Hello and welcome to this month's Treasure Cruisin'! This time, I teamed up with staff member Ulka to in an attempt to solve a question that stumps many budget deck builders: How do you build an effective control deck without breaking the bank? Control decks require card advantage, something difficult to accomplish on a budget in the traditional sense. While cards such as Opt, Serum Visions, and other cantrips are cheap, they do not provide true card advantage; rather they allow for card filtering and card parity. The true card advantage titans of Modern -- Cryptic Command, Snapcaster Mage, and Ancestral Vision -- are far from affordable. This makes control weak on a budget because you run out of gas. Thus, budget control falls into one of two categories. The first is trying to accomplish one goal and dodges card advantage by being as redundant as possible, such as 8Rack or Pox. The second is looking to use a certain resource to generate card advantage, such as how Dredge uses the graveyard. This deck falls into the second camp, looking to utilize the spell in its graveyard to establish and maintain control of the game. It is also very upgradeable with numerous possibilities for turning it into a tiered strategy. This decklist clocks in at $179 USD, which is higher than many of the decks I have covered in the past but I believe this is a solid starting point for its price. If you like playing control but can't afford the major cogs of control machines, look no further than UR Control!
Up-to-date pricing can be found here
The goal of the deck is simple: Deny the opponent's gameplan, generate copious amounts of value out of the graveyard, and crush them under it. This is accomplished with flashback, delve, and a host of other abilities.
In order to keep the deck running smoothly, we have to do two things. The first is put as many spells into the graveyard as possible, either by casting them or discarding them. The second is to draw as many cards as possible. Luckily, almost of the cards that do one also do the other! While many cards in our deck draw and discard cards, we will only cover the dedicated inclusions in this section.
More efficient than shoving everything you own under a rug and saying you cleaned your room
Our only sorcery-speed draw spell is Faithless Looting, of which we play four. This is simply one of the deck's best cards. Being able to draw two cards for a single red mana is already great, and while it is technically card disadvantage, we are built to make use out of the discard. It always does what we want it to do at every stage of the game. We can pitch redundant copies to flashback later, excess lands, or spells we simply can't use. Keep in mind that in order to keep any cards, we have to have cards in hand after casting Looting, otherwise it essentially mills us for two. Additionally, we almost always want to avoid playing additional lands after we have several in play so we can use them as discard fodder later. Because of how much of our deck we churn through in an average game, we may find ourselves discarding more copies of Faithless Looting. This is perfectly fine because we may not need the extra copies at the moment and would rather hold up removal and counterspells. Additionally, do not forget about the flashback. It is very easy to miss a copy of Looting in the graveyard, so if we need to draw cards be sure to check your graveyard for a Looting to flashback. Whatever we need in our hand or graveyard, Faithless Looting will get it there.
To further fuel our graveyard, we also run a playset of Thought Scour. While we lose the power of choice in what goes to the graveyard that Faithless Looting offers, we get the benefit of an instant-speed cantrip when we need an answer on the fly. Because we use our graveyard so much, Thought Scour's mill is arguably more important than drawing a card. The sooner we can fill our graveyard, the better, and at one mana this card jump starts our plan. There are a few other creative uses for the mill. It's useful for messing with our opponent's scries should they leave anything on top of their deck, or cutting them off of something we know they will draw thanks to cards like Courser of Kruphix or Oracle of Mul Daya. If they fateseal a card on top of our library with Jace, the Mind Sculptor we can mill it to keep drawing relevant cards. Thought Scour is an auto-include in many graveyard-based blue decks for a reason: It's cheap, replaces itself by drawing a card, and puts cards in the graveyard to be used later.
Our last two cantrips are not relevant for our graveyard but are excellent control cards, especially when money is an issue. Since Opt's reprinting in Ixalan, the card has become a Modern control staple. Being able to screen the top card of our deck gives us some control over what we draw, and we can always cast it at during the opponent's end step, ensuring we always do something and never do anything. Think Twice is simple card advantage, being one card that draws two. We can cast it whenever we want, and having a draw spell castable from the graveyard is very strong. If we discard or mill it, we still get some use out of it. We only play a pair for space considerations, but the numbers are easily adjustable should one want to play more copies.
The last card that is dedicated to draw power is yet another control staple, Search for Azcanta. Peeking at the top of our library is nothing to write home about, but the fact that we can put that card into our graveyard helps get us off the ground. Once it flips -- a trivial task in this deck -- it gives us obscene amounts of card advantage by digging four cards deep to find whatever noncreature spell we need. Since it was printed recently, if you already play Standard or Limited you may already have these lying around in a binder. It's influenced control in Modern already, and I would never play this deck without it. Due to its legendary status, we only run a pair to cut down on drawing chaff. (Additionally, if you do not like dark inner or outer sleeves, I recommend acquiring checklist cards as well to avoid having marked cards in your deck.)
