Insider: Modern Deck Primer: UWR Control

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If you like playing control decks and you want to get into Modern, UWR Control is a great choice. The early game is all about thwarting your opponent with cheap, versatile answers such as Lightning Bolt and Mana Leak. In the mid game you continue to disrupt your opponent’s plans with spells such as Cryptic Command and Ajani Vengeant, and for the increased mana cost you potentially gain card advantage. You put the game away with a big Sphinx's Revelation or damage from Celestial Colonnade.

Let’s start with Shaun McLaren’s Pro Tour: Born of the Gods winning list.

This list was designed for a relatively unknown metagame following the banning of Deathrite Shaman and the unbannings of Wild Nacatl and Bitterblossom. Since then we have the benefit of seeing the results of Pro Tour: Born of the Gods and Grand Prix: Richmond. We’ve learned that while Zoo is certainly a real deck, it’s not public enemy #1.

Birthing Pod, Splinter Twin and Affinity decks are all doing well. Various combo decks such as Storm, Ad Nauseum, and Living End are proving themselves effective. Blood Moon is an important card in the new meta. It sees play in a variety of sideboards and has spawned a new blue red control deck named Blue Moon.

One thing I noticed while looking through the Top 8 decks from Grand Prix: Richmond is that every single list had at least 8 creatures with 1 toughness. Do you know what card is awesome against large numbers of tiny creatures?  Electrolyze.

Let’s make some changes. I want to cut 2 Lightning Helix because of the relative decline of Zoo, replacing them with 1 Electrolyze and 1 Spell Snare. Swapping out a Sulfur Falls and Tectonic Edge for Island and Arid Mesa adds some resilience against Blood Moon.

Now, on to the sideboard changes.



While Logic Knot has some merit, I’m suspicious enough to cut it for a Dispel. Timely Reinforcements is cut because of the decline of Zoo, leaving room for a Rule of Law which is incredible against 3 different combo decks. Finally, Porphyry Nodes usually involves taking some damage from creatures to be effective. We cut 2 Lightning Helix which makes the Nodes less effective, so I cut 1 for a Wrath of God which fills a similar role of beating up on creatures and answering the really annoying ones such as Thrun, the Last Troll.

Here is our updated UWR control list.

Customizing your deck

One of UWR Control's best features is that you can tweak it to beat pretty much anything. If you're new to the deck or unsure of what to expect from a given metagame my list will treat you well, but if you have a particular villain in mind read on. While many decks play the same 59 cards main deck time after time, UWR Control could reasonably change as many as 8 slots in the main. Because of the reactive nature of the deck you can play pretty much any sideboard blowout your colors permit. Furthermore, Snapcaster Mage lets you double up on sideboard cards like Dispel or Wear // Tear You just don't have to worry about Stony Silence shutting off your Birthing Pod, or a sweeper wrecking all your dudes. Anticipating a lot of Melira Pod at your next PTQ? +1 Anger of the Gods. Want to beat that jerk who plays Ad Nauseum at your LGS? +1Rule of Law. If you feel you don't need Tectonic Edge to destroy opposing manlands, tron pieces, and Boseiju, Who Shelters All you can replace one with Desolate Lighthouse for a huge advantage in draw-go situations or Calciform Pools to power up your Sphinx's Revelation. If Sphinx's Revelation feels too slow you can replace one with Batterskull to beat up on fair decks or Gideon Jura for something still anti midrange but more effective against Splinter Twin decks. Good 'ol Baneslayer Angel is like a sideboard only (because of main deck removal) version of Batterskull that puts a hurting on affinity because flying allows it to block and first strike allows it to survive Cranial Plating.

Playing with Cryptic Command

Cryptic Command Is among the most complicated cards to play not only in this deck, but in Modern as a whole. Picking 2 of 4 modes is 6 options, which can be played in reponse to a spell, your main phase, opponent's upkeep, opponent's beginning of combat, opponent's end step, and some other fringe cases. Then you have to consider that the bounce mode has plenty of potential targets. When you multiply all those options you have exactly eleventy billion possibilities to consider. While it most commonly functions as Calculated Dismissal if you aren't looking for other ways to use it you're not only missing out on wins, but also some really sweet plays. Here are some examples. Main phase tap opponent's creatures and bounce your land. Replay the land for just enough mana to active Celestial Colonnade and swing with it and your Snapcaster Mage past your opponent's now tapped would-be blocker for lethal damage. Tap your opponent's creatures and draw a card on his upkeep, before he has a draw step to potentially find countermagic, to buy your Ajani Vengeant a precious turn to do something powerful. If your opponent doesn't have countermagic, you can do the same play on his beginning of combat step. If your opponent has a manland that he could potentially activate after you tap his creatures, you can bounce it instead of drawing a card. If the opponent has 6 life you could -2 your Ajani Vengeant at his face, bounce your Ajani with Cryptic on the opponent's turn after attackers are declared, then cast Ajani again to finish the job. If your opponent is on 7 cards you can consider bouncing one of his lands and drawing a card on his end step to force him to discard to hand size. You can bounce a troublesome permanent such as Birthing Pod on the opponent's end step with the intention of leaving up mana to counter it. Finally,  countering a spell and bouncing your Snapcaster Mage intending to flash back something powerful next turn will often earn a concession.

