Investigating Blue Black Control for Standard

Last week was about narrowing down my deck choice for Nationals. Early last week I was riding pretty high on the Fauna Shaman Bant deck that I wrote about last week. I was generally doing well with it in mtgo queues and it was performing well in live testing as well. I also got a lot of testing in with Pyromancer's Ascension and UW Control, and I feel comfortable with both of those decks.

I like UW because I feel favored playing it against everything except Ascension and an unanswered Fauna Shaman. Relic of Progenitus may be the answer, as having it early turns Fauna Shaman into a glorified Grizzly Bear and it also seems good against Ascension. I haven't done much testing with Relic in UW, but if I do play UW at Nationals, I with probably be playing some number of them in my 75.

Ascension is another deck I'm seriously considering for Nationals. It has positive results against a lot of the field, and the match-ups that I'm not comfortable with (Jund and RDW) are not decks that I expect to be overly represented. My hesitation about Ascension really comes down to my dislike of playing decks that are weak to Jund. Jund shifts in popularity fairly frequently, and I don't have a great sense of where it will be for Nationals.

I am happy, though, that Standard has come to a point where Jund isn't the powerhouse that it has been. Even the fact that I can say something like "Jund shifts in popularity" is heartening.

Speaking of Jund, I might just play that at Nationals. In my opinion the Rock Paper Scissors of this format is Jund, Ascension, and UW. The other decks fall in various places on that line, for example, Fauna Shaman decks are favored against UW, even against Jund, and poor against Ascension.

With that in mind, I've spent time trying to figure out a deck that is favorable against two of those three decks, with at least an even Fauna Shaman match-up. In sifting through endless MTGO results I found a very interesting deck being piloted by an online ringer _ShipItHolla (Michael Hetrick).

I'm a sucker for Jace, and this deck is playing 6. The deck also looks like it should have a good UW and Ascension match-up, as well as a reasonable Fauna Shaman match-up. Jund looked real rough, where you're basically all in on Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge. I guess the match-up against non-Blightning versions of Jund might be a bit better, but it's not a deck I'd actively want to face, especially with that sideboard.

Anyway, I put the deck together and ran it through a handful of 2mans and 8mans. I started out playing against RDW literally 5 times in a row, against 4 different opponents, and I managed to come out 4-1. I don't think the Red match-up is actually that good though. Even post-board you have a lot of dead cards and I found myself mulliganing fairly aggressively.

After the horde of RDW, I played against a little bit of everything. UW Control and Naya both seemed favorable, with Naya being very dependent on how many Vengevines they draw. Obviously if Naya gets a Fauna Shaman down and you don't answer it you are in serious trouble, but that is true for almost any deck. Jund was rough, as expected. Grave Titan is really nice in that match-up, but Putrid Leech, Sprouting Thrinax, and Blightning are all really tough to beat.

I like the strategy in a field without much Jund, but I'd change some of the numbers. Frost Titan was disappointing every time I cast it, whereas Grave Titan was absolutely insane and I didn't lose a single game after resolving him. The Nighthawks were unimpressive, and I actually only drew them once against RDW, and I almost definitely would have won the game anyway.

Bojuka Bog also didn't really impress me. Against Naya you really just need to resolve Grave Titan or have them not draw Fauna Shaman. I found that they have too many ways to bring back Vengevines, so that they're ridiculously hard to actually nail with the Bog. It was almost always just an ETB Swamp for me.

Relic of Progenitus, on the other hand, was awesome. I brought it in against Naya on multiple occasions and it was great every time I drew it, especially in the early game. It's really just icing that it's also good against Ascension and even decent against some builds of RDW. I'm moving 2 to the main deck and adding a 3rd to the sideboard. The card really makes the Naya match-up much more stable.

I wanted to add the 4th Tectonic Edge, as I never had mana problems, but I decided to switch the Doom Blades to Agony Warps, and I want to be able to consistently cast it on turn 2. Other than Knight of the Reliquary, there isn't really a creature people are playing that Agony Warp doesn't handle, and it's much better than Doom Blade against Naya, Jund, and RDW.

In terms of the sideboard I changed quite a bit. Originally it felt very experimental, and I just cut the cards that weren't working out.

Duress and Disfigure were both great, so they are staying, and Disfigure was good enough that I think running the full 4 is correct. Fauna Shaman is very popular right now, and it's just the best answer there is. On top of that it shuts down all the creatures in RDW, and I think that just puts it over the top. Relic also went +1, but 2 of them got moved to the main deck as well.

Other than that, I wasn't satisfied with any of the sideboard cards. I know I want Flashfreeze against Jund and Valakut (and Naya if I'm on the play), so there are 4 of those. Scepter of Fugue is something I want to try out for the control mirrors. It seems good on paper, but if it doesn't work out I'll probably try something like Pithing Needle, since Elspeth is one of the best cards UW has against this deck.

I don't think I'm going to run UB Control at Nationals, but not because I don't think that it's good enough. I'll admit I was surprised, but this deck actually seems like it could be a contender in Standard. I'm probably not going to run it because my testing with it is limited, and I really don't have time before the tournament to hammer out tons of reps against all the major decks. I do strongly endorse the deck for your local FNMs though, and if you end up playing it please post in the comments section with any feedback.

Before I sign off, here's my current Fauna Shaman Bant list, as promised.

I added some extra Linvala's to help fight Fauna Shaman mirrors (and Sparkmages), and moved Baneslayer to the sideboard. I also added 2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant in place of the Negates, as I was only siding in Negate against UW Control, and Elspeth is better than Negate in that match-up, as well as being good against other decks. In fact, Elspeth is so good that I'm trying to fit some in the main deck, but I haven't found anything I'm comfortable cutting for her.

I still think this deck is very good, and I might end up running it at Nationals. A few of my friends have been testing it and are running lists close to that this weekend, so I'm not the only one having good results with it.

Next week I'll have a juicy Nationals tournament report that hopefully involves lots of Pro Points and glory. Until then may all your Grave Titans resolve.

-Benjamin Hayes