Friday, May 13, 2011

U/B Control In Block

The deck I like the most pre-NPH in Block is the U/B Control list with zero artifacts. Tom Martell was going on about it on Twitter, but the original creator is unknown to me. It was about 11% of the online metagame (data from Chris Mascioli).

It feels like this deck will remain strong post-NPH. It contains a lot of ways to get value, namely with cards like Skinrender, Neurok Commando, Phyrexian Rager (which is probably one of its worse cards), Black Sun's Zenith, Blue Sun's Zenith, and Consecrated Sphinx. It can run other finishers like Carnifex Demon, Massacre Wurm, etc., but Consecrated Sphinx is the most potent and will almost always draw you at least two cards.

Black has the best removal hands down in Block (just look at them!). Check out the arsenal:

Black Spot Removal

Go for the Throat

For 1B, you can finish that Consecrated Sphinx, Sunblast Angel, or Hoard-Smelter Dragon without blinking an eye—creatures that would otherwise be nigh invincible in the format! Go for the Throat keeps the format from falling to its knees against these titans. In general, artifacts are much easier to deal with than non-artifacts. Once you get above the four toughness range, not much can touch you—but watch your throats.

Grasp of Darkness

Four toughness is an important benchmark in SOM Block. Four toughness means you're invulnerable to Slagstorm, the premier red sweeper, and will survive a Skinrender infection. Unfortunately for you, you can still fall to that Grasp of Darkness—regeneration or no (lookin' at you, Skithiryx).

Grasp of Darkness has a lot of versatility for a removal spell in this format, as it doesn't discriminate between artifacts and non-artifacts. It only cares about your size (and I guess whether you have shroud—damn you, Thrun and Neurok Commando!). Black decks usually run four Grasps. If your opponent is careful to leave up BB—and not, say, 1UU for Stoic Rebuttal or Swamp + Inkmoth Nexus—then look to the darkness.


Dismember will compete with Grasp for slots in any heavy black deck. The life loss is not irrelevant, but casting Dismember is so much easier for a lot of decks, as the mana-fixing, as I mentioned, is horrible. It also lets you give your opponents much less information with what mana you leave untapped.

I'd be fine starting four Dismembers in all my black decks, post-NPH. (Could be wrong, but I really like the versatility of Dismember.)


Skinrender is insane in SOM Block and yet interestingly is not run in every black deck. Infect decks tend to avoid him. Even though it provides a great defensive body and can handle blockers for the purposes of racing, it increases your vulnerability to Slagstorm and is pretty terrible on offense (more or less a 0/3 in that regard). However, if you aren't on the poison plan, then this guy is a must.

Update: The metagame has recently been trending slightly away from Skinrender. Neurok Commando and Thrun can't be targeted by this guy, leaving him stranded in your hand. However, I don't think these two cards alone make Skinrender "bad" enough that you want less than four. Every deck runs some targets. Most decks run a lot. We'll see, however.

Despise You

U/B probably has the biggest problem handling planeswalkers, especially Koth of the Hammer. Fortunately, Despise has come to lend a helping hand.

Black currently has an overwhelming number of options for spot removal already, but Despise seems like a must for black decks with problems dealing with planeswalkers. It also hits large artifact creatures like Wurmcoil Engine and Myr Battlesphere that black cannot otherwise deal with.

Because it's also proactive instead of reactive, it helps a lot against cards like Viridian Emissary, Thrun, the Last Troll, Neurok Commando, etc. that black doesn't want to see hit the table to begin with.

I'm tempted to start my default black removal suite like so:

4 Despise
4 Dismember
2-4 Go for the Throat
4 Skinrender
1-3 Black Sun's Zenith

Go for the Throats will vary in number depending on the other slots in the deck and what the format looks like overall; same with Black Sun's Zenith. Dismember does a lot of "double duty" here and can handle a lot of the problems Go for the Throat can. The main issue is Consecrated Sphinx, which you want to be able to kill before your draw phase.

All that's left is to fill the rest in with blue utility—counterspells and draw—and finishers / creatures—such as Neurok Commando and Consecrated Sphinx.

Let's try this:

4 Darkslick Shores
11 Island
12 Swamp

4 Neurok Commando
4 Skinrender
2 Deceiver Exarch
4 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Massacre Wurm

4 Despise
4 Dismember
2 Go for the Throat
2 Black Sun's Zenith
1 Blue Sun's Zenith
2 Tezzeret's Gambit
3 Stoic Rebuttal

Control lists are very metagame-dependent, and this may very well be holding the wrong tools for the metagame at the Pro Tour. However, it shouldn't be too hard to tune based on what starts popping up in the coming weeks.

RE: Deceiver Exarch

I know this is more a tempo spell than a controlling one, and I also know people will argue that the deck is supposed to be full of answers and two-for-ones. However, I really dislike deckbuilding restrictions that tell me I can't run spells because they don't fit into the right "category." Either the spell does something the deck wants or it doesn't.

I want to try Deceiver Exarch over Phyrexian Rager because I like its 1/4 body better than the 2/2 body. For instance, if I want to win a Neurok Commando war, I'd rather have the 1/4. If I'm going to hold up mana for a removal spell or a counterspell, I'd like to have the option to land a creature if nothing relevant needs to be answered on the opponent's turn. If I have five mana, I'd like to be able to flash this in during combat, untap one of my lands, block, and have Stoic Rebuttal up for the second main phase. And then hopefully untap into a Consecrated Sphinx. Deceiver Exarch will also buy you turns that Phyrexian Rager would not, against multiple creatures (tap one, block another) or fliers (including Glint Hawk Idol and Inkmoth Nexus). It also blocks a lone Porcelain Legionnaire well.

Too bad it doesn't block Thrun indefinitely. Fortunately, it's blue, so it can block any sworded creature (unless they have Body and Mind) and both Crusaders.

I wouldn't underestimate it, in any case. I think it can fill a decent role in this deck. Even if it's just beating down for one each turn. There are a lot of potential applications with the card that I didn't mention even.

However, it's certainly not so good that I want more. The deck does need ways to gain board presence, however, without using point removal. Phyrexian Rager is a two-for-one of sorts, but the body actually feels incredibly weak to me. I like to think of it as such: if Deceiver Exarch always buys me a turn, it's essentially a cantrip, since it just bought me another draw step that I wouldn't have had otherwise. Rager will always get me a card, but the 2/2 body is less likely to actually buy me another turn. Whereas tapping down their best guy can often be a time walk—especially if the 1/4 body blocks the second best guy.

Would I rather have the tempo (another draw step, another land drop, another attack phase) or would I rather have a guaranteed card?

Honestly I'm not entirely sure at this point. But I think the Exarch is a legitimate contender for slots in the deck, so take that as you will!


I haven't been testing as much lately, but I want to give you the best resources to get your testing jumpstarted.

If you aren't a member of Magic-League, I recommend you join. Even if you don't, they still publish all their winning decklists. Take a look at the latest Block results.

They often provide the first look at any new format, as they use Magic Workstation to play games and not Magic Online. If you weren't checking this site regularly before, you should definitely start.

The decks look very odd compared to the finely tuned and weatherworn decklists from Magic Online. Players are freer to experiment and brew, as less is on the line, and tournaments are free to enter. Despite that, M-L has definitely aided champions predict metagame trends before Pro Tours. If nothing else, it gives you a look at what decks will likely show up at the event, as many Pro Tour players steal deck ideas straight from the site.

I'd take the initial results with a grain of salt, as there's no telling how much will change in four weeks. But sleeve up these decks for your gauntlet and try them out.

It's a poor move to try to start from scratch—breaking metagames is a group effort!