The Complete Guide to Pioneer Blue White Control

Ryan Normandin
August 24, 2022

UW Control in pioneer makes up for its lackluster countermagic and removal with its powerful sweepers, planeswalkers, and lands. Getting to Turn 6 and untapping with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is the name of the game here. As a longtime control player, I've greatly enjoyed the deck and even managed to win an RCQ with it a few weeks back. Let's dive into what makes the deck tick and how it matches up against thirteen of the most common Pioneer archetypes!


Twenty-six lands is stock in the 60-card version. For a deck that really can't afford to miss Land 4, twenty-seven might seem safer, but with seven non-land cards with Cycling, the deck can usually find the land drops it needs. The deck would like to have:

T1: U

T2: WU



The twenty lands that are a must-have are:

4 Irrigated Farmland

4 Hallowed Fountain

2 Field of Ruin

1 Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire

1 Otawara, Soaring City

1 Castle Ardenvale

1 Castle Vantress

1 Hall of Storm Giants

3 Island

2 Plains

Four Hallowed Fountain and Irrigated Farmland are a must. The deck is hungry for UU on Turn 3 for Absorb and WW for The Wandering Emperor on Turn 4, which incentivizes actual dual lands over, for example, Pathways, especially given its multiple copies of Field of Ruin, which you often hold until the late game.

Three Field of Ruin is stock, and it's what I prefer, but some players may prefer two, as drawing two early on can really mess with your mana development. However, creaturelands feature heavily in almost every deck in the format, and I strongly encourage three Fields as ways to answer them.

The utility lands are each vital. Eiganjo and Otawara serve as additional, flexible removal spells, Vantress and Ardenvale generate value when the game goes long, and Hall allows for a kind of racing gameplan in Game 1 that UW Control decks have historically never had access to.

I've been quite happy with three Island and two Plains; by the time the game has gone long enough that you fail to find off your third Field of Ruin, it no longer matters. You need multiple Blue mana more than White, so you don't want to go past two Plains to minimize the odds of the awkward WWU mana on Turn 3.

The six lands that are flexible are:

1 Field of Ruin

3 Glacial Fortress

2 Deserted Beach

Some pilots prefer 4 Deserted Beach and 1 Glacial Fortress, while others prefer 4 Hengegate Pathway and 1 true dual land. With 13 lands with the Islands and/or Plains type, Frank Karsten tells us that we can expect Glacial Fortress to come into play untapped 83.5% of the time on Turn 2 as compared to Deserted Beach's 0%. On Turns 3, 4, and 5, Fortress should be untapped 91.3%, 95.8%, and 97.9% of the time, respectively, as compared to Deserted Beach's 100%. However, Fortress's numbers should be slightly higher, as this doesn't account for mulligans of hands where all lands come in tapped, contain two Fields of Ruin, etc. Nor does it account for the chance that you use Field of Ruin to get a basic type on Turn 3 or later.

I value Fortress's ability to come in untapped on Turn 2 highly, as the early game is where UW is most likely to lose. The ability to hold up Censor, Veto, or a removal spell can make or break an entire game.

Hengegate Pathway provides something of a middle ground, always coming in untapped, but making it more difficult to hold up both Memory Deluge and The Wandering Emperor simultaneously on Turn 4. I'd like to experiment more with Pathways, but for now, I'm happy with my split of Fortress and Beach.

If you don't want the third Field of Ruin, you could consider playing an additional dual, a Pathway, or an Island.



4 Portable Hole

2 Fateful Absence

2 March of Otherworldly Light

3 Supreme Verdict

1 Farewell

3 The Wandering Emperor

Farewell (NEO)

Of the spells above, Supreme Verdict and The Wandering Emperor are the strongest. Emperor allows you to continue to act at instant-speed, holding up countermagic if you need to. Additionally, it has the high degree of flexibility more commonly seen among Modern control staples. Verdict, of course, allows for a hard reset of the board (usually), but often forces the UW player to tap out. Ideally, you gain so much from the sweeper that you should still be ahead when untapping, even after giving your opponent a window to resolve spells.

Portable Hole, Fateful Absence, and March of Otherworldly Light have some flexibility, but are much narrower answers that have substantial downsides. Portable Hole's biggest attractions are that it can trade up on mana and it can answer non-creature permanents like Pithing Needle. Fateful Absence's place in the deck is out of respect for opposing planeswalkers from Rakdos, Devotion, and the mirror, where the random card off Clue is far less impactful than the card that's been answered. March is a bigger Portable Hole that is guaranteed to trade down on either mana or cards, but can certainly get you out of sticky situations. It's at its best when it's answering creaturelands or crewed Vehicles.

