There is always a viable form of a control deck in the Legacy format and there are many great players that almost exclusively play control. If you run deep in a Legacy tournament you can expect to play vs control one time or another in the tournament. I hope this guide can give you an idea on the roles and strategies that are effective versus the various flavours of control decks. But I also want to give you a heads up that this is a fairly tricky matchup, and games tend to go long, so there are many chances to mess things up (from both sides). This means that the person with the most experience will have an edge, and I therefore recommend that you do dedicated practice of this matchup.
I started playing Lands in the peak of the Czech Pile era. During this time (but also after Deathrite Shaman was banned and up until Modern Horizon 1 came out) the Legacy control decks came in two distinct forms namely UW and 3-Color control.
UW decks were naturally good against Lands because they built their deck to ignore most of our strategies and cards. First of all they played many basic lands so our Wastelands were often dead and this made the Prison role hard to execute. They also had clean answers to Marit Lage, in the form of Swords to Plowshares, and this made the Combo strategy unreliable. Finally, it was difficult to control the board with Punishing Fire as they had recursive counterspells in Counterbalance, or threats that were hard to interact with such as True-Name Nemesis or Monastery Mentor. Their top end with Jace or Entreat could also go over anything we did, and if this wasn’t enough they often played main deck Back to Basics to completely lock us out. I did not enjoy playing against these UW decks as I felt unfavoured (especially in G1) and the games would often go long so I would spend a lot of time drawing bad cards and losing.
3-Color control decks were in many ways the exact opposite of the UW decks as most of our cards, and all of our strategies, were good in this matchup. They had a shaky manabase and we could Wasteland them out of many games. Marit Lage was also a reliable kill because they were Grixis or BUG coloured and didn’t have access to Swords to Plowshares. Further, their discard based disruption did almost nothing against us as our hands were typically filled with lands and recursive cards. I really enjoyed playing against these 3-Color control decks as I felt favoured (especially in G1) and the games would often go long so I would spend a lot of time drawing good cards and winning.
Overall I felt that Lands was a great choice vs the fair blue decks at this time. Half of the fair blue decks were on Delver (and we were favoured vs these) and at least half of the blue control decks were on 3-Color control (and we were favoured vs these). This meant that we were favoured in +75% of the fair blue matchups. On top of this the hate that we played against Storm and Show and Tell (such as Choke, Pyroblast and Sphere of Resistance) lined up well vs the UW control decks, and this meant that in the post sideboard games we could adopt a heavy Prison role and I felt favoured in the post sideboard games.
Then Modern Horizon 1 was released and everything changed. Arcum’s Astrolabe was an absolute nightmare printing for Lands as an archetype. It effectively made all control decks into “UW” (although they often played 5 colors). All of these decks now had access to Swords to Plowshares and Oko as clean answers to Marit Lage, and they played many basic lands to blank out our Wastelands and Prison plan. They often also played non-basic hate in the form of Blood Moon to lock us out. These decks were also harder to Prison out because their “late game cards” were cheaper and they could often operate solely on Forests and Swamps and hence Choke was unreliable. Not everything was bad though. We also got a new printing in Field of the Dead and this card gave us access to a new Ramp strategy (on top of the Prison, Control and Combo strategies that we already had access to). The Ramp strategy is very effective against control decks and we could adopt our deck to optimise this angle if we wanted to gain extra percentage points against control (such as playing Uro and Primeval Titan for example). We also got the printing of Valakut Exploration and this card quickly replaced Gamble in RG Lands decks. Valakut Exploration is a card advantage engine that doesn’t rely on the graveyard and it’s very good at fueling Field of the Dead.
As you all know Arcum’s Astrolabe has since then been banned and this was a huge benefit for Lands against the blue control decks. Modern Horizon 2 has also been released and this set has given new tools to both sides. In the rest of this article I will explain how I approach the current iterations of control decks in Legacy.
There are currently four different flavours of UW control decks that come to my mind, and I have tried to give them a short description below.
- Bant Control is by far the most popular UW control deck in today’s Legacy meta. It is built to abuse Uro (sometimes together with Sylvan Library). These decks have played up to four copies of Force of Negation (yuck) alongside Mystic Sanctuary. If you have not lost to this combination before then I can assure you that it feels just as bad as it sounds. The latest version of this deck seems to cut down on Force of Negation as they have picked up Prismatic Ending to answer resolved permanents. They still have plenty of answers to Loam though as they now play Endurance in the main deck. Bant Control has a fairly shaky manabase and it’s a better matchup today compared to during the Astrolabe era in my opinion.
- UW Miracles (with Mishra’s Bauble and Predict) is very similar to the UW Miracles decks of “pre Modern Horizon 1” and it has a rock solid manabase and plays annoying cards such as Counterbalance, Entreat the Angels and Back to Basics in the main deck.
