Innistrad: Midnight Hunt is just around the corner. If you are a constructed player, getting yourself into Standard 2022, even if it’s just a transitional format, is going to be rewarding.
During the last 5 weeks I was super immersed in this format trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. This exercise of deck building and testing made clear (for me, at least) the decks that have solid foundations that will likely improve when MID arrives.
Yes, we are going to have a new Standard, the metagame is going to be renovated and refreshed, and surely one or two completely new archetypes are going to be around with MID cards as their core. Nevertheless, a lot of the stronger options would be decks that made it clear that they could be contenders during the window of time when we could play Standard 2022.
Some archetypes are shown as clear favorites to claim the tier 1 positions post rotation: Izzet Dragons, Dimir Control and Mono Green Aggro are the big three. Some others like White Weenie, Rogues and a plethora of midrange strategies have proved that they can be serious contenders too, but today, I’m confident to make the statement: Control is truly playable, in its purest and classic form. No, I’m not talking about Dimir. UW Control is here and can outlast everyone!
I present to you the fruits of hard work and a lot of testing:
Building a control deck is an art form.Shaheen Soorani
Making an archetype work while there’s not too much information about it is a trial and error job. Fortunately I was working on a UW Control list for regular Standard when Kaldheim arrived, something that gave me some hints for our first 2022 UW Control lists, and a brainstorming session with Doggert made me realize some focal points to lead this deck in the correct direction.
Melissa DeTora makes clear what we are trying to accomplish:
A control deck is a deck that tries to outlast the opponent with counterspells and removal spells, then win the game by doing something more powerful than the opponent. A control deck defends itself early, and once the opponent is light on resources, the control deck then plays a powerful late-game win condition and ends the game in short order.
With this in mind, we should divide our cards in three big sections:
Counterspells and Removal
Jwari Disruption, Negate, and Saw it Coming make this strategy possible. Having the ability to play a two mana counter is vital and it’s the reason we play a full set of Jwari Disruption. I started with 2 copies, then after I saw Doggert’s list and compared it with my prototypes I increased the number to 3. After struggling a little bit, I realized that Mati (from AfterOfficeTTV) was playing 4 in its iteration of UW Monk Class control (yeah, that’s possible), so I decided to go for a full set of this card and after a few games, the deck looked better than ever.
Negate on the other hand is amazing against some decks like Dimir or Izzet, but even against aggro strategies it’s an acceptable card. For example, against Mono Green you can take care of
Saw it Coming rounds things out for counterspells. A 3 mana cost is, and for a long time now, the regular mana value for counterspell. Having the ability to foretell this card and playing it for 1U is a great form of doing something with our mana on free turns.
On the topic of removal, in this particular case you have to be very very careful when and how to play them. White and blue doesn’t have many options in efficient spot removal spells in this format, and some of the good options have to cede their slot to other core cards of our strategy (we’ll expand on this in Notable Exclusions). Therefore, we have to be dependent on wrath effects, another pillar of control strategies that fortunately we have available in the format.
Doomskar could be played on turn three if fortelled on turn two. Against aggro decks this could mean an early gg, and could make us survive the fastest openings of our opponents even when we are on the draw.
Having just a full set of Doomskar to rely on seems like a little too few copies of that effect which is why we also play a copy of Ondu Inversion. This card is our last reset button, and could save us even in extremely awkward positions. Use it wisely.
Quoting Melissa again: “Control decks are usually trading spells with the opponent’s spells, while playing lands every turn, and then casting their late-game win condition when the time is right.”
So, after trading during early and mid stages of the game, we have to win with authority, making strong plays that can end the game as soon as possible. In a galaxy not too far away Dream Trawler seals games in a snap for Regular Standard UW Control. Sadly we have to say goodbye to this amazing sphinx. However, in this particular case, we have very good options too.