Getting aggressive

On turn 1 you're always happy to Lightning Bolt a Ignoble Hierarch without even thinking about it. In the later turns you have to consider whether your burn spells should be going upstairs. End of opponent's turn Bolt Snap Bolt untap -2 Ajani attack with Colonnade is 13 damage. Your opponent might have dealt the other 7 to himself by turn 2 with a fetch, 2 shocks, and a Thoughtseize. These kinds of opportunities can be difficult to spot in practice, since for the first 5 turns of the game you were probably completely focused on stopping your opponent's game plan. Knowing when to get your beatdown on with Celestial Colonnade comes with experience, but the first question is "do I REALLY need this 5 mana for something else this turn?"

Matching your answers to their threats

Playing a reactive control deck such as this can be less about doing something with your own deck and more about understanding your opponent's plan so you can figure out how to stop it. If your opponent plays a turn 1 Vault Skirge and you're considering countering it with your only [Spell Snare], don't. Just let the imp hit you for a while. It's only 1 damage per turn, you don't care much about your opponent gaining life, almost every card in your deck answers the imp, and Spell Snare is your best answer to much more dangerous threats such as Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager. If you find yourself debating whether to counter your opponent's Tarmogoyf with Spell Snare or Mana Leak there are a number of questions you should ask yourself. Does your opponent have many good targets for your snare in his deck? Is your opponent close to having enough land to just pay for your leak for the rest of the game? Do you need the leak to stop a potential Splinter Twin on his Deceiver Exarch? In the late game using 2 leaks to counter 1 spell can be a painful decision. A creature such as Kitchen Finks may not merit the 2 for 1 because you can hope to block it with Celestial Colonnade but stopping something that's critical to your opponent's deck such as Birthing Pod is certainly worth the price. Remember that Ajani Vengeant can be used to keep their Birthing Pod tapped, but it cannot be used to actually tap anything.


Visual Sideboarding Guide

Melira Pod



Their best cards against you are Birthing Pod, Voice of Resurgence, and Gavony Township. Forgetting about Voice of Resurgence and accidentally triggering it is a common mistake. They are probably boarding in 4 Thoughtseize which makes countermagic worse. Porphyry Nodes can answer Thrun, the Last Troll because it doesn’t target. Beware the Stony Silence Relic of Progenitus nonbo when sideboarding.




Fetch basics to play around Blood Moon. A resolved Etched Champion is very difficult to answer, note that Porphyry Nodes does work. In sideboard games you can mulligan a little more aggressively because you have Stony Silence in your deck.

UR Splinter Twin



Patience is a virtue. Land go is the plan in most matchups, but especially this one. Be aware that they often cut combo pieces in sideboard games to emphasize their fair plan. Play around Blood Moon.

Tarmo Twin



Relic of Progenitus + Burn spell = fried Tarmogoyf. Use the burn spell before the relic, otherwise your opponent might put stuff in the graveyard after the relic before the burn spell to save his goyf. This plan assumes your opponent is cutting the combo to try to beat you with creatures back by countermagic. If you see Splinter Twin and friends in sideboard games you should adjust to a plan more similar to UR Twin.




Just survive. As with any Lightning Bolt deck, there’s a big difference between being at 4 life and 3.

UWR Control



Like most control mirrors, hitting your land drops is critical and casting spells on your opponent’s end step is preferable. Crucible of Worlds is huge. Hands with 6 lands are good, 2 landers are more often mulligans.




This is sort of like a control mirror but they have a 4-mana "win the game" spell. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle can be a tricky card and understanding the math is important. If they resolve Scapeshift with 7 lands getting 1 Valakut and 6 Mountain, that does 18 damage.

Removing the Valakut with the triggers on the stack doesn’t help any.
Removing a Mountain with the triggers on the stack fizzles all but 1 of the triggers because of the “5 other Mountains” clause.

Scapeshift with 8 lands getting 2 Valakut and 6 Mountain does 36 damage, or 6 if you remove a Mountain. If they’re competent they’ll probably get 1 Valakut 7 Mountain against your 1 Tectonic Edge, guaranteeing the full 21 damage.




Sadly, many of your cards don’t do anything. Consider a mulligan if you don’t have any of Porphyry Nodes Wear // Tear or your sweepers in sideboard games.




In game 1 your plan is pretty simple, just stop them from executing their plan. You do this mostly by keeping Goblin Electromancer and Pyromancer Ascension out of play and killing them as quickly as you reasonably can. In sideboarded games  they have plays like Defense Grid or ritual in to Blood Moon so you need to stop them from stopping you from stopping their plan, which sounds much more difficult, but cards like Rule of Law go a long way. You'll want to play fetchlands early so you can get Island or Mistveil Plains to beat Blood Moon. Against decks like this and Ad Nauseum you should strongly consider running out Snapcaster Mage turn 2 to put a clock on your opponent. They’re probably bringing in Empty the Warrens, so keep in at least 1 sweeper. Celestial Purge answers Blood Moon, Pyromancer Ascension, and Goblin Electromancer.

