Optimal Primer: Mono Blue Control

by Eric Campbell (PaulDenton)

Introduction

Mono Blue Control (“MUC”) is a Pauper draw-go control deck that features a large number of counterspells and other reactive cards. Its main goal is to cripple your opponent’s strategy and get into the late game, where you have enough card advantage that you will be able to out-resource most decks. MUC features a large amount of redundancy, especially in its counters, and this redundancy helps make it a very consistent deck.

The Deck

Lands: (23)
19 Island
Quicksand

Creatures: (8)
Delver of Secrets
Spire Golem

Spells: (29)
Accumulated Knowledge
Counterspell
Deprive
Essence Scatter
Exclude
Oona's Grace
Piracy Charm
Preordain
Prohibit
Repeal
Serrated Arrows

Card Explanations and Uses

Delver of Secrets – A 3/2 flying for one with suspend is far too efficient to not be running in any fair blue deck with enough spells. He blocks much more often in this deck than in something like Delver; you generally want to trade with their creature rather than try to go aggro. That being said, once in a while MUC can pretend to be an aggro-control deck when it draws an opener with multiple Delvers and they flip quickly.

Piracy Charm – There are quite a few x/1s in the format. Elves and Delver in particular have a plethora of targets, and killing a Spellstutter Sprite with its enter the battlefield trigger on the stack is always sweet. Most other decks have some relevant x/1s that it can deal with, even if they’re not overflowing with them. The discard mode means this card is never completely dead, and keep in mind that when your opponent is in topdeck mode, especially against decks with few proactive instants, having them discard in response to their draw step is a thing you can do. The +2/-1 mode is also occasionally used as a pump spell to get in for lethal or to win when two Spire Golems battle. After having cast it easily over one thousand times, I have never used the islandwalk mode (except for killing Phantasmal Bear); although in theory it could be used to get in for lethal. This card is bad against MBC and terrible against Affinity though, which are currently the two most popular decks, so I may cut one or two in the near future, especially if I could find a passable 1-drop replacement (which is very difficult).

Preordain – An extremely efficient cantrip. I never board it out, and any list that isn’t running a playset of them is simply incorrect. MUC rarely mulligans, in large part thanks to this card, because it can turn into either a land or a spell, reducing the chance of having too few or too many lands in your opener (one Island one Preordain is almost always keepable). Late-game, when lands are dead, this is usually better than Divination, as bottoming a land is almost as good as drawing it (unless you have Oona’s Grace, and if you’re in the late game and have Grace you’re usually fine anyway). Also make sure not to use this card to aggressively, especially in the early game. Most of the time if it’s the only 1-drop in your opener you wait to cast it. As a rule of thumb, if you don’t want to bottom a third or more of the possible cards you could see, you probably want to wait on Preordaining. The main exception to this is if your opening hand has multiple Preordains then sometimes you want to immediately burn through one of them, especially against the more aggressive decks where you typically want to use your mana every turn.

Accumulated Knowledge (or Think Twice) – These card perform similar functions and you should definitely be running one of them. I prefer Accumulated Knowledge because its lower mana requirement makes it much better against aggro, and it’s only slightly worse against control. For instance, having multiple Think Twices in your opener against anything besides control is terrible, but having multiple Knowledges is almost always fine or even good. The main downsides of Knowledge is the lack of sideboarding flexibility it gives you (you must have exactly 4 or 0), along with its greater vulnerability to counterspells and graveyard hate.

Counterspell – The best counterspell in your deck.

Prohibit – Being able to cast this off an Island and a Quicksand is a relevant upside, and it normally counters a healthy majority of the spells played in Pauper. However, with the recent high density of MBC running around, Prohibit has gotten a lot worse; most of MBC’s more annoying cards are 3-drops, 5-drops (Gray Merchant of Asphodel) and 6-drops (Corrupt), and it can’t counter their 3-drops and turn three and is useless against Merchant and Corrupt. Consequently, I’ve recently been experimenting with cutting it for more unconventional counterspells.

Essence Scatter – This is a very recent edition that I haven’t ever seriously considered running before. However, Prohibit isn’t very good in the current meta, and the deck is already maxed out on Counterspell and Deprive, but you need more than eight counterspells to deal with Gray Merchant and to be able to counter turn 3 Chittering Rats and so on. It’s an awkward card against burn but not too much else; since it’s only a two of you’ll rarely get multiples, and pretty much every deck runs some number of problematic creatures.

Deprive – Having a certain number of unconditional counters is important; so this is Counterspell‘s lesser twin. It does synergize with Oona’s Grace though, and usually, the drawback is only annoying if you have this and a Serrated Arrows or Spire Golem against an aggro deck in your opener. Normally I run two or three Deprive, because the drawback, especially in multiples, can set you back against aggro. However, the increase in Gray Merchant MBC decks pushed me up to four because you need to consistently have an unconditional counterspell for their Gray Merchant or Corrupt, and the drawback doesn’t matter very much in that match up. Also, note that Deprive can bounce any land, not just Islands. For an embarrassingly long time I just assumed it worked like Daze; it doesn’t.

Exclude – The fact that this costs three is a much bigger drawback than the fact that it can only counter creatures, but cantripping is a huge upside. Against MBC, UB midrange, and the midrange-aggro decks (White Weenie, Slivers, etc.), where card advantage usually matters more than tempo, this card can be an absolute house, especially if you’re on the play. Multiples in the early game are usually bad though, and getting stuck with exclude in your opener but no two-drop counterspell is painful in many match ups, and Exclude also has significant disynergy with Deprive in the early game, so you don’t want the full playset. In response to the increase in MBC being played, I recently moved up from 2 to 3 maindeck, and in general you want somewhere between 1 and 3 maindeck, depending on the meta.

