Examining UG/x Control

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First, an introduction: I know it's been a week full of them here at Quiet Speculation, but new content is always exciting! My name is Dylan Lerch, and I am both a writer and editor for Spike content here at QS. I began playing Magic in 3rd grade, way back in 1995. Countless booster packs and starter decks (Remember those!?) of Revised later, I found myself drawn to competitive tournaments. I still remember walking away from my first JSS trial sobbing, in complete disbelief that my ATM deck (An intriguing WW build featuring Tempest's Shadow creatures and Empyrial Armor) performed so poorly! Well, most likely, it was pilot error, but that's not something a 5th grader can really comprehend all the time. 🙂

So, after two long breaks from the game, one Pro Tour money finish (53rd, Columbus, 2005 - I'm still bitter about my soul-crushing defea... er, feature match against eventual winner, Pierre Canali!), and way more time spent thinking about MTG than should be considered healthy, I started writing The Brewery independently in October of 2010. That led me here: It is my intention for Quiet Speculation to become every bit the destination for competitive Magic: the Gathering content as any other website on The Internet. To that end, welcome to The Brewery!

Examining UG/x Control

Whereas the MTGO Standard fields are saturated with Valakut Ramp and Aggro decks of various shapes and sizes (B/r Vampires and Quest WW have been the most prolific), paper Magic tournaments have seen a much heavier representation from various UG/x (Typically Zendikar-block all star RUG) Control decks.

These are all of the major offline events run since States/Provincials 2010:

Kentucky Open, November 13th: 4 RUG, 1 BUG (including both semifinalists)

TCGplayer WWS, Austin, TX, November 13th: 1 RUG

SCG Open, Boston, MA, November 7th: 1 RUG (1st place)

SCG Open, Charlotte, NC, October 31st: 3 RUG Control (1st place), 1 RUG Destructive Force

SCG Open, Nashville, TN, October 16th: 1 RUG (2nd place)

TCGplayer WWS, Boston, MA, October 16th: No UG/x Control representation

To make the math easier, that's 6 events (=48 Top 8 decks) with 12 spots (25%) being taken up by UG/x Control. Three of the six events were won by the deck, and two of the six had 2nd place taken down by RUG Control.

Let's start by examining some representative decklists:

There are a lot of similarities between these two decklists from the Kentucky Open. Here are the shared non-land cards:

4 Lotus Cobra
3 Oracle of Mul Daya
2 Frost Titan
1 Avenger of Zendikar
3 Mana Leak
4 Preordain
4 Andrios, Roaming Explorer
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Additionally, each deck had the following:

1 Extra Counterspell effect: Mana Leak or Deprive
1 Extra Fatty: Frost Titan or Avenger of Zendikar

That gives 27 cards total and not a whole lot else to work with in a deck with either 26 or 27 lands. After all, leaning on Andrios, Roaming Explorer and Lotus Cobra so heavily for mana acceleration means you need a lot of lands to work with! We're left with either 6 or 7 free card slots.

Donnie Noland filled out his BUG Control list with the following:

3 Doom Blade
1 Sphinx of Lost Truths
1 Jace's Ingenuity
2 Garruk Wildspeaker
26 Land (We'll discuss these later)

Chris Anderson went with these in his RUG Control list:

4 Lightning Bolt
1 Pyroclasm
1 Volition Reins
27 Land (Again, later!)


Most UG/x Control decks in Standard today turn to Blue for card advantage and Green for ramping and/or finishers. The choice between Black or Red as a third maindeck color comes down largely to your choice of removal suite. Donnie Noland went with 3 Doom Blade. Chris Anderson played 4 Lightning Bolt and 1 Pyroclasm. It's important to note here that Lightning Bolt functions as a 1-time Creeping Tar Pit - and it's the most important reason why anyone might choose RUG over BUG! However, no amount of Lightning Bolts (okay, maybe two) will help you when that Frost Titan hits the board for your opponent... and what are you supposed to do against Avenger of Zendikar? Doom Blade solves that problem quite neatly at the expense of answering smaller, quicker threats like Goblin Guide.

