Table of Contents
In my Magic career, I’ve been mostly known for playing control decks, and usually, specifically Azorius (UW). I’ve played control decks for almost a decade now and they hold a special place in my heart. That said, I’ve decided to take UW Control in Explorer for a spin and I was not disappointed. The deck has versatile answers, very powerful top end, and closes games way faster than you’d initially assume. Let’s break the deck down, shall we? Updated for Historic Anthology 6, Explorer Anthology 1, and the August 2022 Ranked Season.
Let me divide this segment into two parts: prolonging the game and winning the game.
Prolonging the Game
Control, as a macro-archetype, wants to survive for as long as possible to utilise its powerful, yet expensive spells and card advantage mechanisms. In order to achieve that, it has to play a lot of interaction, preferably versatile, affecting both the stack and the battlefield.
Portable Hole shines early game. It tags one and two-drops alike which is key. Usually when control falls behind, it’s in the very early game. In addition, Hole answers any nonland permanent, not only creatures such as Trail of Crumbs, Witch's Oven, or Roiling Vortex. The fact that it tags two-drops allows you to better pace your taplands eg turn two Hole + Irrigated Farmland whilst getting rid of a two-drop.
March of Otherworldly Light as the upside of being instant speed and super flexible. It’s another piece of interaction that tags more than just creatures. It scales, but you’re always tempo-negative when removing a permanent. In extreme situations, you can pitch a white card to March as sometimes having fewer cards is better than allowing an additional threat on the board. On a given turn two on the draw, you might want to play Portable Hole and March with a pitch card just to make sure the board is completely clear. The best spells to pitch to March are usually our top-end spells as they clunk up the hand.
Fateful Absence is terrible against one-drops, passable against two-drops, and pretty good as we go up the curve. The downside is clear – the opponent gets a card. However, the fact that they have to pay 2 to get access to that card is not trivial. If you Absence a creature on turn two, the opponent will most likely have a lot of stuff to do until they need to draw a card. If they do spend turn three drawing, we’re super happy as they’re not deploying additional threats.
Supreme Verdict, coming from the Explorer Anthology 1, is now the best Wrath we have access to. While it is more color intensive than Shatter the Sky, being uncounterable and never giving the opponent an advantage is clearly an upgrade.
Farewell is very expensive, but can be pitched to March of Otherworldly Light need be. It provides a supremely versatile effect that gets rid of essentially everything that’s going on on the opposing side. Exiling the graveyard is relevant against Arclight Phoenix, artifacts against Food, Treasure, and Clue tokens running around, and enchantments against random annoying permanents like Roiling Vortex or Trail of Crumbs.
The last aspect of the deck, and usually any blue control deck, is countermagic. Historically, I’ve hated Absorb as it was usually mostly played as a safety net against aggressive deck, but at the same time, you ought to side a 3-mana counter out against aggressive decks anyway. What changed my mind though is March of Otherworldly Light. The fact that you can pitch a dead counterspell to it makes it now better. That little bit of life gain means that you can let one more hit in which could make be the difference between being able to cast a draw spell on a given turn or not.
Quadruple Censor is a great way to check the early plays when opponents usually tap out and once you decide that window has closed you cycle it away for a fresh card. Similar to Settle the Wreckage, Censoring opposing spells feel great for you and demoralising to the opponent.
Two copies of Dovin's Veto are somewhat a flex slot but I’ve liked them as an absolutely hard counter especially in the mirrors.
Winning the Game
Once you’ve got the game under control, you need to somehow turn the corner. One of the ways control decks do this is through accruing card advantage to further deepen the stranglehold on the opponent. This function is performed by Memory Deluge and Behold the Multiverse. The proportion can be changed but ultimately they do the same thing – draw you more answers.
Shark Typhoon can be either win condition or just a chump blocker which drew a card along the way.
Our planeswalker suite includes the legendary Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and The Wandering Emperor. The Emperor suits the draw-go style and can close the game with 2/2 Samurais which grow turn after turn. In addition, those Samurais can both attack and be on the defensive which is huge.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is the ultimate win condition for control decks for as long as it’s been legal in any format. It draws cards, it has a catch-all answer in its -3 ability, ultimate wins games easily.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
We try to go bigger post-board. Such black-removal based decks have a super hard time against Dream Trawler so usually you just need to prolong the game until you can slam it. You should be careful of bad creatures beat down early and their top end planeswalkers. Thankfully, you blank a lot of their removal spell.
Mono Blue Spirits
|+1 Portable Hole||-4 Absorb|
|+3 Mystical Dispute||-2 Dovin's Veto|
|+1 Settle the Wreckage||-2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria|
|+1 Supreme Verdict|
|+2 Dream Trawler|
Post-board I cut a lot of clunky countermagic as it’s too easily outmatched by their efficiency. Instead of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, I prefer Dream Trawler which is basically unbeatable for them. Other than that, we side in all the removal we can. The scariest draws of theirs include a lot of one drops and a card advantage engine in Curious Obsession.
|+1 Soul-Guide Lantern||-3 Portable Hole|
|+2 Weathered Runestone||-2 Dovin's Veto|
|+1 Settle the Wreckage||-1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria|
|+2 Dream Trawler|
Our sideboard graveyard hate cards are key. If they go for the combo early, pitch something to March of Otherworldly Light just to get rid of Greasefang, Okiba Boss. Thanks to our exile removal, they won’t be able to reanimate Greasefang. At some point, you’ll establish clock and then can keep holding up countermagic and instant speed removal which is very tough for them to fight through.
Game one in the mirror will most often be decided by who draws more dead removal spells. Post-board it gets more interesting as both decks get leaner and more efficient. Don’t get killed by a snuck-in The Wandering Emperor and Samurai beatdown.
Mono Red Aggro
|+1 Portable Hole||-2 Dovin's Veto|
|+2 Aether Gust||-2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria|
|+1 Settle the Wreckage||-1 Behold the Multiverse|
|+1 Supreme Verdict||-1 Memory Deluge|
|+2 Dream Trawler||-1 Absorb|
We really want to play a “blue jund” strategy – kill everything in sight. Card advantage is not relevant so feel free to pitch cards to March of Otherworldly Light. Your end game involves incidental life gain from The Wandering Emperor and Absorb to stabilise and Dream Trawler to completely seal the deal.
Tips and Tricks
- You can exile your own creatures with The Wandering Emperor to gain life.
- In the end step with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria trigger, you can float mana to then untap lands. You can use it to float two mana, untap, and then pay two more to cast Memory Deluge.
- You can pitch multiple cards to March of Otherworldly Light.
- You can destroy your own permanents with Fateful Absence to get the Clue. It is useful when you have a lot of lands, maybe a single 1/1 Shark token and need to draw something really good.
- Portable Hole and March of Otherworldly Light can exile opposing Clue tokens that we’ve given them through Fateful Absence.
- If you Absorb an uncounterable spell, you still gain 3 life.
- You can foretell a card at any time during your turn – even upkeep or end step.
- Memory Deluge cares about the amount of mana paid. If there is an effect that says ‘Noncreature spells cost 2 more to cast’, then when you do, you look at more cards. Same goes for Elite Spellbinder’s tax.
- Farewell’s ‘exile artifacts’ clause will also exile your own Portable Holes.
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