- UWr Sharkstill is an interesting deck because even though it’s a (more or less) two coloured deck the mana base is fairly shaky since they play Hall of Heliod’s Generosity and Blast Zone, and the red splash is certainly not free from their side. G1 is a fairly good matchup for Lands as Standstill is not a good card vs us. After sideboarding the games get harder as I expect both Monastery Mentor and the red non-basic hate.
- Esper Mentor is really just a Grixis control shell that plays Swords to Plowshares instead of the red cards (it could as well have been listed under 3-color control). I think this is the easiest of the UW decks because they only play 4 basics and their discard based disruption is not effective vs Lands.
There is also a fairly new UWR deck that plays Ragavan and Urza’s Saga and Standstill. This deck has shown impressive results online but I don’t consider this a control deck and hence I won’t cover it here. I do think Lands is favoured vs this deck though.
This is the one matchup where mana acceleration is not crucial (especially if we are on the play). I would rather keep a hand with Sylvan Library than Mox Diamond against UW control. I have also found that good UW players tend to counter our engines instead of acceleration and I therefore value engines higher than acceleration in my starting hand. If I for example mulligan to 6 and see a hand with 2 Explorations and 2 Sylvan Library then I will bottom one of the Explorations. In the following section I will explain the various Lands strategies that are available against the UW matchup.
Strategy 1 – Prison-Ramp
What does good look like in the Lands vs UW matchup? Imagine that we get to untap with Exploration, Valakut Exploration and 4 lands in play on turn 3. It’s very hard to lose from this position. Valakut will “draw” 2-3 extra cards per turn, we will have plenty of mana and can use Rishadan Port to stop our opponent from casting their spells, while also making 2-4 zombies on every turn. This gamestate can be achieved when we have a good hand i.e. one that contains both mana acceleration and an engine (ideally two engines to ensure that one sticks around). This is how I would rate our various engines in this specific matchup.
- Valakut Exploration is in my opinion the best engine against UW decks. It’s important to optimize how we sequence our lands once we have Valakut in play. We should ensure that we have green mana open after we play our first land (just in case we will flip Exploration or Crop Rotation). Also, if our opponent cast a spell that will destroy Valakut then we should respond by fetching and / or casting Crop Rotation as any card flipped with Valakut can be played even if Valakut is destroyed. Actually the EOT trigger doesn’t happen if Valakut is destroyed and we can play the exiled cards indefinitely.
- Sylvan Library used to be the best possible card against UW decks but it has gotten worse due to their effective answers in Prismatic Ending, Narset and Hullbreacher. It is still a good card in the matchup and an early Library often leads us to victory. If I resolve an early Library then I will use my life aggressively in order to get ahead on cards before my opponent finds an answer. Swords to Plowshares on Marit Lage will also give us 5 new cards and hence if I have Sylvan Library in play then I am more inclined to summon the 20/20 monster.
- Elvish Reclaimer can be an engine if we also play Flagstones of Trokair. This combination will ramp us one land per turn and get us closer to having Field of the Dead online. It’s unlikely that the Elf will survive though as they have plenty of answers to creatures.
- Life from the Loam is probably the worst engine against UW control as these decks are built to ignore many of our lands (so getting 3 back is not that strong). It is also often difficult to get lands into our graveyard in this matchup and Loam can be stranded in our hand. UW decks also tend to play recursive counterspells, such as Force of Negation plus Mystic Sanctuary or Counterbalance plus Brainstorm / Jace, and the recursive nature of Life from the Loam is less useful in this matchup.
If I am lucky enough to get to untap with an engine then I will go heavy on the Prison role as I want to maximise the number of turns where my engine gives me an advantage.
Screenshot of what good looks like in the Lands vs UW control matchup.
Things don’t always go according to plan as our opponent runs counterspells and removal such as Prismatic Ending. Luckily it is possible to play the Prison-Ramp strategy even without an engine online (I call this the naked Prison-Ramp strategy). I have won many games against UW control without casting a single spell. Lands cannot be countered or targeted by their removal and it’s therefore possible to leave our opponent with dead cards stranded in their hand while we are getting closer and closer to having 7 lands with unique names in play. We also have plenty of mana sinks and can use our mana even if we are not casting spells. Here are some early indicators that the naked Prison-Ramp strategy can be viable.
- My opening hand has both Field of the Dead and multiple copies of Rishadan Port.
- My opponent leads with a non-basic land into Ponder and chooses to shuffle.
- My opponent misses their 2nd or 3rd land drop.
Let’s delve deeper into the Prison angle of the Lands deck as this is so important at this point in the game. Rishadan Port is my favourite magic card and here are some more pointers on how to use it against the UW deck.
- It’s obviously best if we have more Port activations then our opponent has lands and we should therefore copy Rishadan Port with Thespian’s Stage to maximise the effect.
- We should set a stop in our opponent’s upkeep and in their draw step. This way if they float mana in response to our first Port activation then we can pass priority and force them to tap more lands (if they for example want to cast a card with flash such as Ice Fang Coatl or Snapcaster Mage). We can now use our remaining Port activations in their draw step to tap down their remaining lands.
