by Sven V.
I actually did it. I won the Continental Cup 2. Last year, I came in 3rd, succumbing to Max’s Grixis Tempo in the semifinal. This year, I managed to beat my nemesis (spoiler!) in the quarterfinal. Nice.
I basically played the same deck I’ve played last year, with a few swaps. I’m a control player at heart, so the choice for the deck wasn’t a hard one. And the deck didn’t disappoint. Here’s the list:
CC2019 1st UW Control
I wanna talk a little about the deck first, then go on to the tournament itself.
I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of UW Control. Jonny A. wrote an excellent primer. As you will notice, Jonny’s list is a little different than mine, but the core is the same. The idea is that you control the early and mid game and stick a threat. Flash lets you do that during your opponent’s turn, which is awesome. But even when you have to tap out during your turn, the deck has lots of ways to not fall too far behind. Once you’ve cast a threat, the deck let’s you close games pretty fast, which I feel is highly important, because the card quality in Highlander is so high that you can’t really effort to go into a topdeck war. That’s actually why I added creatures to my list. The first few iterations of the deck had no creatures (or just Snappy) an relied on Planeswalkers to close the deal. While Planeswalkers are probably the most powerful cards, they are quite fragile in a deck that can’t block. And once you’d lost your first Walker, it could get quite hard to find the next one, tick it up, all the while protecting it – and your lifetotal – and get it done in time. Especially the time issue (60 minutes isn’t much when you might need to play 3 games) convinced me that the deck really needed a clock.
Most of the critters are quite obvious choices: Vendilion Clique, Geist of Saint Traft, Stoneforge Mystic, Snapcaster Mage, Nimble Obstructionist, Restoration Angel and Palace Jailer are all awesome. Aven Mindcensor won a few games on it’s own (literally). Spellskite messes up your opponent’s gameplan so much, that that alone warrents an inclusion. Plus it’s needed against RDW. Wall of Omens and Kitchen Finks are also necesary to not just lose to RDW and creature based strategies. Same goes for Brightling. While Jonny said that he wouldn’t blame you if you cut the dude, I would definately blame you! He’s awesome! Almost no deck can ignore him, he’s invulnerable to quite a few removal spells and if he’s not, you can just bounce him. Archangel Avacyn seems weird (and her ability is weird), but outperforms every time (well, almost). She’s just a nightmare for creature decks, since she completly wrecks combats. Opponent attacks you with 3 critters and all you have is a 3/1 flyer? Enter Avacyn. Let’s just say, you will be ahead on board after that combat. The latest additions have been Brazen Borrower (which I should have read a few more times – Spoiler!) and Cataclysmic Gearhulk. The fearie is obviously all thumbs up. So I wanna talk about THE HULK.
Cataclysmic Gearhulk was suggested by my buddy Ben. I had played a lot of games against creature based strategies. What I found was that the games were decided by a simple formula which I like to call “Wrath or No Wrath”. I do play creatures, but they aren’t the toughest bunch. Quite honestly, they are a bunch of pansies (Avacyn wishes to be excluded). So overall, you really don’t want to pick a fight. The other deck will have more creatures and tougher creatures. So the plan is simple: If you can’t win the fair fight, play dirty. I might wrath my own dude from time to time, but I will mostly only need one other threat to win after God got really angry. So I added a third Wrath to the list, which felt fine. To make room, I cut Venser, Shaper Savant. Sorry, buddy. I really like Vens. But this just isn’t a tempo deck. And, although he won’t hear of it, Vens just doesn’t cut it if you can’t make use of the tempo play. But I digress. I told Ben about the swap. He suggested Settle the Wreckage or THE HULK instead. His point for the latter was that a) it could be found with Enlightened Tutor and b) it somewhat resolved “The Academy-Deck Issue”. Since it’s always a brilliant idea to just randomly swap cards right before the big tournament, I did just that. And what can I say, THE HULK was actually really good. HULK SMASH!
In addition, I play 9 Planeswalkers. I wouldn’t cut either one. They are all the nuts. Period.