Mordenkainen for example, is one of the main reasons that blue based control decks can be viable. If this planeswalker stays in the battlefield for even a single turn unharmed, most of the time it means we have already won. The Dog tokens tend to be enormous, and the card advantage that Mordenkainen generates is enough gas to make our car last long even in the hardest of rallies.
On the other hand, Desert Doom”] is another reason why we are playing this deck. Izzet and Dimir play this dragon too, but unlike them, we have better tools to protect it. Remember
In one of the golden eras of UW Control, during Onslaught block, Decree of Justice was the card that let this archetype close games in two turns. Starnheim Unleashed is very similar and flexible too, but the defensive capabilities are far better. We can put a 4/4 flying angel on turn three if foretold, a 4/4 for four mana, and a multitude of bodies if played in the later stages of the game. Don’t be shy playing this early if needed.
I will take the opportunity to mention that one of the key aspects of playing control is to NOT miss land drops. Playing this many two faced modal cards increases our chances of fulfilling this task. Counting these cards + natural lands we play 27 mana sources in total.
Faceless Haven deserves its mention in this section. At the beginning we were playing Hall of Storm Giants and Cave of the Frost Dragon, and yes, both are amazing cards, but after games and games (and more games) of testing I realized that we couldn’t leave behind the best card of the format out of our deck. Faceless Haven is the best card in Standard 2022, and could possibly be the best card even post rotation. I doubted a little at the beginning because it’s a colorless source… and we have a lot of double white and double blue cards, but trust me, you can handle a pair of this creatureland, and you’re going to thank it a lot for your wins.
The Cohesive Elements
This last section is about the cards that connect everything and tie our strategy together. I refer to these cards as planning tools because they let us ensure solid steps towards all the phases of the game, letting us use our removals and win conditions when needed.
Loyal Warhound is key. I explained in my White Weenie column why this dog is not the best when played in aggro decks. It’s 3/1 body makes attacks awkward. However, it fulfills so many roles: it lets us ensure land drops, it blocks and trades really well, and can be a wall against higher cmc creatures; there’s no doubt that it deserves a full playset. Also, as I mentioned before, we have a lack of spot removal, so having creatures that let us trade well is a very important part of having that situation covered.
I always like playing Legion Angel. In my mind it’s a super pumped version of Squadron Hawk, and if any of you remember how amazing these little hawks were, you are going to like playing this angel without a doubt. Hits hard, blocks well, has evasion, takes cards from outside of the game to our hand giving us gas… What else would we need? I tend to play 1 on the mainboard and 3 on the side, but 2-2 has given me amazing results.
In the first list, I had 3 Alrund's Epiphany, but later, two copies seemed to be the correct number in UW Control. It has two main functions: letting us buy time, putting two bodies for blocking and drawing a card, but more importantly, we need to try to use it as a power play while we have one of our win conditions on the board. An early foretold
Divide by Zero is another card that is key to making our plans work. I didn’t play this card in my first list, but when I tested it for the first time, it proved its value in this archetype quickly enough, moving me to make space in the deck for playing a full set. Imagine a Unsubstantiate that lets us draw a card like a Remand because of its Learn ability. Divide by Zero feels incredibly well suited here. It can be used as a counter returning a spell to their controller’s hand, it can bounce threats that pass through our counters and removals, and it gives us answers when needed from our lesson board. Clearly one of our best cards.
Finally, Behold the Multiverse ties it all together. Probably the most efficient blue drawing spell until MID arrives, enough reason to play 4 copies in our main deck.
Changing the Numbers / Other Card Considerations / Notable Exclusions
In my last columns, we usually have 2-4 flex spots in the presented decklists. This is because of the BO1 nature of the format, something that allows us to adapt our decks to a point when we feel comfortable against a wide variety of decks, without the possibility of sideboarding. Every player is different, and giving you the opportunity to make the presented decks better suited to your preferences is something truly important.
