Amonkhet Standard U/R Control Primer

art by adam paquette

Howdy everyone. My name is Scott McNamara, but I’m probably a little better known from my Magic Online handle, OafMcNamara. I am happy to say that I’ve been invited to join the team here at and I’ll be creating some content of my own. I look forward to having a platform to express myself and share my thoughts, results, and ideas. Generally, I will be focusing on Standard of the competitive variety.

My inaugural piece here is going to be a quick primer on U/R Control, some notes on the deck, and my sideboard plans. Let’s see if I can help you gearhulk your opponents out of the game.

found in an old dictionary

Amonkhet Standard U/R Control

Creatures (4)
Torrential Gearhulk

Instants (28)
Magma Spray
Harnessed Lightning
Glimmer of Genius
Essence Scatter
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Commit // Memory
Pull from Tomorrow

Sorceries (3)
Sweltering Suns
Lands (25)
Aether Hub
Wandering Fumarole
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Dragonmaster Outcast
Thing in the Ice
Summary Dismissal
Essence Scatter
Release the Gremlins
Brutal Expulsion

Notes on deck construction:

Since the deck’s inception upon Amonkhet being released, it’s been changing constantly to adjust to the weekly metagame. Although I think the deck is very flexible and can be tailored to beat mostly anything in a given week, there is a core set of cards that I would consider untouchable.

These are cards that I would never cut or remove from the deck, regardless of the metagame. They’re too essential to the deck’s primary gameplan, and allow it to function. In my humble opinion, this is where you start when building this archetype.

  • 4 Magma Spray
  • 4 Harnessed Lightning
  • 4 Censor
  • 4 Three Mana Counterspell
  • 4 Glimmer of Genius
  • 1 Commit / Memory
  • 4 Torrential Gearhulk

As you can see, that’s quite a few cards. I think it’s good to have a solid base to start from. The only card on this list that I feel like needs explaining is Commit // Memory, as there are several lists that omit this card from their maindeck entirely.

I believe it’s important to have at least one copy in the maindeck to give you an out to situations that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to handle, such as an indestructible creature, or a resolved planeswalker. We also randomly get to cast the Memory side of the card on our opponents end step sometimes (due to the interaction with the split graveyard cards and Torrential Gearhulk‘s ability), which is utter nonsense. I will concede it’s a little clunky, but it’s earned the singleton slot.

After these 25 or so cards, you really only have 10 slots in the maindeck to work with. These are usually taken up by a mix of two mana counters, Sweltering Suns, Pull From Tomorrow, or other pieces of interaction. You should be adjusting these flex spots depending on what your particular metagame looks like.

Another point of contention with this deck is the debate between more land vs. playing more copies of Hieroglyphic Illumination. I have seen builds that were successful with 27 lands and 0 Illuminations, as well as lists with 24 lands and the full 4 copies of Illumination that also did well.

The jury hasn’t reached a verdict yet for me as to which build is “more” correct. For now, I split the difference and play 25 lands with 2 copies of Illumination, and that’s been working out well.

Let’s discuss some specific matchups, and how I generally sideboard against them.

vs. Temur Aetherworks Marvel

At the time of this writing, Temur Marvel with Glimmer of Genius is by far the most popular version of this deck, so I am going to be focusing on that specific build. Some of the logic will still apply to other flavors of Aetherworks Marvel though.

Now, depending on who you talk to, you will hear vastly different things when asking how good this matchup is for U/R Control. In my experience, I believe this is a favorable matchup as the U/R player. But before we get into sideboarding for this matchup, there are a couple of important play patterns in game 1 that I want to point out.

Obviously, we want do everything in our power to not let a Marvel resolve. As clear as this seems, it leads to a lot of unintuitive sequences. For example, unless your hand is flush with counterspells, you almost always have to let creatures resolve, even the ones that get value when they come into play. Sure, it feels bad killing a Rogue Refiner after they’ve already got their value, but saving your counterspells for Marvel is the most important thing.

Additionally, you often have to let their Glimmer of Genius resolve. Unless you have enough mana to counter their Glimmer as well as a Marvel on their next turn (assuming this is happening on your end step), you have to just let them draw cards.