The spells are quite straight forward. The deck needs a way to establish control as early as possible. That’s why I play Force Spike, Mana Tithe, Daze and Spell Pierce. They are somewhat situational and people kept telling me to cut the Spikes. I’m happy I didn’t oblige. Almost all decks are so streamlined and so mana tight, that they really can’t effort to play around “pay 1”. And who doesn’t like tilting the opponent by spiking their gameender?! Condescend is in the same vein. It actually was another last minute addition. I cut Mystic Confluence for the x-spell since I figured I rather needed the early game. I never drew it, so I can’t say whether that was a good choice.
Then we have the stars of the show: Back to Basics is THE reason to play the deck. It just wins games on its own. Nearly as strong is its ugly cousin a.k.a. Primordial Mist. The Mist does everything the deck wants: It provides bodies, draws cards, messes up game plans and is just a real pain in the a*.
Since I rely on Back to Basics to steal games, I play as many Basics as possible. One could possibly even cut the Celestial Colonnade, since it is mostly a nuisance to draw it early. During the whole tournament, I actually never activated it. But if you ever reach a topdeck situation, it is strong. Irrigated Farmland may seem odd, but it has a special role: It turns Tithe into ‘2W: Draw a card’. While that isn’t awesome per se, it isn’t the worst either. And it puts two cards into the graveyard as well. That being said, cut it if you prefer.
Overall, I think the list is pretty spot on, although there is a plethora of cards that you could play.
So how did the deck perform you ask?
I have to admit, I didn’t expect to do too well. I (sadly) have too little time and too many other things to do to play on a regular basis. So, I didn’t take any notes. I’ll try to recap the games as well as I still can. But if you played me and I got it all wrong, please do feel free to correct me!
Round 1 – Miguel – RDW
He starts Game 1 with a Mulligan. I keep a decent hand. He doens’t have a lot of pressure, so I switch to being the beatdown. He dies before he can get me below 14.
Game 2 looks fine for me. He has two random dorks, I play Finks at 17 life. Since his dork first strikes, I decline to block for a few turns. After all, I’m at 12, what could possibly go wrong? Kari Zev’s Expertise is what went wrong. He ‘napped my Finks, cast Lightning Strike for free, attacked for 7 and finished me with Shard Volley. Ok. Damnit.
He started with a double mulligan, which probably cost him the game. He held a really good hand and it was tight, but my team killed him faster.
Round 2 – Kilian – Mono-U-Control
I resolved Geist on turn 3. Not much to say. GG.
I resolved Jace TMS and Big Els. He retorted with Oblivion Stone. WTF?! Of course, I do have the Obstructionist to counter the activation. So smooth.
Round 3 – Werner – RDW
Werner’s deck REALLY wanted to show him, why even the RD doesn’t just always W. He mulliganed both games. And still didn’t do anything. In the first game, I killed him while being at 19. 19! In game 2 I had Force Spike, Mana Tithe AND Spell Pierce. This time he got me to 17 before he was beaten.
Round 4 – Patrick – Academy
I don’t remember much about the games except that Patrick was an awesome opponent. I don’t think I have ever played against him before, but it was just a blast! I somehow killed him with random critters after his mulligan to 5 in game 1. He stole game 2 when I thought I had control by sneakily resolving Tezzeret the Seeker and tutoring for Grindstone plus Painter’s Servant.
Game 3 startet with only minutes left on the clock. I had Stoneforge, which gave me a chance to actually kill him in time. But, alas, even that start wasn’t fast enough, and we timed out.
Round 5 – Marvin – GWu
We both mulliganed game 1. He played a lot of (uncounterable – how unfair!) dudes, I had Aven Mindcensor. He managed to not find land in his top 4 for his Fetch. Nice. Then HULK joined the party. And SMASHED it. The nice thing is, you can select him as your artifact and keep you critter, too. The Censor felt the love and went on to wreak havoc. I pathed his last creature. Obviously, Marvin found no Basic. He needed another land and cracked another Fetch. Obviously, no land. Thank you, Mindcensor!