Oona’s Grace – A card that you rarely want to see in your opener but can provide a huge source of card advantage if the game goes late, especially against control. Some people run two, but they’re redundant in multiples, awkwardly slow against aggro, and with two copies you see it in your opening hand too often. This card is also obviously a reason to not immediately play any lands you draw in the late game unless you have an abundance of counterspells you need to leave mana up for.

Spire Golem – This card is insane against all the aggro decks full of x/1s and x/2s (Delver, White Weenie, Goblins, etc.). These decks have difficulty getting rid of him once he lands, especially if you cast him with counterspell backup. And if he sticks he can hold off their whole team, providing a huge amount of pseudo card advantage. Outside of Affinity and Cyclops, there are practically no creatures in Pauper that have 4 or more power, so Spire Golem rarely dies in straight-up creature combat. To the extent you need a win condition he also functions as such and is resilient to most non-black removal.

Repeal – A solid, cantripping catch-all. Especially when you’re on the draw, you can sometimes get stuck with a hand full of counterspells but nothing to interact with their 1 and/or 2 drop that they already played. Repeal helps mitigate this problem. It’s also good against random irritating 1-drops, such as Bonesplitter and Tortured Existence, which you normally have trouble with in the early game, and it can bounce a flipped Delver for X=0. Bouncing your own depleted Serrated Arrows is also useful, and once in a while you use it to protect your own Delver. It doesn’t do very much if you don’t have a counterspell to counter whatever you bounced, and isn’t an effect you want multiples of, so it’s only a singleton.

Serrated Arrows – This does something against almost every deck that runs creatures, and in the match ups where it’s good, it’s very good (Delver, Elves, and White Weenie, in particular). Having cards to deal with creatures that slipped through your counterspells is also important, and Arrows is very helpful in that regard. That being said, it’s a four drop and it’s worse in the current meta than it has been in the past; decks like Cyclops and GW Hexproof make this cry; so most copies of this are in the sideboard rather than the maindeck.

Quicksand – This card is unfair against Kiln Fiend, provides an answer to Ninja of the Deep Hours and Okiba-Gang Shinobi, and solid against pretty much every other creature without flying, especially in conjunction with Spire Golem. It, along with Oona’s Grace, gives you something to do with excess lands you draw when games go long, as they are apt to do with this deck. Quicksand does disrupt casting Spire Golem though, and having 1 Island 1 Quicksand in your opener is always a little awkward, as you can’t cast anything that costs UU. It helps mitigate mana-screw though, and there are currently too many decks that Quicksand is good against to justify running any less than a playset.

Island – Running 18 Islands in MUC is near-ubiquitous. I run 19. Part of the reason for this is I run more Serrated Arrows than other MUC builds, and getting to four lands by turn four is very important in all the match ups where I board Arrows in. And against something like Delver you sometimes want to be able to cast Serrated Arrows with counterspell backup, which entails having 6 or more lands. I also think most other lists are simply being a little greedy and running one less Island than they should be. Spire Golem is a very Island-hungry card, as you often want to be able to cast it while leaving up a Counterspell, thus you ideally want four Islands in play (not Quicksands) in play turn 4, and this won’t happen often enough if you’re only running 18 Islands. Sometimes using your Quicksand is basically mandatory, such as against a Ninja of the Deep Hours or a Kiln Fiend, and if you’re running so few lands that cracking Quicksand is often painful in the early and mid-game then you’re losing much of the utility that it’s supposed to give you. Oona’s Grace also helps mitigate the problem of flood, and in counterspell mirrors making your land drops is very important. So all in all it is better to lean of the side of preventing mana-screw by running 19 rather than 18 Islands.

Note: Tweaking the maindeck (in addition to the sideboard) based on the metagame is an essential part of playing this deck. The cards whose numbers tend to be metagame dependent are Serrated Arrows, Deprive/Prohibit, Repeal, Essence Scatter, Piracy Charm, and Exclude.

Maindeck Exclusions

Force Spike – This deck will consistently go to the late game, so a card that’s only live during the early game isn’t what it’s looking for. Piracy Charm is a much better reactive one-drop, and is always live.

Mana Leak – This card is bad for similar reasons that Force Spike is; it’s dead in the late game.

Logic Knot – I tried this once a long time ago and it was even worse than I thought it would be. You never want to see it in your opener, as you simply don’t put cards in the graveyard quickly enough, and having to cast it as a Cancel or worse is horrible. Late game it’s fine, but not by enough to compensate for how bad it is early game.

Miscalculation – I briefly played this as a singleton but it was always mediocre. It’s obviously good in the first several turns of the game, but in the late game it’s just an auto-cycle, which is pretty bad. Straight-up card draw is worse in the late game than it is in the early game, because in the early game you usually want more lands and more spells, whereas in the late game you only want more spells. So (unless you have an Oona’s Grace) you have at about a 1/3 chance of drawing a dead card (e.g. an Island) when you cycle it late game. This means that, somewhat counterintuitively, cycling it is essentially card disadvantage in the late game, as you are using a spell in exchange for a 2/3rds chance of getting another spell.

Dispel – I don’t think there are enough instants running around to justify running this sideboard, let alone maindeck. It’s very important to have your counterspells be flexible, not just cheap, and this sits in your hand and does absolutely nothing far too often.

