Durdly UW Control in Pioneer

Gregory Orange

Time to Play UW Control in Pioneer

For a while playing UW in Pioneer was fighting an uphill battle. Cards like 《Oko, Thief of Crowns》, 《Veil of Summer》, and 《Field of the Dead》 presented nearly insurmountable obstacles. But Pioneer has settled down a bit now after a series of bans. It seems like the obstacles of the format are more manageable now. I don’t think UW is a favorite to win most of the matches most of the time but I do think it has a fighting chance.


Card Choices

The Pioneer UW deck has been coalescing in a unified list. For example, it seems that everyone has decided that you should play 4 《Azorius Charm》s. So let’s talk about the card choices that I find interesting.

《Irrigated Farmland》

Irrigated Farmland


The ability to Cycle it is nice to reduce flooding and enable 《Dig Through Time》. Cycling is still probably worse than Scrying from 《Temple of Enlightenment》 but having basic land types is important for 《Glacial Fortress》 and the Castles.

Castle ArdenvaleGlacial FortressCastle Vantress

The real question is if the Farmland is better than additional basics. I just don’t think the cost of having a few tapped lands is very high in a deck like this. The deck does not have all that much to play in the first couple turns so there will usually be an opportunity to play it without consequence. The only one mana plays are 《Opt》 and Cycling 《Cast Out》, but you often don’t want to cast / cycle those right away if you don’t know what you are looking for.

《Field of Ruin》

Field of Ruin


I think this card is just really good. Destroying opposing Castles and 《Mutavault》s is often really important. I think 3 is about how many colorless lands I’m comfortable playing with 4 《Absorb》s in the deck. Although, it is pushing it a bit.

Geier Reach SanitariumNarset, Parter of Veils

《Geier Reach Sanitarium》 seems worse than Field to me. It is good when you have 《Narset, Parter of Veils》 in play but there are only two in the deck and usually you are doing pretty well if your planeswalkers don’t die anyway.




I think it is interesting how much the public opinion of 《Opt》 has changed over the last few years. It was legal in Dominaria Standard and UW Control was a reasonably popular deck. Still, almost no one played any 《Opt》s at all including me. I remember thinking that there just wasn’t enough room for 《Opt》 and you already had 《Cast Out》 and 《Hieroglyphic Illumination》 to Cycle so 《Opt》 wasn’t necessary.

This doesn’t make any sense to me since the format with a smaller card pool should be more likely to want 《Opt》. Sure 《Opt》 fuels 《Dig Through Time》 but so does 《Hieroglyphic Illumination》. Also the older decks would have wanted to fill the graveyard for 《Search for Azcanta》. The only explanation I have is that everyone just decided that they wanted more OPTions.

《Seal Away》

Seal Away


Some decklists play 《Blessed Alliance》. I think it is close and probably depends on what sort of creatures you tend to be playing against. It seems that there are a lot of 《Arclight Phoenix》es and 《Scrapheap Scrounger》s running around. I have found being able to exile creatures has been important and it’s nice to choose which attacking creature to exile. Also it’s nice that 《Seal Away》 gets creatures that aren’t necessarily attacking like 《Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy》, 《Hangarback Walker》, and 《Llanowar Elves》.

Arclight PhoenixScrapheap Scrounger
Jace, Vryn's ProdigyHangarback WalkerLlanowar Elves

《Blessed Alliance》 is better with 《Dig Through Time》 and gaining life can be nice. So keep 《Blessed Alliance》 in mind.

《Jace, Architect of Thought》

Jace, Architect of Thought


I just don’t think this card is that good. When it was in Standard people tended to play a couple in UW Control but now there are much better planeswalkers to play. Why play Jace when you’re not even playing 8 Teferis yet? For that matter why play 《Elspeth, Sun’s Champion》? Just play the really good planeswalkers first. 《Teferi, Hero of Dominaria》 plus 《Castle Ardenvale》 provide an effective win condition in my opinion so don’t worry about actually winning the game.

Matchup / Sideboard Guide

The UW Control Mirror

Sometimes there is a lot of play to the games but sometimes someone slams 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 into play and the game ends on the spot. In post board games there are more counterspells so slamming Teferi on turn three is more dangerous. This leads to a lot of sweet sweet draw go games. It is truly the way magic was meant to be played.

Against UW Control Mirror


Supreme Verdict Supreme Verdict Supreme Verdict Supreme Verdict
Seal Away Seal Away Settle the Wreckage


Dovin's Veto Dovin's Veto Monastery Mentor Monastery Mentor
Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute

The next best card to board out is 《Azorius Charm》 if you have extra things to bring in. If you don’t have enough things to board in I guess you can bring in 《Lyra Dawnbringer》 but understand she is quite bad.

