Frontier: Blue-Black (UB) Control Primer & Sideboard Guide

Rasmus is back with another piece of Frontier content focusing on his favorite deck in the format, Blue-Black Control.

Since the dawn of Frontier there has been a desire from many people to brew blue based control strategies. The appeal is obvious: cards like Dig Through Time, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Torrential Gearhulk are the right building blocks for a tier one strategy. Frontier is also the only format where we can play four copies of Dig or Treasure Cruise.  That’s a real draw to both the format and the archetype for players like myself.

The only question that remains unsolved is which control deck is the best. Control has been represented in some form in pretty much all color combinations since the printing of Torrential Gearhulk in Kaladesh. We’ve gone from Dark Jeskai, Esper Dragons, Sultai Control, to the current most popular control deck, Grixis Control. Straight Blue-Black control has also had its share of success.

While none of these decks has dominated, they’ve always been a presence in the format. This might all be due for a change change thanks to some powerful new additions from Ixalan.

Notable Additions to UBx Control

Opt is by far the most interesting card from Ixalan, and the most exciting since Torrential Gearhulk was printed. Opt, similar to cantrips like Serum Visions, or Ponder in older formats, helps the consistency of this archetype by more than a fair bit! Before, control decks had to play suboptimal cards like Strategic Planning and Anticipate to help filter our draws. This type of card is important in control. The archetype can suffer from having to play a higher number of lands to reliably hit their drops—without cantrips, this often leads to control decks “flooding out,” or not drawing the right mix of permission, card draw and removal.

With Opt available to them, control strategies can consistently hit early land drops. In fact, we can even play fewer lands in deck than before. Experienced players will set aside their copies of Anticipate for good—and good riddance! All in all, I expect Opt to be a staple in all blue-based control decks.

hero's downfall mtg card

Vraska’s Contempt is the second coming of Hero’s Downfall and will be a great improvement for UBx decks. People that argue the card is too slow, or trades unfavorably, just don’t understand Frontier! Like Hero’s Downfall, the fact that Vraska’s Contempt is an instant makes it better than the sorcery speed counterparts in Never // Return and Ruinous Path. This is true, despite these being cheaper to cast, as instant speed is that much better.

Another great aspect of Vraska’s Contempt is the fact that you gain two life off it. This may not seem very impactful, but it is. Holding up counterspells on your opponent’s turn often means you will be taking damage from the opposing creatures (before killing creatures in the end step.) Contempt lets you get some of the life back. Aggressive strategies are popular in the current meta, and control decks will use all the extra life it can get. Playing multiples of these on opposing creatures, plus a flashback from a Gearhulk? That can easily put the game out of reach against a lot of decks.

The exile clause also has a lot of value. Many of the most problematic threats either have recursion, like Scrapheap Scrounger, or they’re indestructible, like Darksteel Citadel and Ensoul Artifact. That’s not to mention the decks playing gods, or recurring creatures with Kolaghan’s Command, Liliana, the Last Hope and Renegade Rallier.

Search for Azcanta is another powerful addition to all blue based control strategies. It plays similarly to Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in that it smooths out the draw. Unlike Jace, Search for Azcanta does not die to creature removal.

It’s the flipped version of the card, Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, where the power of this card is shown. This side takes over the game all by itself and allows the control player to sit back and react to the opponent. Being able to do a mini-Dig or Impulse each turn is not to be underestimated. The mere threat of the flip will cause our opponents to play aggressively, often overextending into our copies of Languish and jamming important threats into our counterspells. The only downside of the card is that it’s legendary, making it hard to justify playing more than just a couple copies.

UB Control by Rasmus Enegren

Lands (25)
Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand
Bloodstained Mire
Drowned Catacomb
Sunken Hollow
Swamp
Island
Field of Ruin
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Instants (24)
Opt
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Essence Scatter
Negate
Disallow
Vraska’s Contempt
Dig Through Time

Sorceries (3)
Languish
Enchantments (2)
Search for Azcanta

Creatures (4)
Torrential Gearhulk
The Scarab God

Planeswalker (2)
Liliana, the Last Hope

Sideboard (15)
Sorcerous Spyglass
Gifted Aetherborn
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Negate
Disdainful Stroke
Dispel
Sphinx of the final word

Matchups and Sideboard Guide

4 Color Saheeli

The 4C Saheeli matchup is a skill testing matchup for the UB player. The games often revolve around different things, and what matters often shifts, making it essential for the control player to be aware of what matters on the board at any given time. The games most often revolve around the planeswalkers in the deck—which includes Saheeli Rai, Chandra, Torch of Defiance and sometimes Gideon, Ally of Zendikar if they play him. 4C Saheeli is capable of attacking from a lot of different angles thanks to the amount of “value” creatures in this deck. Assessing whether the game is about card advantage, Whirler Virtuoso, or Smuggler’s Copter is an important part of winning this matchup.