Having said this, I’m not going to present cards as usual (in a flex spot card menu for you to choose and swap in for the viable take outs). I’m truly confident that the presented list is incredibly optimized and after pondering a long time, I can say that all the cards are the best ones to do what we intended. Instead, I’m going to resume possible number changes between cards that we already have in the mainboard, then present other cards that other players use in their versions to let you decide if you want to base your deck around other approaches. Finally, I’ll mention cards that are notable exclusions to our archetype.
Viable Number Changes
This first change gives us the opportunity of playing a win condition one turn earlier, something that would be incredibly relevant in BO1 when we are on the draw. Playing a full playset of Desert Doom”] and taking out all the Mordenkainen could be possible, but the blue planeswalker is incredibly powerful, and could win games by itself, so I would try to keep at least 1 copy in the mainboard.
Emeria’s Call/Emeria, Shattered Skycleave
- -1 Plains
Doggert (our Content Manager) brainstormed with me about the archetype and he was very clear. He would play 4
Other Cards Played in the Archetype
As incredible as it may seem, Monk Class was played by Mati Arvigo in his 9-1 live UW Control list. At the beginning it would seem like a card that is suited for a completely different kind of deck, but after seeing its incredible and unthought of interactions in this archetype it’s something that is worth trying. It can enable power plays where you can play a win condition and protect it with a counter spell for just one mana. You can play more spells per turn, it can bounce something and get time or value from it, and lastly, when max leveled, the amount of card advantage that it provides is enough to close games.
The problem in my opinion is that the card requires a lot of investment, and against the aggressive openings of Mono Green, White Weenie, etc, it’s time that we usually don’t have even if the card has a bounce element to it. Matías plays 8 spot removals that we don’t, something that maybe buys enough time for this card to shine (4 Skyclave Apparition and 4 Portable Hole (I’m going to tackle this card in a minute). I don’t go for this approach because I think the BO3 environment would be the best place for it. However, Mati proves that this list works on BO1, so playing it could give you incredible results if you feel comfortable with it.
Skyclave Apparition is probably one of the best white creatures printed in recent years, but if you want to play wrath effects they start to not look so good. Imagine a scenario where you take a
Portable Hole on the hand proves to be one of the best solutions against aggro, but as I like to mention in my columns, having dead cards in BO1 is something I try to avoid at all cost. Drawing this artifact against Dimir or the wide variety of midrange strategies is something that we don’t want, which is why I don’t have this spot removal in my final version of the deck.
Finally, Hall of Storm Giants is another reason why Dimir is shining. A hit with it after a controlled state of the game in favor of the blue/black player, and you’re probably dead. I tested this card and Cave of the Frost Dragon, and both cards are good enough for the archetype. You could play it instead of two basic lands, but, as I explained before, leaving Faceless Haven out of the equation seems impossible.
Back to Doggert, he sent me his preliminary test list, something that gave me some hints about what I was doing right and some things that I could test. (For example, this was the main reason I tested the full playset of Divide by Zero).
There’s a couple of personal choices that spice up this list. Skyclave Cleric is an option that could buy you an incredible amount of time (yes, a lot) while playing against aggro. A 1/3 body for blocking on turn 2 plus 2 lives is amazing in certain situations, and having the opportunity to play it as a land when needed, make the card relevant against any other deck. Testing a pair could be worth it… If only my list had some space…
I’m pretty sure that Professor of Symbology does wonders in Doggert’s list. Having access fast enough to the lesson board could save us in a lot of situations, and another body for trade against aggro decks or pressuring the slower ones (paired with Loyal Warhound) is an incredible choice. What makes me think about not playing this card is my approach of playing two mana counter magic.
I play a full set of Jwari Disruption and a pair of Negate plus two foretell cards more than this list. This creature makes the deck a little bit more proactive, and is a reasonable approach for BO1, but I focus the archetype on playing more like a draw/go kind of game. That’s why I don’t have this card in my list.
The lesson board for this list is bigger, but that’s only because it doesn’t play Legion Angel. Having access to new lesson cards is great, but the 4/3 angel gives me incredible results. I think that the Angel deserves its spots on the sideboard without a doubt.