- We should tap our opponent’s fetch lands in their end step. If they crack the fetch in response to our Port activation then we can tap their land in their next upkeep and the “protection” that a fetch provides is gone. If they choose to not crack their fetch in response to our Port activation then we have the chance to Waste their tapped fetch on our turn (assuming that we draw a Wasteland or have one sandbagged in our hand).
- If our opponent continues to draw lands and end up with more lands then we have Port activations then we have some interesting choices about which lands we should target with our Rishadan Ports.
- Blue is the hardest and most risky color to try to cut off. It’s hard because most of our opponent’s lands produce blue mana and it’s risky because many of our opponent’s blue cards (such as Brainstorm, Ice Fang, Snapcaster Mage, Hullbreacher, Predict) can be cast at instant speed. However, it can sometimes be a good idea to try to cut them off blue as it prevents them from casting Ponder and Preordain to dig for more lands.
- Green is a good color to take out against Bant control as they have some green sorcery speed cards that are strong against our mana denial plan (such as Abundant Harvest, Sylvan Library and Uro). It’s not completely without risk though as both Ice Fang and Endurance can be cast at instant speed.
- White is probably my default color to target against non-green UW decks. It’s a safe choice as all white threats (such as Monastery Mentor, Stoneforge Mystic, Entreat) are deployed at sorcery speed.
- Red and Black are typically not a priority in G1 as there are few red or black cards that we care about in the pre sideboard games. This changes after sideboarding though as there are plenty of great non-basic haters in red (such as Blood Moon and From the Ashes).
- Dark Depths can be used as extra copies of Rishadan Port. If we have Thespian’s Stage and Dark Depths in play then our opponent will not be able to use all their white mana while also holding up mana for Swords to Plowshares. In this situation the Dark Depths combo is effectively a “free” Rishadan Port.
- Tabernacle can be used as extra copies of Rishadan Port activations. We will let our opponent pay the upkeep cost for their Ice Fangs and / or Snapcasters before we use our Ports on their remaining lands.
I find that the naked Prison-Ramp strategy wins if we continue to draw more lands than our opponent. At some point we will have found Field of the Dead and then once we have obtained 7 (unique) lands in play the game is effectively over. We can now turn gears and copy Field with Thespian’s Stage to effectively start creating 4-8 zombies on every turn. This will quickly overwhelm our opponent.
An alternative (although harder to execute) way to win is to tap down all of our opponent’s white mana sources and then assemble Marit Lage in our opponent’s end step. Ghost Quarter can be used to destroy basic Plains, and Thespian’s Stage can copy Ghost Quarter to give us more copies of this effect. It’s a good idea to keep track of how many basic Plains that are played in the UW decks of the time (it typically varies between 1 and 3). It’s super important to be patient here. It’s not uncommon for me to pay 30 mana (over many turns) to naturally assemble Marit Lage. Thespian’s Stage will often make more use as another copy of Rishadan Port instead of as a “1 for 2” trade when assembling the 20/20 token.
I have found that the naked Prison-Ramp strategy can lose games where our opponent draws more lands than us (especially fetches are strong against this strategy). If they are able to cast a card such as Sylvan Library or Uro or Jace, then they will start to accrue an advantage each turn, and this will help them find more lands and counterspells. It’s important to delay this point as long as possible. If we already have Field of the Dead online when they are able to cast Sylvan Library or Jace then we can often handle the situation. In my experience the only cards, from the UW deck, that can outclass Field of the Dead are Shark Typhoon and Entreat the Angels, and both of these cards are hard to resolve under Rishadan Ports. If they do manage to sneak in a big Entreat then the only answer that we have is to copy Blast Zone with Thespian’s Stage in order to create a Blast Zone with 0 counters on it.
There can be a tension between our expensive cards, such as Valakut Exploration, and the Prison-Ramp strategy. Force of Will / Force of Negation can be cast even with no untapped lands and if we spend all of our mana to cast Valakut, and have it countered, then the game can be over as the UW player will now have all their lands available on the following turn and can deploy one of their snowballing threats. If we continue to draw lands, and are able to use our mana on Rishadan Port and Dark Depths activations, then there is often no need to expose ourselves to the tempo gain of Force of Will. Life from the Loam is cheaper than Valakut Exploration but I also have patience with Loam. It’s often better to cast Loam on turn 4 (to ensure our 4th land drop) instead of turn 2 or 3. This way we can use the mana from one of the lands that we returned to activate Rishadan Port on the following turn.
I think the decisions on how to navigate the naked Prison-Ramp strategy is the hardest part of the Lands vs UW control matchup and inexperienced players will lose games where they cast their spells on the wrong turn.
