"Control is dead" has long been a mantra of those unsatisfied with Modern. But UWx control decks have had impressive showings lately on the competitive circuit—just last weekend, both Jeskai Control and UW Control made Top 8 at GP Prague and SCG Baltimore, respectively. Thanks to Search for Azcanta and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, it's finally control's time to shine... unless Eternal Scourge has anything to say about it, that is!
The third in my Colorless Matchup Guide series, this article provides the tools to beating control strategies with Colorless Eldrazi Stompy. It presents recent builds, explains sideboard plans, and discusses pre- and post-board roles.
As always, we'll start with my current list.
Nothing new here, although I've recently toyed with the idea of a 2nd Surgical over one Bomb in the side. Bridgevine seems to be on the decline, though, making the switch less attractive. I would play another Spyglass in control-heavy metagames.
Jeskai Control has long been one of Colorless Eldrazi Stompy's favorite matchups. At last year's SCG Invitational, I went undefeated in the Modern portion partly thanks to facing Jeskai half the tournament. The deck can't answer Eternal Scourge, struggles against Chalice of the Void, and is just bad against large Eldrazi creatures in general.
All that being said, the deck has gained some serious tools over the past year. While their only hope was once to string together 20 damage in reach, Search for Azcanta // Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria give Jeskai mainboard ways to successfully grind us out. To maintain our lead in the matchup, we need to play with these two cards in mind. The simplest way is by hiding our answer cards in hand until the right time: Ghost Quarter to pop a transformed Search and Reality Smasher to attack a resolved Teferi.
Before we jump into sideboarding, here are a few miscellaneous tips for the matchup in general:
- Stick a Chalice on 1 as early as possible
- Don't crew Smuggler's Copter into removal
- Lead on Eternal Scourge when expecting permission, as it can be bought back later. Matter Reshaper is the more important creature to resolve
Mimic comes out because of its softness to Lightning Bolt. We're not aggressively hunting Temples after sideboard, so Mimic is likelier to die at a parity loss. On the draw, we cut Blinkmoth over other lands for the same reason (Mutavault gets the nod because it's bigger, and Jeskai doesn't have much to soar over).
Regarding Simian Spirit Guide: turn one Chalice is great against Jeskai game 1, but we're not looking to invest multiple resources into any one card after siding. Opponents will have ways to remove artifacts, and we don't want to two-for-one ourselves. It's also fine to cut 1-2 Chalices for Ratchet Bomb should opponents be particularly token-heavy. Teferi has thankfully supplanted Elspeth, Sun's Champion, once Jeskai's single best card against us, but Settle the Wreckage and Timely Reinforcements can still prove annoying, especially combined with a walker.
Relic of Progenitus is at its best here, nerfing Snapcaster Mage, Search for Azcanta // Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, and Logic Knot while keeping our Scourges active all game through permission and sweepers. Opponents have to remove it if able, but usually let us +1 in the process. Surgical Extraction counters crucial Snapcaster plays and refills us on Scourges should opponents deal with the first one.
While opponents are statistically unlikely to end up at 1 life, the same can't be said of planeswalkers, as Modern players carefully plan their turns so their walkers finish turn cycles at that exact loyalty count. Gut Shot helps fend off enemy reach plans by nabbing Snapcaster, but its chief role here is killing planeswalkers. Mutavault-plus-Shot kills Jace after he Brainstorms on an empty board; Seer-plus-Shot handles a plussed Teferi; Shot alone eats the Teferi that came down and tucked our Chalice.
Dismember answers Lyra Dawnbringer and Baneslayer Angel, as well as Celestial Colonnade, at a significant mana advantage. It also kills Snapcaster Mage, but that's not the point: without Dismember, Lyra would just take over the game. We must have an answer for it by turn five.
Post-board, this matchup becomes more about playing around disruption. Settle the Wreckage is all but guaranteed after siding, as are the rest of the sweepers in our opponent's 75.
Players should try to keep hands with early aggression. That means Matter Reshaper and Eternal Scourge, although of course the latter is preferable. Serum Powder can also help us achieve these hands by exiling Scourge for us. Beyond three-drops, almost anything goes.
Since game 2 is bound to go longer, hands featuring Wastes are already functional mulligans. Opponents are liable to Path or Field us two or more times in a game, and failing to find basics each time can add up. To illustrate the reality of this issue, consider that Sean Allen, who missed Top 8 on breakers at SCG Baltimore last weekend, made space in the manabase for a third Wastes.
Some of our sideboard cards require specific sequencing. Relic of Progenitus is best cast after Jeskai spends precious permission countering Eternal Scourge, or dedicates a turn to casting Surpeme Verdict; that way, the artifact provides an extra plus on cast. Sorcerous Spyglass comes down right after opponents cast a planeswalker, or after we've dished out our threats. It can also be cast in place of a threat if we're playing around a sweeper, or to see if it's worth attacking a certain way or leaving mana up to pop Relic. Smuggler's Copter too has a sequencing quirk after siding: it's usually best cast after our actual creatures, as opponents will leave mana up and have answers for it. Ideally, Copter resolves the turn before opponents start casting planeswalkers.
Jeskai Control is harder to beat than it used to be, but still a favorable matchup by almost any metric. Eternal Scourge is head-and-shoulders superior to any of our other cards, which is wonderful news since Serum Powder finds copies with laudable consistency. Players who keep answers in hand for Search, Teferi, and Lyra should have trouble losing to Jeskai.
Jeskai and UW share many cards, including Search for Azcanta // Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, Field of Ruin, and Path to Exile. Much of the same knowledge therefore applies to both matchups. But UW is a different beast, and one far better equipped to handle Colorless Eldrazi Stompy.
