Wow! So how about those Ramunap Red decks?
My deck of choice for the Pro Tour was U/R Control.
Now, you may be thinking, "Shaun, why would you play U/R Control to a Pro Tour where the best deck is Ramunap Red? Isn't that a bad matchup for you?"
Well, you're right.
Although I was really happy with the deck and U/R Control in theory, I underestimated the amount of Ramunap Red that would be played, and how powerful the deck actually was.
But all is not lost if you're a Control mage! I don't think the matchup is that bad for Control, especially if your list is focused towards beating it. I also think Ramunap Red is highly beatable, if not by U/R Control, by other strategies, and that should be good for U/R Control as well.
So let's talk about the list I played, my sideboard strategy, a matchup guide, and what direction I would take the archetype following the Pro Tour.
Here's the list I registered for the Pro Tour:
There are some pretty big deviations compared to normal U/R Control lists.
My favorite addition to the deck was the Desert package. Although it might look strange and Pro Tour Hour of Devastation didn't have a particularly good metagame for it, the Desert package is really exciting.
Ipnu Rivulet isn't going to be winning the "Best Desert" contest, but it served a very specific purpose in the deck. Ipnu Rivulet is there almost purely to win the mirror match in Game 1 by milling your opponent, although you can mill yourself in a pinch to find Commit or Torrential Gearhulk fuel, or mill people in other matchups.
It's hard to win the mirror through damage, since U/R Control is packed full of answers and not many threats, which means Game 1 often comes down to decking, and having an Ipnu Rivulet in your 60 cards makes a big difference there, since you'll eventually draw it and win the mill race. It's also a low opportunity cost to run it, since it replaces an Island and only hurts when you need to use it for blue mana, which isn't that often.
Scavenger Grounds was another maindeck inclusion, and it speaks to how I mispredicted the metagame. I thought U/W God-Pharaoh's Gift would be the breakout deck of the tournament, and it really wasn't. Scavenger Grounds is great in that matchup but pretty underwhelming elsewhere, although there are eternalize creatures to eat and delirium to disrupt.
Finally, Desert of the Mindful boosted the power of the other Deserts and acted as flood insurance.
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets was absolutely fantastic. There are very few ways to outright kill planeswalkers at the moment, which meant Jace often has to be dealt with through good old-fashioned damage, which is surprisingly hard to do. You're often happy to trade Jace's loyalty when your life total is being spared and you're drawing a bunch of cards anyway.
Opponents are often just casting spells as quickly as they can and hoping something sticks, so countering and killing your opponent's first few plays and then landing a Jace often means the game is over.
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets also filled a bunch of holes the deck had. Where Torrential Gearhulk was lacking, Jace was amazing. Torrential Gearhulk might just die to Abrade or Unlicensed Disintegration, but Jace just sits and draws cards until you win. Jace's ultimate also kind of acts as a win condition. Just ultimate Jace and then your shields will be up and the coast will be clearer to start attacking with Torrential Gearhulks and Wandering Fumaroles with impunity.
Using Jace, Unraveler of Secrets's +1 for two turns in a row is basically Glimmer of Genius, and anything beyond that is pure gravy. It's nice having some flood insurance for games where you don't find Glimmer of Genius to get your card draw engine going.
Matchup and Sideboard Guide
Not respecting and preparing for Ramunap Red enough was my ultimate downfall at the Pro Tour. The second factor was that I just didn't play perfectly.
Easier said than done. Accomplishing one of these is difficult for U/R Control, let alone all three, especially pre-sideboarding.
Sweltering Suns is the best maindeck card for crowd control in the early-game. Magma Spray is your second-most-efficient removal spell and is able to kill most creatures Ramunap Red throws at you while allowing you to cast multiple spells a turn sometimes to pull back into a game.
Commit might seem too slow, but it actually does good work against a Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Hazoret the Fervent that have resolved. Same goes for Torrential Gearhulk, and it actually closes out games pretty quickly.
Often I would be able to beat Ramunap Red in super-long games thanks to getting a ton of resources thanks to Jace, Unraveler of Secrets, ultimating Jace, and then being able to Disallow Ramunap Ruins.
This is a great matchup. Zombies clock isn't that fast, they have lots of dead removal, their threats aren't that great against us, and you have sweepers. Jace, Unraveler of Secrets is also particularly hard for them to deal with.
Game 1, they don't have too many relevant threats while also having dead removal to draw, and your answers and counters generally line up well. The scariest cards are Liliana, the Last Hope and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, but you should have plenty of time to find an answer for them even if they slip through your counter wall, or else find a Disallow to stop their ultimates.
Similar to the matchup versus Constrictor, where Censor is much better on the play and removal is better on the draw. Just slowly remove all their creatures and hold counters for planeswalkers and Bristling Hydra. Letting a Rogue Refiner resolve and taking some hits isn't a big deal as long as you make sure not to let a premium threat resolve, which sets you up to win in the late-game.
Mardu is tricky, since they have more ways to finish you off in the form of Unlicensed Disintegration. Torrential Gearhulk isn't at its best here, and you can't rely on being able to block with it, so prioritize finding other forms of answers and only tapping out to cast it when your opponent can't Unlicensed Disintegration it with a Lava Spike attached.
U/W Monument has fallen out of favor, but is a decent matchup.
Ideally you answer a few of their threats and they tap out for Cloudblazer. Then you land Jace, Unraveler of Secrets and run away with the game. Sometimes the game will go very long and both halves of Dusk // Dawn will get cast, so it's nice to have a Scavenger Grounds to counter it.
Post-sideboard, you need to be worried about counters and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, so you want to have access to your creature package to help mop things up.
A great matchup for the deck, and really the only matchup you want Crook of Condemnation for other than Prized Amalgam decks. I overestimated and over-prepared to beat U/W God-Pharaoh's Gift for the Pro Tour.
You have plenty of time to find your graveyard hate, since Abrade can take care of any God-Pharaoh's Gift that slips through your counters and you can use your life total as a big buffer to sculpt your hand.
The mirror post-sideboard is much more about being able to get value wherever you can and it rarely comes down to decking, since you're both sideboarding out most of your removal.
So what direction would I take U/R Control moving forward? Well, the obvious answer is to focus more on beating Ramunap Red.
Whirler Virtuoso is oh-so-good against Ramunap Red and the first place I'd look for shoring up the matchup in the sideboard.
Whirler Virtuoso being a 2/3 is great, since it survives combat and kills most creatures they have. The true value is in the Thopters, which can block and kill most things, even when they're making it so Whirler Virtuoso can't block.
My previous plan was to sideboard out Glimmer of Genius against Ramunap Red, since spending four mana to not affect the battlefield was too slow, but with a lower curve and the synergy with Whirler Virtuoso, Glimmer will probably be good here.
The other card I contemplated for the matchup was Filigree Familiar, but I'm less sure about it, since it will be harder to block with Robo Puppy. It's nice to have some kind of lifegain, at least.
I don't think we'll be able to boast an amazing matchup against Ramunap Red, but it should be close to even now, and possibly even slightly favored post-sideboard.
Glimmer of Hope
It was fun to return to my control roots after playing a bunch of midrange to the Pro Tour recently, even if I didn't get the result I wanted.
I still think U/R Control is pretty well-positioned for a dedicated pilot willing to tune their list. I think it has a good matchup against every deck except Ramunap Red and Ramp decks. I also expect the format will be pushing back successfully against Ramunap Red, which will open the door more for U/R Control.
What do you think? Will U/R Control make a comeback, or is Ramunap Red too powerful to stop?