I’d like to close with a question for the comments: Are you happy with the way I have organized the deck lists? I did it this way because it’s fairly standard, but personally I much prefer constructed decks be sorted by a sort of adjusted converted mana cost, where Dismember=1 and Snapcaster Mage=3.

4 thoughts on “Insider: Modern Deck Primer: UWR Control

  1. Good writeup, Paul. I wanted more big-picture stuff, though. For example, one reason to go so light on creatures is that you can run lots of board sweepers and not trip yourself up. However, Shaun only runs an Anger maindeck. Why not 2-3 more sweepers? I know that they’re blanks in some matchups, but a Supreme Verdict or Hallowed Burial really puts away the Pod decks. I found in testing that Melira could readily beat UWR Control, since the plan of “recharge with Rev” only works on turn One Billion.

    I’m also scrutinizing my manabase a lot more. I don’t like quad Tec Edges – in fact, I don’t like them at all. This isn’t a tempo deck where throwing the opponent off of a turn 5 play is a big deal, after all. I’ve replaced my Edges with Calciform Pools. It’s still the same bad colorless land, but it also means that you never waste mana, you “hit” more land drops with charges, and you occasionally get allstar Revelations. I found it was really good when I’d want to attack with Colonnade but leave Cryptic mana up. So many of the games with this deck involve hitting land drops and getting more and more mana. They’ve been working really well. I don’t want to be in a position where double-Edging someone on turn 4 is my best play.

    Since Bitterblossom isn’t really a thing, is Izzet Staticaster still valuable at all? Is that sideboard spot just better as another Anger?

    I’ve also found a lot of value in bringing in Relics against Twin. Blanks their Snapcasters and also keeps Oozes and Goyfs from being actual threats.

    Four Electrolyze looks really gutsy. I like it.

    Against Storm, I’d be cutting Electrolyzes before Helices since you save a mana on killing Electromancer – the only relevant target anyway. I’m not pleased with the idea of paying 1RU to just cycle Electrolyze away. Also, Helix, Snapcaster Helix can make the Grapeshot math a lot harder.

    1. That’s a great comment Doug, thank you! One of the great things about UWR control is how much room it has to adjust to your local meta and your personal preferences. I think 2 sweepers main is perfectly reasonable, 3 is starting to push it and I may want a Desolate Lighthouse to replace a Tectonic Edge so I can loot them away, and 4 is probably too many. Two things I dislike about sweepers are that they are high variance where I prefer to be consistent, and that even in match ups where they are good my opponents often try to play around them simply because I’m playing a control deck. I find I can get away with playing just 1 main and relying on burn spells to answer most creatures while still being useful in matchups where sweepers aren’t.

      I think cutting a Tectonic Edge for a Calciform Pools is a good idea, and I’ll probably try it out next time I play the deck.

      I like Izzet Staticaster against Pod, Affinity, and Twin, which are 3 of the most important matchups in Modern. It’s more effective than a sweeper when your opponent is playing 1 creature at a time. It combines nicely with a Lightning Bolt to kill a 4 toughness creature. Against Affinity it snipes a manland, keeping the rest at bay and potentially stopping a hit from Cranial Plating.

      I agree with bringing in Relics against Tarmo Twin. I plan to update this article to add some more content, including a seperate SB plan for Tarmo Twin.

      Against Storm, Electrolyze vs Helix is an interesting decision. I agree that Lightning Helix is a better answer than Electrolyze to an on board Electromancer because it costs less mana. However, I think most of the time we’ll prefer Electrolyze for 1 of 3 reasons: 1) They don’t have Electromancer so we just cycle it at their face to dig for a better interactive spell 2) We have a Lightning Bolt for their Electromancer leading us back to reason 1. 3) We have enough mana that we can afford to pay an extra mana to draw a card. In my experience grapeshot usually does plenty of overkill, and they know my hand from Gitaxian Probe so I’m probably not going to surprise them.

  2. Good article, Paul! I felt that the information you presented was very informative and clear. I also appreciate your observation to move back towards Electrolyze.

    I am interested in your opinions on the following cards: Geist of Saint Traft, Restoration Angel, and Vendilion Clique.

    1. Those 3 cards compliment each other nicely in a variety of ways and sometimes see play in UWR midrange, replacing cards like Ajani Vengeant and Sphinx’s Revelation from control. Midrange’s late game is weaker, its early game is stronger, and the opponent’s removal is more effective. Geist is great against UWR decks, and plays well with lightning helix because it’s a card that wants to win races and sometimes needs the help of 3 extra life against faster decks. Clique is at its best against combo decks, where the information and hand disruption are valuable and it’s less likely to fall behind against cheap creatures backed by lightning bolt. Restoration Angel as a potential blocker can be a real headache against agro and midrange decks. I have no strong feelings as to whether UWR midrange is much better or worse than control in the current meta, play whatever suites you.

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