Finally, there are some cards that most of us think about when talking about 2022 UW Control, but even if some of them are good enough for constructed play, there seems to be no space to play them or maybe other ones just do the job better. Even if some of these cards are not in any of the aforementioned lists, they can be possibly played in certain iterations of this archetype.
Graven Lore is an incredible example of this last statement. I was playing 2 copies of this spell in my first list, and it was amazing against slower strategies, but when we are facing aggro, most of the time we don’t have a free turn to play it. If we had the 2022 Standard BO3 queue, I surely would be trying a pair in the main deck.
Elite Spellbinder was on the testing list for a while. It gives us one of the most desired things while playing control: TIME. It has a great body for trading and could be good at exerting pressure against slower strategies. The problem is the same as Graven Lore. Playing in just the BO1 queue makes it feel awkward being on the draw. Sidenote: Considering this kind of creature in a control deck happens when creature control is better than creatureless control. A small format like Standard 2022 probably doesn’t have enough tools for making creatureless control work as a tier 1 archetype.
Minimus Containment came to my mind when I was searching for good removal options. It gets rid of ANY permanent that gives us problems, and just for 3 mana. The inconvenience is that we ramp our opponent. In some situations it’s irrelevant, but in others it could be the difference between being pressured or having room to breathe. The search for more spot removal made me even think of Iron Verdict, Bound in Gold and Ravenform. The three cards have acceptable effects for a small format, but against the things the tier 1 options are doing seem weak in comparison.
Ascendant Spirit is, for me, probably the biggest and most notorious exclusion. I was toying around with the idea of playing even a full set of this creature. Reminds me of the old times of Figure of Destiny Boros Control or Warden of the First Tree midrange decks. I want to make clear that I didn’t test this card enough because I don’t have a full set on MTGA. A UW Snowier Control variant could be very viable (at least in my mind). If you have a full set of this spirit, and you try something with it, please let me know in the comment section. It’s a very well rounded card that works well against any pairing, and that’s something incredibly relevant in the BO1 queue.
Disdainful Stroke is a great counterspell for any Standard environment. I was testing 1 copy on the mainboard. Like Negate it even has some applications against aggro decks, but after analyzing the format, Negate works best.
Cosima, God of the Voyage and Dream Strix were other creatures I tried for a while, and both seemed acceptable. Cosima, God of the Voyage works fine as a creature when we are playing 27-28 lands, but problems to use all the card potential by being unable of crew the vehicle part when needed made this card fall behind.
Learn cards like Dream Strix shine in BO1. I think this bird is viable for that reason. The problem is the deck space. Maybe if we cut 1 Mordenkainen, 1
Searching for other playable planeswalkers, Jace, Mirror Mage appears. This card has the word GAS written all over it, but has a problem. It’s meant for low mana curve control decks, like the ones in non rotating formats. We don’t want to draw one of our expensive spells and make him die after just one activation.
Inscription of Insight is a very flexible card. I really like these kinds of cards. Having the possibility of using the card in a wide variety of scenarios is great, but this in particular has a problem; it’s a sorcery. If we want to develop our plan as intended, we are going to play more like a draw/go kind of deck, so being good at reacting is key.
Best of 3 List + Sideboard Guide
I know you’re there, tournament players!
As usual, let’s cover the big three: Izzet Dragons, Dimir Control and Mono Green. Use these as examples for other midrange, control and aggro strategies.
I’m going to make something clear. The first player to make a big move is probably going to lose the game. Be patient and play the draw go game without fear. After this extremely important statement, let me explain our small changes.
