Taking White-Blue Control to Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan

Feature Article from Raphael Levy
Raphael Levy
2/8/2018 11:01:00 AM
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Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan marked several firsts for me:

- It was the first PT of my new streak since I missed Pro Tour Ixalan,
- It was the first time I brought my son Lavan to a Magic tournament,
and not the least, the first time in a while I left my Bloodghasts at home for a Modern tournament to pick up… White-Blue Control.

I haven't written about Modern in a while, even after Team Modern at Grand Prix Madrid where I played a classic Dredge list. We thought we had a winning list in our three decks. Loïc Le Briand played Burn and did quite poorly, I did fine with an above average result (7-6-1 or something like that), while Jérémy Dezani posted a 12-2 record with White-Blue Control, losing only twice to Storm.

Since the PT was Modern as well, I was advised to keep the deck under the radar for a while, and that's why you haven't heard from me about Modern lately. Dredge kind of let me down for that tournament, and Jérémy did so well and in such an amazing fashion (every time I was looking over his game, he was ahead), that it was hard not to feel convinced White-Blue Control was the deck to play.

Control isn't exactly my cup of tea, but I had some time to practice and make sure I could play it correctly. After a dozen of leagues on Magic Online, a good amount of games lost to the timer, I was almost ready to play it.

There's more or less a consensus among players on the amount of removal spells, counters, lands, win conditions and draw spells, but our list has many significant differences with the most common lists. Instead of addressing the reason behind the balance between each set of card (number of removals / counters…), I'm going to go over the choices we made that make this list a little different from the others.

Ancestral Vision > Search for Azcanta/Sphinx's Revelation/Supreme Will

The deck mainly deals with threats with one-for-one and two-for-one answers, which sometimes isn't enough. To make up the card advantage, we want to have a card that does better than two-for-one. Ancestral Vision is the cheapest card that achieves that goal and it fills the curve perfectly. The deck is built in a way to survive long enough for your suspend spells to resolve, giving you more time to settle your game plan, survive until your next Vision resolves and until you can find your win condition.

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 Ancestral Vision
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It is not uncommon to win the game with Ancestral Vision targeting your opponent. In control matchups, both decks neutralize each other and you should have the control of the size of both libraries.

Search for Azcanta is a powerful enchantment, but it felt a little too slow. Unless you're playing against very specific matchups and want to scry away your useless cards, you'll often want to keep the lands and the active spells, and it's going to take a while for it to flip. At that point, after all the efforts, you can face Field of Ruins and Ghost Quarter anyway.

Sphinx's Revelation is only good in the very late game when you have more than six lands. Until then, it won't help stabilizing the board and you'll have to tap out on your opponent's turn, which usually means you can't back it up with your own counters, unlike an Ancestral Vision that will resolve on your upkeep.

One of the mistakes I made a few times was thinking I wouldn't need to play Ancestral Vision – when you have to discard because you have eight cards in hand or don't play it on a turn when you feel you might need that extra blue mana. The thing is, it's almost always right to play it. If you think you won't need it, you probably do. The deck takes so much time to win, gives so much time to your opponent to find more threats, that you can't give up any way to get card advantage, even if you think you won't need it.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar>Gideon of the Trials/Gideon Jura/Jace, Architect of Thought

I saw a lot of people confused over the choice of that version of Gideon.

I have tried Gideon of the Trials and found it to be very underwhelming. I understand the interaction with Gideon Jura, but it feels like it just doesn't do enough. Gideon Jura can act as a removal spell and attack eventually, but he will mostly serve as a one-turn Fog.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, also works as a Fog, except that it gives you a 2/2 in the process and costs one less mana. It kills just as fast, if not faster, and his ultimate ability can be crucial when you board in Timely Reinforcement. It's able to attack Liliana from a different angle (by making Knights), without fearing a Dismember.

Vendilion Clique > No Vendilion Clique

The inclusion of Vendilion Clique as a win condition is a direct consequence of the low number of counters in the deck. We kept the number of counters low because it felt like removal was more important. Lot of decks don't care so much about them because they can easily work around them, either with Cavern of Souls, Aether Vial, Thoughtseize and other hand disruption spells.

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The counters are important in slow matchups and matchups where the above cards aren't played. This includes most versions of Tron and combo decks. In these matchups, you can't rely on your five counters to survive, so you need another way to interact with them. Your sideboard solves that for game two and three.