Izzet Phoenix

Keep 《Izzet Charm》 in mind since it is probably the only counterspell in the main deck. Try to get a Narset to stick in play. Unlike the UW mirror the sideboard strategy is less straightforward. You will have to use your best judgment and the sideboard plan may change over time.

Against Izzet Phoenix


Absorb Absorb Azorius Charm Azorius Charm
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria Supreme Verdict Syncopate


Aether Gust Aether Gust Aether Gust Lyra Dawnbringer
Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute

《Lyra Dawnbringer》

Lyra Dawnbringer

《Lyra Dawnbringer》 is nice to have in play and it’s nice that it dodges most counterspells, but Lyra is terrible against 《Fry》 so don’t bring in too many it’s possible one is already a lot.

《Supreme Verdict》

Supreme Verdict

It is pretty necessary to kill 《Young Pyromancer》 and possible 《Goblin Rabblemaster》s. It’s not great against 《Treasure Cruise》 and 《Arclight Phoenix》 so I think trimming one can be okay.

《Absorb》 / 《Teferi, Hero of Dominaria》

AbsorbTeferi, Hero of Dominaria

They’re fine but not exciting. Neither are fun to get 《Mystical Dispute》d.



Better on the play since then you can counter 《Young Pyromancer》.

《Mystical Dispute》 / 《Aether Gust》

Mystical DisputeAether Gust

They are pretty good against the UR deck though not extremely good. Mostly they are efficient so don’t be afraid to just use them when you get the chance.

Mono Black Aggro

It is unfortunate that none of the color hosers are good here. 《Devout Decree》 isn’t really better than 《Seal Away》 in this match up anyway.

Against Mono Black Aggro


Syncopate Syncopate Dovin's Veto
Narset, Parter of Veils Narset, Parter of Veils


Nyx-Fleece Ram Nyx-Fleece Ram Lyra Dawnbringer
Monastery Mentor Monastery Mentor

《Monastery Mentor》

Monastery Mentor

The Mentor tokens block pretty well. You probably want to wait until you can play it and cast a spell in the same turn but obviously you won’t always have that luxury.

Mono Green Ramp

Similar to Phoenix this deck attacks from a few different directions. So it is harder to determine exactly which cards should be boarded out since many of the cards are situationally good.

Against Mono Green Ramp


Supreme Verdict Supreme Verdict Azorius Charm Azorius Charm
Narset, Parter of Veils Settle the Wreckage


Aether Gust Aether Gust Aether Gust Dovin's Veto
Monastery Mentor Monastery Mentor

《Monastery Mentor》

Monastery Mentor

It is nice to be able to win before 《Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger》 gets cast.

《Dovin’s Veto》

Dovin's Veto

It doesn’t counter that much stuff. But the stuff it does counter is pretty good.

《Settle the Wreckage》

Settle the Wreckage

It is the only card in the deck that is clearly bad in this matchup.

《Supreme Verdict》

Supreme Verdict

It might be crazy to board this out but it doesn’t line up particularly well against a decent amount of the deck. Presumably it is much better if you know there are 8 《Llanowar Elves》 in the deck. But if there are only 4 I’m less excited about it. It’s not exciting against 《Arboreal Grazer》 and 《Elvish Rejuvenator》.

Mono Red / Burn

Similar to Mono Black but they have burn spells and no discard spells. It’s less scary to cut value spells when you know that you are going to be able to cast the ones you do draw assuming you don’t die first. Also 《Dovin’s Veto》 isn’t as bad since it can help keep you from getting burned out.

Against Mono Red / Burn


Narset, Parter of Veils Narset, Parter of Veils Syncopate Syncopate
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria Dig Through Time


Aether Gust Aether Gust Aether Gust Lyra Dawnbringer
Nyx-Fleece Ram Nyx-Fleece Ram

《Monastery Mentor》

Monastery Mentor

It is just not very likely to live against a deck with a bunch of burn spells. If these decks were playing less creatures it could be better than 《Settle the Wreckage》 or 《Supreme Verdict》. In Modern I would board them in because they help you win before inevitably being burned out. In Pioneer however the main way you lose is just by getting run over by creatures since 《Absorb》 does a pretty good job of stabilizing if you survive the early game.


I think UW is pretty good in Pioneer right now. I don’t think it is extremely good and it most likely is not the best deck in the format, but it has its place. UW is just a bit clunky and not super powerful. That is how it goes for UW in general though. It is about as good right now as I could hope.

Gregory Orange (Twitter)

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Gregory Orange Gregory Orange is a pro player from United States. As a member of HotSauceGames.com, he is another one of America’s powerhouses that have been battling for a long time as a Gold Level Pro. He has put up respectable and consistent finishes at various Pro Tours as well as winning Grand Prix San Antonio in 2017. He won Pro Tour Magic 25th Anniversary with his teammates Allen Wu and Ben Hull. Seeking growth and victory more, he joined Hareruya Pros in the 2018-2019 season. Read more articles by Gregory Orange