After the Team Constructed Open in Atlanta, Standard had a clear deck to beat in U/W Control. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria was the talk of the town as one of the strongest planeswalkers printed recently, and it did an excellent job making U/W Control have a lot of success in the first week of Dominaria Standard. U/W Control had a lot of things going for it, mainly the fact that no one in week one was really prepared to try and beat a bunch of Fumigates and Settle the Wreckages.
When testing for the Team Constructed Open in Baltimore, my testing team quickly realized that U/W Control leaning so heavily on these sweeper effects would make it an easy target for players who knew how to prepare for it. There are a ton of good options out there for cards that creature decks can play to counteract the effect of these sweepers.
One angle to take would be playing cards that would make it difficult for your opponent to resolve a sweeper. Playing either counterspells or discard spells in your creature deck could make things very difficult for a control deck to keep up, since they would be less likely to rely on being able to resolve a sweeper.
Another angle to take would be playing cards that would make your opponents' sweepers less effective. Both planeswalkers and vehicles fit the bill for this, as they represented threats that Fumigate couldn't really touch and could even naturally play around Settle the Wreckage.
Because we could see so many answers to the U/W Control decks, we anticipated that these control decks would not have a very good weekend in Baltimore. But because of the success of these U/W Control decks in Atlanta, we also anticipated that it would be heavily represented in Baltimore, at least on the first day. So, we decided to look for a powerful deck that was a good counter to U/W Control:
W/B Aggro felt like the perfect answer. So many of the cards in this deck lined up well against what U/W Control was trying to do.
Both Knight of Malice and Heart of Kiran proved to be very resilient threats against U/W Control. U/W Control's removal spell of choice was Seal Away, and both threats can't be targeted by Seal Away. In fact, the only answers that the control decks had to a Heart of Kiran was either a Cast Out, which would be very strained in this matchup and they only played two, or Settle the Wreckage. Being able to force your opponent to cast their Settle the Wreckage by only attacking with one creature is a big game and Heart of Kiran definitely did that at times.
W/B Aggro even had easy access to discard effects that would make things very difficult for U/W Control. Doomfall was easily one of the best cards to play against U/W Control, because not only could you use it to take away a sweeper that they were leaning heavily on, but you could also use it to remove a Lyra Dawnbringer that they might have brought in after sideboard.
W/B Aggro also had a ton of game against the other decks that we expected to see. We had an excellent sideboard plan of transforming into a more controlling deck to fight against the bigger creature decks we might face, like Mono-Green Aggro or G/B Constrictor. These were decks that our proactive beatdown plan would definitely struggle with because they were just playing bigger and better creatures than we were faster than we could. But after sideboard we had access to Fumigate and Settle the Wreckage, cards that were excellent against these big creature decks.
The card that really tied everything together for W/B Aggro was Karn, Scion of Urza. Karn allowed you to have access to a ton of card advantage, while also being able to present reasonable threats with the construct tokens he can make. Karn fits in very well with any deck that has incidental artifacts, in this case Heart of Kiran and Scrapheap Scrounger.
VS U/W Control
Our threats line up very well against their answers, so it's important to lean on that in this matchup. Generally, you don't want to expose more than one resilient threat at a time to a Settle the Wreckage (Knight of Malice, Heart of Kiran, or Scrapheap Scrounger).
You also want to hold your discard spells for very particular spots against U/W Control. It's almost never correct to just fire off your Duress on turn 1, because the Duress will be much more effective on a turn where you expect your opponent to want to cast Settle the Wreckage, or right before you know they're going to need to cast Fumigate.
VS Mono-Green Aggro
Small creature beatdown just isn't going to cut it against Mono-Green Aggro, so all the Scrapheap Scroungers and Toolcraft Exemplars need to go. Game 1 is usually rough for this reason. Sometimes you can get under them with a fast draw that includes a Heart of Kiran, but that typically isn't going to work, and they can usually race you pretty effectively. After sideboard we're leaning pretty heavily on having some kind of sweeper effect to get an advantage here.
You typically want to mulligan towards a hand that has early interaction or a sweeper effect, otherwise it's easy to get run over in this matchup.
VS G/B Constrictor
The plan for this matchup is very similar to the plan against Mono-Green Aggro, but you're even more incentivized to look for a Fatal Push in your opening hand because this deck has so many powerful two-drop creatures in Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Winding Constrictor.
VS Mono-Red Aggro
It's important to distinguish between Mono-Red Aggro and R/B Aggro, because these two decks are going to have very different plans against us after sideboard. With that in mind, make sure you keep an eye out for black lands or Scrapheap Scrounger in game one to tell you which deck you're playing against. Generally, Mono-Red Aggro is going to stay aggressive after sideboard, while R/B Aggro has more of a grindy control plan after sideboard.
Against Mono-Red Aggro, you're going to want all your sweepers and that's part of why I like Scrapheap Scrounger in the matchup more than Toolcraft Exemplar. Another reason is that Toolcraft Exemplar dies to Goblin Chainwhirler, where otherwise none of our threats will normally die to it.
VS R/B Aggro
Be prepared for your R/B Aggro opponent to transform into a more grindy deck with planeswalkers and more removal spells after sideboard. I typically sideboard with the assumption that they're going to do this, but it's also very important to adjust to what you see in Game 2. If you see that they stayed aggressive, it can be right to bring in more sweeper effects and take out the slower cards like Treasure Map. Always look to adapt to your opponent between games 2 and 3.
VS W/B Aggro
We found that the small creatures in this matchup typically didn't end up getting there, and it was much easier to be able to stabilize and move on to the midrangey mid to late game without them. This matchup often comes down to a big threat going unanswered for a long enough time, and that threat is usually Karn, Scion of Urza.
Moving Forward in Standard
The decks that had the most success in Baltimore were aggressively slanted, with the ability to have a bigger plan after sideboard. We saw this recipe in W/B Aggro, R/B Aggro, and even G/B Constrictor. Everyone has their own plan to try and trump everyone else after sideboarding. I think that moving forward, the deck that ends up on top will be the deck with the best sideboard plan.
That's why Karn, Scion of Urza is so strong right now. He fits in the aggressive decks very well, while still being one of the most important cards for going bigger in the sideboarded games.
I've been really impressed with the G/B Constrictor decks that have a bigger plan after sideboard with cards like Vraska, Relic Seeker and Lifecrafter's Bestiary. These are cards that give this deck resiliency against sweeper effects and excellent card advantage. James Lu's deck was set up very well to compete with both U/W Control decks and other midrange decks that were leaning on sweepers to compete against his powerful creatures.
- 3 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 3 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 1 Thrashing Brontodon
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
For W/B Aggro to compete against the green decks, it's leaning heavily on Fumigate and Settle the Wreckage. If these green decks end up getting more popular, the W/B Aggro decks will be forced to adapt by including more of these sweeper effects.