Brainstorm – Without any shuffle effects, this is neither card advantage nor card selection. This deck isn’t overly concerned with flipping Delver as soon as possible, which is a questionable use of Brainstorm in the first place, so there’s no real reason to run this card.

Ponder – I’ve tried running this as a singleton several times and have always been disappointed. Though it can provide true card selection in a way that Brainstorm cannot, it’s still a very big notch down from Preordain. Since there are, again, no shuffle effects like there are in Legacy, if you get land, good card, mediocre card in the late game, you’ll probably keep it but not be particularly happy, since you have no way of drawing the good card and shuffling the other two away. Many of the cards in your deck, such as the counterspells, are largely interchangeable, and you also very seldom need to dig for silver bullets, which is something Ponder is very good at. For the most part, you just want your card selection to be able put away lands and keep most spells or vice versa, something Preordain is great at, but Ponder is not.

Sea Gate Oracle – If you want value, Exclude is much better and instant speed. The fact that you have to tap out for this is a large drawback. His 1/3 body is fine, but not great, against the ground based aggro swarm decks (Stompy, Goblins) and pretty bad against everything else, and his draw effect is nothing to write home about.

Fathom Seer – When the format is overflowing with durdley control decks, this card will be good. Until then, it’s usually just a worse version of Sea Gate Oracle, which you shouldn’t be running either.

Stormbound Geist – This card is atrocious against decks with no flyers, as they will simply kill you before you kill them. And with Affinity and Cyclops being prevalent, Geist is not where you want to be in the current meta. There are also better strategies (Curse of the Bloody Tome) to combat removal-heavy black control decks, and even against decks full of fliers such as Delver this is still just a bad Spire Golem.

Snap – I’ve this card as a singleton in the maindeck primarily as Cyclops hate. It was indeed good against Cyclops, but mediocre against everything else, and the prevalence of Cyclops seems to have died down a lot, so it’s no longer in.

Boomerang – If you want maindeck bounce spells, run Snap or Repeal. While I suppose this is technically more flexible than either of those, you don’t want too many bounce spells in the first place, and the fact that this provides neither tempo nor card advantage makes it a worse version than the alternatives.

Sideboard

(15)
Coral Net
Curse of the Bloody Tome
Deep Analysis
Exclude
Hydroblast
Serrated Arrows

Card Explanations and Uses

4 Hydroblast – This card is primarily for Cyclops, where it kills/counters all their creatures except Delver. It’s also incidentally quite good against Goblins, Burn, and Kuldotha Boros. Cyclops has died down in popularity, so I might cut a few copies.

3 Serrated Arrows – Against any deck where a majority of its creatures are x/1s and x/2s, this provides a huge source of card advantage. If you also have a Spire Golem or Flipped Delver out, it also makes attacking and blocking for them very awkward, as they are basically guaranteed to lose something in combat. Normally you don’t want to tap out main phase, but (except against Delver) you generally don’t mind tapping out for this because it can deal with almost anything they could play.

3 Deep Analysis – This card provides a huge amount of card advantage in control mirror. It’s annoying that it’s a sorcery, but there’s nothing at instant speed that can come close to drawing four cards for 6 mana, and against control you board in your Serrated Arrows and Quicksand can deal with any resolved threats they might play if you need to tap out for this. It’s less good than it used to be though, so I’ve been looking for cards to replace it.

2 Curse of the Bloody Tome – This card is essential in making the post-board MBC match up much more favorable (you board out all your creatures), and it’s also very good against UB control.

2 Coral Net – Quite good against Stompy, solid against Slivers, and passable against other a few other decks. Lately I haven’t been seeing all that much Stompy though, or green in general, so I very well might go down to one or zero,

1 Exclude – A very recent edition in response to the spike in Mono Black Control running around. It’s also quite good against White Weenie, Slivers, and any other midrange deck. I’ve been pleased with it so far.

Caveat: The metagame has been shifting around quite a bit both because of the banning and because of the printing of Gray Merchant of Asphodel. So take this sideboard with a grain of salt; quickly shifting metagames demand quickly shifting sideboards.

Sideboard Exclusions

Coast Watcher – This serves a somewhat similar function to Coral Net, which I prefer in the current meta. If the metagame shifted I could see running Coast Watcher over Coral Net though. Coral Net does nothing against GW Hexproof, whereas Coast Watcher is good as long as you can prevent their creature from getting trample, and in a match up where you have so many terrible cards you’ll hardly have difficulty making cuts. Against Stompy and Slivers though, I prefer Coral Net. Coral Net is probably at its best against Stompy; they run few lands and dump their hand at a rapid rate, meaning they rarely have excess cards to pitch so Coral Net is close to a kill spell. Additionally, having more 1-drops against them is important, especially when you’re on the draw, as Piracy Charm can’t deal with Nettle Sentinel or a bloodthirsty Skarrgan Pit-Skulk and you want to be casting spells every turn. Against Slivers, killing a lord is much better than simply blocking it, and Sidewinder Sliver completely blanks Coast Watcher. Neither Coral Net nor Coast Watcher is particularly impressive against Elves, so it’s a wash in that match up.

Steel Sabotage – There simply aren’t any decks that run a sufficiently high mass of artifacts to make this card particularly good. Affinity, the archetypical “artifact deck,” doesn’t actually have any artifacts except Myr Enforcer that you actually want to counter. Most of their problematic cards simply synergize with artifacts but aren’t artifacts themselves, e.g. Carapace Forger, Atog, Fling, Thoughtcast, Galvanic Blast, etc. There are other decks that run annoying artifacts, such as Spire Golem in Delver or in the mirror, but none of them ever run more than 8 artifacts, which leaves you with a dead counterspell in your hand far too often. And bouncing their Spire Golem isn’t really where you want to be in a match up that often becomes very grindy.