Strategy 2 – Uncounterable-Aggro
This is a new strategy that is enabled by Urza’s Saga. In this strategy we try to blank our opponent’s counterspells by letting our lands do the heavy lifting. Let’s assume that our hand has a Mox Diamond and Urza’s Saga. In this case we can have two 4/4’s and an Expedition Map in play at the end of our 3rd turn. Expedition Map can find another Saga and at the end of our 6th turn we can have four 7/7 Constructs, one 1/1 Servo, and a Retrofitter Foundry in play. This is pretty good for a single uncounterable land (although we did also put in plenty of mana into this sequence).
Thespian’s Stage can copy Urza’s Saga and this interaction is broken in a slow matchup such as against UW control. If we copy a basic land with Stage in response to the “search your library” trigger then the Stage actually gets to keep the ability to make constructs. We now have a token generator that is immune to non-basic hate such as Back to Basics. I have won many games against UW control where I used Crop Rotation to find Saga at the end of my opponent’s turn and copied it with Stage. We can execute this line as soon as we have 3 lands in play. It’s important to note that we need 6 mana 2 turns later in order to activate both Saga and Stage (to make constructs) on the same turn. Saga can find Mox Diamond on its 3rd Chapter, and this ramps us, so we can get there from 3 lands if we have 3 extra lands in hand. If we don’t have 3 extra lands in hand then it’s safer to start this chain with 4 or 5 lands in play. This sequence requires less resources than Field of the Dead and can be executed earlier in the game.
Urza’s Saga also has the nice upside of making both Life from the Loam and Crop Rotation better against UW control. Urza’s Saga will naturally hit our graveyard and it’s a great land against UW decks and it therefore “fixes” 2 of Loam’s historical problems in this matchup. Crop Rotation is weak against decks with counterspells since it’s a “1 for 2” trade if we get it countered. But if we rotate away Urza’s Saga in response to the “search your library” trigger then it’s only a “1 for 1” trade if Crop Rotation is countered (it’s even a “2 for 1” trade if the counterspell is Force of Will).
I think the Uncounterable-Aggro strategy is strong against UW decks but it’s not guaranteed that it will lead us to victory. UW decks are very good at answering creatures and Swords to Plowshares plus Ice Fang / Endurance can lead to complete blow outs. Also, this strategy is mana hungry and it can be hard to execute it at the same time as we put pressure on our opponent’s mana. This means that we expose ourselves to scenarios such as Terminus or Dress Down plus Uro or Jace on the same turn.
I want to talk a bit more about Dress Down. Bant control currently plays 2 or 3 copies of this card (primarily) as an answer to Urza’s Saga. Dress Down can come down at instant speed and it kills all constructs (as it turns them into 0/0’s). If my opponent is signaling that they have Dress Down then I will wait until their end step to make tokens. We typically don’t want to make new tokens on our own turn pre-combat (even if this will grow our other constructs) as they will then all die to a flashed in Dress Down.
Not all Lands decks go all in on Urza’s Saga, as they require many slots, and they tend to compete with either Rishadan Port, Sylvan Library or Valakut Exploration. Further, some of the 1 mana silver bullets are sub-par cards that increase our chances of bad top decks. My current opinion is that the 1st Urza’s Saga is very good as it makes us more non-linear and it improves the control and midrange matchups. However, I don’t think that it’s worth maxing out on Urza’s Saga. This can of course change depending on the metagame and if they print new cheap artifacts.
Strategy 3 – Combo
Going for a fast combo kill is not recommended against UW decks as they have plenty of answers to a 20/20 and it’s bad to set ourselves back 2 land drops. There are however certain edge cases where I will create a Marit Lage token into open white mana.
- If I feel extremely behind on board then I may go for a hail mary Marit Lage. Say for example that my opponent has a Monastery Mentor and will kill me on the following turn.
- If I have an unanswered Sylvan Library then I am more inclined to create a 20/20 monster. It feels great to gain 20 life with Sylvan Library in play.
- If I have Exploration and Life from the Loam but nothing else going then I may try to start creating a 20/20 on every turn and try to outrun my opponent’s removal. This is risky though as Force of Negation or Endurance can stop the recursion.
A more common combo line is if my opponent taps out on their turn when they have a blocker such as Ice Fang, Baleful Strix or Endurance in play. I have won many games where I create Marit Lage in my opponent’s end step and then untap and kill their blocker. This line is better if we play Abrupt Decay as removal instead of Punishing Fire.
Even though I won’t typically create Marit Lage into open white mana I do like to “Sword check” my opponent. If my intention is to pay 3 to remove 1 counter from Dark Depths at the end of my opponent’s turn then I will tap my lands so that Thespian’s Stage is the last land that is being tapped. This way it can look like I am actually copying Dark Depths with Stage.
- If my opponent has Swords to Plowshares in hand then they will typically let the Dark Depths trigger resolve instantly.
- If my opponent stops and thinks in response to the Dark Depths trigger then I can get a read that they don’t have Swords to Plowshares. I have even had opponents that concede when I remove 1 counter from Dark Depths this way. This actually happens more often than you would think (especially in MODO Leagues).
