UB Gateway Control in Standard
When I started playing Standard after the release of Rivals of Ixalan, the first thing I wanted to do was to try out Azor's Gateway. In this article, I share the results of my testing and the deck that I believe is one of the best at utilizing Azor's Gateway.
Flipping Azor's Gateway // Sanctum of the Sun, having a bunch of mana and then finishing the opponent off with cards like Torment of Hailfire looked like a cool gameplan. I first built a Mono Black Control version, which featured tons of removal and disruption. Unfortunately, it had a rough time against all decks playing Abrade, because while this deck could buy time, it had no other really good way to finish a game outside of Flipping Gateway into Torment of Hailfire. Also, beating aggressive decks was no easy task, especially the ones playing Abrade. That was pretty bad news, since Abrade is the most played card in Standard. Nevertheless, I liked the gameplan to win with Azor's Gateway against Control, because they often had a rough time beating it. Decks like UB Control had either no answers or very few answers.
I then tried out an Esper version with Regal Caracal, The Scarab God, and removal spells to have a better gameplan against aggressive decks. Using Azor's Gateway in this list was more often a tool for card selection instead of an all-in game winning plan, but the God played out as a good mana sink for the Gateway, too. Though postboard it still had Negate, Duress and Tormented Hailfire against control decks, to focus on the gameplan winning with a flipped Gateway. This deck worked better, but overall had no outstanding results either. The more I tuned the deck the more it became like UB Control. So, in the end I thought: “Why not just play UB Control then?”
UB Control already plays a card which is a bit like Azor's Gateway: Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. This card also gives you card selection, but you don't have to pay one mana every turn and it can flip much more easily and it's safer from Abrade. I was wondering if I should finally give up on Azor's Gateway, but the artifact has some advantages, too. It can get rid of dead cards, which you already drew, like all the removal spells in control mirrors, and when it flips, you usually win the game. Casting multiple Gearhulks in a turn or playing Scarab God with 3 or more activations is mostly game over. Finally, I decided to put Azor's Gateway in my UB Control deck, but more on that later. Let’s first look at the list.
UB Gateway Control
|4Drowned Catacomb||2The Scarab God||3Azor's Gateway // Sanctum of the Sun|
|4Fetid Pools||4Torrential Gearhulk||1Commit // Memory|
|4Field of Ruin||4Disallow|
|1Submerged Boneyard||4Fatal Push|
|4Moment of Craving|
|1Arguel's Blood Fast / Temple of Aclazotz||1Bontu's Last Reckoning||3Contraband Kingpin|
|1Demon of Dark Schemes||1Doomfall||2Duress|
|4Negate||2Torment of Hailfire|
Main Deck Choices
4 Azor's Gateway/Sanctum of the Sun
Let’s get back to the Search for Azcanta vs Azor's Gateway discussion. Against aggressive decks you do not want either of those anyway, though Search for Azcanta is usually better here, because it is safer to Abrade, can ramp into Gearhulk and gives you card selection without spending mana. Nevertheless, Azcanta is still not great by any means and you sideboard it out as you do with Gateway. Overall, you get maybe a 1-2 % better matchup against Aggro with Azcanta, but that’s about it. Against Control both cards are good, but Gateway is much better. Everybody knows how boring a Control mirror is: nothing happens for a long time. In that time, you can get rid of all the dead cards like Fatal Push, Moment of Craving or too many copies of Vraskas Contempt until you got all your important spells together to eventually flip the Gateway and play multiple threats in one turn with counter backup. That’s the plan for game one. Postboard, the plan is even better since you only need one Torment of Hailfire to finish the game while you got plenty of Disruption. The postboard plan heavily focuses to win with Gateway in the control mirror.