Game 2 was anticlimatic. I found no sweeper and no pressure. He was at 22 when I was, well, dead.
Game 3 was really swingy. Marvin came out fast, then his board got SMASHED again. Unfortunately for the Hulk, Marvin had Sevinne’s Reclamation to bring back his Knight of Autumn. Hulk gets smashed. I die not long after.
Round 6 – Robert – RUG Tempo
Game 1 was a showcase of how UW punishes greed. He needs to be the aggressor, so he needs to stick a threat. I counter it and resolve Back to Basics. I believe he had The Royals, but I killed them and subsequently him.
In game 2, I resolve Geist. He tries to bounce it with Petty Theft, then realizes it has hexproof. So he casts the Borrower instead and tries to block, which doesn’t work either. I believe, Back to Basics was cast, too.
Round 7 – Karl – Academy
This is it.Win and in, lose and end up out of the Top 16, most likely. This is also the match that went totally sideways.
He starts with a mulligan, just to resolve Oko on turn 3. WTF?! I have to spend a lot of time (and damage) to get rid of the nasty thief. He then believes he can go off, but miscounted his mana, as he counted his Oko-created Elk as an artifact. I don’t remember how, but I manage to kill him.
Game 2 starts with a mulligan for both of us. He doesn’t have a fast start, which temps me to try to end it by casting a threat. He then plays Sun Titan. I take a hit, then bounce the Titan. He casts it again, I sword it. He casts something else, I counter and cast Back to Basics after having him tapped out. GG. One would think. How wrong I was. What followed was the most ridiculous display of what the Academy Deck can do. He not only managed to untap Academy at least four times, sacrifice Inventor’s Fair four times also, but assembled two combos as well. The first one would have been Crucible of Worlds, Zuran Orb and Fastbond, but I had Spell Queller. He had searched for the Orb with the Fair and I thought he was revealing it, when he suddenly cast Fastbond. I should have countered that, but felt that would be unfair, since Iwould have countered the Orb had he announced that he was casting it. So I asked him to back up and did counter the Orb. That left him the possibility to do more sick stuff, ending in him assembling Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek. This is when things fell apart. He kept gaining and paying life and didn’t properly keep track himself. And when I told him that he was below 10 life, he felt that I hadn’t figured in the 6 life of of Swords to Plowshares. I was positiv that I had, but we had no way be sure about it. So we agreed on him being at 13. He then played a few Fetches from his grave, made Thopters and so on. Again, as if we hadn’t learned the lesson, we weren’t clear about his lifetotal. After having recaped the sequence, we agreed that he was at 9 life. He played another land with Fastbond, then passed. I had Batterskull and Sword of Fire and Ice. I equipped the Germ with the Sword, attacked for 6 and dealt another 2 to his face. He said, he’d drop to 1, I disagreed. We again recaped the situation, and he realized he hadn’t noted the lifeloss from Fastbond. Then he extended his hand to congratulate me. Just as I had picked up my cards on the board, he realized he could have used his land to create another Thopter and gain 1 life. We called a judge to ask whether he could back out of his decision to fold. While the judges conferred, he made up his mind that he had shaken my hand and didn’t really want to back out of that. When the judge came back to tell him that he actually could have reversed his decision, we had already packed up.
I felt and feel quite at unease with this outcome. On the one hand, I am positiv that I had added the 6 life to his lifetotal, which means that he would have been dead before it all fell apart. On the other hand, it still feels like I stole the game from him. What one needs to take away from this: No matter how much stuff happens, how loud it is and how often the guy behind you pushes his chair into your back, make sure you and your opponent are on the same page!
Quarterfinal – Max – Grixis Tempo
I read the standings, find out I’ll be playing Max – and I’m immediatey sure that I’m out. He beat me last time and kept me out of the Top 8 at the last MGM in Berlin. So actually, it’d be time for revenge. But I’m not very confident.