Farewell is a hammer that can end games on its own, but its six-mana price tag is substantial. Nonetheless, casting one against Devotion or Rakdos can often lock the game up on the spot, or at least make it much easier for UW to stabilize.


4 Censor

3 Dovin's Veto

4 Absorb

Censor (AKH) Absorb (RNA)

Two mana counterspells are of particular importance because, if you cast Teferi, Hero of Dominaria on Turn 5 and uptick, you will have two mana available to respond on your opponent's turn. In the two-mana counterspell department Dovin's Veto is the real all-star, trading up for impactful threats that UW Control struggles to answer otherwise. Vetoing a planeswalker, a Treasure Cruise, or a Collected Company on your Teferi turn is game-winning. In the mirror, particularly post-board with Mystical Disputes, the ability to hard-counter a Teferi or Wanderer is vital.

Censor is fighting for its position with Jwari Disruption and Make Disappear. While Disruption is more popular in the 80-card version, it is far worse than Censor in the late game. Sometimes, Censor is dead by Turn 4, and the ability to cycle it away, particularly if you already have a land-heavy hand, is invaluable. Censor gives more agency than Disruption; if you identify that the Force Spike effect is not useful, you can do only one thing with Disruption: play it as a tapped land. You may not even do this, needing more untapped lands, which means that Disruption will languish in your hand unused. Censor, on the other hand, is never a dead draw. The only real argument for Disruption is that, in the early game, if you desperately need a land, Disruption will always be there for you. But for one mana, Censor also has a chance of being a land (and a better one than a Blue tap-land), while maintaining its strength in the late game.

Make Disappear's biggest advantage over Censor is that people won't play around it. While opponents will sometimes go out of their way to cast a spell with one mana up, they will never leave two up. Even if they wanted to, it's impractical and would likely favor Control anyways. The biggest disadvantage to this card is that it is entirely dead in the late game, which is the place that Control is trying to get to. If you're planning to win in the late game, you need to play cards that aren't dead when you get there. Censor is the least dead of all of them, followed by Disruption in a distant second, and then Make Disappear in an equally distant third.

It's worth noting that one could turn Make Disappear into a Lofty Denial by sacrificing a 2/2 Shark or a Samurai, but not only is that unlikely to line up the way one imagines, it's also not something UW is excited to do. Its creatures are important, and sacrificing them to turn on a counterspell is going to hurt.

Card Advantage

2 Memory Deluge

3 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

3 Shark Typhoon


Memory Deluge is likely the most powerful instant-speed four-mana draw two effect Control has ever had. Even if it didn't have flashback, it would still beat out Hieroglyphic Illumination, Glimmer of Genius, and Chemister's Insight. It's played in Modern over Fact or Fiction and Cryptic Command, a testament to its desirability. Its Flashback being Dig Through Time ensures that, if players ever get into top-deck mode, UW Control will win, a remarkable strength where countermagic-based control often had a weakness.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is the best card in the deck. The goal of UW is to untap with a Teferi because from there, it's challenging to lose. Not only does the Teferi player draw two cards a turn and get two extra mana a turn, but they have a free removal spell that can be cashed in if things start going poorly. Furthermore, opponents know that Teferi wins games, which means they often dedicate resources to answering it, overextending into sweepers, trading with Sharks and Samurai, and allowing Teferi to gain its controller life.

Shark Typhoon's greatest strength is its flexibility. For two mana, it can cycle, for three it can cycle and fog a creature, and for more it can two-for-one an attacker. As an evasive flying threat, it can answer planeswalkers, block Phoenixes and Ledger Shredders, and close out the game in one or two attacks. In some matchups, such as Rakdos, hardcasting the enchantment with one or two spells in hand or a Memory Deluge in the graveyard is enough to win the game. I've liked three copies, and could see playing two, but don't think I'd go below that. It gets UW out of a variety of tough situations thanks to its flexibility.

