Most people that know me understand that sometimes I just ignore all logic and go with what would be the most fun or entertaining for an event. This is evident when I refuse to put down the Kiki-Pod deck, or when I play decks like Esper Control or 5 Color-Goodstuff in local Magic tournaments even though they are horrible placed in any metagame.
Sometimes though, I just do not enjoy a format no matter what I do. There are only two things you can do in these situations; play something I always enjoy piloting regardless of format, or play to get the maximum enjoyment out of upsetting someone if you do well. Sometimes, I get to do both of these things in the SAME tournament. The SCG Open in Cincinnati was to be one of those tournaments, even if I did have a legit reason behind my trolling.
So it was settled, the old standby UW Control it was, but not without what my round five opponent Ken Crocker called “spice.” What was that spice you say? Red of course. There’s a little history between UWR Control and my good friend Jeff Hoogland. He hates the deck. He thinks it is the absolute worst, and since Brian Kibler unleashed the GR Burning Earth monstrosity on the format it has only become more hostile for a slow moving three color deck that has few answers for a resolved enchantment.
The last time I played UWR Control there were a few things I had issues with, mostly the aforementioned enchantments like Underworld Connections, Detention Sphere or Oblivion Ring, but also planeswalkers like Liliana of the Veil or any flavor of Garruk. There are a few ways to combat these problems without causing too much pain to the way the deck functions. The answer I chose was a third Warleader’s Helix and a Planar Cleansing both in the main deck and the sideboard. Here is the list I played at SCG Cincinnati:
Ryan Hovis’ URW Con(troll)
There are a few odd things about this decklist. First, there aren’t any basic lands. What’s the point? Burning Earth is going to get you if you don’t remove it, and a measly three basic lands aren’t saving you. The one basic Island in the deck I replaced with a Ghost Quarter. Only once in the whole tournament did it actually matter, and was when I was Ghost Quartered. Did the lack of a basic matter? Not one bit. The second thing is the lack of Pillar of Flame in the maindeck and the shortage of them in the 75 as a whole. Gerry Thompson has been known to say if you are not playing red for Pillar of Flame then you should rethink if you should play red at all. Well, these are not the reasons I chose to play UWR Control. The reason I choose to add red to a deck I normally sported as just UW Control at larger tournaments was the ability to play Warleader’s Helix and Desolate Lighthouse. Both of these cards are powerhouses in their own right.
Warleader’s Helix is potentially the most versatile card in the UWR Control deck. It serves as a way to race opposing aggressive strategies with Restoration Angels by serving up a eight point life swing. Also it kills opposing Restoration Angels, which are one of the best cards in the mirror. You can also aim it at planeswalkers as an easy way to take them out. My personal favorite use of Warleader’s Helix? The face. It’s incredible at closing a game out.
Desolate Lighthouse is also amazing at ending a game. This card dominates the control mirror potentially more than Nephalia Drownyard as you no longer need Sphinx’s Revelations that are larger than three at the most. All you do is keep pace with how many lands your opponent has, with a max of about ten to twelve lands. Desolate Lighthouse is no slouch in the aggro and midrange matchups either. In these matchups having more than seven lands can be completely useless, but luckily the Lighthouse turns all those excess lands into game winners. Anyone who has watched me play this version of the deck has seen this land in action. Desolate Lighthouse has won me games against Nephalia Drownyard, Moorland Haunt, Gavony Township, aggressive red and white decks, Jund, and whatever other deck you can think of. I can think of many many games where I kill my opponent with less than ten cards left in my deck due to this land.
In the Open, Planar Cleansing was an all-star every time I cast it. Removing problematic permaments en masse that I otherwise could not deal with. This card also mostly caught people off guard coming from a UWR Control deck and was seen getting back multiple Restoration Angels, Augur of Bolas, and even an Oblivion Ring during the day.
The duo of Renounce the Guilds and Celestial Flare were excellent out of my board all day. Renounce single-handedly took out a BRW Aristocrat deck and multiple times removed my opponents Detention Spheres at key points. Celestial Flare did work against every non-Aristocrats deck I played. Since I side this card in for almost every matchup, you might think it would fit the bill as a main deck card like it was in the UW Control deck I ran, and it actually might make the first sixty in the future. It’s rough though, as Turn//Burn is a very powerful card in its own right because of it’s ability to one for one a Thragtusk, and also takes out Obzedat with more regularity.
In the tournament, I beat RBW Aristocrats, three UW Control, Jund, GR Aggro, and Hexproof. I lost to a GW Aggro deck, a Junk Aristocrats deck, and drew with another UW Control player. I felt the tournament went fairly well for me overall despite finishing 29th. A few more fifth lands hit on time would have made a world of difference.
The UW Control mirrors were very skill dependent, and going 3-0-1 against them is pretty good. For sideboarding, I kept a singleton Supreme Verdict in as an emergency button, along with two Celestial Flares to deal with their Restoration Angels. A single Renounce the Guilds can remove Detention Sphere at an important moment, and is much better than the Planar Cleansing anyway. Keeping in Essence Scatter is essential to deal with Aetherling, Restoration Angels, and the last ditch Snapcaster Mage that always comes up.
My GR Aggro opponent played multiple Burning Earths, a Thundermaw Hellkite, and a Domri Rade, none of which resolved. I kept my counterspells in against these decks even on the draw as they are very weak to them. Too many people are cutting them for spells that only situationally deal with the heavy hitters.
My losses came to two different aggressive non-red decks where simple bad luck took over. All three games I lost were due to me not hitting my fifth land for multiple turns. This is just something that happens with the UW Control decks as not every game can run smoothly when you have to interact every turn and can’t afford to cast Think Twice in the early turns.
The moral of this whole story is do not let one card ruin your fun, and don’t be scared of Burning Earth. UWR Control, despite the public perception, was one of the best choices last weekend due to the matchups that were likely, and the decline of Grull as a powerhouse in the format. The decks that preyed on GR aggro were all fairly good matchups for the UWR deck. You were better in the mirrors, better against Jund, and better against the Aristocrats decks of any variety.
With the format rotation looming, these few weeks are your last chances to play with these decks before control decks become more focused on proactive game plans to combat an unknown field. These are fun decks to play. so don’t miss out! Also, look out for a future article on what Sphinx’s Revelation deck I’ll be running once the format rotates, since as you know, I won’t stray too far away from my favored UW Control cards!
Ryan Hovis @mxfrodo195 on Twitter