UW Control Lexicon: Part II Pivoting, Role Assessment & Turning the Corner

This portion aims to assist players with identifying the importance of role assessment, pivoting, and turning the corner in various matchups, as well as hitting some highlights regarding card selection used to switch gears and bring the fight to the battlefield against decks that require pressure and clock to pull out a win. These card choices are used to give us the option of changing our role and adapting depending on the matchup. 

As difficult as it may be to admit, there are decks in Modern that have the ability to out-value you with inevitable devastation if given enough time to develop their game plan. This is why it’s important to be able to turn up the heat post-board and bring the beatdown, or incorporate a combo win condition like Narset, Parter of Veils + Geier Reach Sanitarium/Teferi’s Puzzle Box or Teferi, Time Raveler + Knowledge Pool. The latter are less common, but always an option.

For example, against Humans, we are to take the role of what we do best. We need to be the Control deck, but can implement creatures as additional defense, while also providing the ability to turn the corner when we’re ready to. More importantly, our focus in this matchup is to diversify our card choices and answers to their board in order to dodge Meddling Mage.

Against a big mana deck like Tron that has an inevitably powerful late game, we are better off being the aggressor as early as turn 2 Snapcaster Mage or Stoneforge Mystic, but it’s important to understand when to leverage that window of opportunity or you could just as easily get blown out. This typically involves having a combination of disruption and pressure, or being able to tap out while holding up Force of Negation/Ceremonious Rejection. Combining cheap spells like Ceremonious rejection, Spell Pierce, Force of Negation, Dovin’s Veto, and Surgical Extraction alongside Stoneforge Mystic or Flash creatures, such as Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique, Spell Queller, Brazen Borrower, Shark Typhoon and Restoration Angel to interact more in the early-to-mid turns and turn up the heat on their life total are ways to adopt this role. Geist of Saint Traft, Monastery Mentor, Gideon of the Trials, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar would be the best non-Flash threats, which require more careful timing, such as playing them following Spreading Seas or while holding up a counter.

We’re going to identify relevant card text ideal for creatures we choose for this transformational plan. Creatures with Flash, Flying, First Strike, Lifelink, Hexproof, and relevant Enter the Battlefield effects.

Undeniably the most powerful creature at our disposal. Many players have chosen to play Snapcaster Mage in varying quantities from 1-4 copies. Despite its obvious versatility, there are deck building restrictions behind this card. Before the printing of Narset, Parter of Veils and Teferi, Time Raveler, when Terminus builds ran rampant, the average number of Snapcaster Mage was 2-3. This was because the average converted mana cast of spells in UW control was significantly higher due to cards like Terminus and higher density of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In current builds, 3-4 is a reasonable number to play again because it provides more copies of Archmage’s Charm and Cryptic Command.

One of its most valuable, though sometimes undervalued, assets is it’s 2/1 body can be a relevant resource all on its own. If you have played UW Control long enough, you know what it feels like to Flash in that 2/1 beat stick on turn 2 to throw down some pressure.

One of the most timeless tools used in Blue decks and for good reason.  A 3/1 Flash and Flying body that disrupts your opponent’s hand is what you get at face value from Vendilion Clique. There are a few interesting tricks and interactions that make Vendilion Clique one of the most relevant creatures in our UW arsenal. This feisty Faerie can be anything from an upgraded Ambush Viper against sticky and disruptive Humans, to a disruptive and resilient clock against decks that aim to out-value you (i.e. decks like the UW Control mirror, Tron, and Amulet Titan). Vendilion Clique can also be used to push an irrelevant card to the bottom of your deck to draw a new card. It even synergizes with Narset, Parter of Veil’s static ability, which basically turns it into a draw step Thoughtseize on a stick.

Tip: How to Play Vendilion Clique

Shark Typhoon had its first breakthrough in Stoneblade, which became known as Sharkblade, but it also found a home in Control as a viable threat that can cantrip and also be a late-game win con alongside Cryptic Command.

Notably, it can even be returned with Hall of Heliod’s Generosity, but it’s not commonly played because 4 Field of Ruin generally hold priority in the colorless mana spots. It’s worth mentioning that it gets around Teferi, Time Raveler’s static effect, making it a solid option in a format chock-full of Teferi.

Perhaps the most experimental Creature in our bag of tricks. This received a huge synergy boost with the printing of Teferi, Time Raveler. If Spell Queller would die, the spell underneath it would normally return on the stack for free, allowing your opponent to choose new targets; however, if you have Teferi, Time Raveler in play, your opponent can only cast the spell anytime they could play a Sorcery. This means their spells will never be permanently exiled as long as Teferi remains on the field. You can also trigger the permanent exile effect and target other spells with Cryptic Command, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Teferi, Time Raveler, Restoration Angel, and even Oust. Spell Queller can even capture uncounterable cards, 2-4 mana Walkers, problematic creatures you don’t want resolving, creature spells cast through Cavern of Souls, and even it gets around Veil of Summer.