Tips and Tricks

  • When upticking Teferi, pay careful attention to how much mana you have. Teferi incentivizes you to cast Memory Deluge or activate a Castle on your own turn to take advantage of the extra mana. If you can do this without going shields-down, definitely do it; you can even activate Castles twice over a turn cycle.
  • Try to get in the habit of always tracking your opponent's available mana, and map that to the spells they can cast. Especially when both players are low-resource, Censor might not be as dead as you think on Turn 15. However, if you draw Censor, then obviously count up your opponent's mana, they're going to figure it out. An example: in a match against MonoGreen Devotion on Turn ~15-20, my opponent had a Storm the Festival in the graveyard and nine mana (with a Kiora untap) on board. We both had no cards in hand. I top-decked Censor and passed almost immediately. They drew the land, cast Storm, and got their ten-mana spell Censored. The next turn, I drew another Censor and immediately Cycled it. Know when the card is dead and when it's not.
  • If an opponent has two creaturelands, and you have only a single Field of Ruin, do not pop the Field. Sometimes, if it looks like a game is going to go long enough, I won't pop a Field against even a single creatureland, as they'll likely find the second. You want them to have to spend the mana and take a turn off to wake up the land and force your activation. This will put you ahead on mana on their turn, allowing you to answer the threat while also activating a Castle or casting a Deluge.
  • If you have a creature under Portable Hole, and you cast Farewell choosing both Artifacts and Creatures, the modes resolve in the order they are written on the card. This means that the Hole will get exiled and then the creature it was exiling will return and get exiled. But you also don't have to do this; sometimes it's better not to. Against Rakdos, for example, you may not want to give them the Blood token that a Harvester in a Hole would provide if they were exiled.
  • Remember that even though Hole usually hits creatures, it can hit much more. It's almost always better to exile Wolfwillow Haven over an Elf out of Devotion, for example. If you're limiting opponent's outs, you can even exile a Clue token from Fateful Absence.
  • Pitching cards with March is something that you typically do not want to do (you are a control deck, after all – card advantage is king). But do not forget that it's something you're allowed to do. I have pitched two cards in order to cast multiple removal spells to not die, and then played Teferi and won the game.
  • When you have multiple counterspells to choose from, you typically want to cast Censor if that is an option. Trade Censor aggressively for pretty much anything you can, unless you're having mana problems. Between Veto and Absorb, keep in mind what threats you'd like to counter down the road. If it's a noncreature threat and you're concerned about creatures later, then Veto. If it's a noncreature threat, but you really need to resolve a Deluge or stick a Teferi next turn, then prioritize mana efficiency and cast Absorb instead.
  • Remember that WWUUU is the ideal you're trying to reach on Turn 5, as this allows you to cast any spell in your deck and cast both Absorb and Veto in a single turn.
  • Always play the utility lands last. You don't want your opponent to know that you have a Castle until the last possible moment, nor do you want to give up a Channel-land. In the late game, you should always hold the Channel-lands.
  • Despite it very much not being the mindset of most control games, never forget to check if you can simply kill your opponent with Hall of Storm Giants. There have been many games where it looks like I'm behind, and then I notice that my opponent is at 12 life. An attack with Hall can force your opponent to play defensively, and buy you time to find a Teferi or Deluge. Another common kill-line is to end-step Cycle Shark Typhoon for a high number, then untap, wake up Hall, and kill them. Players tend to more aggressively shock themselves against control; take advantage of it when you can.
  • Whether to play Irrigated Farmland early is highly contingent on the texture of one's hand and the matchup. If you need the basic type for a Glacial Fortress or you're low on lands (three or fewer), then play it Turn 1. If you're flooded, Cycle it Turn 2. In other cases, if you can afford a come-into-play-tapped land on, say, Turn 3, then wait. You may want to Cycle it if you draw two more lands off the top.
  • Remember that, out of the sideboard, Lyra is legendary, and reduces the cost of your Channel-lands.


Let's move on how to play the major matchups in the format.


Red Black Midrange ( even )

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet (OGW)

Against most decks in the format, it's easy to identify a set of cards that you care about. You can then determine which answers are best used for these threats, and work to line them up as your hand and draws allow. Most decks have cards that can largely be ignored as you execute your gameplan.

