BUG Control in Modern
- Filip Skórnicki
Following the ban of Arcum's Astrolabe from Modern, control players have to rediscover the archetype and readjust to the new environment. "Skurtai Control" is waiting in the wings to take over, quite likely the best successor to the previously dominating snow control value machines.
In this article, I will explain my deck's card choices, why I think it's better than other control variants, answer some frequently asked questions, and go over my sideboarding philosophy.
Cards and Their Function
To begin with, let me show you my most current BUG — also known as Sultai — list:
|Skurtai Control by Skura|
The deck is basically divided into three parts color-wise: blue is for counterspells, black is for removal, and green is stabilization in the form of Uro. Hence, I will go over the cards in these groups as their function is clearly distinguished.
Let's begin with the best color in Magic — blue. As you may or may not know, I tend to avoid decks without permission effects. My preferences have always been rife with countermagic and on-stack fights. To that end, I run the classic Mana Leak/Force of Negation/Cryptic Command package with the now-classic Archmage's Charm. The single Deprive remains a bit of a question mark, but it's been performing okay as an endgame one-of. Though it isn't realistically turn two interaction; in theory it costs two mana, but in practice it can only be used after turn four or five.
Black is arguably the best removal color, especially in conjunction with green. Both Abrupt Decay and Assassin's Trophy are versatile, mana-efficient, and instants, which makes them the perfect catch-all tools. With them at my disposal, I no longer fear early planeswalkers such as Wrenn and Six, Teferi, Time Raveler, or other problematic permanents like Chalice of the Void, Amulet of Vigor, or Blood Moon. In addition, these effects are reusable with both Mystic Sanctuary and Snapcaster Mage.
Fatal Push is the point creature removal of the format, its cheap cost and wide applicability invaluable. There are very few actual threats that it does not kill and often they only come out to play once I already have countermagic on line. With four Pushes, two Decays, two Trophies, and three Snapcasters, the removal suite is wide and plentiful enough not to fear creature decks.
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath is one of the main reasons to play green. It's is the stabilization tool, because it provides a useful source of main-deck lifegain with card card advantage and ramp on top. One could write an entire piece on Uro alone, but long story short: it stabilizes the game, catches you up from behind, pulls you ahead, and actually wins. What more could you ask for? If that wasn't enough, it's also a part of a loop with Cryptic Command. You counter their spell or tap their creatures and return your Sanctuary to hand, then you play the Sanctuary to put that Cryptic on top, and then you redraw the Cryptic with Uro attacking. Rinse, repeat.
As far as my cantrip selection is concerned, I play seven divided between four Thought Scour and three Cling to Dust. Thought Scour enables the rest of the deck nicely. Not only does it provide cards in the graveyard which can result in Uro escaping on turn four. It also gives our Snapcasters and Sanctuaries access to more tools. Marginal uses include targeting your opponent to clear off their scry, cleaning your own library off of the cards you put back with Jace, the Mind Sculptor's Brainstorm, or winning the game via milling, for example against Dredge.
Cling, on the other hand, does not enable anything in the deck but rather prevents our opponents from doing their shenanigans: exile their Uro, Snap target, Wrenn target, dredge cards, Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, makes Tarmogoyf smaller, eats away cards against prowess so that they cannot cast Bedlam Reveler, and many more. Additionally, it often is useful as a Healing Salve against aggressive decks or one-mana cycler in grindy situations. On top of all of the above, it's got multiple uses due to escape, which means I have a total of six cards that can provide card advantage when in the graveyard — finally a control deck whose graveyard is a nice extension of the hand.
A quick note on the mana base: I've decided to opt for 25 lands with zero colorless sources, because I try to think of myself as the least greedy control player on the planet. I've noticed numerous times that most games I lose were due to the deck not functioning, that is, not drawing a sufficient number of or the right lands. The result is me playing a relatively high land count with all the lands producing colored mana. I have liked the mana base immensely.
The sideboard consists of basically good stuff in BUG colors. It's all hugely dependent on what metagame you expect. Aether Gust is an excellent catch-all which works against Burn, Prowess, Red-Green Ponza, but also Jund and Five-Color Niv. Very versatile and, in my opinion, one of, if not the best addition to Modern control sideboards. The rest is self-explanatory and also in flux. What I want to emphasize though is my personal sideboard creation philosophy: I tend to play cards that have powerful, narrow, efficient effects and work like a scalpel rather than generically fine effects such as another spot removal or another copy of Snapcaster in the board.
Why BUG Specifically?
If you look through some Modern control decklists you'll see that almost all Uro shells are the same decks, just with a different color of removal spells. The reason I like BUG the most compared to RUG is the superiority of black removal over red and the fact that Wrenn and Six is lackluster right now; it does not kill any creatures against Prowess and Burn decks and is useless against Elfdrazi Tron, Dredge, and plenty more. Bant, on the other hand, is a strong contenter with both Path to Exile and Teferi, Time Raveler, but Bant does not have a Triome. I think this affects the mana base in a nontrivial manner. Additionally, white has more problems with permanents compared to black with its Decays and Trophies.
Lastly, there must be a reason to play a three-color deck in the first place. I am known for opting for white-blue strategies, and this time the choice was not easy, but it basically boils down to Uro. While I myself adore clean two-color mana bases that never fold to Blood Moon, I am not sure if that's better than just jamming Uro. Then again, having removal unaffected by Veil of Summer, being immune to graveyard hate, and mana base hate are all compelling reasons to give straight White-Blue a go as well.
The deck might seem to be light on win conditions to you, especially if some graveyard hate is at play. This is obviously true, but it's often true of any control deck. I am thinking about playing a non-graveyard threat in the deck such as Lochmere Serpent or Liliana, the Last Hope. However, most of the time Uro plus Snap plus Jace are enough. With a few dozen matches under my belt, I can safely say that I haven't had a game where I physically couldn't win.
Some cards that are often associated with similar decks are Ice-Fang Coatl, Opt, and Growth Spiral. I don't think the Coatl can be supported with the manabase as is. Although I can search out basics, it affects my mana for the rest of the game in such a way that I am uninterested in the snow route. Opt is replaced by the better cantrips in Scour and Cling. Growth Spiral is the one I am actually on the fence about. I think playing the Spiral would involve me increasing the land count by one or two so that I'd always be able to put a land into play off of its and Uro's effect.
There are a number of things I am considering as far as future deck development is concerned. Having played a weekend packed with tournaments, the conclusions are the following: between an additional threat and Growth Spirals, I am thinking about a main-deck Gust, a second Triome replacing Scalding Tarn, maybe Shark Typhoon. I might trim Cling to two copies and probably cut Surgical completely. I have to assess how many anti-creature spells I actually want in the board — if any.
Overall, the shell is super powerful and it's helped me win a bunch recently. If you want a deck with scalpel-like precision in your answers and a powerful endgame in Uro — look no further. If you want to watch it in action, I suggest you check out this league playthrough from my YouTube channel.
You can also see my detailed sideboarding guide here:
Until next time — hold my hand and let's pass the turn together. Cheers!