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UW Control: Hawks Need Not Apply

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I love Venser, the Sojourner.  I had been skeptical when I first saw the card and remained so even after some play, but I eventually tried it at The 2010s after seeing a UWr list that Patrick Chapin was advocating.  While I disagreed with him about the quality of the Red splash and dropped it for my build, I recognized the power of Venser in combination with Wall of Omens in the early game to gain an advantage or Frost Titan in the late game to solidify a lead.  The 2010s was the first time I played Venser in a tournament.

I won.

I continued playing UW for a while after that, but when UB Control started gaining more popularity it became a poor choice due to its unfavorable matchup.  This remained true for some time as UB of various configurations continued its dominance, including a mirror match final at Worlds.

When PT Paris unleashed CawBlade, however, UB and its seemingly never-ending stream of targeted discard effects fell from favor.  I should have recognized that a slower, more controlling build of UW was once again well positioned in the metagame if it could find an answer to CawBlade now that CawBlade was pushing out the unfavorable UB decks, but I failed to take the next step and just started playing CawBlade like everyone else.  I have been doing extremely well with CawBlade so far, including mirror matches, but I don't like playing the Best Deck when everyone else knows that it is the Best Deck.  Best Deck mirror matches frequently are decided by tight play and proper preparation more than luck of the draw, which in my opinion favors me more than my average opponent because I test more than most people, but I do not like relying on my playskill alone.  Eventually I am sure to play against someone that has tested more than I have or has more maindeck hate than I do, or someone that has built their deck to beat the Best Deck, and then I will likely lose.  I would prefer to play a deck can dodge the target of being the Best Deck while also allowing me to win even if my opponent is more prepared for the mirror match than I am.  As CawBlade continued to grow in popularity I began looking for a new deck.

Then I saw David Sharfman's UW Venser deck top eight a Star City Open and realized I had my answer.  It was a slow, controlling base-Blue deck that played the kind of games I like to play.  It had Venser, multiple Jaces, and seemed like it could beat CawBlade without conceding to the rest of the field.  I was in love.

This is the list he played to an eighth place finish at the SCG: Atlanta Open:

[deckbox did="a58" size="small" width="567"]

After a good bit of testing I came to the realization that I was almost always beating CawBlade.  The only games to them I was losing were when they had the perfect draw, AND I had a poor draw.  I could beat their perfect draw if I had a decent draw, and my perfect draw crushed their draw regardless of quality.  The deck was also performing well against all the other decks, so I was sold.

Last weekend I played a $500 cash tourney and 3-0-2ed my way into the top8, where I 3-0ed.  This list is extremely powerful and capable of being fine-tuned to beat nearly any expected opponent, and I will be playing it for the foreseeable future:

[deckbox did="a57" size="small" width="567"]

As you can see, I made very few changes from Sharfman's original list.  In the maindeck I cut the two Spreading Seas for a Frost Titan and a third Day of Judgment.  Most of my changes were in the sideboard, which is to be expected when moving decks from one metagame to another.  I added the Sunblast Angel because I saw a lot of Elves! at the FNM the night before and wanted a fifth sweeper after the four Day of Judgments, and the fact it could combo with Venser seemed hilarious.  The Admonition Angel was another last second change to deal with the various Eldrazi decks I expected.  There seemed to be more Mono Green Eldrazi decks running around than I had expected, and I saw Mike Flores had written about Mono White Eldrazi again which seemed likely to up the number of [card Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre]aliens[/card] running around.  Tumble Magnets and Contagion Clasps can lock down the aliens for a good while, but having one more answer seemed helpful.  The Admonition Angel also provided an answer to any resolved Eldrazi Monuments that resolved and could otherwise prove troublesome.

I moved from Kor Firewalker to Leyline of Sanctity because I was worried about Vampires.  It is not hard to stabilize against them with a combination of Tumble Magnets and Gideon Juras but it is hard to kill them before they are able to assemble a sacrifice outlet+Kalastria Highborn and a few dorks to sacrifice, and then you get Fireballed right out of the game.  The Celestial Purges were first added to help against the Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas brews that several local ringers were playing.  Inferno Titans had been making their way into the Tezzeret decks as an alternate win condition which could dodge the expected hate, and the Purges seemed a good way to combat either Tezzeret or the Inferno Titan, while also being excellent against Bloodghast, Dark Tutalage, or Koth of the Hammer.