This card is an excellent option to bring in against decks that are likely to board out single target removal spells, such as Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Fatal Push. That being said, it’s actually reasonable to play vs Burn and Prowess as it stretches their burn spells and forces them to make decisions that disrupt their sequencing. There is nothing stronger than boarding in cards that don’t play into your opponent’s game plan.

Monastery Mentor has a couple of very unique abilities compared to the other options. It’s shown up in some sideboards because the deck most commonly plays Opt and has enough spells to take advantage of its ability. If your opponent doesn’t come prepared for it, things quickly get out of hand. It may not have protection or pack as much of an initial punch as Geist of Saint Traft, but its ability to overwhelm the board means that it can also play a defensive role, which can pose a problem for opposing creature decks; or it can continue to pressure your opponent even if Monastery Mentor is gone. Similarly to Geist, it’s an excellent threat vs Tron, Combo, and Control, especially alongside Force of Negation.

Geist of Saint Traft is undoubtedly our fastest clock and is difficult to deal with outside of blocks and sweepers. Its role is primarily for Control mirrors to threaten opposing Walkers and opponent’s life total (which mitigates the turns they’d otherwise have to sculpt their hand, find answers, and stabilize), some Combo like TitanShift, and Tron (especially resolving it following Spreading Seas vs the version with fewer creatures and more Walkers). 

One of the best plans vs Tron is playing Geist while holding up Force of Negation. This is a potential blowout vs the Control mirror. I’d you have a Teferi, Time Raveler in play, your opponent can’t counter Geist, nor can they ambush him with Snapcaster Mage in combat. That’s backbreaking. Beyond those matchups, Geist can also be effective vs GDS, Jund, Burn, Prowess, and Mill. However, a drawback to Geist is that it can easily be stonewalled, which makes it less appealing and reliable as an offensive threat without having access to Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, or Fatal Push, but a removal like Oust or Winds of Abandon can help. That being said, it’s generally better in Stoneblade builds with Equipment, especially Maul of the Skyclaves.

Coming from someone with a lot of experience playing Restoration Angel in UW Midrange since 2012, here are the reasons she’s a relevant body and threat:

  • Played where removal is generally trimmed post-board.
  • Immune to Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay.
  • Pressure vs Walkers.
  • Value with ‘When X Enters the Battlefield’ creatures (Wall of Omens, Snapcaster Mage, Stoneforge Mystic, Vendilion Clique, Spell Queller, Skyclave Apparition, etc.).
  • Defense and removal at Instant speed.
  • Notably good vs Humans, Spirits, Dredge, Control, Jund, and Shadow.

Remember the relevant effects we talked about at the beginning of the segment? Well this card is packed full of them. A Flying, Flash creature with the ability to Ephemerate your creatures. She’s essentially a modal Spell that gives you limitless lines of play, including combat tricks like blocking with creatures such as Snapcaster Mage or Wall of Omens, then blinking either with Restoration Angel before damage to stent damage, reserve resources, and getting another EtB trigger. Additionally, the 3/4 Flash/Flying body can also make for some surprising blowouts in combat against creature decks, which is complemented very well with Cryptic Command and Settle the Wreckage. If you’re playing it, be sure to consider Lyra Dawnbringer and/or Cataclysmic Gearhulk, too, which has become a common package against decks like Humans, D&T, and Spirits.

This Angel package is an absolute beating against so many decks, most notably vs Humans, Gruul Mid, E-Tron, and Dredge. They’re 5/5 First Strike, Flying, Lifelink bodies that stonewall creature decks. Humans have a hard time dealing with it because of how dead cards like Reflector Mage can be against us. I strongly recommend playing at least 1 copy of either Angel in your sideboard, but lean towards Lyra Dawnbringer if you’re playing Restoration Angel.

Cataclysmic Gearhulk is a powerful sideboard option for UW Control vs some of Modern’s best and most relevant decks, such as Humans, Hardened Scales, and any deck that goes wide, such as Collected Company decks (i.e. Spirits) and Dredge (especially good with Rest in Peace), but it can also be relevant vs Bogles and fringe decks like RW Prison. It’s essentially a Fracturing Gust or Cleansing Nova on a ⅘ Vigilant body, which quickly turns the corner after wiping the board.

It’s been established that it’s an absolute nightmare for Humans and Spirits. It dodges Kitesail Freebooter, Spell Queller, & Gaddock Teeg, Reflector Mage would be foolish to bounce it, and it’s highly unlikely that it would be a top sweeper to name with Meddling Mage. 

Against Spirits, it completely ignores Mausoleum Wanderer, Spell Queller, and Selfless Spirit. It also gets around non-creature spell counters. 

Lastly, with Restoration Angel, you have the concurrent threat of bouncing Gearhulk if your opponent ever happens to rebuild their boardstate.

Honorable Mentions:

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