Understanding UW Control – The Perfect Guide

Grzegorz Kowalski


Hello everyone! It’s sensei Kowalski here. Today I want to share with you my experience from Mythic Championship IV (Modern & Modern Horizons Draft)! I feel like I’ve learned a lot during a bootcamp with my team. Modern nowadays is way different from what it used to be a year ago, and graveyard matters a lot.

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis

Adapting to this fact is really important, and I feel like many blue-white players just live in the past. Reading something like “UW has a 20% match up against Hogaak” is just heartbreaking for me, especially because I know that’s not true, but people are repeating this over and over again making a really bad look for my favorite Modern deck.

Today I’ll try to help you adapt to the new world, and teach you how to approach the most popular match ups!

My Decklist and Card Choices

Card Choices

I’ll start with explaining some unusual choices, to give you a better understanding of my build:

Planeswalker Package

Narset, Parter of Veils


Teferi, Time Raveler


Jace, the Mind Sculptor


Teferi, Hero of Dominaria


Format is very fast, and early turns matter the most. That’s why I have 5 planeswalkers for only 3 mana, and 3 Jaces, leaving only one card for 5 mana in my deck. With addition of 《Force of Negation》 you don’t need Teferi’s untap ability that much, and Jace helps you a lot with getting rid of dead cards like 《Surgical Extraction》 in some match ups, or 《Spell Pierce》 in the late game.

《Spell Pierce》 over 《Spell Snare》

Spell Pierce


This is mostly a metagame call. 《Spell Pierce》 is better vs Hogaak, Mirror and UR Phoenix, which I expected to be three the most popular deck during MC IV, while 《Spell Snare》 being better vs Jund and 5C Humans mostly.

《Condemn》 over 《Oust》



Similar to above. 《Condemn》 is better vs graveyard decks, Phoenix, Burn, and even the Mirror, while 《Oust》 is much better vs 5C Humans, and is more flexible in General.

2x 《Surgical Extraction》

Surgical Extraction


It’s a must have nowadays. Hogaak is a number one deck in Modern, and that’s not gonna change until they ban it, so we have to be ready. Surgical is also a big part of the reason why I’m playing 4x 《Snapcaster Mage》. There is no better follow-up for a free spell then Snapcaster flashing it back on turn two!

3x 《Force of Negation》

Force of Negation


With format being so fast possibility to cheat on mana is very important. This choice combines well with playing 3x 《Jace, the Mind Sculptor》, as we can safely slam it on turn 4 and protect it, or in match ups, where FoN is useless, just shuffle it back to library.

2x 《Supreme Verdict》 (0x 《Wrath of God》)

Supreme Verdict


With 3x 《Force of Negation》 it’s important to keep as many blue cards as possible in our deck. Obviously this kind of removal choice makes us worse vs 5C Humans, but as you can figure out above, I already decided to give up game one against them, and I don’t think having a mass removal with a different name will save us, while being a blue card might be a game changer in other match ups. WoG humbly waits in sideboard.

《Geier Reach Sanitarium》

Geier Reach Sanitarium


Great combo with 《Narset, Parter of Veils》. The way we often lose is getting smashed in the early game (both Geier and 《Field of Ruin》 won’t help), or we get flooded in the late game. Usually later in the game “draw → discard” effect is better for a control player, than for their opponent, so Geier protect us from losing to further scenario. The best trick with it is to activate it in opponent’s draw step, if they have only one card in hand, and we have Narset. With small Teferi on the battlefield is a hard lock!

Mythic Championship IV

During the event I played versus almost every single top tier Modern deck, going 8-2 total:

Record Archetype
2-1 Hogaak
1-1 UR Phoenix
1-0 Dredge
1-0 Urza
1-0 Mirror
1-0 Eldrazi Tron
1-0 Jund

Below I’ll show you my sideboard plan for this event, and explain how you should approach the most important match ups. I really hope it’s gonna be useful for you, and helps you understand UW control better, but if you have any additional questions feel free to ask me on twitter, under a post with a link to this article. I’ll do my very best to answer every single one!

Match Ups Breakdown with My Sideboard Plan


Let’s start with the most important one. Hogaak is relatively new in Modern, and I think this is the place where the most misconceptions exist. First of all, THIS IS NOT A 20% MATCH UP! I agree that our game one is terrible, and the only way to steal the game is Surgical into Snapcaster. Postboard though, if we board correctly and understand the match up, we’re huge favorite.