Disdainful Stroke is really good, and has a lot of targets, something that makes it possible to have a 2nd one in the sideboard if preferred. Test of Talents has one main job here; tag any Expressive Iteration on sight. Expressive Iteration is good enough to be played in eternal formats like Modern, so you can imagine how good it is in a lower powered format. Don’t hesitate to counter it. Getting out the full play set with a single counter puts us extremely ahead. Another prime target for
Starnheim Unleashed goes out for one simple reason. Against aggressive strategies we tend to be pressured, and finding a win condition fast when stabilized is mandatory. In matches against slower strategies, we have enough time to draw any of them.
The statement I made while talking about Izzet is just as valid against Dimir. The first player to make a big move is probably going to lose the game. The difference is that against Dimir things could be slower. Yes, you have to be even more patient and play the draw/go game with patience and calm.
Saw it Coming goes out again to give us space for better counter magic. Doomskar on the other hand goes out because Dimir has 0-2 creatures most of the time. You have to be careful. Some lists play Desert Doom”], others don’t. If you are facing a list without the dragons, you should take out the full playset of Doomskar and leave the 4 copies of Saw it Coming in the mainboard.
Portable Hole works incredibly well in this matchup. It lets us stabilize in the early game, the hardest part against this kind of aggro deck. Most of the time this artifact has 18+ targets available, and most importantly, it can take care of
Tips and Tricks
Be careful playing your lands. Some turns, playing a
Remember when I said that the first player to make a big move is probably going to lose the game when playing against Izzet and Dimir? Here’s a hint to help. The right time to make your move/powerplay is when your opponent is light on resources. Having a single counter to defend against one of your win conditions is usually not enough.
You can play the deck differently in a specific situation. If your opponent stumbles this UW Control list has the ability to be played as a midrange deck. What’s the difference? The midrange decks are often not reacting to what the opponent is playing, but rather playing an efficient threat or spell every turn of the game. If your opponent misses a pair of land drops, is color screwed for two turns, or gives you any other sign of weakness, curving aggressively with the proper tools could seal the game.
Against certain aggro decks openings, foretelling a
Learning when to play your modal cards as lands is something that we learn with practice. Just remember, control decks try to hit land drops every single turn, at least until turn 7 or 8.
Keep an eye open for your foretold spells. Sometimes you have the same card in hand and in exile. Use the one that spends your mana in the most efficient way.
Counterspells are better used in two situations: against key cards in our opponent’s strategy or against something that we have a hard time dealing with. Playing counterspells every turn just trying to stop your opponent from playing anything is not how control decks have to play.
There are always going to be control decks in a metagame, because there are always going to be reactive and defensive cards that can stop faster opponents, no matter how fast or slow the format is. If control were absent from a metagame, we would consider that metagame unhealthy. Control should be a viable strategy against most decks in a given environment.Melissa DeTora
We have to remember this. Control is always a viable strategy. The hard part is discovering how it is intended to be played. Creature control or creatureless, counterspell control or other control approaches, all viable options, but in the end, depending on the format, some are better than others.
I had an incredible time figuring out UW Control in Standard 2022, and winning with it on the ladder was incredibly satisfactory after all the time invested on it.
Playing as the defender is surely something that puts lots of pressure on us, but lets us grow as a player by teaching us to be patient and careful when making our decisions. Without a doubt, Control is going to be an archetype relevant post rotation, but not just Dimir… UW Control has arrived, and is here to stay.
I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all the support my first 4 columns in MTG Arena Zone received. These first few weeks writing in this space have been an incredible experience, one that is making me grow as a player, but most importantly, as a person, and hopefully is just the beginning. Terence and Doggert, thank you for the opportunity!
Let me end this column with a last Melissa quote:
Control decks are about outlasting the opponent. They aren’t about countering every spell thrown your way. That said, counterspells are healthy for Standard. A lot of decks are going to be proactive, and control decks can tailor themselves to beat those decks. Then, the proactive decks can evolve to beat those control decks—that’s how the metagame evolves over time. Evolving metagames keep Magic fresh and give players a puzzle to solve when building and choosing decks. Control decks are always going to be part of a healthy metagame, because there will always be proactive decks in a format.
So, play control and keep Magic fresh!