Game 1 from the UW Perspective
In order to ensure that I have not missed anything important I did reach out to the UW experts Marcus Ewaldh (Iwouldliketorespond), Thomas Mechint (mechin), and Anuraag Das (AnziD) and asked them how they approach G1 from the UW side. This is what they told me.
If I don’t run graveyard hate in G1 then my opponent will eventually get Field of the Dead online and I need to figure out a gamestate where I win before or despite that. This mostly revolves around cheesing in an Entreat the Angels, or having Stoneforge Mystic + Kaldra Compleat, or Monastery Mentor, or Uro (if I am playing that card). Jace is also very good in this matchup as it’s very hard for the Lands deck to remove him. We can use Jace to find a few counterspells and then start fatesealing our opponent while we temporarily counter Life from the Loam with Spell Snare and Force of Will. We can also use Jace to find more counterspells while we beat our opponent down with Snapcaster Mages.
In the early game it’s key to develop our mana with basic lands. I also try to have a play that I can do in response to a Rishadan Port activation (this way I can get some tempo). We can usually get a lot of extra time if Force of Negation hits a Life from the Loam, or if Force of Will hits an early Valakut Exploration.
Dark Depths is something that I have to respect but the Lands deck now has Field of the Dead and Urza’s Saga so Depths is not as important as it used to be. I also don’t think that Swords to Plowshares on Marit Lage is a game winning play in G1 if the Lands deck already has Life from the Loam going.
Finally, it’s also important to know how much our and their cards are worth in different situations. This is something that comes with experience and it’s not something that can be generalized. Field of the Dead is scary in the lategame but unless our opponent has Life from the Loam it’s only one or two 2/2’s per turn. In this case we need to have navigated the game to a spot where it’s OK that our opponent get’s one 2/2 on every turn. If we use Ponder to find Swords to Plowshares for a zombie token then we are doing something wrong. We will lose that game a few turns later and the Ponder could have been used better.
My G1 strategy is to construct a robust manabase and quickly find a Swords to Plowshares (in order to not die early). I won’t focus on Exploration but on Loam or Valakut Exploration, and I try to kill my opponent with planeswalkers.
I usually lose games where my opponent has an unanswered Sylvan Library or Valakut Exploration, or when I have mana issues and get rekt by Wasteland and Rishadan Port.
I mostly win games when my opponent has slow starts, or hands that lose to one counterspell / removal spell.
Historically the Lands vs Control matchup has always been very exciting, though not in a traditional sense. The pre board game boils down to which player can successfully prevent the other from executing their primary game plan. Lands will attempt to leverage Life from the Loam to snowball cards like Exploration and Valakut Exploration into hard mana lockdown via Rishadan Port or an unstoppable onslaught of Zombie tokens from Field of the Dead. For modern day UW, the plan is to use a combination of cards like Endurance and Force of Negation to prevent the proactive Lands strategy and find a window to resolve a game-ending haymaker like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Shark Typhoon.
When CounterTop was legal, executing the UW control plan was particularly easy as the deck was very consistent at assembling the artifact-enchantment duo with a CMC 2 card on top to lock out Loam and Punishing Fire. After that, find Swords to Plowshares to shut down Marit Lage and the game was wrapped up. Nowadays though, the matchup is much more complicated as the RG deck has significantly evolved since the “good ol’ days”.
The baseline plan for new age control in the matchup is pretty simple – draw your whole deck and counter everything your opponent tries to do. It’s no surprise UW has a million tools to do this, but what really changed things was the printing of Oko, Thief of Crowns and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. These two cards fundamentally changed the matchup by bringing to the table tools control previously could not leverage optimally – a reliable board presence, ramp, card draw, and life gain. Pairing these cards with Sylvan Library allowed for crazy games where Oko could swiftly tempo out the Loam opponent or Uro could gain too much advantage.
The biggest evolution I felt from the Lands side to match these new cards was the inclusion of haymakers like Sylvan Library, Pyroblast, and for a while even Abrupt Decay at the expense of more all-in cards like Gamble. What this meant to me was a something far more dangerous than “teching out” a list. It meant a shift in framework, a new approach to the matchup that involved playing far slower than before, but loading the deck up with far more cards that could single-handedly win the game.
So how do I approach the matchup then? Well… relatively the same. Draw your whole deck and counter everything. But wasn’t that always the plan? Well yes, but prior to a certain set the matchup was relatively close in that the control didn’t actually have very many good maindeck answers to what the Loam strategy was trying to accomplish. It was basically Force of Will critical enchantments and Force of Negation Loam or bust. Literally if even a single Library or Valakut Exploration stuck or Loam went unchecked for a few turns the game was over on the spot, full stop. That sounds scary, but it was still close as UW still featured upwards of 7 or 8 free counters in addition to planeswalkers that could help find them.