The tricky thing about RB Midrange is that, outside of Fatal Push and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, all of its cards are relevant against you. The two-drops all having three power (aside from Kroxa, which is its own problem) means that they can pressure you only slightly less effectively than an aggro deck can, and the three-drops all generate two for ones if not answered in a specific way. Graveyard Trespasser has to be Verdicted to avoid the Ward, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker has to be countered to avoid the two-for-one, in addition to virtual card advantage allowing Rakdos to exchange useless lands and Pushes for relevant threats. Dreadbore kills Teferi for only two mana, allowing them to do multiple things on the turn they try to kill it, Thoughtseize can cause your entire gameplan to collapse, and they have four-mana planeswalkers that also require an answer, and often put them up cards. They also play more creaturelands (four) than any deck in the format but Monowhite.

So what does winning look like against Rakdos? Surviving until you're both roughly top-decking. As strange as it sounds against the Jund of Pioneer, your top-decks are far better at slamming the door shut than theirs are. If you draw Emperor, Teferi, Memory Deluge, Shark Typhoon, or either of the Castles, you are very likely to win. Additionally, you have 8 cards that can Cycle into one of these cards.

Of course, this means you need to run them low on resources in the early game. In this matchup, and so many others, you want to use your mana effectively. Portable Hole their Harvester, Censor literally anything, and if they Thoughtseize you with a single counterspell in hand, cast the counterspell. Cards you want to hold unless forced to deploy them are Fateful Absence and Field of Ruin. Their creaturelands are expensive to activate, so the threat of Field can slow down their gameplan. Fateful Absence is your only good answer for a resolved planeswalker; if you cast it early, you're going to have to hit Chandra with a Hall, tuck it with Teferi, or hope they don't have Push and go for a Shark hit.

Remember that if you Veto a Stomp, you're actually countering the Bonecrusher Giant followup as well. Maybe you want to do that, or maybe you want them to tap out for the Giant the next turn. You want to Verdict Trespasser if you can, though feel free to take some hits if it buys you time for them to flip a resolved Fable as well. At the same time, you need to keep in mind that they have Thoughtseize; if waiting on a Verdict means you lose to a Thoughtseize, then don't wait on the Verdict. Farewell is another card you should be comfortable tapping out for, as it hits them on every resource axis except their hand, wiping out unflipped Fables and Kroxa / Kroxa fodder in the graveyard in addition to the creatures.

Other ways to steal wins against Rakdos: they can't beat a hardcast Shark Typhoon if you can follow it up with pretty much any two spells. Additionally, they take sufficient damage off Thoughtseize and Blood Crypt that often, a hit or two off Hall will kill them. You can sometimes race them in this manner.


+1 Starnheim Unleashed

+1 Lyra Dawnbringer

+2 Aether Gust

-2 March

-2 Portable Hole (play) // -1 Portable Hole -1 Absorb (Draw)

The Rakdos 75 will fluctuate from week-to-week depending on metagame, but you should expect them to sideboard roughly as follows:

Rakdos Sideboard

-4 Fatal Push

-1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

+2 Duress

+2 Go Blank

+1 Big spell (another planeswalker, Invoke Despair, etc)

Post-board, Rakdos gets to remove dead card, and they lean into their hand disruption plan. Their plan for victory, however, remains the same. Beat down with two's and three's and generate card advantage from Fable and planeswalkers. Your plan changes a bit; in accordance with their increased hand disruption, you increase the number of must-answer threats you're playing. With Lyra and Starnheim Unleashed, you can stretch their Dreadbores thin. Even better, the angels can shut down ground combat in a way that sticking Teferi into a board of creatures cannot.

Aether Gust is a flexible way to get rid of any threat in their deck outside of Trespasser, Sorin, and Hive of the Eye-Tyrant, in addition to delaying Fables on the stack. Even post-board, the most likely way you are going to lose the game is to fast beatdowns via threats of diverse card types backed up by hand disruption. You could try a Narset's Reversal over a Dovin's Veto, which some people have liked, but I'm wary of such a narrow answer. While Reversal'ing a Go Blank is a blowout, and hitting a Thoughtseize is fine, it's very easy for it to rot in your hand.

One note on a card that is conspicuously absent: Dream Trawler. Dream Trawler is pretty much lights-out against Rakdos. If you draw it and they don't Thoughtseize it, they lose. It can't be Dreadbored, it gains life, and it draws cards, allowing it to race uniquely well against Rakdos. However, take away Hexproof from Trawler, and they still need to combine two sources of damage to kill it. In the 80-card version of UW, Rakdos struggles against the big dumb 4/5 that is Yorion.

