There was a time where each control variant in Modern produced the same result for hopeful competitors and it wasn't pretty. Jeskai Control, U/W Control, and U/W Miracles are all viable options for upcoming GPs, the SCG Tour, and even the Pro Tour next week in Minneapolis. I have always been hard on these archetypes in Modern, due to their lack of power in a format that punishes players who yearn for a fair game of Magic. This leads to the importance of specific terminology. These control decks are viable, but they're far from dominant.
When looking at the Modern landscape, it's important to know what you're going up against:
- Ironworks is currently king of the combo hill
- Mono-Green Tron still strikes fear into the hearts of Celestial Colonnade controllers
- Burn will always be a force to be reckoned with
- Hollow One can declare itself as one of the most unfair creature decks in the format
Each top 8 that we look at has the great illusion of deck diversity, when it really turns out to be eight different decks that abuse the speed Modern allows. The point being, Modern hasn't ever been a safe place for control players, and I doubt it will ever be. This conclusion has led me to many depressing deck choices, as well as questioning my life choices when arriving to my next Modern event with a deck I know doesn't have the muscle to compete. Until I saw this aberration:
When I see one control deck breach the top 16 of a Grand Prix, I usually toss a win in the heroes column on my Modern spreadsheet. GP Barcelona granted control fans not one, not two, not three , but four spots in the elimination rounds! I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this, and I had to dig in deeper to find their keys to success. I saw Javier Dominguez end up in third place with Jeskai Control, a finish in which I had to take with a grain of salt. Javier is an amazing pro player that was likely propelled to this rank with more talent than deck choice. Even though it probably wasn't the control deck doing all the heavy lifting, it still had to be a viable option to get him that far into the tournament. If it was just Jeskai Control that breached the top 8 of GP Barcelona, then I wouldn't have been on the edge of my seat with excitement. There were three copies of U/W Control that joined Javier in the first control dominated GP of the format.
A wonderful commonality between all the successful U/W decks in Modern is the absence of Spreading Seas. I have created a few campaigns over the years on behalf of my fellow blue mages, and they have ranged from arguments to ban or unban certainly cards to championing Logic Knot as the best blue counterspell in Modern. The most recent hot take that had some backlash was the condemnation of Spreading Seas as a playable option for control players.
Spreading Seas has always been a painful, sorcery-speed cantrip that caused more loss than victory. It was always an automatic four-of in control decks and after a while I had to reject this accepted truth. It felt great against Mono-Green Tron and it made me giggle when I mana screwed my opponent one out of twenty games, but the feeling of sorrow was much more prevalent as I struggled to get these ghastly spells out of my hand in a timely manner. It brings me extraordinary joy to see this card lose favor amongst these successful mavericks, and I hope it continues to be a last resort for players trapped in a local, big mana infested metagame.
Pierre Dagen's list may contain two copies of Terminus, but his deck is not U/W Miracles. Pierre employs four copies of Serum Visions, while only using one copy of Opt. This is the first clue for us observers, understanding that Opt is a powerful reprint that made Terminus an instant threat. Serum Visions is the more powerful cantrip, but Opt synergizes better with a deck full of miracles. To solidify the U/W Control label, Pierre added a Wrath of God and a Day of Judgment to complete the sweeper package. The absence of Supreme Verdict is to possibly hedge against Humans, while only losing a few percentage points to Grixis Death's Shadow, Merfolk, Bant Company, or other aggressive decks that incorporate blue for countermagic.
Pierre's list is kind of all over the place, which works just fine in the Modern control world. Cutting a Cryptic Command here and adding an additional Search for Azcanta there are all part of the individualized deckbuilding process that Modern grants us all. Pierre is playing one copy of Oust, Ancestral Vision, Timely Reinforcements, Negate, and Remand, which may seem odd to most people, but all are fine cards in terms of effectiveness in Modern. If, for example, he threw in a copy of Runed Halo, Condemn, and a second Detention Sphere, no one would bat an eye. It's important to remember that there's a very large pool of blue and white spells for an aspiring deck builder to tap into. I highly recommend reading articles, looking at results, asking questions, and tinkering on your own will result in a control product you will be proud of. This holds true for U/W Control, and I'm stoked to see the evidence hit the competitive scene with as much force as it did.
These competitors finished in seventh and eight place, so we can group them as equally successful. These two decks are both in the U/W Miracles category for obvious reasons; each deck utilizes Opt over Serum Visions, attempting to push the casting of Terminus to an opponent's attack step. Laszlo's list is the stronger of the two in my opinion as his take on U/W Miracles is a more streamlined, consistent build that I have heavily enjoyed playing this last month. I've changed a few cards around, but the foundation is still the same.