Annul – The artifact half of this is bad for the reasons listed above, and there isn’t anywhere close to enough GW Hexproof running around to justify this for the enchantment half.

Curse of Chains – There are simply too many bounce spells and Apostle’s Blessings running around to make this card good, either maindeck or sideboard. Against Cyclops, Apostle’s Blessing normally does very little against you, but if you Curse of Chains one of their creatures any Blessings they draw for the rest of the game are immediately live. Most other creature decks happen to have ways of dealing with it, often in ways that don’t actually cost your opponent a card: White Weenie and Kuldotha Boros have Kor Skyfishers, Delver has Snap, Stompy has Quirion Ranger, and black-based control decks have already gotten the enter-the-battlefield trigger.

Narcolepsy – Since Guardian of the Guildpact is a card, this is just a worse version of Curse of Chains.

Curfew – I ran this briefly and wasn’t particularly impressed. For one, the match ups where it’s useful, Cyclops and GW Hexproof, have decreased in popularity. And against Cyclops it isn’t even that good; it’s just a bad Hydroblast.

Match Ups: Overview and Analysis

Mono Black Control

Overall Match Up Analysis: Favorable (60%)

Before the now ubiquitous inclusion of Gray Merchant of Asphodel Mono Black Control (“MBC”) was practically a bye, as Serrated Arrows could kill all of their creatures with one or two counters, and you ran enough Counterspells that they would very rarely be able to stick enough creatures to win. Gray Merchant both pushes the deck to run more creatures, which is bad for you, and is an annoying threat on his own. Even post Gray Merchant though, Mono Black Control is a deck that typically runs more removal spells than you have creatures. This makes the match up unfavorable pre-board, as sticking a win condition is challenging. Against the more removal and draw heavy builds, one way to get around this is to let their Sign in Bloods resolve, counter or kill all of their creatures, and simply have them deck themselves before you do (note that Oona’s Grace can target any player). Whether you should try to mill them or kill them with damage depends on how much removal and draw they run, which is difficult to gauge game one. I typically default to countering all of their creatures early game and letting mine die; though sometimes I flip an early Delver, and if he manages to get in for half of their life total before they find a kill spell to throw at him then he’s probably worth protecting.

Boarding

In: 3 Deep Analysis, 3 Serrated Arrows, 2 Curse of the Bloody Tome, 1 Exclude

Out: 4 Delver of Secrets, 4 Spire Golem, 1 Piracy Charm

You go all-in on the milling plan post-board, and this match up becomes much more favorable. Boarding out all your creatures blanks all their removal and you completely rely on Curse of the Bloody Tome as a win condition. Even if they see this plan coming, which they usually don’t, most MBC decks simply don’t have enough relevant spells to board in to be able to take out all of their removal, so they will be left with dead cards post-board. Your strategy becomes to not let them resolve any relevant threats and stay ahead on cards. Deep Analysis and Exclude are very useful in this regard, and Serrated Arrows is important for dealing with any creatures they managed to resolve or that aren’t worth a Counterspell. Needless to say, this strategy is not likely to endear you to your opponent, and MBC players account for a healthy majority of the flame I receive playing Pauper.

Tips/Tricks

  • Though MBC decks tend to be removal heavy, MBC, like most control decks, is very malleable. So if you encounter a list that only runs four removal spells and is otherwise all creatures and other proactive cards, it will be significantly less favorable than a more removal heavy list.
  • Okiba-Gang Shinoba, although not usually played, is an absolutely terrifying card if you don’t have a Quicksand up. Keep this in mind as you’re playing, and also remember to never Quicksand an unblocked creature during the declare blockers step, as they can ninjutsu in response.
  • Oona’s Grace and Deep Analysis can both target the opponent. If your opponent is down to a single-digit number of cards in their library, targeting them with your draw spells is usually correct, especially pre-board when you don’t have Curse of the Bloody Tome.
  • Also, in the pre-board late game if/when it becomes clear you are going to win by milling them, and if you aren’t behind on board and have ample Counterspells, stop casting Accumulated Knowledge and Oona’s Grace on yourself.
  • Note that they can target you with Sign in Blood in an attempt to deck you.
  • It seldom comes up, but if they cast a Chittering Rats when you have an unflipped Delver don’t forget to put an instant or sorcery on top.

UB Midrange/Control

Overall Match Up Analysis: Slightly Favorable (55%)

This match up plays somewhat similarly to MBC, except the deck tends to be significantly lighter on removal and more proactive, making it a worse match up. In particular, Grim Harvest can get pretty annoying late game, and it’s bad news if they can resolve a Mulldrifter. Additionally, the abundance of graveyard hate is quite irritating, as it makes Oona’s Grace and your Accumulated Knowledges significantly worse.

Boarding

In: 3 Deep Analysis, 3 Serrated Arrows, 2 Curse of the Bloody Tome, 1 Exclude

Out: 4 Delver of Secrets, 4 Spire Golem, 1 Piracy Charm

Your sideboarding plan in this match up is identical to MBC. So for the most part reference the MBC explanation for how to play post-board. Keep in mind that they board in Nihil Spellbomb, so you want to counter Trinket Mage, as Spellbomb nets them significant card advantage. This match up is still favorable post-board, but not as favorable as MBC usually is.