Against Midrange it can go either way and it really depends which midrange deck is being played. I remember games where I won with Gateway after playing some removal spells and flipping the Gateway to cast The Scarab God with 3 activations up. But I also remember games, where my opponent just Abraded my Gateway and I wished it would have been a Search for Azcanta. Ultimately, it doesn't matter that much since the whole point of playing UB Control is to have a good matchup against Midrange. If you are worrying too much about that matchup, you should not play the deck. Even though the Gateway is legendary, playing 4 copies is not a problem, since you can loot away extra copies and having them makes abrade slightly less harsh for the deck.
4 Torrential Gearhulk and 2 Scarab God
These choices are straightforward. Most UB decks play these numbers, so there is not a lot to say about. Usually you want to draw as many Torrential Gearhulks as possible, so four seems to be the right number. Two copies of the legendary Scarab God feels enough, since it usually comes pretty late with Mana up for Counterspells or an activation and at the latest then you should have drawn it.
4 Fatal Push, 4 Moment of Craving, and 4 Vraska’s Contempt
Since you need to interact early against aggressive decks, you play all playsets of the best removal spells in black. The lifegain of Moment and Contempt is very relevant. Fatal Push can be played on bigger threats, too with Field of Ruin triggering Revolt. Vraska’s Contempt is extremely important for this deck to deal with cards like Scarab God, Rekindling Phoenix or planeswalkers and is a super good card to flashback with Torrential Gearhulk. This list is not afraid of playing that many removal spells, since you can get rid of them with Azor's Gateway in matchups where you do not need that many answers for creatures.
4 Essence Scatter and 4 Disallow
Playing four copies of Disallow is necessary for every control deck. While most of the time, you just counter their spells, countering an ability comes up here and there. I can save a game stopping the opponent from a Chandra ultimate or Bomat Courier drawing bunch of cards, but also counters Eternalize from Champion of Wits or Earthshaker Khenra. Most lists play only 3 copies of Essence Scatter, but I found out that countering Creatures is very good in the current field.
3 Hieroglyphic Illumination
Some people are playing Glimmer of Genius, instead of Hieroglyphic Illumination or a split between them. There are 2 reasons why Illumination is better than Glimmer. The first reason is that you can cycle it early on once you have trouble finding lands or you simply have no opportunity to cast it. This happens pretty often against aggressive decks. The second reason has more to do with this list. With Azor's Gateway, you already have card selection, so there is not a huge value in scrying most of the time. Only having three card draw spells seems to be a bit short, but often enough you only want more card draw spells in slower matchups anyway and Gateway functions like a card draw engine here because it can loot away all the bad cards.
Every UB Control deck should run at least one copy of this card. If I was able to find room for another copy, I would play two. Commit is important sometimes, since it can bounce enchantments like Ixalan’s Binding or artifacts like Azor's Gateway. Also, it helps you get rid of Carnage Tyrant when it's on the stack and you have a Field of Ruin. Here and there, it actually happens that you cast Memory. Most of the time at the end of the opponent’s turn with your last card in hand: Torrential Gearhulk. Casting Memory with Arguel’s Blood Fast / Temple of Aclazotz in play can lead to a win, provided that Blood Fast has flipped.
The Mana Base
The manabase is pretty classic. 26 lands seems to be the optimal number, because you really want to hit a land drop every turn. This deck can hardly flood out with Fetid Pools, Gateway and mana sinks like The Scarab God. Four Field of Ruins are necessary since there are enough good lands right now in standard you want to destroy like Azcanta, Adanto or Arch of Orazca. You should always watch out to kill an opposing Scavanger Grounds once its tapped to clear the way for Gearhulk and Scarab God.