It’s not a surprise that we have to take a defensive role. Hogaak is an aggressor, and we have to do our best to destroy their gameplan. There are two things we have to do in order to achieve our goal. Interrupt their graveyard synergies, and stop their cheap aggro plan.

Surgical ExtractionRest in PeaceTimely ReinforcementsMonastery Mentor

The first is easy, and I believe everyone understands what to do. There are 《Surgical Extraction》, and 《Rest in Peace》 making a job done. If we do step one, we still have to take care of the battlefield. Usually there are some survivors still threatening our life total. The best way to deal with them with 《Rest in Peace》 in play is 《Timely Reinforcements》, six life usually means canceling two or three of their previous attacks. Basically everything that can block is good in that spot. 《Monastery Mentor》 makes blockers, Snapcaster trades with whatever forever, we just need to survive.

Two important notes from testing are “one Surgical is never enough” and “《Rest in Peace》 on the draw might be too slow”. If they have a good start on the play, it’s possible we will face more than 15 power on the board before we play our second land. That being said, the best case scenario is to draw one Surgical and one RIP every game. To max out our chance for that I think the correct approach is to have 3 Surgicals and 3 RIPs postboard. I thought about this during testing, but wasn’t confident enough that’s the right move, and in the end went with the community consensus with 4 enchantments. Moving forward I would advise for -1 RIP + 1 Surgical in SB.

Snapcaster MageRest in Peace

Let’s talk about sideboard. People playing UW for a long time in Modern have rooted deeply in their minds “always board out Snapcaster, when you board in RIP”, and that might be the biggest mistake someone can make playing UW nowadays. If we stick RIP, all we need to do is to stop random 2/1s from attacking us. 2/1 flash vanilla guy is as good as 《Celestial Purge》 in that task, so his floor is not that low. It’s never a dead card, even if graveyards are empty. On the other hand, if we don’t draw our best weapon, or it gets discarded/destroyed we have to rely on Surgicals.

As you know, one is usually not enough, so we need another copy. What’s better than another copy of Extraction? Well, Extraction with a free 2/1 body attached to it! With 3 Surgicals, 3 Snapcasters, 3 RIPs, and 3 Purges I believe we’re far over 70% against Hogaak in postboard games, and even with very bad game one, the overall match up is so much better than everyone says.

Against Hogaak


Teferi, Time Raveler Teferi, Time Raveler Cryptic Command Cryptic Command
Mana Leak Logic Knot Spell Pierce Snapcaster Mage
Force of Negation Force of Negation Force of Negation


Rest in Peace Rest in Peace Rest in Peace Rest in Peace
Monastery Mentor Monastery Mentor Wrath of God Timely Reinforcements
Celestial Purge Celestial Purge Celestial Purge

If you play 3rd 《Surgical Extraction》 over 4th 《Rest in Peace》, just board in it instead of the enchantment.

UR Phoenix

Arclight PhoenixAria of Flame

This is an actively good match up, and also very skill demanding from both sides. In game one you should focus on dealing with every single threat, they don’t have that many. Surgical helps a lot, if you hit 《Arclight Phoenix》 it’s almost impossible to lose. 《Aria of Flame》 is the scariest card, but with 3 FoNs, 《Detention Sphere》, and baby Teferis we’re ready for that.

Saheeli, Sublime ArtificerThing in the Ice

Postboard it gets more tricky, because all depends on what they have in their sideboard. If they’re ready for UW, with planeswalkers like 《Saheeli, Sublime Artificer》, Narset, or Jace, it might be a challenging match. If they stick with game one plan, just adding few more counterspells it should be very easy.

The biggest mistake I see my opponents are doing (even during the Mythic Championship) is keeping 《Thing in the Ice》 postboard. First of all, it’s embarrassing against 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 and Jace, but what’s more important, it actually helps us. When they flip TiTi you cast Snapcaster in response for the trigger, flashback your 《Path to Exile》 or whatever, and bring Snapcaster back to your hand. FREE VALUE!

Against UR Phoenix


Supreme Verdict Supreme Verdict Condemn
Timely Reinforcements


Celestial Purge Celestial Purge Celestial Purge
Dovin's Veto

UW Control Mirror

Jace, the Mind SculptorTeferi, Time RavelerForce of NegationSpell Pierce

Game one is mostly all about who draws more dead cards. I think our version is quite good with 3x Jace, 2x Baby Teferi, 3x FoN, and 《Spell Pierce》 over 《Spell Snare》, but other people might have maindeck 《Vendilion Clique》 which is also very strong. The way you win is sticking and protecting your planeswalkers. Whoever starts snowballing with PW activations usually takes the control over the game.

