not relevant in the match up. I have two big game play tips for the deck: 1. Field of Ruin is a great way to enable revolt for Fatal Push. 2. Supreme Will should be used to dig for answers or gas rather than countering spells if at all possible. I think the best “got ya” moment was when I ultimated Jace, Architect of Thought against a Sun/Moon opponent and cast his Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Jace, Architect of Thought actually casts the card, so I got the Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and the extra turn, which was just great.
Q8: How strict is this 75? Are there flex spots, and if so, what cards come in and out?
A: I have played around with my list for months and what I played at this event was the closest I have to my best list so far. You could cut things like Tribute to Hunger and Logic Knot as well as Opt but I find all of those niche cards important to have in the deck. In the past I have tried cards like Pull from Tomorrow and Glimmer of Genius to act as card draw engines. I still believe both cards have merit and could be played in the deck. You can also run Snapcaster Mages in the deck if you are against using the Torrential Gearhulks. I do not believe that too much else in the deck can be changed or it would begin to lose effectiveness. The sideboard, however, still has room to grow and change. I have had Vendilion Cliques, Ob Nixilis Reignited, Cranial Extractions, Night of Souls’ Betrayal, Disfigures, Collective Brutality, Duress, and Negates in the board and they have all served a purpose. The board should be designed around what you expect to play against and what tools you believe that you will need. I even played Gifted Aetherborn at one point because the burn match up was so horrendous.
Q9: Can you detail the some of the considerations made when forming this deck’s mana base?
A: One of the biggest advantages to running a two color deck is the ability to run colorless lands. In modern, I believe that effective control decks need to be aware of lands and have a game plan for dealing with big mana decks. Field of Ruin allows the deck to interact with lands while not actually going down on lands itself. In the past I have run Ghost Quarters and / Tectonic Edges and these lands make it difficult to get up to Cryptic Command and Torrential Gearhulk mana. The other big change in my mana base is the lack of man lands. There are no Creeping Tar Pits in the list because I want removal to be dead draws for opponents. Additionally, I want my mana to come into play untapped as much as possible. If required, I want to be able to cast Damnation on turn 4 consistently, whenever possible. The check-lands in the deck (Drowned Catacomb) work with the basic heavy land base to give me painless and stable main when required.
Q10: Moving forward, would you make any changes?
A: The only major weaknesses I have seen out of the deck currently are the Burn and Lantern Control match ups. I’m not too sure how many sideboard slots I want to dedicate to these decks. Every deck in modern has a foil and I know that these are mine. My clock is very slow. Moving forward I will continue to keep an eye out for cheap Dimir Planeswalkers that can be integrated into the deck, as well as life gain effects in black. I’m pretty happy with the main board composition of the deck but the sideboard may need some changing in the weeks ahead. I’m planning on taking the deck to GP Toronto so I will be working on it for the next month.
…and there you have it! If you have a hankering for playing a sweet control deck in modern or just want a change of pace, maybe you should consider taking a page out of Les Walderman’s book. I hope you have all enjoyed a little bit of a different approach to my weekly article series here with a text interview on a more competitive slanted deck.
As always, it has been a pleasure bringing you Modern content, and if you have any comments, constructive criticism or requests for material to be covered please do not be afraid to comment and share!
Thanks for joining me, Cody McCowell, for another edition of the Rogue Report!