And a final note about the Marvel matchup: don’t let your Gearhulks get Censor‘d. These Marvel decks generally play 3-4 copies of Censor in the main. Do not walk your Torrential Gearhulk into a Censor on turn 6.

Out: 1x Sweltering Suns, 1x Pull from Tomorrow, 4x Magma Sprays, 2x Harnessed Lightning

In: 1x Essence Scatter, 2x Negate, 2x Dragonmaster Outcast, 2x Dispel, 1x Summary Dismissal

vs. Mono Black Zombies

The game 1 matchup against Zombies is a lot about whether or not we find one of the maindeck Sweltering Suns, as it’s pretty hard to win without casting that at least some point in the game. Trying to 1-for-1 a deck like this is a losing proposition.

However, I do believe this is another great matchup due to how much card draw we have to find the sweepers, and how efficient Magma Spray and counterspells in general are at handling their threats. Their removal also lines up poorly against Torrential Gearhulk, making that card really, really good if we can survive to the late game.

Games 2 and 3 are where things get a bit tricky, because they’ll typically side in some hand disruption which is good against us. Fortunately, we also have a few cards that can make life significantly easier after sideboarding. Thing in the Ice in particular has been incredible in this matchup, as it requires them to keep in removal spells against you, or just continue to overextend into a Sweltering Suns. It also gives us an additional way to close out the game if Disposses ever resolves.

Out: 2x Negate, 3x Censor

In: 3x Thing in the Ice, 1x Essence Scatter, 1x Brutal Expulsion

vs. W/B Zombies

Most of what I said about the Mono Black version applies here, the key difference being Anguished Unmaking and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Stay aware of these cards as you navigate the matchup, and play around them accordingly.

For example, don’t play Torrential Gearhulk on 6 and expect to block, as they probably have an Anguished Unmaking ready to go. In these spots it might be necessary to flashback a removal spell, whereas against Mono Black we would’ve had the luxury of flashing back a Glimmer of Genius.

Against Gideon, try as hard as you can to not play Sweltering Suns until you can hold up a counterspell for the Gideon they’re sure to follow up with. Post-board we will bring in Glorybringer, which really helps against the omnipresent Ally of Zendikar.

Out: 2x Negate, 4x Censor, 1x Torrential Gearhulk

In: 3x Thing in the Ice, 2x Glorybringer, 1x Brutal Expulsion, 1x Essence Scatter

vs. Mardu Vehicles

This might be the toughest matchup, as all of Mardu’s threats require very specific answers. We have to have Harnessed Lightning for their Heart of Kiran, a Magma Spray for the Scrapheap Scroungers, in addition to having a counterspell for their Gideons. Just be cognizant of this fact and don’t waste your answers on the wrong threats.

If they board into a slower type of game after sideboarding with things like hand disruption, Painful Truths, and more planeswalkers, then I believe this actually favors U/R Control. We have the advantage in the late game with Gearhulk, so we’re okay with them slowing the match down.

Our sideboarding can be tricky, because it depends on how much they slow down, but here is where I start going into game two, and reassess things if necessary for the third game.

Out: 2x Essence Scatter, 4x Censor, 1x Pull from Tomorrow, 1x Commit // Memory, 1x Sweltering Suns

In: 2x Glorybringer, 2x Negate, 3x Thing in the Ice, 1x Release the Gremlins, 1x Brutal Expulsion

vs. U/R Control

Just like all control mirrors in game 1, it’s about hitting your land drops. Please, attempt everything in your power to do so. Another bit of advice I’d give you about game 1 is to wait to cast Glimmer on turn 5 – it is so much more likely to resolve on turn 5 because they can’t Censor it, and they’re forced to respect the fact that you can untap and cast a Gearhulk, so often they have to let it resolve.

Post-board I’m a big fan of Thing in the Ice and Dragonmaster Outcast. These are cheap, must-answer threats that can very easily get underneath counterspells and make Sphinx of the Final Word completely irrelevant.

Out: 3x Sweltering Suns, 4x Magma Spray, 2x Essence Scatter, 1x Pull from Tomorrow

In: 3x Thing in the Ice, 2x Dragonmaster Outcast, 2x Dispel, 2x Negate, 1x Summary Dismissal

And that should cover most of the main matchups in Standard right now. I’d love to hear some feedback if you disagree with me about anything, have any follow up questions, or have any suggestions for content you’d like to see in the future. Let us know via the Facebook page or give us a shout on Twitter.