The real headache this causes is your opponent wondering how they're losing to this
Now that we've covered our deck finds cards, we can examine what it uses to slow down the opponent. We play a total of six counterspells; less than most control decks in the format but enough for our style of control to work. A full four copies of Rune Snag are cheap counters that are also useful in the bin. While it starts off as a worse Mana Leak, each copy forces our opponent to pay more mana or their spell gets countered. This means each copy that we cast, discard, or mill makes the remaining copies in the deck better! In the early game it will catch a tapped out opponent off guard, and in the late game it can be extremely difficult to pay for. While it does require a few things to go right for us, it's a great counterspell for budget players that stays relevant longer than Mana Leak and is useful even if pitched or milled, a rare commodity for counterspells.
To supplement Rune Snag, we run two Logic Knots. X counterspells are usually difficult to justify playing because they can require a large mana investment to actually counter something, and even then it may not be worthwhile. Logic Knot gets around this with delve, allowing us to exile chaff in the graveyard in addition to paying excess mana. It may seem counterintuitive to play a delve spell in a deck that cares about having cards in the graveyard, but with our looting and mill effects there are bound to be cards that serve no purpose in the graveyard, such as lands, cantrips, and creatures. We turn this otherwise dead weight into a resource for keeping for keeping our opponent from progressing their gameplan. We only play a pair because exiling flashback spells, Rune Snags, and other relevant cards can be awkward, so a limited number prevents us from shooting ourselves in the foot when we delve out cards.
The second piece of our control package is removal. All decks in Modern have to have some plan against creatures, and we pack more than a few ways of removing them in both the main and sideboard. The ratios present here are flexible, but I would stick to playing more spot removal over sweepers. In our colors, sweepers don't deal with largely creatures such as Tarmogoyf, Death's Shadow, or Champion of the Parish the same way that blue/white can with cards like Supreme Verdict. As such, we need early responses to creatures that grow while simultaneously being able to remove early game fatties. Our suite of spot removal is able to do both of these consistently. First, we have Lightning Bolt. Bolt is the quintessential red spell. At one mana, it can remove creatures in almost every deck. It is never a bad card to see in our hand, and it can hit anything we want it too. It finishes off planeswalkers and also doubles as reach when we need the last few points of damage to win the game. Lightning Bolt is, and always will be, the best one mana burn spell, and we would be remiss to not run a playset.
Our last spot removal spell is a bit of a weird one. While many creatures have three toughness or less, there are many creatures in the format that have four or more. To deal with these creatures, we're running a pair of Spite of Mogis. We can easily deal seven damage with this in the midgame. It is not an early game removal spell because it takes a few things to go right for us. We have to be casting and discarding spells to make this card do anything. However, this is not something that we necessarily have to try to do because just playing the deck fuels Spite of Mogis. It also incidentally scries, allowing us to keep drawing relevant spells as we progress through the game. Given that it is a sorcery, it can be awkward in the control matchups because we can't answer Celestial Colonnade with it. Because we want so many instants and sorceries in our graveyard, and it is a one mana answer to some of Modern's biggest creatures, we could play three, but I decided to stay at two.
Today's forecast: Sunny with a chance
of spontaneous combustion
Our only sweeper in the maindeck is Sweltering Suns, and we play two. Aggro will always be present, no matter where you are playing at. We need an easy-to-cast spell that can wipe the board, and Sweltering Suns fits the bill. It is a very straight forward card, and if it's dead we can cycle it to draw a new card. There is some argument as to whether we should be playing Anger of the Gods instead. Anger brings a lot to the table. Exiling creatures is extremely relevant in Modern, where Dredge, Kitchen Fink combos, Tarmogoyf, and such. Additionally, it has the exact same mana cost and is a sorcery. With all of this utility, why play Suns then? Suns has cycling, which is an easy way to put a card into our graveyard. It also turns the card into something else, making our deck more consistent, a common issue with budget control decks. Furthermore, Anger of the Gods is a major nonbo with Champion of Wits, a card we will cover shortly. For all of these reasons, I found Sweltering Suns to be better, but one could absolutely play a third sweeper and run a split of Anger and Suns, or even turn them all into Anger of the Gods.