Vendilion Clique is the perfect compromise as it will help you manage your counters by looking at your opponent's hand, give you a win condition and keep some of your opponent's creatures at bay (it can be a surprise blocker for a Mantis Rider or a Meddling Mage).

Nine Basic Lands

Most versions play between six and eight basics. A lot of my matches were determined by how many basics I had. Between the number of basics you draw, the ones you fetch to not damage yourself with Hallowed Fountain, the ones your opponents get you with Path to Exile and Field of Ruins and you own Field of Ruins, you often have all your basic lands in play. This is often relevant in control mirrors as you want as many lands in play as possible to do everything you want to do (activate Colonnade with backup, for example).

The Sideboard

Most players agree you need a combination of Negate, Rest in Peace and life gain – but they often don't agree on which ones to play. One Blessed Alliance and one Timely Reinforcement seem to be the consensus. Burn is a tough matchup and you have to be wary of Skullcrack. The upside of gaining six life instead of four (and the three-Soldier backup) makes up for the sorcery speed. If you get Skullcracked in response, at least you get the creatures in play. The removal side of Blessed Alliance feels insignificant / weak in that matchup. That's one of the reasons we played two Timely Reinforcement. Add the fact that it's great against Humans and Mardu Pyromancer and you'll never cut the second one from your sideboard.

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The deck has ways to dig through the deck and efficiently find the right answer. In the current metagame, Rest in Peace and Leyline of Sanctity are amazing silver bullets against many decks, and leaving Leylines aside would be a mistake. It shuts downs burn spells, discard spells Liliana of the Veil and more. You don't need to have it in your opening hand. Of course it's better if you play it for free, but playing it for four mana isn't too bad either. You don't want to draw multiples, so two should be a good number.

When we talk about efficient counters, we think Negate and Dispel. Ceremonious Rejection is there to make up for the lack of early or cheap ways to interact with artifact and colorless spells from Affinity, Tron and Eldrazi decks. There's nothing better than to counter a Ugin or a Karn with a one-mana counter.

Sideboarding Guidelines

Sideboarding with the deck isn't as hard as it seems. You do however, need to do some research before submitting the decklist for a tournament as you need to identify your strategy for each matchup. When sideboarding, you need to answer the following questions:

- How good is Runed Halo?

If it shuts down four cards your opponent plays and they don't have a way to get rid of it, that means you should keep it. Otherwise, it's gone.

- How good is Spreading Seas?

How good is your opponent's mana base? Does he have utility lands you need to shut down? Against any deck that has too many basics (you won't be able to deny their mana with your Field of Ruins), that can work around your mana denial (Aether Vial), or uses blue as one of their main colors, you probably have better cards to bring in.

- How much removal do you need?

Will your opponent bring in Tireless Trackers? How important is Wrath of God / Supreme Verdict in that particular matchup? And, by the way, the mix of Wrath of God / Supreme Verdict is indeed to dodge Meddling Mage.

- Which silver bullet do you have to bring in?

Rest in Peace is a tricky card as it shuts down your own Snapcaster Mages. But it's something you can live you with when it shuts down 10-20 cards in your opponent's deck. Leyline of Sanctity is always an auto-include against any deck running discard spells.

There are way too many matchups to cover in Modern, so I won't go over them here. However, feel free to ask in the comments if you're unsure about a specific matchup, and I'll do my best to answer in a timely manner!

Conclusions

So after weeks of testing White-Blue Control, I thought I was ready. I 3-0'd my first draft (which hadn't happened since PT Kaladesh), and I got paired against PV and his Jeskai Control. I might be a little biased, but if there's one match you have to watch from this PT, it's this one. 50 mins+extra turns of control mirror interactions. It might not have been perfect, but I was extremely happy with the way I played.

It's also a perfect example of how the deck works, how effective the mana denial plan can be, how [this card] can win you the game (I don't want to spoil the end), and how every decision can be crucial. Trust me, just watch it!

The problem was, that match totally drained me. I was not ready to play for so long at the Pro Tour, the whole day, with a deck I just learned how to pilot. I started missing obvious stuff the following rounds, and didn't quite finish as high as I expected. I went 5-4-1 overall with the deck, probably losing two matches I could have won. A 100th place finish isn't something to be proud of, but I took up the challenge to step out of my comfort zone and play something I wasn't familiar with. Maybe it's a new step for me and it's a whole new aspect to improve on my game.

Until next time!

Raph
@Hahamoud




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