White Weenie

Overall Match Up Analysis: Extremely Favorable (65%)

White Weenie is a midrange aggro deck that wins by turning creatures sideways. Casting and protecting a Spire Golem (against Journey to Nowhere) is extremely important in this match up, as they have no creatures with 4 power and most have 2 or less toughness. The reason the match up is so favorable is because White Weenie is more focused on having bigger creatures than on killing you as quickly as possible. This makes them good against the smaller aggro decks, I’d imagine, but bigger, more expensive creatures are quite bad against counterspells, and they also give you more time than most decks to stabilize if you have a clunky start. So, if you’re smart enough to save counters for their more problematic cards, then Spire Golem, and to a lesser extent Serrated Arrows, can usually hold off the rest of their team. One annoying card that can disrupt this strategy is Bonesplitter, as all of a sudden most of their creatures can trade with Spire Golem. The singleton Repeal you run is useful for dealing with it, and can also act as a combat trick if you bounce it after they attack. A turn two Squadron Hawk when you’re on the draw can also be irritating, simply because of the raw card advantage and the fact that, once the first one resolves, counterspells do almost nothing. Razor Golem and Kor Skyfisher are also more troublesome against you than most of their other creatures because they don’t die to Spire Golem and are resistant to Serrated Arrows.

Boarding

In: 3 Serrated Arrows, 1 Exclude

Out: 2 Delver of Secrets, 2 Deprive

Serrated Arrows is no Spire Golem, but it’s still very good in this match up. In addition to killing all their one-drops and Squadron Hawk, in conjunction with one of your creatures it can also shrink their larger dudes down to a killable size. You don’t have any cards that are actually bad against them, so you can experiment with taking out different cards more than in other match ups. Deprive is less good because landing Spire Golem and Serrated Arrows quickly is important, so having to Deprive turn 2 or 3 is unusually painful. Delver is blanked if they have an Icatian Javelineers, and at best it just trades with a two-drop, but Spire Golem blanks almost all their two-drops anyway, so two Delvers get cut. Exclude is great because almost everything you want to counter is a creature, and their curve is high enough that it costing three is less of a problem. They usually have a few Kor Sanctifiers to board in, so watch out for those, as a Sanctifier targeting a Spire Golem is a huge blowout. The match up plays very similarly to how it does pre-board, and normally it becomes somewhat more favorable for you.

Tips/Tricks

Delver

Overall Match Up Analysis: Favorable (60%)

Resolving a Spire Golem is very important in the match up, as they don’t have any creatures that can trade with Spire Golem. It’s very difficult to do this without making your land drops, because of the high tendency to get in counterspell wars, so lands are also very important. In some other match ups once you hit four lands you’d be fine not seeing another land for the rest of the game, but against Delver you ideally want to make your first five or six land-drops without interruption, if you get stuck on two or three lands you’re basically mana-screwed. Spellstutter Sprite and Cloud of Faeries aren’t particularly good against you because your creatures are bigger and fly and because of Piracy Charm. Quicksand provides an excellent counter to Ninja of the Deep Hours, which would otherwise be a very irritating card since you cannot counter it. So opposing Spire Golems and early flipped Delvers are the main threats you need to be worried about in the beginning. Between Piracy Charm, Repeal, and Delvers of your own, typically you can deal with their Delver, so mostly worry about preventing them from landing a Spire Golem, as it basically can only be answered with another Spire Golem. Unless you’re sufficiently behind on board, you generally don’t want to mainphase anything worth getting into a counterspell war over if both players’ hands are still fairly full. For example, if both players have four Islands and 5+ cards in hand, and you try to resolve a Spire Golem with a Counterspell in hand, in all likelihood they’ll have two counterspells to prevent your Golem from resolving, and then during their turn they could play an Island, drop a Spire Golem, and still have mana up for double counters, leaving you in a very bad place. So unless you have an unusual hand with multiple creatures and just one counterspell or are behind on board, you don’t want to be the first one to tap out when both players have full hands. Be patient, your late game is better than theirs.

Boarding

In: 3 Serrated Arrows

Out: 1 Exclude, 2 Deprive

As was the case with White Weenie, you don’t really have any cards that are bad against them. Exclude is less good because when you get in counterspell wars mana efficiently is very important, and the drawback on Deprive hurts more because of how important making all your land drops is. Serrated Arrows, if you can manage to resolve it, has a huge impact on the board; it kills their faeries in one hit, their Delvers in one or two, and shrinks their Spire Golem to a 1/3, which your Delver can now kill while surviving himself. As mentioned previously though, don’t be too aggressive about trying to resolve spells such as Serrated Arrows mainphase unless you’re behind on board, games usually go late, and having a Serrated Arrows get countered, being tapped out, and saying pass is not where you want to be.

Tips/Tricks

  • Spellstutter Sprite’s enter the battlefield counterspell ability counts X when the effect resolves, so if you reduce the number of faeries via Serrated Arrows or Piracy Charm with the trigger on the stack you can make the ability fizzle.
  • If both players manage to resolve Spire Golems the game can very quickly turn into a board stall, especially pre-board. Though timing out normally isn’t an issue, if this happens two games in a row it can quickly become one, so don’t play too slowly.
  • To play around Ninja of the Deep Hours, always use Quicksand before the declare blockers step if you don’t plan on blocking, otherwise your opponent can ninjutsu in with the Quicksand trigger on the stack.

