Blue-Red Control Primer: HOU Standard

Come and learn how to dismantle your opponents with Torrential Gearhulk, courtesy of Scott.

Hour of Devastation artwork by Simon Dominic
It’s an exciting time to be playing Standard.

With the bannings that have taken place along in addition to some new cards in Hour of Devastation, the format has finally reached a sweet spot. No matter what kind of deck you enjoy playing, it feels like there is something in Standard that fits your style of play. We have everything from fast aggro, to draw-go control decks – the range of viable strategies in the format is immense.

Since the addition of Hour of Devastation, we haven’t seen the metagame shake up a huge amount. Temur still remains on top, while other decks like W/U Monument, Mardu, and G/B variants jockey for the #2 position.

But I’m not here today to talk about those decks, I’m here to tell you about the best of the bunch.

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HOU Standard U/R Control by OafMcNamara

Lands (26)
Wandering Fumarole
Spirebluff Canals
Aether Hub
Island
Mountain

Instants (26)
Magma Spray
Censor
Abrade
Harnessed Lightning
Negate
Essence Scatter
Supreme Will
Disallow
Glimmer of Genius
Pull from Tomorrow

Sorceries (4)
Sweltering Suns
Hour of Devastation

Creatures (4)
Torrential Gearhulk
Sideboard (15)
Thing in the Ice
Glorybringer
Dragonmaster Outcast
Negate
Dispel
Summary Dismissal
Void Shatter
Essence Scatter
Abrade
I’ve been playing Blue-Red control for most of its life in Standard. I’ve done so because I belive the deck is competitive, can be tailored to beat whatever is most popular, I also just love playing this style of deck and that’s what keeps me stubbornly playing  this deck, even if it’s not always the most powerful thing you can be doing. [For consistency’s sake, you can check out my original primer and the tweaks I made to it post-Aetherworks banning]

With the new additions from Hour of Devastation I can honestly say that this is the best deck in Standard. I’m not claiming to have the perfect 75, but I am certain if you enter a Standard tournament with a tuned list and some practice under your belt, you will be giving yourself the best possible chance to win.

Some cards from the latest set have plugged some major holes in the deck, and before I get into the nitty gritty of it all, I’d like to highlight some of these cards and talk about them for a minute.

Abrade is a new removal spell that a deck like this is happy to see. Harnessed Lightning has been excellent, and anything that can even compare to it is worth discussing. I’ve seen other people a little higher on Abrade than I am, even going as far as to cut some number of Harnessed Lightning for them.

While I do think that it may be correct to increase the number of Abrade in the maindeck, I highly discourage cutting any Harnessed Lightning to make room for them – Harnessed is just too flexible and powerful to play less than 4-of in my opinion. It is quite literally the best 2-mana removal spell available in Standard and absolutely incorrect to not have the playset. That being said, Abrade is still great to have. I’ve been enjoying one in the main and another in the sideboard.

supreme will mtg card

 

Supreme Will is another fantastic addition to U/R Control. Personally, I saw this as the perfect way to get Hieroglyphic Illumination out of the deck. The biggest appeal to that card was to help hit land drops early, and then have something proactive to do with a Gearhulk later on if you didn’t have the Glimmer of Genius available.

Now, we have a Mana Leak / Impulse split card that screams flexibility. The ability to Leak something on turn three, and then have an Impulse to hit with a Gearhulk later makes the card an easy include. I settled on only two copies due to three mana being slightly clunky. Disallow is still important to lock up the late game, so I have been enjoying a 3/2 split with Disallow and Supreme Will.

hour of devastation mtg card

And last but not least we have the namesake for the set, Hour of Devastation. This thing is an absolute monster and the reason I believe this deck can finally be considered tier one. Before now, the biggest complaint with the deck was how draw dependent it was. If you drew the wrong counterspell at the wrong time the deck felt terrible. On the other hand, if all your counterspells line up correctly until you can start casting Gearhulks, the deck feels unbeatable.

Hour of Devastation changes everything. Now, you can happily Glimmer of turn 4 while they play their Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or Bristling Hydra. These are cards that used to be game ending if they resolved – this is no longer the case. This reset button was exactly what the deck needed. Now when things don’t line up perfectly, there is a clean and powerful way to recover. It’s still a five mana sweeper though, so I couldn’t justify playing more than two.

The rest of the deck is pretty self explanatory; most of the numbers there are fairly stock at this point and don’t warrant too much discussion. I will note however that I have gone up to 26 lands. This is a result of cutting the Hieroglyphic Illuminations, as we have less cyclers to help hit land drops.

commit // memory mtg card

You may have also noticed that I cut Commit // Memory, a card I had heralded as uncuttable from due to its flexibility. A lot of the flexibility came from the ability to handle a resolved planeswalker, an artifact, or an indestructible creature.

Now that we have Abrade to handle artifacts, and Hour of Devastation to handle walkers and indestructible gods, Commit has lost significant stock. And although its gone now, it’s still not an unreasonable choice.

As we start discussing the sideboard, as always, take everything with a grain of salt. Never be afraid to switch things up mid match if you see something unexpected or unusual. I’ll do my best to cover the main decks you should expect to play against, but due to the diversity and how early we are into the format I’m bound to leave out a few.

Feel free to continue the sideboard discussion with me in the comments below about matchups I left out, or alternative strategies.

Sideboard Plans

Temur Energy

One of the main reasons to play the U/R deck is because of the favorable matchup we have here. I’ve had great results thus far when playing against Temur. I love the Dragonmaster Outcast post-board, as they are generally light on removal. I’ve also enjoyed bringing in the extra 3 mana hard counter against them. It turns out Cancel is just good enough to keep their threats off the board.