The last card in this section is actually planeswalker, something very rare for budget decks. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is one of the best planeswalkers ever printed. The card sees play all the way back to Vintage, and with good reason. Jace starts as a Merfolk Looter, which is not very impressive. It's early game looting, which is always welcome. However, once we activate his ability and resolve it with five or more cards in the graveyard, he transforms into Jace, Telepath Unbound. Once he flips, our opponent has to answer him or else we run away with the game. We can weaken their best creature so it isn't dealing damage if that is what's in our way. Jace also gives any spell in our graveyard flashback with his minus ability, which is extremely powerful. We aren't ever ultimating him because it isn't a viable way for us to win and they first two abilities are far stronger. Jace is an incredible card, and it is absolutely worth the financial cost.
Control decks can win the game in numerous different ways, varying from combo to mill. However, the most common way to win in Modern are creature beatdown, and this is the route we take. We play two creatures that finish the game and keep us drawing relevant spells. The first is the aforementioned Champion of Wits. Champion on its first go around is not very impressive. A three mana 2/1 isn't spectacular by any means, and flat out fails the vanilla test. It's only saving grace is that it's really a Faithless Looting with a body. It can trade against aggro decks and in the control mirrors it will get in for damage. It's true power is eternalize. Making a 4/4 that draws four cards and makes us discard two is great in a deck that wants to flashback and delve out cards. Furthermore, if we mill or pitch Champion, we can still eternalize it later. A 4/4 ends games quickly, and when combines with Lightning Bolt and flashing back Bolts with Jace, Telepath Unbound it turns into a very fast clock.
Our last finisher is a playset of Bedlam Reveler. It gets cheaper to cast for each instant or sorcery card in the graveyard, so most of the time, we cast this for two or three mana in the mid- to late game. A 3/4 with prowess is a reasonable threat in a deck like ours where we operate at instant speed. Every counterspell, cantrip, or removal spell we play makes it stronger. As if this wasn't already good enough, it pitches our hand and draws us three new cards. A hand of spells that we can't use instantly has the potential to become gas at the drop of a hat. Additionally, Reveler cannot be the target of Fatal Push, a very common removal spell. However, due to the cost reduction, we can play it and hold up countermagic to protect it. Reveler generates card advantage by turning dead cards into three brand new ones while leaving a threat behind, and that is exactly what we need to win games.
Our manabase is designed to give both colors of mana early while having some utility. For duals, there are playsets of both Shivan Reef and Sulfur Falls. Shivan Reef, while painful early, will bring both colors of mana online on turn one. Later, it will mostly tap for colorless because we'll have other lands in play. Sulfur Falls will enter tapped turn one but can come in untapped on turn two. This keeps us on tempo and playing spells every turn of the game. We also play two copies of Wandering Fumarole as a manland. It can be both a blocker and a finisher in the pinch, and while it does enter play tapped, it is the only land in the deck that will always come in tapped. This is an acceptable tempo loss, but I would caution against playing more than two. For extra utility, there are a pair of Desolate Lighthouse. If we have nothing going on, we can always dig for more gas and pitch what we don't need. Just like Faithless Looting, we need a card in our hand prior to activating Lighthouse if we want to keep it, otherwise we essentially mill one. To round out the manabase, we have nine Islands and a lone Mountain. Blue is our most important color, and we need it on turn one, whereas we don't need red that early. Additionally, we want our Sulfur Falls coming into play untapped as often as possible. The single Mountain is to fetch is we get Ghost Quartered or Path to Exiled than it is for us to have for extra red mana. This brings us to 22 lands total -- most control decks end up playing somewhere between 22 and 25 lands, so while this is enough lands for the deck to work smoothly, you could easily add an extra land or two (though I wouldn't go as high as 25 as that tends to be a bit too much).
Sideboards are metagame dependent, even more so for control decks. You need answers to what you face when you sit down to play Modern. The sideboard presented here is what I used in testing and was designed to be a starting point, but it's only that -- a starting point. Tinker with it until it is optimized for your local metagame.
- A pair of Abrade serve as extra removal and targeted artifact destruction. And aggro deck, artifact-based deck, or creature-based combo deck won't be too happy to see this.
- A single Anger of the Gods is an extra board wipe for when we need to remove swaths of creatures.
- Two copies of Hour Devastation are a little odd but serve as bigger board wipes. The fact that they hit planeswalkers is also a plus, but they can be a bit clunky. I decided to give them a shot and they were fine because they kill large creatures, but it may not be the best way to go about removing them.
- A singleton By Force is mass artifact destruction. Bring this in against Affinity and Lantern Control, along with anything else that has a strong artifact base.
- A pair of Damping Spheres are here to send every Storm or Tron player into a blinding rage. Anyone who wants to tap three lands for seven mana or make 20 copies of a spell will vehemently hate you for this, so of course bring it in against them.