Goblins

Overall Match Up Analysis: Slightly Favorable (55%)

Goblins is an aggressive swarm deck filled with 1/1s, 2/2s, and burn. Spire Golem is a champion against this deck because their creatures are so small. So usually the best they can hope for is to try to bolt it after it has taken damage from blocking, or sacrifice a bunch of creatures via Goblin Sledder to pump a goblin large enough to kill it; all these things net you card advantage. Probably the most troublesome card for you is Death Spark, as it both blanks any topdecked Delvers you draw and because games against Goblins have a tendency to go long, so it represents a very significant source of damage.

Boarding

In: 3 Serrated Arrows, 4 Hydroblast

Out:

On the draw: 3 Piracy Charm, 2 Deprive, 2 Delver of Secrets.

On the play: 4 Piracy Charm, 1 Deprive, 2 Delver of Secrets.

Pyroblast is good for obvious reasons, and Serrated Arrows continues to be good against decks full of 1/1s and 2/2s. As is the case in several other match ups, you cut down on Deprive because casting Spire Golem and Serrated Arrows quickly is very important. Piracy Charm is by no means awful against Goblins, but, with the exception of Sparksmith, their 2/2s are much more problematic than their 1/1s, and they also are usually going to cast their 2/2s first, so you don’t usually end up using Piracy Charm turn one, and by the time you have a target you would’ve preferred to just have some other spell in your hand. The reason you board out an extra Piracy Charm on the play is because Sparksmith is one of the main targets for it, and when you’re on the play it won’t slip through your counterspells if they cast it turn 2. Two Delvers are cut because of how good Death Spark is against them, and because a flipped Delver almost always just trades with a 2/2 or eats a Lightning Bolt, which is fine but unexciting. This match up improves post-board, and it also has a tendency to go long, as you have a large amount of removal and can hold back their team with Spire Golem, but this means you to need to stick a Delver or have two Spire Golems to start attacking, as you want to at least one back to block.

Tips/Tricks

  • Unless they have a Goblin Sledder or Mogg Raider, you usually want to use Serrated Arrows during their upkeep to slow down any possible Death Sparks they might have.
  • Keep in mind you can use Piracy Charm to try to bury a Death Spark under a noncreature card. Even if they discard a creature or sacrifice one to Mogg Raider in response, you’ve still gotten rid of one of their cards.

Elves

Overall Match Up Analysis: Favorable (60%)

Elves is a deck that plays a bunch of small mana dorks and utility creatures then tries to win with Llanowar Sentinel, Distant Melody, and/or Timberwatch Elf. Not letting them resolve any of their win conditions is important, so don’t be over-aggressive in countering their other spells. Usually Spire Golem can shut down their backup plan of swinging in with a hoard of 1/1s and 2/2s. If they cast Priest of Titania turn 2 you usually want to counter or Piracy Charm it; later in the game it doesn’t matter how much mana they have if you don’t let them resolve any relevant spells, but early game an active Priest lets them resolve too many spells too quickly.

Boarding

In: 3 Serrated Arrows,

Out: 1 Repeal, 1 Prohibit, 1 Delver of Secrets

Serrated Arrows puts in some serious work in the match up, as most of their deck is made of 1/1s. Repeal isn’t awful, but it isn’t good at dealing with any of Elves’ win conditions except Timberwatch Elf, and bouncing a mana dork doesn’t really do anything. You don’t want too many Prohibits, because in the early game they can try to resolve a Timberwatch Elf or Distant Melody before you can afford the kicker. A Delver is cut because you aren’t going to race them, and Spire Golem is really the only creature you need to hold off their team.

Tips/Tricks

  • You tend to win the late game, so don’t bother countering their Wellwisher unless you have a very aggressive board position or too many counterspells.
  • Often your opponent either misidentifies you as Delver or isn’t very familiar with the match up and boards in Scattershot Archer against you, which is just worse than whatever they boarded out.

Burn

Overall Match Up Analysis: Favorable (60%)

Burn tries to deal 20 damage to the dome as quickly as possible, primarily via instants and sorceries. Almost all your spells interact on a one-to-one basis with theirs. Because of this, you have to have a below average draw for them to successfully be able to burn you out; since your start at twenty life, and most of their burn spells deal 3 or 4 damage, they have to be able to resolve around 6 spells to be able to kill you. Some of the more annoying cards include Keldon Marauders, which, unless you have a Spire Golem, usually represents 5 damage, which for a 2-drop is quite efficient. Curse of the Pierced Heart (if they run it) is irksome too; if they cast it turn two it usually represents 5 damage or more. This is also one of the match ups where you often want to use your counterspells to protect your creatures, especially Spire Golem, because he almost always takes two spells for them to kill, and cards like Curse of the Pierced Heart, Flame Rift, and Fireblast are less effective if you put a clock on them.

Boarding

In: 4 Hydroblast

Out: 1 Repeal, 3 Exclude

Surprise surprise, Hydroblast is good against a mono-red deck. As for what to take out, most lists just run four creatures in the form of Keldon Marauders, which isn’t enough targets to justify having Exclude. Repeal isn’t going to target anything of theirs except perhaps a Curse of the Pierced Heart, which you have Hydroblast for, and it can protect Delver but not Spire Golem, so again, there aren’t enough targets to justify it. Piracy Charm is better than it might look because Burn has so few lands, and so the discard mode usually results in them pitching a spell. That being said, if the Burn list is unusually creature-heavy you could cut a Piracy Charm or two and leave in more Excludes.