We’ve also enabled comments directly on the website as well, so feel free to reach out to us anywhere.

[Spirebluff Canal Art by Adam Paquette]

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9 Responses to “Amonkhet Standard U/R Control Primer”

  • Avatar

    Thanks for making this article! Have been running this deck for several months now, and as a control player, I’m really enjoying it. I had Glorybringer as my original sideboard but have now replaced it with TitI and Dragonmaster Outcast. I think this may be the first sideboard I’ve seen where both dragons are present. I originally debated taking out my copies of Sphinx and putting Glorybringer back in, but I thought Sphinx would be a good thing for mirror games. Your article now makes me think maybe I should try having Glorybringer back in. TitI and Outcast have been fantastic, I’m going to be very sad when they rotate out.

    As I am running 27 lands and no Hieroglyphic Illumination, I’d like to ask if you had any personal reasons for your preference with running 25 lands and 2 Illuminations, or was that just as you said, splitting the difference? I would love to try and run 25 lands + illumination but my fear of missing land drops has always held me back.

    Thanks again and congrats on your first article for!

    • Scott McNamara
      Scott McNamara Reply

      Hey bud I’m glad you enjoyed it. Personally, I’m not a fan of the sphinx in the mirrors because of how good dragonmaster and TITI are against it. So I’d try playing some glorybringers and seeing how you feel.
      And as far as the land situation goes, as I mentioned in the article, I’m still unsure. I played 27(with two cycling lands) for quite a bit before being convinced to try some illumination. And I will admit that now that I’ve tried them they’ve been pretty good. So my advice would be to just play a few and see how you like them.
      Good luck with the deck my friend!

  • Avatar

    If on the play in mirror, do you just ram dragonmaster outcast or do you play it later with counter backup?

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    What do you think of running some u/b cycle lands in order to have dispossess in the sideboard against Marvel?

    • Scott mcnamara
      Scott mcnamara Reply

      Doesn’t seem worth the splash. Having untapped lands are super inportant, and dispossing Marvels doesn’t even gaurantee you to win, they can definetly kill you without it.

  • Avatar

    Sweet article man, its really nice to see written content covering decks that the mainstream pros aren’t writing on and from a different perspective. Love your reddit updates too, keep up the good work!

    I think I am going to get back on this deck after a marvel overload. So, 2 questions. How do you feel about a single Kefnet in the side, I was running one and it was great but that was a while ago, and I guess it’s only great in control mirrors. The board is tight, so I guess it would mean cutting a TiTI but that seems wrong. For bigger tournaments it would be a no no, but locally I could cut the Summary Dismissal as I believe I was the only Marvel player there and I’m ready to retire it for non competitive events. If I am going to see zero to possibly 1 Marvel deck is it a safe swap? I will definitely see at least 4 possible mirrors.

    Second, what about the resurgence of GB? Do you feel the 75 is strong enough with one scatter and 3 TiTI as what are likely your only sideboard options? Confiscation Coup, I have found, has some merit in other matches, but is it necessary to run it just for GB? It seems fairly decent against decks trying to go over the top with Avacyns and Glorybringers. Suns can turn particularly bad here, especially on the draw without a harnessed lightning in hand. Although there we can interact so much, so I guess it probably doesn’t matter and we lose the match that we can’t answer Snake into Rishkar anyways, so I guess I answered my own question and Coup is probably not necessary, but it feels good when it goes off!

    I guess one more question. How about 1 more commit//memory in the board over Expulsion? I know expulsion is wonderful against Gideon, but with the addition of Glorybringer to bring the fight to AoZ is it fully needed? Commit is sometimes an only out to some pesky permanents if they resolve, and I was running 2 in the main before. If nothing else I have learned in the mirror when you have learned to be the more patient pilot its a great card to have access to.

    Thanks Oaf!

  • Avatar

    Awesome articles. You touched on all the major decks but I was wondering about the G/b match up? How would you board against it and what is the majors threats to look out for.

  • Avatar

    Really useful and interesting article. I’ll be coming back to check out your future updates to this deck. Especially now with the Marvel ban, arguably one of our toughest match ups! Thanks again for the advice.

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