I keep a hand with Back to Basics as The Plan. Max plays Island, Swamp, Mountain. Sure. Then he resolves Thing in the Ice, gets to untap with it and does what his deck does best: Play a bunch of cheap spells. The ice melts, the Thing emerges. Unfortunately for Max, during all the fun and excitement he mistapped his mana, leaving no U up, although he has Spell Pierce in hand. I promptly Fractured Identity his Horror. Being the killjoy he is, Max doesn’t let me bash his head in with the 7/8 token but kills it instead. No fair. Says Nimble O, too, who takes over the bashing. Max finds nothing but more draw spells and lands and dies to the 3/1. Who-hoo!
Game 2 is very swingy, but ultimately Max outlands me again, which is awesome – when you’re playing the control mirror. Tempo really doesn’t need all that many lands. He casts Tasigur multiple times, since The Golden Fang turns out to be absent quite unexpectedly twice (once thanks to Snappy) and gets bounced, too. On one of those occasions, I get to resolve Back to Basics, cutting off most of his mana. I don’t remember what I beat down with, but beat down I did. Whooo-hoooo!
Max seems to be almost as happy for me as I am, which just shows what a fantastic guy and opponent he is (just in case you were wondering).
Semifinal – Patrick – Academy (again)
The re-match starts out with a real scare for Patrick when he pileshuffles his deck and comes up one card short. Fortunately, he finds the missing card in his backpack.
The games were covered on video, so I’ll let you watch those without too many spoilers.
I keep two lands and Aven Mindcensor. Obviously, I draw Maze of Ith as my third land (I had Maze every game against Patrick). Lucky me, he can’t go off and I peel a third land, slam Mindcensor and Birdy takes it home, since Patrick has nothing but (now useless) tutors.
starts out ok. He plays City of Traitors, Mox Diamond and other stuff on turn 1 (that’s what Academy does). I waste his land, he doesn’t have another one. I have the Borrower but don’t realize that it can bounce his Mox. It’s really late… Instead, I play Jace an fateseal him. Unfortunately, I draw only useless cards, so I back out of the Jace-Ulti-Plan and brainstorm instead. I can’t find counters, he bates me, I don’t (can’t) bite, so he does sickening stuff ending in “Upheaval, 16 mana floating”. I pack it up. Literally.
Patrick mulls to 5. I can’t kill him fast enough, so he gets to try a comeback. It’s REALLY tricky for him, but, being the player he is, he does find a sequence of plays that might just win. It’s almost midnight, we’ve played for almost 13 hours straight. Amazing. In the end, he can’t kill me, but won’t die to my attack either, most likely winning the next turn. I untap, play Back to Basics – and it’s over.
Parick is at least as cool about me winning as Max was. Thank you so much for that!
Finals – Luca – Temur Tempo
Game 1 comes down to me playing Back to Basics (again) and topdecking Palace Jailer. He can’t keep up and dies. I misplay when I don’t tap my Wasteland to keep up U for my Spell Pierce, because I don’t want to lock down the Wasteland.
I die to an early youthful pyromaniac and a plethora of spells, among them Twisted Image, killing my wall, drawing a card and netting an Elemental. Nice.
Game 3, Luca doesn’t have pressure, but I have Back to Basics (again) with counter backup. He tries to Dig through Time, but I have Mana Tithe. Outch. I cast Batterskull. He tries to dig again, this time with Chart a Course, forgetting my Narset, Parter of Veils. It’s really late by now, stuff like that happens. I repay him by trying to throw away the game when I equip my Spell Queller (who napped his Tarmogoyf) with the Skull instead of keeping mana up for counters. He has Chain of Vapor. So bad. Wrath of God rectifies the situation, then Gideon of the Trials enters the arena. Luca finds a whole lot of nothing and concedes.
So this is it. Does this make UW the best deck to play? Definitely not. But the deck does have game against every other deck, which does make it a valid choice. The thing is, the meta is so diverse that you really either need a strong plan or a very flexible deck. UW fulfills the latter. So if you’re like me and just love to say “no” a whole lot, give the deck a try! And let me know what you think!