However now, with Modern Horizons 2 released, two cards have fundamentally changed the matchup. Enter Prismatic Ending and Endurance. Prismatic Ending may be the most ridiculous removal spell of all time. It just… answers everything that control previously struggled with. Chalice of the Void? Check. 2019 Planeswalkers? Check. Sylvan Library? Valakut Exploration? Check, check. The card is quite simply too versatile and in my opinion a 4x in any control maindeck. Even Endurance is insane – maindeckable Loam hate that can profitably block Delver of Secrets and chump Marit Lage to enable sorcery speed removal? Sign me up! The point is, while control was able to keep up sometimes against Lands before MH2, the introduction of new maindeckable cards relevant in the matchup means there’s actually an overabundance of answers for the threats Lands presents.
This translates to a shift in macro strategy for the control side. Now we are allowed to put a higher emphasis on drawing cards since all our answers are just so generically good in the matchup. Obviously the age-old mantra still applies – fetch basics and develop your mana so you don’t lose to Wasteland or Rishadan Port. But spending more card slots on Sylvan Library or Jace the Mind Sculptor is suddenly more reasonable, as is taking more tempo turns to draw cards off Uro for example because you’re more likely to find a critical Endurance or Force of Negation.
Here are some other short notes on cards I like in the matchup and have in my maindeck.
Dress Down: Excellent against Urza’s Saga, another grindy “Library-esque” card designed to outvalue control. Dress Down removes the abilities of the artifacts to get +1/+1 for other artifacts, making them measly 0/0 creatures that instantly die.
Shark Typhoon: This is the answer to Field of the Dead. 2/2 Zombies are cool, but they are no match for 5/5 Sharks. The fact that the Shark tokens also have flying is huge as it mitigates Marit Lage effectively.
Sideboarding from the Lands side
My sideboard tends to have somewhere between 5-8 cards for the control matchup (this is excluding Sphere of Resistance). Sphere is a defining card because if we take them in then we are almost certainly playing a heavy Prison strategy in the post sideboard games (and the games where we simply run our opponent over are less likely to happen). I like to ask myself “if we both are casting spells, who wins?” and if the answer is my opponent then I will bring in the Spheres. To be a bit more specific, I tend to bring in Sphere vs UW decks with Monastery Mentor but I don’t like to take them in vs current iterations of Bant control (as Prismatic Ending is such a good answer to Sphere and they play plenty of creatures so they can put pressure on us under a Sphere). It can also be play / draw dependent if I take in Sphere of Resistance or not. I also think Sphere of Resistance is better if we play Urza’s Saga and in these builds I am much more inclined to take them in.
All in all this means that we need to find somewhere between 5-12 cards to side out. I like to go down to 30 lands in the post sideboard games and there are some obvious choices such as Tabernacle, 1-2 Maze of Ith, 1-2 Wastelands, Karakas and Bojuka Bog (unless they play Uro of course). I will also cut some Crop Rotations (and all Gambles if I play them), and I will shave down on Mox Diamonds and Explorations as mana acceleration is not important in this matchup. Life from the Loam is the worst engine and this can be shaved as well. Punishing Fire is a good card to handle planeswalkers but I don’t feel like I want all 3 copies. I will now give a bit more flavour to the cards that I like to bring in against the UW control decks.
These cards are exceptional against UW control as they can answer most of their problematic cards (such as Jace, Teferi, Narset, Shark Typhoon, Back To Basics, Hullbreacher, True-Name Nemesis) and they can also help to force through our key cards against opposing counterspells.
- Choke will win games where it resolves at the right time. Our UW opponent will have answers to Choke so we really want to resolve it when they are already tapped down. My favourite line is to wait for them to cast something like Back to Basics or Jace. Then I will Pyroblast that spell, untap and slam Choke. There is literally no better feeling in magic for me.
- Sphere of Resistance is another prison card that I sometimes take in (as explained above). Sphere is very good alongside Choke as our UW opponent will often be forced to tap out simply to cast their cantrips. We are now in a spot where we can cast Choke without risk of it being countered.
Additional Engines / Bombs
If I have additional engines and bombs in my sideboard then I will for sure take them in vs UW control. This is how I rank the commonly played engines / bombs against UW decks.
- Primeval Titan is probably the best possible bomb as it wins the game on the spot and it’s immune to Force of Negation (also to Force of Will if we play Cavern of Souls). Primeval Titan will find Field of the Dead and another land such as Thespian’s Stage or a fetch and this will almost surely ensure that Field is turned on. Unless our opponent untaps and casts Entreat the Angels or Shark Typhoon then I don’t think that we can really lose after a resolved Primeval Titan. Titan has gotten a bit worse since UW decks started playing Dress Down.
- Field of the Dead is typically my main plan against UW decks and I sometimes have a 2nd copy in the sideboard. I really want to have 2 copies against these decks as I am also shaving down on Crop Rotations and it can be hard to find Field on time otherwise.
- Valakut Exploration is one of our best cards against UW control and if I have additional copies in the sideboard then I will take them in.