The Flashfreezes were cut despite a plethora of Red and Green decks after the Leylines were added because they seemed superfluous.  Against Valakut I did not feel they were necessary as you have enough creature control to stabilize against the beatdown half of their deck and the Leyline can protect you from the combo half - you don't need to counterspell any of their threats if none of their threats can actually hurt you through your wall of [card Tumble Magnet]Magnets[/card] and [card Day of Judgment]DoJs[/card].

I cut one of the Divine Offerings for the forth Tumble Magnet because it seemed better against CawBlade and WW Quest.  The only other matchup that I could see wanting a Divine Offering against was Tezzeret, and I had already added the Celestial Purges to deal with that threat.

The Leonin Arbiters seemed like they were intended for CawBlade and Valakut but I had already shored up those matchups with other changes and thus felt they were unnecessary.  They became Ratchet Bombs to combo with Sun Titan to give the deck a fighting chance against KRed.

The local metagame is rather different from the national one and I would certainly change the sideboard if I were going to a larger tournament such as a SCG Open or a Grand Prix, so these changes should not be taken as gospel.

Playing the Deck

This plays out much more like a traditional UW Control deck than CawBlade.  It does not change whether it is the control or the beatdown based on its draw or its opponent, it could not reasonably be called a Fish deck, and it does not gain card advantage with Squadron Hawk and Sword of Feast and Famine.  This deck is always the control.  Your plan against anyone is to not lose for a while, and eventually winning will take care of itself.

Given the very few counterspells, only four Mana Leaks, in many ways this plays like a mono-White style of control deck--it does not play Draw-Go like the old mono-Blue control decks that had fifteen or twenty counterspells, it controls the game by neutralizing the opponent's game plan after it hits the board.  Your Tumble Magnet+Contagion Clasp combo can buy you near infinite time, and the Day of Judgments can buy you almost any more time you need.

Between your counterspells and never-ending card advantage you are well equipped to fight against other control decks, particularly because this is not a very popular build at the moment and thus no one is playing against it correctly.  If this brew picks up popularity and becomes more known people are going to start playing around Venser more and your percentages may fall, but for the moment make hay while the sun shines.

Valakut

Valakut is a favorable matchup.  You can hold off Titans indefinitely with your Tumble Magnets and force them to over-commit to the board, allowing you to clean up with a Day of Judgment.  You want to gain card advantage and try to run them out of cards, then begin fatesealing with a Jace, the Mind Sculptor.  As with any control deck facing Valakut, you do not want to let them attack with a Titan, whether [card Primeval Titan]Primeval[/card] or [card Inferno Titan]Inferno[/card], if at all possible.  Letting them resolve is much less worrisome if you have a Tumble Magnet available.  A single boost from a Primeval Titan is not usually enough to get their Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles online.  You also have Tectonic Edges that can buy you time, or even recur with Sun Titan in the late game.  If you manage to get Venser, the Sojourner to ultimate and can cast a spell it gets very difficult to lose.

Sideboard

In

3 Leyline of Sanctity, 1 Tumble Magnet, 1 Day of Judgment

Out

4 Wall of Omens, 1 Gideon Jura

After sideboarding you are trying to find and protect a Leyline.  After a Leyline makes an appearance you just need to hold their forces at bay with Magnets and DoJs.  Their plan will probably include either Acidic Slime or Terrastodon to deal with your many permanents, so save any counterspells to deal with those unless something else is going to kill you.  If they can remove the Leyline with one of their creatures they may be able to kill you off in a single turn without even attacking, so playing any extra Leylines is usually correct - even if it means playing a Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Venser, the Sojourner a turn later.

Vampires

Vampires is supposed to be good against CawBlade, even if it's weak to Valakut, so if many Valakut players abandon ship after the GP Dallas results it could see an uptick in popularity.  They have a smattering of targeted discard that can be painful game one, but their creatures are usually pretty easy to hold at bay.  All of your early blockers (Wall of Omens, Sea Gate Oracle) are relevant, and the Oracle can even kill half of their threats if they attack into him.  The Magnets are not particularly impressive because all they have are 1/1s and 2/2s, but they can still be helpful in dealing with Lavaclaw Reaches.

The general plan is to keep them at bay long enough to land a planeswalker and ride it to victory.  If you have a Jace you can get them with card advantage, if you see Venser you can begin blinking your Walls/Oracles for more cards while also forcing the opponent to attack Venser or risk him going ultimate, and a Gideon can force them into unfavorable attacks and buy you time to find more answers.

They have enough targeted removal that activating Gideon Jura as a creature is almost always a bad idea unless you are sure they don't have anything; I just +2 him all day to buy time.