2x Torment of Hailfire
The ideal scenario is that you play your Gate turn 2 or 3 and kill the opponent with Torment of Hailfire turn 7. That sounds super uncommon, but it actually comes up. Let’s just say the opponent has the turn 1 Duress or the turn 2 Negate for your Gateway. Even then, the game goes on. You got 4 Copies of Azor's Gateway, eventually you will get one on the battlefield, there is no hurry since you got plenty of time in control matchups to get it flipped. Also, you can actually win with Torment of Hailfire even without Temple of Aclazotz. I remember a game where my Opponent activated their Arguel’s Blood Fast pretty often and I could finish the game with a Torment of Hailfire for 5 with 2 counter backups. The main deck has no room for this strategy which is mostly only good against control decks or controlish midrange decks anways. Playing two copies looks like a good number, since, firstly, you are safer against discard spells and, secondly, it makes sure you eventually have drawn one when you got Temple of Aclazotz in play and want to finish the game.
4 Negate and 2 Duress
The full set of Negates is just necessary in every control matchup. It is the best way to protect your gateway. I sometimes even side in the full set of Negates against Grixis or Sultai midrange decks which usually go pretty controlish postboard. You really want to make sure you have enough answers for their planeswalkers, since they have got Duress and Negate as well. Counters are better for protection than Duress, but having a couple of Duress is good, because it gives you information and can get rid of an opponent's Search or Arguel’s, but it also protects your Azor's Gateway by taking cards like Negate or Cast Out.
3x Contraband Kingpin
Even though the decklist is pretty decent against aggressive decks already, you want to make sure to bring in cards for your Gateways, since they are too slow in these decks. I am convinced Kingpin is the best option against aggressive decks, because it makes sure you do not die to some hyper aggressive starts where the opponent swarms the board with one and two drops. Gifted Aetherborn is worse against aggro most of the time, because Kingpin is easier to cast, has four toughness, and is pretty good against Lighting Strike and Abrade and it can effectively block Scrapheap Scrounger, which is a card that can lead to some trouble. With Kingpin in play, your Gearhulks give you extra value with scyring, so don't forget about that.
1 Doomfall, 1 Bontu's Last Reckoning, 1 Demon of Dark Schemes, and 1 Arguel’s Blood Fast
Here are some cards where you usually do not want to draw multiple copies, but still are pretty important. Bontu's Last Reckoning is mainly here to answer Carnage Tyrant but is in general pretty good against midrangey creature strategies. Doomfall also can easily get rid of the Dino compared with that many other removal spells but is also decent against Control (due the discard factor) and Aggro (killing Rekindling Phoenix, emblam creatures or Scrapheap Scrounger).
Demon of Dark Schemes is good against many decks like Tokens, Aggro, and some Midrange decks. It helps you to clear the board while also pressuring the opponent. You can argue that Golden Demise is better which is surely true in some scenarios. I included the Demon after I lost a long game against U/W where I casted 3 Gearhulks and still lost, since my opponent just was pressuring me with Harvesters, while jump blocking my Gearhulks with his token army. It is hard for your opponent to kill you before the Demon enters the battlefield, even with these cheesy swarm strategies. Kingpin together with many life-gaining removal spells should buy enough time for the Demon, which eventually enters the battlefield, killing a bunch of creatures and giving you energy to bring back your creatures.
Arguel’s Blood Fast is fantastic against Control, since life does not matter a lot there and you got plenty of time drawing cards, which is the most important thing to do in the control mirror. If there was room for another copy, I would play 2, but your game plan in the control mirror is pretty good already and is the whole point of playing this deck over the Search for Azcanta version.
With that being said, here are some general sideboard ideas. Please keep in mind that sideboarding really depends on the opponent’s decklist and what cards your opponent played game 1 and 2. For example it is totally possible that you go all in for the Gateway & Torment plan game 2 and cutting them for game 3. General speaking, if you are on the Gateway plan and you don't know which card you should take out, it is helpful to think about your mana curve, since you want to make sure that Gateway flips as soon as possible.