- Tireless Tracker is a great card in this matchup and we will win most games where we get to untap with her. Even if they remove her instantly we are often left with one or two Clues. Tracker is also better if we play Urza’s Saga as the Clues help grow our Constructs.
- Chandra, Awakened Inferno is an uncounterable bomb that cannot be killed with Prismatic Ending. I never really liked Chandra, as 6 mana is so expensive when I also want to use Rishadan Port, and she doesn’t straight up win once she is resolved. I think that current iterations of Bant control can race a Chandra with Uro and Endurance.
- Klothys, God of Destiny used to the very good vs Uro builds as she was unkillable and answered all future Uro’s as well as their Ice Fangs. Klothys would also eventually win the game on her own. However, after the printing of Prismatic Ending as a clean answer to Klothys I don’t think this card is good anymore.
It used to be mandatory to take in 3 Krosan Grips vs UW control as an answer to Counterbalance, Rest in Peace and Back to Basics. I find that current builds of UW decks focus more on planeswalkers than enchantments and it’s not certain that I will bring in Force of Vigor in this matchup. It depends on what I see from my opponent.
Example of a sideboard map
Here is an example of how I could sideboard vs Bant control in a RG list with 1 Urza’s Saga.
Cards to take out
- -1 Mox Diamond
- -1 Exploration
- -1 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
- -2 Elvish Reclaimer
- -2 Dark Depths
- -1 Crop Rotation
Cards to take in
- +1 Pithing Needle
- +2 Choke
- +2 Pyroblast
- +1 Red Elemental Blast
- +2 Force of Vigor
Here is an example of how I could sideboard vs Bant control in a RG list with 4 Urza’s Saga.
Cards to take out
- -1 Exploration
- -1 Mox Diamond
- -2 Maze of Ith
- -1 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
- -1 Wasteland
- -2 Dark Depths
- -2 Crop Rotation
- -1 Pyrite Spellbomb
Cards to take in
- +4 Sphere of Resistance
- +2 Choke
- +2 Pyroblast
- +1 Red Eleemental Blast
- +2 Force of Vigor
Sideboarding from the UW side
Marcus has told me that he likes to bring in disenchant effects, non-basic hate, graveyard hate, and additional win conditions in exchange for all non-free countermagic and sweepers. I will now put some flavour on the cards that I often see from UW decks post sideboard.
UW control tends to have 1-2 copies of non-basic hate in their sideboard. This is how I would rank the non-basic hate against Lands.
- Blood Moon is a slam dunk against Lands as it shuts down all of our strategies. It’s a 3 mana card that will blank all lands that we have in pay and all lands that we will draw in the future. It even stops us from casting our own spells. Sure, in magic christmas land we can remove the Blood Moon and get a “free” 20/20 but I find that this never works against decks with Force of Will.
- From the Ashes is a one sided Armageddon in this matchup. This is often enough to crush us. From the Ashes do cost 4 mana and if I see it in G2 then I will bring in all Sphere of Resistance and really push the Prison angle in G3.
- Back to Basics has to come down early in order to make a difference. A timely Back to Basic will still win games, but if it comes down when we already have Field online it is often too late.
Life from the Loam Hate
I expect UW control to have 2-4 answers to Life from the Loam mostly in the form of graveyard hate. This is how I would rank the commonly played answers to Life from the Loam.
- Rest in Peace is a permanent answer to both Life from the Loam and Punishing Fire. Rest in Peace can also give the control deck virtual card advantage as now all of my remaining Life from Loams become dead draws.
- Relic of Progenitus is very good if it comes down early. The “tap ability” is often enough to keep my graveyard empty and this turns off all future Loams that I draw and provides virtual card advantage. Relic can also be cycled later for additional value or if the UW deck is desperately looking for a specific answer such as a Swords to Plowshares.
- Endurance can slow me down but it’s not a permanent answer. However, a hard cast Endurance is very good because it also provides a clock. I don’t have many ways to kill Endurance in post sideboard games.
- Surgical Extraction removes all copies of Life from the Loam. However, if I have already used Loam to get 3 lands back, and then it gets hit by Surgical, I am now up 3 cards and this does not feel bad. Surgical can also hit Punishing Fire but it is fairly easy to play around Surgical if we have multiple Groves or Grove + Stage in play.
- Meddling Mage is an answer to Loam or Punishing Fire but we have plenty of answers to Meddling Mage as we take in Blasts.
I do expect the UW deck to take in around 2 disenchant effects and these are of course very good vs Lands. I actually think disenchant effects are better than graveyard hate against us.
- Force of Vigor is absolutely backbreaking. This is probably the best card that can be sided in vs Lands outside Blood Moon. There is no worse feeling than having your dream hand of Mox Diamond plus Sylvan Library absolutely blown out by Force of Vigor. Force is also cheap enough that it can easily be cast under both Sphere and Choke.
- Wear // Tear is a one mana answer to Choke, Valakut or Sylvan Library. It also has the upside in being able to hit both a Mox or Sphere and one of these enchantments.