Monastery MentorSupreme Verdict

Postboard the most powerful tool is 《Monastery Mentor》, that’s why I love to keep one 《Supreme Verdict》 postboard and give myself an insurance for that.

Against UW Control Mirror


Supreme Verdict Timely Reinforcements Condemn
Surgical Extraction Surgical Extraction


Monastery Mentor Monastery Mentor Dovin's Veto
Vendilion Clique Vendilion Clique

If you know your opponent doesn’t play their own 《Monastery Mentor》, then you can board out 2nd 《Supreme Verdict》 and leave 1 《Surgical Extraction》.

5C Humans

Wrath of GodMeddling MageOust

As I warned you before, this is the place where I made sacrifices to improve other match ups, so game one is terrible. Our main plan is to get rid of 《Meddling Mage》s naming 《Supreme Verdict》, and clearing the board with our sweeper. Without public decklists it might be a little easier, as they might want to name 《Wrath of God》, or attack with Mage expecting 《Oust》 instead of 《Condemn》 in our list, so take that in mind while setting your game plan during early turns.

Postboard the idea is to kill whatever we can early and take control over the game with quick 《Monastery Mentor》. 《Vendilion Clique》 is very good versus 《Mantis Rider》, and helps us with setting our long term plan revealing secrets from opponent’s hand.

Against 5C Humans


Force of Negation Force of Negation Force of Negation Spell Pierce
Surgical Extraction Surgical Extraction Mana Leak Logic Knot


Vendilion Clique Vendilion Clique Monastery Mentor Monastery Mentor
Celestial Purge Celestial Purge Wrath of God Timely Reinforcements


Liliana of the VeilCelestial PurgeWrenn and Six

It’s all about card advantage, so cards like 《Force of Negation》 are not as good as you might think. Obviously countering 《Liliana of the Veil》 or 《Wrenn and Six》 is a nice thing to do, but spending two cards for that usually puts us in a worse spot than letting them resolve. 《Celestial Purge》 is our best card, as it answers everything, and I’m really happy we have 3 in the sideboard.

Don’t slam 《Monastery Mentor》 on turn three. It’s a late game card, that allows us to close the game, early should be all about countering their stuff, and answering permanents. We do have the best chance if we play the classic draw-go mode for the first 4-5 turns. 《Rest in Peace》 is not an all star here, but I like having one to shut down 《Tarmogoyf》 and Wrenn later in the game. As I said before, don’t play it on turn two (unless they have Wrenn, and you don’t have a counterspell), just try to make value out of 《Snapcaster Mage》s first.

Against Jund


Surgical Extraction Surgical Extraction Supreme Verdict Timely Reinforcements
Force of Negation Force of Negation Force of Negation


Monastery Mentor Monastery Mentor Dovin's Veto Rest in Peace
Celestial Purge Celestial Purge Celestial Purge

Eldrazi Tron

CondemnReality Smasher

Decent match up with our current build. 《Condemn》 is definitely better than 《Oust》. The games we win usually look the same way. Counter something in the early game, cast planeswalkers and protect them. Dealing 《Reality Smasher》 in their combat with 《Condemn》 is a huge upgrade. FoN makes a decent job with countering 《Chalice of the Void》 and 《Karn, the Great Creator》, so we can safely tap out for Jace or Narset. Tron is not as big deal as versus green version, so I don’t like to spend Surgical on a Tron piece. From my experience it’s better to save it for Karn, Smasher, or 《Thought-Knot Seer》 in game one, and then sideboard it out and forget about it.

Against Eldrazi Tron


Surgical Extraction Surgical Extraction
Timely Reinforcements Force of Negation


Monastery Mentor Monastery Mentor
Wrath of God Ceremonious Rejection


This is my top 6 of the metagame right now. There are so many different decks in the format, and it’s impossible to cover every single one, but as I said, if you need help with any specific match up you have trouble with, feel free to ask me on twitter. I love helping people, and I’ve spent the last two weeks before the MC doing nothing but tuning UW in Modern, so don’t hesitate to ask!

Thank you for reading!

Until next time,

sensei Kowalski. (Twitter / Twitch)

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Grzegorz Kowalski He made top 8 in GP Lille 2012 and GP Brussels 2015, and GP Santiago 2017 has achieved second place. His extraordinary skill is also demonstrated on Pro Tour, experiencing countless top prize and money finish. He is one of the top players who travels the world and continues to fight. Read more articles by Grzegorz Kowalski