- One Ceremonious Rejection is great against decks with an abundance of colorless cards, such as the aforementioned artifact decks, along with Tron variants.
- A single Disdainful Stroke is for decks like TitanShift, Tron, and other decks looking to cast big spells. It can be fine against some control decks to counter planeswalkers and Cryptic Command, but it is certainly more niche in those matchups
- Two copies of Dispel come in against control decks and combo decks relying on instants, such as Ad Nauseam.
- One Negate for control matchups and any deck relying on noncreature spells.
- A pair of Tormod's Crypt will ensure that our opponent's graveyard is sufficiently nuked. Given that it's free to cast, it also is a free prowess trigger in case we needed the extra damage.
Upgrades and Adjustments
UR Control is an incredibly modular archetype, with not only several upgrade paths available but also tweaks that can be made. There are numerous card choice available if you want to tune the deck more. Maindeck Abrade, Flame Slash, or Roast could be very strong, and of course you can change the board wipes around as you see fit. Electrolyze is generally a one-of at least in these type of decks as well. I liked the instant speed nature of the deck but Serum Visions is always a competent choice of cantrip. For counterspells, Remand is a staple but I preferred having potential hard counters. Spell Snare is also a viable option. For threats, there are just too many to name. Young Pyromancer sees play many Blue Moon sideboards, and I see no reason why they couldn't be in here, main or side. Keranos, God of Storms, while costly in real-world dollars, is an excellent addition to any UR control deck. Other options include Frost Titan, Stormbreath Dragon, and Batterskull.
For upgrades, there are tons of possibilities. Blue Moon variants, Kiki-Jiki/Deceiver Exarch combo, even UR Delver is something this deck can be upgraded towards. Before moving forward, it is important to recognize the cost of upgrading. These decks all require Steam Vents, Scalding Tarn, and Snapcaster Mage, and Cryptic Command. That is a lot of money, especially given that you'll need other blue fetches and some random one and two-ofs that you could potentially run, such as Vendillion Clique. However, control decks are some of the best decks to upgrade because adding one copy of any of these instantly makes your deck better and you don't have to have the required quantities to have a playable deck. Can't afford to buy all your Cryptics at once? It's okay to buy them one at a time and play them as you acquire them. Some decks, when upgrading, aren't improved by adding cards as you get them and really want all of them added at once. Control isn't like this most of the time. Opened Jace, the Mind Sculptor in a Masters 25 draft? Throw him in! Set a budget for yourself each month, and use it to buy what you need. To make room for the staples, you'll end up cutting the subpar Shivan Reefs and a few basics for the shocks and fetches, Rune Snag becomes Cryptic Command, and Snapcaster takes Faithless Looting's slot. From here, you'll need Remands -- which you can buy first if you want -- and those can replace whatever you choose but I would caution against lowering the threat density of the deck early on.
Who needs counterspells when your
opponent can't even cast
Outside of all of these staples, that different upgrades require few unique cards outside of all the staples shared between them. If you head down the Blue Moon route, three copies of Blood Moon are among the cheaper upgrades and still very impactful. The aforementioned Keranos is a worthy pickup as well. The best version of Blue Moon right now wins with Through the Breach and Emrakul, so I would plan on picking those up if you want the absolute best version, but know that there are variants that don't run this combo. For Kiki-Jiki Combo, you'll obviously need Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker himself, along with some split of Deceiver Exarch and Pestermite. Some Blue Moon decks run the Kiki-Jiki combo, but there are also some dedicated shells out there that operate with more tempo advantage as well. Lastly, UR Delver shares many of the cards in this deck with its full version. For creatures, you'll need Young Pyromancer, sometimes Stormchaser Mage, and of Delver of Secrets in addition to the Bedlam Revelers you already own, should you wish to play them. Delver decks don't generally play Cryptic Command but have sometimes in the past, so your countermagic setup is more likely to lean into Spell Snare and Spell Pierce, along with a fairly diverse set of options, such as Deprive. Once you have the four major staples I listed, you have much more maneuvering room, so I would pick those up with maybe a Vendillion Clique and Keranos thrown in along the way.
That concludes June's Treasure Cruisin'! What did you think of UR Control? I had an absolute blast playing it and think it can hold its own at FNM. It's many upgrade paths, relatively low buy-in price, and graveyard theme make it an excellent choice for control players new to the format, and it rewards acquiring new cards and building a collection of control staples. If you have any questions, comments, criticisms, or deck suggestion, you can leave them for me below, PM me on MTGSalvation, or tweet at me, @CavalryWolfPack. Until next time, keep on cruisin'!