Cyclops

Overall Match Up Analysis: Even (50%)

Cyclops is a deck that seeks to resolve and protect a Nivix Cyclops or Kiln Fiend, cast a bunch of instants, and then win in a combo-like fashion. Your primary goal in this match up is to prevent them from resolving a Nivix Cyclops, as it is quite difficult for you to deal with once it hits the board. Kiln Fiend is much less problematic because you run Quicksand, but if don’t draw one then preventing him from resolving is important too. An opposing Delver is more annoying than he is in other match ups because he flips so consistently, because they can bolt your Delver, who would normally block their Delver, and because you absolutely cannot tap out for a Spire Golem or a Serrated Arrows because if they resolve a Nivix Cyclops you just lose. That being said, Piracy Charm and Repeal and still good against Delver, so you still have plenty of answers for him.

Boarding

In: 4 Hydroblast

Out:

On the play: 1 Serrated Arrows, 2 Prohibit, 1 Spire Golem

On the draw: 1 Serrated Arrows, 2 Prohibit, 1 Exclude

Ideally you prevent your opponent from sticking any creatures, and Hydroblast can counter or kill all their creatures except Delver. Make sure not to get thwarted by Apostle’s Blessing though if you’re trying to destroy a creature on the battlefield. Serrated Arrows is way too slow in this match up, forces you to tap out, and does nothing against Cyclops. Prohibit is bad because it can’t counter a turn 3 Nivix Cyclops, and Spire Golem is expensive and can only block Delver effectively. You cut an Exclude instead on the draw because it can’t counter a turn three Nivix Cyclops, whereas it can if you’re on the play.

Stompy

Overall Match Up Analysis: Slightly Unfavorable (45%)

Mono-Green Stompy is an aggro deck with a very low curve, cheap creatures, and pump spells. Normally, decks full of 1/1s and 2/2s are favorable match ups for you. The reason Stompy is less favorable is primarily because they have so many more effective ways of dealing with Spire Golem, which you normally lean heavily on against this type of deck. Specifically, their pump spells and s are very effective at preventing [c]Spire Golem from holding off their 2/2s. To make matters worse, if you block a 2/2 and they resolve a Gather Courage, for instance, they’ve just traded a 1-drop for your 3-drop and you haven’t even gotten any card advantage out of it. In a match up like Goblins, in contrast, if they Lightning Bolt your Spire Golem after it blocked a 2/2, they are getting two-for-oned, because they are down a creature and a spell. Serrated Arrows is still fine against them, but significantly less good because they have fewer x/1s you want to kill, and it does nothing against Silhana Ledgewalker and almost nothing against Young Wolf. Hunger on the Howlpack is also extremely good against you, because if it resolves none of your creatures or removal can effectively deal with such a large creature, and since it’s an instant-speed 1-drop it isn’t hard for them to sneak it under your counterspells. Your strategy in this match up in the beginning is to counter or kill as many of their creatures and Rancors as you can to prevent them from getting in for too much damage. If you flip a Delver, you should almost always leave him back to block and trade with one of their 2/2s. Once you land a Spire Golem, protect it if you can and hope they don’t draw too many pump spells.

Boarding

In: 1 Coral Net, 2 Serrated Arrows

Out: 1 Exclude, 2 Piracy Charm

Because they have such a low curve and land count, they rarely have excess cards to pitch to Coral Net, so it’s close to a kill spell for one blue mana, which is quite good. Serrated Arrows isn’t fantastic, but it’s still good at killing the 1/1s that they do have and cannot be negated by pump spells, unlike Piracy Charm. Against such an aggressive deck you don’t want your curve to be too high, so you cut Exclude, and Piracy Charm is generally less good than Serrated Arrows. However, having a mix of the two is valuable, as having an opening hand with 1 Piracy Charm and 1 Serrated Arrows is almost always better than 2 of either, which is why you don’t bring in all of the Arrows. If they’re boarding correctly, they probably bring in Gleeful Sabatoge, which can be quite annoying.

Tips/Tricks

  • If you change the sideboard and have more cards to board in, cutting Accumulated Knowledge post-board is probably correct. Given that we only want to bring in three cards, however, we cannot do this with our current configuration.
  • Some of the interactions between Serrated Arrows and a Young Wolf with a +1/+1 counter on it probably aren’t intuitive unless you know the details of how state-based actions resolve. For instance, if a Young Wolf has had its toughness reduced to 1 because of a Piracy Charm and then you use Serrated Arrows on it, the Young Wolf dies and undying does not trigger. Similarly, if you block a 2/2 Young Wolf with an unflipped Delver and then Serrated Arrows after damage has happened the Young Wolf dies and undying will not trigger. But if you try to just use two Serrated Arrows activations to kill a Young Wolf, or if you Serrated Arrows first and Piracy Charm second, undying will trigger and the Young Wolf will come back.
  • This happens because all state-based actions happen simultaneously whenever state-based actions are checked. Included on the list of state-based actions are creatures dying because they have lethal damage marked on them, because their toughness is 0 or below, and +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters cancelling out. So the +1/+1 counter and the -1/-1 counter cancel out at the same time that Young Wolf goes to the graveyard. This is because all state-based actions are resolved simultaneously. Thus, when the dead Young Wolf asks itself if it had a +1/+1 counter on it immediately before it died, the answer is yes, and so it stays dead.

Green White Slivers

Overall Match Up Analysis: Unfavorable (40%)

Slivers is a tribal aggro deck that primarily relies on twelve 2-drop lords that pump their whole team of synergistic Slivers. If you’re on the play this match up is significantly better than if you’re on the draw, as on the draw they’re almost guaranteed to land a lord before you have two lands up to counter it. And one they land even one lord the match up becomes quite bad for you, because their crappy 2/2s turn into 3/3s, which means Spire Golem and Quicksand can no longer kill them. Additionally, even their 1-drops are annoying; Sidewinder Sliver makes Delver and Spire Golem way worse at blocking, and Plated Sliver makes their team much better against Quicksand, Serrated Arrows, and Piracy Charm. If you’re on the play and have a good opening hand this match up is definitely winnable, but sometimes you run out of counterspells or are on the draw and then the match up becomes much more difficult.