- Engineering Explosives is very good if I am on the Sphere plan. Explosives should be cast with X equal to 1 if I have 1 Sphere in play, and X equal to 0 if I have 2 Spheres in play. This way the control player only has to tap 2 lands to resolve Explosives but they are still able to give it 2 counters.
- Disenchant / Force of Nature / Wilt are all good cards against Lands as they can hit one of our key engines.
Game 2 and Game 3
I don’t think that the post sideboard games are dramatically different from G1 as we have the same overall strategies available. However, there are a few differences.
- It will be harder for the Lands deck to stick an engine as the UW deck will have brought in answers. In particular Life from the Loam feels unreliable as an engine post sideboard as we have sided out lands (so dredging Loam is worse) and they have taken in graveyard hate. I am typically very happy if I can trade my Loam for 3 lands.
- Both players will have cut many of their dead cards and less games are decided by whoever draws the right half of their deck.
- Both decks will have options to lock the other player out of casting their spells and both decks also have answers to these in the form of counterspells and removal. Some games will therefore become a delicate dance over who can cast their lock piece last. I have won countless games where my opponent has slammed Back to Basics on turn 3, and then I destroy it with Force of Vigor, and counter their Force of Will with Pyroblast, and then finally untap and slam Choke. I have also lost countless games in the other direction i.e. where I slam Choke and then they counter it and untap and cast Back to Basics.
I tend to play the post sideboard games a bit slower and with even more patience. I prefer to cast Sylvan Library on turn 3 with Pyroblast backup then on turn 2. I do like to slam Sphere of Resistance as soon as possible though as these should come down early in order to make it harder for my opponent to cast their early cantrips.
Game 2 and Game 3 from the UW Perspective
Marcus has also given me some great pointers on how he approaches the post sideboard games from the UW side. He told me that post sideboard he considers Sylvan Library, Valakut and Choke as must answer threats but that Sphere of Resistance is only really scary if the Lands deck has a fast hand with another threat.
He also uses Back to Basics and other non-basic hate to put “fear” into his opponent’s head, and stopping them from tapping out. It’s typically good for the cantrip deck if the Lands deck slows down and holds mana up for Pyroblast.
Marcus finally said that although it’s important to control the graveyard for Life from the Loam (and Punishing Fire) he is not that worried about Loam in the post sideboard games. He explained that the UW deck has many ways to contain Loam and the card is only really scary if we also have Field of the Dead or Valakut online.
3-Color Control (no white)
3-color control (no white) are either BUG or Grixis coloured decks. These decks are not popular in the current meta as Prismatic Ending seems to have removed any incentive to play black in your control deck. BUG decks can play annoying creatures such as Leovold, Scavenging Ooze and Endurance but I still find them much easier than the UW decks.
We can adopt the same general strategies against 3-Color control as against UW control. They are just more effective here. It’s easier to adopt the Prison role as Wasteland is better against these decks, and more importantly Dark Depths is significantly better against these decks (as they only play a few and clunky answers to Marit Lage).
Lands vs control is an interesting matchup that highly rewards practice. Both decks are built to ignore a certain part of each other’s cards. We don’t play creatures and our lands are uncounterable (so we can sometimes ignore Force of Will and Swords to Plowshares) and the (UW) control deck is built to minimize the impact of Wasteland. This means that some games are won by whoever draws the right part of their deck.
Other games are complete slam dunks where we for example lead with Exploration into Valakut Exploration and run our opponent over, or where they manage to Force of Negation or key engine and then return the Force with Mystic Sanctuary and counter everything else that we do (while also drawing extra cards every turn with a Narset, Jace or Sylvan Library).
But many games are determined by key decisions on either side. If they counter the wrong spell they can easily end up losing the entire game and hence how we sequence our spells matters. Similarly if we cast an expensive engine at the wrong turn, instead of holding mana up for Rishadan Port, we can also easily lose a game.
Finally, the games tend to go long and both sides have lots of game actions to perform. Time is therefore often the most important resource in the game and I will try to always be “ahead on the clock” when I play this matchup. If I go into G3 with 10 minutes on the clock and my opponent has less than 5 minutes then I feel extremely favoured to win. They will be forced to take risks and play aggressively and I can slow the game down with Sphere, Choke and Rishadan Port.
I think a normal RG Lands build is unfavoured vs UW control and favoured vs BUG and Grixis control. But the difference is not big and we can build a Lands deck that is favoured vs all control decks. It is often enough to add a 2nd Field of the Dead to make us favoured vs UW control, and if we cut Dark Depths and play Uro, Primeval Titan and Cavern of Souls we will be very favoured vs the normal UW deck. However, if they decide to play multiple copies of the red non-basic hate then the matchup can easily flip to their favour.
I hope this article has given you an insight into this matchup, and I hope that you all get to experience the feeling of resolving Choke when the UW deck is tapped out.
Good luck and high five!