One Entreat the Angels and two Think Twice gives additional opportunities to devastate an opponent with a cheap haymaker. Laszlo also uses four copies of Terminus, which I believe is the correct amount for all U/W Miracles lists. If we're downgrading from Serum Visions to Opt, playing three Jace, the Mind Sculptor and two Search for Azcanta to ditch unnecessary copies, there's little drawback for playing the maximum amount of such a powerful effect.
Daniel may have gotten cold feet when sculpting his masterpiece because he dips into Supreme Verdict and Wrath of God to increase his maindeck sweeper count to five. This strategy has never worked for me, due to the diversity of the format. There are just some decks that completely ignore these effects that destroy all creatures on the battlefield, but most decks are heavily impacted by exile and putting their threats on the bottom of their library. This is the push that control needed in Modern to adapt and punish opponents that have laughed in the face of Supreme Verdict for far too long. These opponents are typically the ones that deploy Bloodghasts, Prized Amalgam, and other creatures that do not stay dead for long. I finally had the pleasure of casting a beautiful Opt after my Living End opponent prepared his army for combat and it felt great.
The unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor has opened the door for this Legacy strategy to enter Modern. Search for Azcanta, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Vendilion Clique, Snapcaster Mage, and Terminus all give that warm, fuzzy feeling to U/W Miracles players that had their best friend ripped away. The power level has obviously dropped a bit but is still significant enough to help multiple mages crash one of the most competitive tournaments offered. Path to Exile isn't a giant downgrade from Sword to Plowshares and the win conditions are comparable, which leads us to the card draw. This has been the big question mark for U/W Miracle players in Modern. Is Opt, Think Twice, and Serum Visions good enough to make the deck function? After the stunning GP Barcelona results, I can say that is the case.
I mentioned that Javier Dominguez is a very accomplished professional, which led me to question his high finish with Jeskai Control. Luckily for Jeskai Control fans, the deck has been successfully cemented as the premier control deck of the SCG Tour®. Benjamin Nikolich and Jonathan Rosum have had dominant performances over the last year with lists that would be tough to differentiate from the one listed above. Unlike U/W Control lists, Jeskai Control fits a specific mold and has much less room for innovation. There have been players shaving Lightning Bolt in favor of a higher Lightning Helix count, but that's the only controversy from the top Snap, Bolt, Snap players these days. Electrolyze is another card that is cut frequently, but the other cards have been staples.
Very few Jeskai Control players use Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which pains me to the core. I understand it is much weaker in decks that utilize a Flash-style method of play, but it still feels like blasphemy. I tested Jeskai Control for quite some time and moved down to one copy of my favorite planeswalker. It helped me nab a few games where I was able to keep the battlefield nice and clean, but these players are right; Jace, the Mind Sculptor is an unnecessary piece of the Jeskai Control puzzle and the deck isn't weaker for it.
Jeskai Control preys upon the creature decks of Modern, obliterating everything from the first turn, with a Snapcaster Mage finishing off the last threat. It has always been the control weapon of choice for players that want to give their Affinity and Humans opponents night terrors of fire and brimstone. That was the key argument when we debated back and forth, trying to figure out which control option was the most viable for Modern success, but that debate may be coming to a hasty end. U/W Miracles has the tools to stomp aggressive strategies into the dirt, as well as combat the plethora of unfair decks that exist in the format. There are times where two Hollow Ones appear on turn 1 and Jeskai Control must pack it up, but the same doesn't hold true for U/W Miracles. Similar situations can pop up from Dredge, Living End, Mardu Pyromancer, Elves, as well as a few other explosive creature decks, where spot removal can't keep up.
U/W Miracles is the most viable control deck currently in Modern. Jeskai Control can still succeed in tournaments, but U/W Miracles taps into a higher power level that control decks in Modern haven't been able to access until now. GP Barcelona opened the door for control, and now it's up to us to continue marching forward. Modern will never be a slow format with checks on the busted decks, so we must adapt control in a way that levels the playing field. If they play five creatures by turn 2, we'll tap one white mana and place all those creatures on the bottom of their library. The next opponent tries to combo off, we play a well-timed counterspell and slam a Jace, the Mind Sculptor on an empty battlefield. True combo decks still create a headache for all control options, but that's something that can't be avoided without help from a different color.
This article would be incomplete without giving a shout out to Corey Burkhart and his Grixis Control passion, which receives the honorable mention award. Grixis Control has the best game against the villainous combo decks but can't handle softballs like Burn to this day. The lack of effective lifegain really weakens Grixis Control in a large, competitive format. Lightning Helix from Jeskai Control and Timely Reinforcements from U/W Miracles and U/W Control allow these decks to be competitive even when the life total is dwindling.