Contemporary UW Control decks overwhelmingly lean on Terminus as their sweeper-of-choice, to our detriment; the sorcery happens to be Modern's only card to permanently answer Eternal Scourge. Relinquishing that unassailable angle does hurt, but all is not lost. UW still lines up poorly against our cards on a fundamental level: Thought-Knot attacks their hand, Scourge weakens their spot removal, and creature lands team with Smuggler's Copter and Reality Smasher to threaten planeswalkers and keep the pressure on through board wipes.
The key playstyle difference between Jeskai and UW is how many creatures we commit to the board at a time. Against Jeskai, we can slam Scourges willy-nilly without fearing sweepers thanks to Scavenger Grounds. Now, we must pace ourselves like any other aggro deck.
Another difference is UW's lack of Lightning Bolt. This deck has no clean answer to Eldrazi Mimic, making the creature one of our better cards to open. Mimic plus a Mutavault provides ample aggression, and keeping assault squads compact in this way lets us recover easily from Terminus. That said, a turn-one Mimic often rewards fast follow-ups; UW is then forced to blow Path to Exile on our small creatures to have enough life for later, helping Seer and Smasher stick down the road. UW is easier to kill quickly than Jeskai.
Chalice of the Void, while excellent against Jeskai, stinks against UW. It hits painfully few cards, and opponents can easily nab it (and extra copies) with Detention Sphere. Even if Ratchet Bomb removes the enchantment, Chalice returns on 0, turning UW's Paths and Opts back online regardless. Without much to accelerate into, Simian Spirit Guide also gets the ax.
Trading two Matter Reshaper for two Ratchet Bomb is my go-to plan against UW, but it could just as easily be one for one or zero for zero. Matter Reshaper is just our worst threat in this matchup since it never triggers. Ratchet Bomb can tick up on an empty board to threaten planeswalkers in a pinch, but is mostly here to remove enchantments and quell token fiascos from the likes of Timely Reinforcements or Secure the Wastes. Detention Sphere and Search for Azcanta // Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin are the most common enchantments to destroy, but Runed Halo can really put a stick in our spokes if opponents have it.
Bomb becomes more of a liability if we expect Stony Silence. I've found opponents less keen on boarding Stony in for game 2, but very keen for game 3. Before then, they simply don't know how many activating artifacts we play, as they haven't seen Relic and Bomb. Between those, Powder, and Copter, Stony can effectively "Blood Moon" us by blanking multiple cards in our hand and deck. The best way to beat Stony is to counter-board by removing our activating artifacts. Serum Powder and Ratchet Bomb are the first to go; I like keeping Copter and Relic, since their upside is so high (especially the former now that UW has gone Miracles). Prioritizing openers with lots of aggression punishes opponents for keeping hands with a do-nothing enchantment.
Last but not least, Scavenger Grounds gets the cut for Gemstone on the draw. UW ups the sweeper count relative to Jeskai, so it's important that our lands help us rebuild. Manlands happen to be one of the best kinds of utility lands in this matchup, and UW can't Bolt a Blinkmoth. Besides, Grounds won't rebuy many Scourges vs. the 4 Terminus deck.
Despite benching Simian Spirit Guide, we trend more aggressive after siding, mainly because we're no longer spending early turns producing a Chalice. It also becomes challenging for UW to set up a clock against us, as we keep all our mainboard removal, and Gut Shot pulls double-duty as planeswalker pounder and Clique killer; they then trend more reactive. In other words, our respective game 1 roles are reinforced, albeit with both players toting some narrower bullets.
That's good news for us, and our sideboard plan takes full advantage of the fact that UW doesn't play Lightning Bolt. Path to Exile can slow an early assault, but in doing so ramps us into Reality Smasher and manland attacks. UW's planeswalkers are too slow to promise recovery, while its walls—Celestial Colonnade and Lyra Dawnbringer—seem to always meet a Dismember. The skill to master in these post-board games is front-loading as much damage as possible without building game states that can't recover from Terminus.
Ratchet Bomb can be played whenever and start ticking up to 3. It's fine with that many charge counters; Detention Sphere can no longer stick, and 1-2 more ticks let us blow up a planeswalker or Lyra. If opponents won't recover without tokens, or token generators are telegraphed, it's usually best to hold Bomb in hand until the right time.
Smuggler's Copter is good to come down right away since it gives our creatures pseudo-haste, letting them tap for damage the turn they enter the battlefield. In the face of countermagic, resolving the artifact should take priority over resolving a three-drop creature, except when we have no other threats in play or in hand.
While UW lines up better against us than Jeskai, I wouldn't call the matchup unfavorable by any means. But it does work differently than it used to, and now revolves around a new set of cards. Succeeding is a matter of learning how to play to and around those cards.
Colorless Eldrazi Stompy has to be one of the few decks whose UW matchup improves after sideboarding. We owe this paradigm shift to Humans, the deck responsible for UWx's widespread adoption of Baneslayer Angel. Unlike Humans, Gideon of the Trials and Elspeth, Sun's Champion are way scarier for us than a 5/5. Dismember enables a more focused aggro plan after siding, at last unfettered by clunky Chalices and Guides and undeterred by a potential damage race.
While Hollow One and Bridgevine mirror Colorless Eldrazi Stompy's big-creatures-fast approach, they're nowhere near as disruptive, nor as dynamic. CES is mostly unique among comparably aggressive decks in its ability to shift roles and adapt its strategy. That ability is well on display against control.
If you have any questions about the Jeskai or UW matchups, let me know in the comments. Until then, remember the Golden Rule: Cavern of Souls is for amateurs!