In the lists above, Chris Anderson also had the benefit of a singleton Pyroclasm to answer fast Aggro starts.

Later is now

What's the difference in these two sets of lands? Both RUG and BUG Control have access to Misty Rainforest and a second fetchland (Verdant Catacombs or Scalding Tarn). Both have one set of allied colors for M11 or SOM duals. Both have basic lands, Halimar Depths, and one set of Worldwake manlands... but that's where the similarities end. In fact, it's the difference between Raging Ravine and Creeping Tar Pit that helps set these two decks apart more than anything!

Everyone who remembers the Jund or Naya decks from last season knows how solid Raging Ravine is. It's a very good card, and it's probably better than Celestial Colonnade, Lavaclaw Reaches, and Stirring Wildwood (in that order!). But you know what card it isn't better than? Creeping Tar Pit. Creeping Tar Pit is, in my opinion, the #1 reason to play BUG Control over RUG Control. Creeping Tar Pit gives you an unblockable win condition, an uncounterable (and recurring) answer to Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Jace Beleren, and provides a pretty disgusting interaction with Garruk Wildspeaker. Unblockable and Overrun? Sign me up, please!

Sure, Raging Ravine is pretty awesome. It may often be a "win more" card, and it costs 2RG to activate versus the 1UB that Creeping Tar Pit, but it does attack first as a 4/4 and gets bigger from there. However, without any kind of evasion or Trample, your opponent is able to do unfair things like "blocking" to protect his Planeswalkers or precious life total. I know, lame, right?

What's Left?

To be honest, not a whole lot. After you pick your removal suite, there are only a couple of flexible spots left in these decks. That's the downside to playing with an extremely powerful, but necessary, utility package consisting of Andrios, Roaming Explorer, Preordain, and Mana Leak. Noland played with Garruk Wildspeaker, Sphinx of Lost Truths and Jace's Ingenuity, whereas Anderson played a single Volition Reins with his extra removal.


The Sideboard becomes the final spot of innovation and distinction between BUG and RUG Control. Here are the main differences between the two lists above:

Goblin Ruinblaster

Consume the Meek

Board sweepers of different flavors and very different, but conditionally very powerful, utility cards. These two sets of cards appear fairly different on the surface, but beyond that, they perform fairly similar roles. First, Pyroclasm and Consume the Meek are both board sweepers for smaller creatures (though I know which one I'd rather have against a Leatherback Baloth or Ezuri, Renegade Leader!). Second, Goblin Ruinblaster and Memoricide come in for similar matchups, though they have slightly opposite effects. Goblin Ruinblaster has an immediate effect on the board, setting your opponent back a turn or answering a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Worldwake manland. Memoricide has no effect on the board (and no guaranteed effect on the game whatsoever), but can potentially answer a similar suite of problems.

Which to Choose?

Well, this choice is usually more dependent on your play style and local Standard field makeup more than anything. This case is no different. As you can see above, choosing Red or Black has little effect on roles your cards fill, but instead rather on the specific card choices you're afforded. Although for my money, nothing Red can offer would get me to trade my Creeping Tar Pits in for Raging Ravines... As far as I'm concerned, the trio of Creeping Tar Pit, Doom Blade, and Memoricide are so much more versatile than Raging Ravine, Lightning Bolt, and Goblin Ruinblaster.

I do believe Donnie Noland's BUG Control list would be better suited for metagaming offline with the abundance of Control decks, whereas a more traditional RUG Control like Chris Anderson's would do better against the lightning-fast Aggro decks taking over MTGO. Either way, both decks are clearly here to stay.

Bonus: What about White?