Sideboard

In

3 Leyline of Sanctity, 3 Celestial Purge, 1 Day of Judgment, 3 Ratchet Bomb

Out

3 Tumble Magnet, 3 Contagion Clasp, 4 Mana Leak

The Leylines protect you from being Fireballed out by Kalastria Highborn and their most likely board-ins, Duress and Inquisition of Kozilek.  The Celestial Purges can get rid of a Highborn before a Day of Judgment, a recurring Bloodghast, or the most threatening card, Dark Tutelage.  The Bombs are extra sweepers, or extra ways to deal with Tutelage.

The Magnets come out because Vampires does not have any large threats to tap down, just an army of 2/2s and 1/1s.  Without the Magnets the Clasps lose a lot of utility.  Vampires does have some 1/1s that you could snipe, but not enough to reliably kill one off with the Clasp.  For the same reason, lots of 1/1s and 2/2s without any single large threats, the counterspells are bad.  You want to be tapping out for blockers and card advantage, not leaving up counter mana.  If they play a threat and you counter it you are paying two mana to counter their Grizzly Bear, hardly a great deal.  If you leave mana up instead of playing a blocker and they don't play a spell you are going to want to throw your deck across the room.

After seeing Tumble Magnets in game one it is unlikely that the Vampires player will bring in any Demon of Death's Gates that they are sideboarding, but it is possible.  If they do, you may want to bring back in a Magnet or two for insurance.

Your ideal game after sideboarding sees you with a Leyline in play and the Vampires player without a Tutelage.  When that happens it is almost impossible to lose.

MonoRed

MonoRed can be an extremely good or bad matchup, depending on how many creatures they have versus how many burn spells they are running.  The more creatures they have the better for you because your Wall of Omens, Sea Gate Oracles, Tumble Magnets and Gideon Juras move from useless to amazing.  Wall of Omens and Contagion Clasp do a good job of embarrassing Goblin Guide and Plated Geopede, Tumble Magnet handles Kargan Dragonlord, and Day of Judgment can deal with anything else.  Your worst nightmare is a resolved Koth of the Hammer, followed by a hand full of burn.  If Koth resolves you need an answer, quick, or you are going to be in a lot of trouble.  Sometimes you can kill him with a Celestial Colonnade or a Gideon Jura, but honestly you usually you just lose to a resolved turn four Koth.

Your usual plan of getting an ultimate from a Venser or Jace is usually too slow here, so you have to become aggressive as soon as you can.  Start attacking with a Colonnade, Gideon, or Titan as soon as possible to end the game before they can draw enough burn to kill you.

Sideboard

In

3 Leyline of Sanctity, 3 Celestial Purge, 1 Into the Roil, 1 Ratchet Bomb

Out

4 Mana Leak, 2 Venser, the Sojourner, 2 Jace Beleren

The Vensers and Jaces do not have a large enough effect on the game for the mana cost and the cost of a more powerful, relevant card in your hand.  You are usually on your back foot from the beginning and need to tap out every turn to put up defenses, if you take a hit from a Goblin Guide or Plated Geopede instead of throwing out a blocker you are going to be in trouble, which makes leaving up mana for the Mana Leaks awkward.

The Leylines allow you to ignore any direct-to-the-face burn and protect your Jace, the Mind Sculptors while they fateseal the MonoRed player out of the game.  The Purges should be used for nothing but Koth, barring an emergency.  The Into the Roil and Ratchet Bomb are brought in for extra answers to Koth.  Without to-the-face burn or Koth it is much harder to lose.  You have enough creature control that you should be able to stem the bleeding in the earliest part of the game and stabilize, then let a Titan finish off the game.

Many MonoRed players are sideboarding Ratchet Bombs of their own to deal with Kor Firewalker, which they will probably be expecting you to bring in.  Their Bombs can also kill your Leylines, so that is the most important thing to play around after you stick a Leyline.

Boros

Boros is a significantly easier  matchup than MonoRed because they have more creatures and less burn.  They also have twice as many x/1s, Steppe Lynx in addition to Plated Geopede, which makes your Contagion Clasps better as removal.  Their biggest threat is another red four drop, Hero of Oxid Ridge, because it can stop any of your defenders from blocking.  If you have a Tumble Magnet, however, that is not as much of a worry.  Boros also frequently has Koth to worry about, but usually two or three instead of MonoRed's four.

