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They say close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and from where I sit, that is mostly true.
The last two weekends were intense. First, I went to Disneyland for a freelance gig that had me taking pictures of Magic Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It sounds fun, but the work was truly exhausting. Then, days later, I took a long journey to Kansas City on the quest for a return to the Pro Tour. It would be the last chance I had to qualify for Pro Tour Ixalan. Unfortunately, I fell to Tyler Schroeder in the third game of the Top 8, my R/W Hyper-Aggro deck (in the Team MTGMintCard style) handily defeated after a double-mulligan and a canny three-for-one from Tyler. Ouch.
And so, I returned to a focus on two formats: Team Sealed in preparation for Grand Prix Cleveland and Standard because, well, I'm a glutton for punishment.
The real reason that I like Standard is that I absolutely love the place where U/R Control has been sitting lately. While debate raged in some quarters online about whether or not U/R Control or Marvel decks of various varieties had the upper hand, the real answer was it depended on how much each particular deck gave a damn about the other one. If Temur Marvel truly cared, it would generally beat U/R Control regardless of how much U/R Control cared. On the other hand, if only U/R Control cared, it would generally beat Marvel. The real issue that swayed it, in my opinion, was that Marvel often didn't know how much it had to care to be in the "truly caring" camp, and so I found myself usually sitting pretty in the matchup.
Then, of course, Wizards went and banned Aetherworks Marvel.
While I know that many people are excited about this change (and I am one of them), it wasn't a decision that was without cost for Wizards of the Coast; a great many players have been hit by the topsy turvy waves of the banning cycle and are frankly just tired of it. Personally, I'm not so concerned for a simple reason: the sets about to rotate out weren't conceived of for a "Big Standard", and moving forward, future sets will have enough time in their development schedule to be modeled properly for the larger card pool that Standard employs. In addition, Wizards has made announcements about growing their R&D team, so that also makes me hopeful.
If you're one of the people frustrated, just take heart: stumbles have happened, but the game perseveres, and the ever-marching push onward and upward continues.
For me, already in love with a deck in Standard, I had to ask myself, "What does this change mean for U/R Control?"
There were plenty of other questions to be asked as well. For example, are new decks suddenly worth considering? Are old decks, like B/W Control, suddenly worth re-examining? But, first and foremost, I wanted to think about the deck I'd been playing the most.
The question about what it means for U/R Control is a contextual one. If there isn't a worry about a turn 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, nor a worry about a turn 9 or 10 Ulamog, it starts to make certain cards feel a little less necessary in the sideboard.
In addition, though, it also means that the old rulers of the format are likely to re-emerge, at least until the dust settles. Hour of Devastation will shake things up even more, most certainly, but a quick look back in time reminds us that B/G Delirium and Mardu Vehicles decks were hard-hitters. Even if they don't come back in force, it does mean we're going to see more of an old friend:
In thinking about these implications, I found myself wondering what it was I'd want my base U/R build to do. Certainly, I wanted to go with a somewhat "classic" removal package in four Magma Spray and four Harnessed Lightning, but did I want to go further? One of the key cards from the past that I'd loved sprung to mind: Brutal Expulsion. While slightly clunky, I'd loved that the card could very powerfully blunt the most aggressive draws.
There were other moves that I found myself making as well. I already loved Censor, and where some people found themselves underwhelmed with it because they weren't successfully countering much with it, I was finding myself loving the card because I felt like it was making the threat of that counter credible, and if my opponent slowed down, so much the better.
In addition, though, I made another leap based on another cycling card, Hieroglyphic Illumination. Trying it out early on, it made an impression. While this might sound like a bizarre comparison, it reminded me of Whispers of the Muse back in Tempest-era Standard, when the world was very different.
Spending six mana on a Whispers of the Muse to get buyback was the way that you'd get to your card advantage. It was slow and grueling, but it worked. However, in the early game, you were absolutely content to just "blow" a Whispers by only paying a single mana for it. More and more, I started realizing that I really liked Hieroglyphic Illumination as a Whispers of the Muse analog. The burying power of the rest of the U/R Control deck could accomplish the true grueling pain of the "buyback" element of Whispers of the Muse, but that early play felt like it mattered, making the prospect of running less land palatable.
Importantly, it solved another conundrum: Glimmer of Genius was both a not-great card versus aggressive decks (especially Mardu Vehicles) and a necessary card. It was not-great because oftentimes you simply didn't have the time to take off to play a card like Glimmer of Genius, and at the same time, you needed to be able to push into more cards after the battlefield was stable, and sometimes you really wanted those cards with Torrential Gearhulk. Where shaving Glimmer of Genius before was basically not tenable – or at least somewhat suspect – now, shaving into your card draw was absolutely reasonable after sideboarding!