In: 2x Dragonmaster Outcast, 1x Essence Scatter, 1x Void Shatter, 1x Abrade

Out: 3x Magma Sprays, 1x Pull from Tomorrow, 1x Sweltering Suns

W/U Monument

This is a deck that really surged in popularity right before the new set got released and continued to do well up through release weekend. It’s a solid deck, but is naturally weak to our strategy. If you counter the important spells (Monument and Dusk//Dawn) then the sweepers can easily handle the rest of their threats. Abrade is fantastic in this matchup, as its another way to kill a pesky Spell Queller as well as remove a Monument from the table.

The deck generally plays little to no removal, and post-board that doesn’t change too much. This, combined with the fact that they most likely have Gideon as well, means we are bringing in the entire creature package from our board. These are all must answer threats that our opponent generally cannot answer.

This plan gets worse if they expect this out of us, but for the time being it has worked to great effect. They also get to play around sweepers a little easier after sideboarding. Counterspells, planeswalkers, and Selfless Spirit all help make Sweltering Suns look bad, so that gets boarded out as well. Hour of Devastation is still great though, so that stays in.

In: 2x Dragonmaster Outcast, 3x Thing in the Ice, 2x Glorybringer, 1x Abrade

Out: 1x Pull from Tomorrow, 4x Censor, 2x Sweltering Suns, 1x Torrential Gearhulk

Mardu Vehicles

This is no longer the nightmare matchup it once was a month or two ago. Access to Hour of Devastation and Abrade make things go much smoother for us. This isn’t a deck I expect to be abundant at the top tables going forward, but you’ll still run into in every now and again. Just save your Magma Spray for the Scrapheap Scroungers and you should have relatively smooth sailing.

In: 3x Thing in the Ice, 2x Glorybringer, 1x Abrade, 1x Negate

Out: 1x Pull from Tomorrow, 4x Censor, 2x Essence Scatter

Green/Black Variants

I’ve said this countless times, but Green-Black varies greatly in the kinds of threats it can present, so always adjust on the fly if necessary. This is a close matchup, and the way you play it will drastically effect your results. That being said, I’ve found a board plan that I’ve really been succeeding with that I’m excited to share.

On The Play

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

Out: 2x Negate, 2x Sweltering Suns, 3x Magma Spray

On The Draw

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

Out: 2x Sweltering Suns, 4x Censor, 1x Pull from Tomorrow

Mono B & B/W Zombies

Not as popular as it used to be, but it’s definitely still out there. This matchup is the same as its always been; very good. The extra sweepers make seemingly unmanageable board states vanish. Post-board Thing in the Ice is fantastic. Just play smart and you shouldn’t have normally have any issues managing this one.

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

Out: 4x Censor

Green Ramp

Ramp decks are making an appearance due to the new powerful spell Hour of Promise. These decks aren’t super popular at the moment, but I believe that once someone finds the right mix of ramp spells and threats this will be a force to be reckoned with.

World Breaker and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger are huge issues for U/R Control. Luckily, we do have one clean answer in Summary Dismissal for these huge threats. If these kind of decks become more popular, be prepared to play even more copies of it.

In: 3x Thing in the Ice, 2x Dragonmaster Outcast, 1x Summary Dismissal, 2x Negate, 1x Essence Scatter, 1x Void Shatter

Out: 3x Magma Spray, 1x Abrade, 2x Harnessed Lightning, 2x Sweltering Suns, 2x Hour of Devastation

Blue-Red Control

If this deck is as good as I think it is, I imagine the conquoring the mirror will be important moving forward. So like I’ve said before, be sure to hit your land drops game one, as that’s the most important aspect of the game. I still love the post board plan of going underneath your opponent with Dragonmaster Outcast and Thing in the Ice. I also like to bring in the Summary Dismissal as an extra hard counter in addition to being a way to counter a Sphinx of the Final Word.

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

Out: 3x Magma Spray, 1x Abrade, 2x Censor, 2x Sweltering Suns, 2x Hour of Devastation, 1x Pull from Tomorrow

That should cover the main matchups for the vast majority of the metagame, but I encourage y’all to continue the discussion below. As always I appreciate feedback on my content and am always looking to improve. [Note from the editor: I love it when people point out typos and whatnot too.]

This weekend I’ll be playing in SCG Atlanta as the Standard player on my team, so wish me luck! I hope to see some of y’all there at the top tables with the best deck in Standard!

Scott McNamara

Scott is a competitive player from the Texas area, as well as a frequent Magic Online grinder under the username of OafMcNamara. He plays and enjoys most formats, but is currently focusing most of his time on Standard.

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7 Responses to “Blue-Red Control Primer: HOU Standard”

  • Hey great read, one thing I wanted to mention is that hour has actually been proven to be excellent in the mirror post board as people bring in outcast, thing, walkers, and sometimes glorybringer, all of which hour soundly defeat. Fevered visions was something I was looking to as an anti control card that avoids hour post board, what are your thoughts on this dilemma?

  • Hey, avid control fan and I’ve been following your primers from the start. Well written, easy to follow and sound deck building. Thanks so much for keeping up with it, big fan here.

  • I’ve been seeing this build around xmage, it looks like some people are doing a two or three-of Nicol Bolas God-Pharoh. It really helps the deck drive in what you need on a board wipe.

  • Personally I would leave the main board Abrade alone in the mirror because it is a clean answer to gear hulk

  • Fantastic article any updates to the list and sideboard plan vs gifts and mono red?

  • […] it actually struggles to beat wraths and counterspells backed up by any real pressure. Decks like UR Control that can beat Zombies and Temur Energy might become more prevalent as Ramunap Red gets pushed out […]

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