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.
4 《Hallowed Fountain》
3 《Irrigated Farmland》
4 《Glacial Fortress》
2 《Castle Ardenvale》
2 《Castle Vantress》
3 《Field of Ruin》
-Land (25)- -Creature (0)-
4 《Azorius Charm》
1 《Dovin’s Veto》
4 《Supreme Verdict》
1 《Settle the Wreckage》
2 《Dig Through Time》
2 《Seal Away》
1 《Detention Sphere》
2 《Cast Out》
3 《Teferi, Time Raveler》
2 《Narset, Parter of Veils》
3 《Teferi, Hero of Dominaria》
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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》.
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.
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.
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.
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》.
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
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.
It is nice to be able to win before 《Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger》 gets cast.
It doesn’t counter that much stuff. But the stuff it does counter is pretty good.
It is the only card in the deck that is clearly bad in this matchup.
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.
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)