Gateway is way too slow against red, even though they might sideboarding out Abrades. The Kingpins shine here the most, even if they have cards like Ahn-Corp or Khenra. I found out that Bomat Courier is one of the best threats against you and Kingpin helps shutting that one down. Doomfall is better against red postboard, because they usually bring in more copies of Rekindling Phoenix and Glorybringer. It also can be played turn 3 to discard a Chandra, too if you have the opportunity. Bontu's Last Reckoning is pretty bad against mono red, since you never want to give the opponent a time walk with all the hasty creatures. Boarding in another 6 drop seems to be strange, but the Demon can quickly take over a game, by killing all the small creatures and dominating Glorybringer and Rekindling Phoenix.
-4 Fatal Push
It might look weird taking out Fatal Push, but Moment of Craving is just better most of the time, because it kills Jadelight Ranger (make sure you kill it while explore trigger is on the stack) and Deathgorge Scavanger (which they usually bring in postboard). Also, most of the threats you want to kill with Fatal Push, you can just block with Kingpin. The Negates are good against Bestiary (which is a very problematic card), Chandra, Blossom and Struggle / Survive. Against the Naya Version of this deck you can even play more Negates to counter Cast Outs, Thopter Arrest or Ajanis. Doomfall and Bontu's Last Reckoning can help you to deal with Carnage Tyrant, but with Kingpin and Gearhulk you can sometimes double block the Tyrant, too. Same with red, the Demon is pretty good at clearing the board while winning in the air against Phoenix and Glorybringer.
-2 Fatal Push
UB is the most played control deck, but there are several other control decks (Tokens, Approach, Ramp etc.). You basically board in the same cards, but board out differently. The importance of game 1 actually changes between real life events and magic online due the time factor. At a tournament, it is totally possible that you will at maximum just finish two games, sometimes only one game, so winning the first game is pretty important there and that is good news because with for copies of Azor's gateway, you are in a good spot to do so. Keeping a couple of Fatal Push in is just a blind guess against Glint-Sleeve Siphoner or Deadeye Tracker. Another reason for leaving Fatal Push in is that you need to exile 5 different converted mana cost spells to flip the Gateway and Fatal Push is a good exile in the one-slot.
Grixis Energy Midrange
-1 Fatal Push
Sideboarding here is more like a gut feeling, because there are many different versions of Grixis Energy. Doomfall looks weak against Whirler Virtoso and Pia, but if you Essence Scatter these creatures or he does not have them it is a good removal spell for The Scarab God, Rekindling Phoenix or Glorybringer. Otherwise you can still play it as a discard spell. This is one of those matchups where you could maybe want the Gates depending on how many Abrades they have leave in postboard. There are so many versions of Grixis Energy that sideboarding here is tough. Negates seem to be good since most of the time they try to go control by adding counterspells and planeswalkers. You can easily bring in 4 Negates when they play a more creatureless version. Duress does not seem to be very good because they still play too many creatures and you don't want to whiff. Arguel’s Blood Fast looks too risky, because they still are pressuring you, no matter how controlish they go. The real question here is whether to go on the Azor Gateway plan or not, which depends whether they saw a gateway game 1 and which list they are playing.
This matchup is pretty good, especially game1. You just have so many ways to deal with their threats. Even though mostly they only have Thrashing Brontodon to deal with your Gateway, you don't really need the artifact in this matchup. Killing and countering everything before winning with Gearhulks and God is a fantastic gameplan against them. You still can keep 1 Gateway, because looting helps to make sure you get enough gas. Similarly to R/G beats, they bring in Bestiary and Carnage Tyrant, but also Duress and Negate when they are on the Sultai Version. Negates are mainly here to answer Planeswalkers, Bestiary, Blossom or opposing Negates, but can also decide a game when you can protect your God from Vraska’s Contempt. Overall, postboard gets better for them, but you are still favored.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it! If you have any question, just leave a comment and I will answer your question as soon as possible. This deck needs some practice, because often enough you have a lot of game deciding decisions, but if you understood the deck, it is a lot of fun and very competitive. I am going to play this deck at GP Madrid, so hopefully I can make my teammates proud. Wish me luck!
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