UG/x Control is built around a small number of cards. So far, they've been largely Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Andrios, Roaming Explorer, Lotus Cobra, Mana Leak, and Preordain. Does White have a place beside (or above) Red and Black? Unfortunately, there are a few obstacles. First, if you'll take a look at recent successful UW Control lists, you'll notice that White's main draw for a Control deck is not its spot removal. Gone are Oblivion Ring and Path to Exile, and in their places are Journey to Nowhere, Grim Roustabout, and Angel of Condemnation. Yuck. And who wants to cast Day of Judgment on a board with Lotus Cobras, Frost Titan, and/or Oracle of Mul Daya? UG/w clearly cannot be directly analogous to RUG or BUG, but it does have its benefits:

UGW Control, by Nick Spagnolo

Nick Spagnolo has been on a tear lately, and he clearly knows what he's talking about when it comes to the magical cards. Gideon Jura provides board control and protects Jace, the Mind Sculptor (and your life total!). In my opinion, the 3WW Planeswalker is one of the most powerful cards in Standard. As a long-time proponent of RDW both this season and last, I will be the first to tell you how much it sucks to see Mr. Jura come off the bench for your opponent. Spagnolo's deck follows most of the same patterns as the other UG/x decks above, though one important difference of note is two sets of Worldwake manlands and just one set of Zendikar fetchlands (which explains the appearance of second string fetchland, Terramorphic Expanse).

The one thing that's clear is that UG/x Control is at the top of the Control options. Whether or not it's a stronger choice than UW, UB, UR for Blue-based Control supremacy, it's most definitely a Tier 1 Control deck.

Thank you very much for reading the first installment of The Brewery on Quiet Speculation, and as the managing editor for Spike content here, I'd appreciate any feedback on this or any article here!

Dylan Lerch
@dtlerch on Twitter
dtlerch at gmail dot com
The Brewery

5 thoughts on “Examining UG/x Control

  1. Good article. Gideon, definitely good. One of the best players at my fnm killed me with a mimic vat whose tokens were sacrificed to sarkhan the mad. I was playing elspeth and lost despite ultimate (obviously). Both seem bad right? What I don't get about the UGx in your article is, don't the decks ramp way past the mana they need? I understand the oracle combo is devastating card advantage. Last question: how good is admonition angel?

    1. Hi Scottmtg,

      Control "mirror" matchups (even if they're not true mirrors, as in RUG versus UW and whatnot) end up being a battle of land advantage more than almost anything else. That's especially true when there's so little hard permission spells and Mana Leak is the format's go-to Counterspell effect.

      Getting all that land into play by means of Oracle also lets you tear through your deck for "real" cards as well. It's simply overwhelming card advantage as you mentioned, but it's a deceptively bigger advantage than it might seem at first glance.

      As to Admonition Angel, I'm not its biggest fan. It's not a true Titan in that it usually has no net effect on the board if it's removed. But, moreso than maybe any other threat in Standard, it will end the game in extremely short order.

      Thanks for leaving your thoughts 🙂


  2. This is unreal that when I found The Brewery you were talking about my deck of choice Pyromancer Ascension. Now you move over to QS at the time that I'm exploring the different control builds now that I finally have my Jaces.:) Anyway I like the article and I have to admit that I love me some creeping tar pit. I recently switched from B/U control to RUG and I have to say that I miss casting Frosties, Doom Blades and activating those pits. I think I will try out BUG because I do love the synergy with Lotus Cobra, Oracle, Preordain, and the fetches. The only problem with the various UGx builds is keeping the cobras and Mul Dayas alive. Everyone jumps on getting rid of those guys (I wonder why). Once again good article and I'm glad to see your passion for the game leading to greater endeavors. Cheers.

    1. Hi Ray 🙂

      I guess we just have good taste in Standard decks 😉

      From the description you gave, BUG Control seems right up your alley. You get the Preordain + Explore duo, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and the rest of the supporting cast. And best of all, Creeping Tar Pit 😀

      The greatest part about Lotus Cobra and Oracle is that, even though they're fragile, they demand an answer immediately. If your opponent can answer them, so be it. There's usually going to be no net change in board state.

      But if they can't answer it…

      GG 🙂


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