Boarding

In: 1 Exclude, 1 Coral Net, 2 Serrated Arrows

Out: 4 Piracy Charm

Coral Net is pretty solid, but not fantastic, as they often have lands or a flashback pump spell to pitch if they want to keep a lord alive. Serrated Arrows isn’t great, but can slowly kill a lord, or shrink a 3/3 to a 2/2 for Spire Golem to block. Their deck is slow enough and creature heavy enough that Exclude always has good targets. Piracy Charm is cut because it’s only live against their one-drops when they don’t have a lord or a Plated Sliver, so it’s sometimes good turn 1, but it’s bad after that.

Green White Hexproof

Overall Match Up Analysis: Very Unfavorable (35%)

This deck plans to load up a cheap hexproof creature with enough auras that it can never die in combat and quickly beat you to death. The annoying thing about this deck is how many relevant one-drops it has; half its creatures and half its creature auras only cost 1, this makes it easy for them to cast spells in the early game before you have two mana, or to cast several threatening spells before you have six mana, especially if they are on the play. Ideally for you, they have a slow start and you prevent them from landing any creatures, so that all the auras in their hand are dead. Once they land a hexproof creature, you basically no ways to kill it. Piracy Charm, Quicksand and Serrated Arrows, which normally can deal with creatures that have bypassed your counterspells, do nothing against every creature in the deck besides Aura Gnarlid. So then you try your hardest to prevent them from putting any relevant auras on the creature. Ancestral Mask and Ethereal Armor are the most problematic of the bunch, and Rancor is the least problematic. If they get a creature with Mask or Armor on it and have a few other auras in play it’s almost impossible for you to win, as you cannot profitably block, which is your only way of interacting with Hexproof creatures (aside from Repeal), and it is extremely difficult for you to race them. So there are quite a few things that can go wrong for you in this match up; if you opponent has a very good opening hand there’s basically nothing you can do about it. You just have to hope you get lucky and your opponent mulligans a lot or keeps a slow hand.

Boarding

In: 1 Exclude

Out: 1 Serrated Arrows

You really don’t have anything good to side in against them, so the match up changes very little post-board. Serrated Arrows is obviously dead against them, and Exclude isn’t good when only one of their creatures costs more than 2, but it’s better than anything else you could bring in.

Affinity

Overall Match Up Analysis: Very Unfavorable (35%)

Affinity is an aggro deck filled with undercosted 4/4s, other large creatures, and spells that synergize with artifacts. This match up is poor on multiple levels. Most of your maindeck removal, in particular Piracy Charm and Serrated Arrows, does very little against a deck full of 4/4s. Likewise, Spire Golem, who can normally outright kill, or at least hold off, swarms of creatures in other decks can’t even trade with most of Affinity’s creatures on its own. Similarly, a flipped Delver can’t trade with a 4/4 by himself. Sometimes, if you’re on the play and have a good draw, you can counter all their relevant creatures, as everything of theirs that’s scary costs 2 or more. This is much harder to do on the draw though, and if even just one of their two-drops resolves it presents a significant threat that will often take multiple cards to deal with. This leads us to the other problem with Affinity; it’s not nearly as favorable for you get into the long game as it is against other aggro decks. In other match ups, you can count on things like Spire Golem and Serrated Arrows killing or blanking multiple of their creatures, or your counterspells countering part of a combo and making the rest of their hand useless (e.g. Cyclops). Against Affinity though, aside from straight-up draw spells, you really don’t have any of this implicit card advantage that you get in other match ups. Indeed, in general the best you can hope for against Affinity is to one-for-one most of their cards; Spire Golem, Quicksand, Serrated Arrows, et al. can’t even deal with one creature, let alone multiple. So a deck full of 4/4s is quite a bad match up for MUC. Being a four-color deck though, Affinity does sometimes get off to a very slow start and has a higher tendency to mulligan because of its loose mana base, so sometimes that will give you a good shot at victory.

Boarding

Out: 4 Piracy Charm, 1 Delver of Secrets

In:

On the play: 3 Hydroblast, 1 Exclude, 1 Serrated Arrows

On the draw: 3 Hydroblast, 2 Serrated Arrows

This match up improves very little after boarding, as blue isn’t known for its abundance of artifact destruction. Hydroblast is good because most lists are running Atog/Fling, everyone runs Galvanic Blast, and most will have Pyroblasts post-board. You don’t want four because if you draw multiples you’re too liable to not have enough targets. An extra Exclude is solid on the play but too slow on the draw, and while Serrated Arrows isn’t fantastic, it can shrink their 4/4s down to 3/3s or 2/2s so your Quicksand or Spire Golem can take them out or your flipped Delvers can trade. It also kills Atog. Piracy Charm doesn’t have any good targets, so that gets boarded out. There isn’t anything great to board out beyond that; you don’t really need Accumulated Knowledge but you don’t have enough to bring in to board all 4 out, and they do more than Piracy Charm. I usually end up cutting a Delver.

Tips/Tricks

Thanks for reading. Comments, questions, and criticism are more than welcome in the comments or on twitter.

Written by
Eric Campbell (PaulDenton)
The Official Wizard of Casting Commons
Twitter: PaulDenton_mtg