The best card in the sideboard is without a doubt Sorcerous Spyglass. It not only shuts down the combo, but hits a lot of other targets as well, so drawing multiple copies is all upside. We also want to bring in more hard counters to deal with planeswalkers and opposing counterspells.

Against the creature version of Saheeli, you want to go down on the copies of Fatal Push and Liliana. You need to be more proactive against Saheeli post board, and having to sit on a fetchland to enable Fatal Push can be too punishing. The deck also runs very few one toughness creatures, so the power of Liliana is greatly reduced in this matchup. Against the more controlling version of Saheeli, you want to maximize your answers to their planeswalkers in the form of counterspells and Spyglass. Cut down on removal like Fatal Push and Languish to make room for these cards.

VS Creature Variant:

In: +2 Negate, +3 Sorcerous Spyglass.
Out: -3 Fatal Push, -2 Liliana, the Last Hope.

VS Control Variant

In: +2 Negate, +3 Sorcerous Spyglass, +1 Dispel, +2 Disdainful stroke, +1 Gonti, Lord of Luxuries.
Out: -4 Fatal Push, -3 Languish, -1 Liliana, the Last Hope, -1 Essence Scatter.

Atarka Red

The Sligh matchup is the matchup that changes the most after sideboard. Game one is the toughest, as we are often dependent on drawing our sweepers to deal with their army of tokens. We also have a hard time winning a fast game as our win conditions are very expensive, so their game plan of getting us to a low life total and burning us out is a real threat.

After sideboard we get access to high impact cards like Gifted Aetherborn which have be dealt with immediately by the red players. Trim the numbers on more clunky cards like Gearhulk and Dig, and take out the low impact cards like Search for Azcanta. Red is slightly favored against UB in game one, but we improve a lot after sideboard.

In: +3 Gifted Aetherborn, +2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, +1 Negate/Dispel (depending on the variant of red).
Out: -2 Search for Azcanta, -1 Torrential Gearhulk, -1 Dig Through Time, -2 Essence Scatter.

Aetherworks Marvel

The slot machine deck! Aetherworks Marvel is by far the worst matchup for UB Control because of how fast the deck can burst out powerful Eldrazi like Emrakul, the Promised End which is incredibly hard for our deck to deal with. Marvel players can also start “hard casting” big Eldrazi in game one because of how long time it takes for us to win. The easiest route to victory is hoping the Marvel Player has a slow start and playing Liliana, the Last Hope on turn three. This lets us race to her ultimate, but otherwise this matchup is pretty much unwinnable game one.

The matchup gets a little better after sideboarding. Sorcerous Spyglass shuts down Aetherworks Marvel and forces the opponent to play a “fair” game. You still need to win pretty quickly, as the Marvel player can eventually just start casting their Emrakuls and Ulamogs. For that reason, we want to bring in creatures that can deliver a beat down like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Gonti, Lord of Luxury.

In: +3 Sorcerous Spyglass, +2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, +2 Disdainful Stroke, +1 Gonti, Lord of Luxury.
Out: -4 Fatal Push, -3 Languish, -1 Vraska’s Contempt.

Abzan Aggro

The Abzan Aggro matchup is one of the more favorable matchups in Frontier and one of the main reasons why UB control is such a strong deck. Our removal lines up well against what Abzan brings to the table, and thanks to our powerful card advantage engines in Search for Azcanta and Dig Through Time, we have little trouble going over the top of them in the late game. Most importantly, our deck blanks their removal spells, making a lot of cards in their deck pretty bad.

After sideboarding we want to add more impactful creatures to the deck as Abzan cuts more of their removal to make space for cards like Den Protector and Duress that don’t touch our creatures. The matchup gets a little more even after sideboard, but if you play your cards right and don’t leave yourself vulnerable to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or a barrage of Scrapheap Scroungers, you should be fine.

In: +2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, +1 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Out: -1 Liliana, the Last Hope, -2 Search for Azcanta

Conclusion

UB Control is a consistent deck with a straightforward game plan of removing the opposing threats before going over the top of them with card draw and powerful finishers. It can take awhile to win, though. If you are thinking of picking up the deck be aware that you have to play quickly to avoid draws.

This list is, in my opinion, one of the strongest decks coming out of Ixalan. The consistent mana base and the rise of aggressive strategies like Atarka Red and Abzan makes it well positioned. The slight downtick in combo decks like Saheeli Rai and Aetherworks Marvel helps as well. It’s the list I’m running competitively going forward. If you love value, you should play it too!

Rasmus is a Modern and Frontier player that loves his tempo and control strategies. He’s usually trying to force blue.

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