Sideboard

In

3 Leyline of Sanctity, 3 Celestial Purge, 1 Day of Judgment,

Out

4 Mana Leak, 2 Jace Beleren, 1 Frost Titan

This is almost the same as the MonoRed sideboarding, for similar reasons.  The only difference is I bring in the Day of Judgment against Boros but not against MonoRed because of the difference in their creature counts, and the Into the Roil and Ratchet Bomb are not necessary because the game does not revolve around Koth and only Koth like it does against MonoRed, so terrible, emergency-only answers are not required.

I like to keep in the Vensers against Boros despite taking them out against MonoRed because blinking a Contagion Clasp can kill of a creature more often, and blinking a Tumble Magnet can also be more necessary.  The Frost Titan comes out instead of a Sun Titan because the Suns can return a destroyed Wall of Omens or Sea Gate Oracle which matters more often than tapping something down because you have plenty of other creature control and tapping lands is almost never relevant.

CawBlade

Enemy number one.  If you can't beat CawBlade at the moment you may as well not show up to the tournament.  The good news is this deck is quite well positioned against CawBlade--I have lost less than ten percent of my games against CawBlade with this list.

The only games I have lost to CawBlade have been ones in which the CawBlade player had both an early Squadron Hawk and an early Stoneforge Mystic, and I do not draw/resolve a Tumble Magnet.  If they do not have the perfect opening of Mystic into Hawk and either a counter for your Magnet or you fail to draw one you can turn the game into an attrition war that you are much better prepared for than they are.  You have more Jaces than they do, for less mana, more (and more powerful) Planeswalkers, and more Titans.  If you are still in the game on turn five you will almost assuredly win.

If you know you are playing against CawBlade the two most important cards you can have are Wall of Omens and Tumble Magnet.  I had been sideboarding out Wall of Omens in UW Control mirrors before because the only creatures were Titans that couldn't be blocked effectively by a Wall and they only cycled, and was expecting to do so against CawBlade when I first started testing this deck.  I was surprised, however, by its current effectiveness.  A turn two Wall of Omens is a much larger thorn in the side of CawBlade than you would expect because it can block a Stoneforge Mystic carrying a Sword of Feast and Famine which forces the CawBlade player to have a Squadron Hawk to get through.  The Tumble Magnets are the next most important cards because they trump the CawBlade's player trump of your Wall in the form of their Hawk.  If you can stop a Sword from connecting in the early stage of the game then you will be significantly better prepared for the attrition war than they will be.

Sideboarding

In

1 Divine Offering, 1 Tumble Magnet, 1 Into the Roil

Out

3 Day of Judgment

The maindeck is very well suited to playing against CawBlade already, so not many changes need to be made.  The DoJs come out because trading removal vs CawBlade at sorcery speed is a losing proposition due to the loss of both card advantage and tempo, not to mention that they often have a Celestial Colonnade, Inkmoth Nexus, or Gideon Jura ready to carry a Sword which makes removal like Day of Judgment just embarrassing.

The Divine Offering is to deal with opposing Tumble Magnets more than [card Sword of Feast and Famine]Swords[/card], as they can tap down your Magnets to force an attack through.  If your Magnets remain untouched you are not very worried about CawBlade's Swords.

The Into the Roil comes in to deal with any number of problems.  You can bounce a creature carrying a Sword to buy yourself another turn, the Sword itself to make a more favorable block, a Jace to allow you to play one of your own, or a Gideon.  It can also be helpful to rebuy your own Tumble Magnet if you haven't seen a Contagion Clasp or Venser, the Sojourner.

CawBlade's most likely board-ins are Divine Offering and counterspells, either Spell Pierce or Negate.  If they have them, a Sun Titan or two are also possible.  None of these are gamebreakers on their own, but you should be thinking about them when playing.  Allowing the CawBlade player to steal a game by destroying your Tumble Magnet with an end-of-turn Divine Offering and connecting with a Sword is not a good feeling.

This deck is off the radar, has no one actively gunning for it, and it quite powerful.  It has no unwinnable matchups, can sideboard effectively against any opponent, and is easily customizable to attack any expected metagame.  I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to play something off the beaten path without giving up any edge to win.

Thanks for reading,

Brook Gardner-Durbin

@BGardnerDurbin on Twitter

5 thoughts on “UW Control: Hawks Need Not Apply

  1. Love this article! Very well organized and explained. It really bugs me when people post a "new deck to break the format" and don't include any rationale on how the deck was built, how to sideboard, and why. This article covers everything!

  2. Very good article, I haven't got to test many of these decks, but I find the writing and reasoning behind them to be both entertaining and among the best on the internet. Keep it up!

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