With the rise of aggressive Humans decks, I wanted a lifelink threat that can shut down combat, and Dream Trawler is too small (doesn't kill Adeline) and too slow (6 mana). Lyra checks these boxes while only being a little bit worse than Dream Trawler against RB. If your metagame is all Rakdos, then play Trawler, but if it's a mix, I recommend playing the angels. Starnheim Unleashed also shines against Rakdos since Foretelling it protects it from hand disruption, and it is simultaneously card advantage and huge beaters that they struggle to answer.

Blue Red Phoenix ( slightly favored, depends on build )

The more copies of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and planeswalkers that Phoenix plays, the more difficult the matchup is for UW. However, Fable isn't that popular, so I mostly like the matchup right now.

Pre-board, Phoenix plays around six red one-mana removal spells (4 Fiery Impulse, 2 Lightning Axe) that are essentially dead against you. It is important that you do not turn them on until it is convenient for you. This means that on Turn 3, you should not make a 1/1 Shark; it is better to Cycle for X=0. Presenting a target for their removal makes it easier for them to fill the graveyard for Treasure Cruise and to chain spells to bring back Phoenixes.

In Game 1, you have Censor, Portable Hole, and March to answer Ledger Shredder. The spells you'd like to counter are Pieces of the Puzzle, which generate card advantage and Phoenix/Cruise enabling, and Treasure Cruise. You should use Wandering Emperor to deal with Phoenix and Field of Ruin to answer their Hall of the Storm Giants. Being conscious of the fact that they typically play 1-2 Spell Pierce main is important, and should inform when you deploy Teferi or Farewell. You typically want to hold Farewell until it's seriously impactful. You can answer ~2 Phoenixes with the card, or hit a Phoenix and nuke a well-stocked graveyard, or maybe take out a Shredder and a Phoenix and a yard. I'd be wary of using it to answer a single Phoenix when they have several cards in hand, as it's so easy for them to Trespass into a victory after that.

The way you lose Game 1 is failing to build overwhelming card advantage. Without that, they are going to be able to Galvanic Iteration / Temporal Trespass, overextend your mana, and kill you with a combination of Phoenixes and Hall of the Storm Giants. The way you can prevent this is by using Censor aggressively, countering their card advantage, and answering their threats quickly, before they have time to deal too much damage (Phoenix) or selection (Shredder).

You win the game if you can stick a Teferi. You can also get there with a giant Shark in conjunction with Hall of Storm Giants. But again, be very careful to make large Sharks, and use Wanderer as removal in the early/mid-game – do not make Samurai when they are trying to set up, providing a target for their removal.


+2 Mystical Dispute

+2 Rest in Peace

+2 Narset, Parter of Veils

+1 Lyra Dawnbringer

-1 Fateful Absence

-1 Supreme Verdict

-1 Portable Hole

-2 March of Otherworldly Light

-2 Absorb

Phoenix Sideboarding

+2 Disdainful Stroke

+2 Mystical Dispute

+2-3 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer//Young Pyromancer

+1-2 Crackling Drake//Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

They will cut most of their removal, Thing in the Ice if they're playing it, and they may shave on Temporal Trespass to play around Rest in Peace

Post-board, you get more than they do. Rest in Peace is remarkably powerful because it forces them to play a normal game, and they do a terrible job of that. Four-mana 3/2's and 8-mana Draw Three's are not where you want to be against anyone, let alone control. You still have to deal with Ledger Shredders, and you need to be aware that they'll be shifting toward a token-making gameplan in the mid- to late-game, so be sure to have Verdicts on hand for that. However, their Saheelis and Pyromancers are sometimes a tad lackluster due to the reactive countermagic and other non-Instant and -Sorcery threats they bring in against you.

Here, you want to choose your fights carefully since they have much more cheap countermagic, and be sure not to tap yourself out and let them resolve something dangerous. If you can clear the way for Lyra, it's very hard for them to win. Be sure not to attack with the giant angel until you know they can't go off; otherwise, Lyra as a blocker prevents them from doing so in the vast majority of cases (as long as you deal with Hall).

The matchup slows down a bit, since both of you are a bit more reactive. Look for Narsets and RiP to slow them down, then close with a Teferi backed up by countermagic.

Blue White Control ( even )

There are a couple of different ways the UW mirror can evolve:

  1. A player casts Emperor on end step, it's countered, and they resolve a Teferi the next turn.
  2. The planeswalker thing doesn't happen, but one player has Castle Ardenvale.
  3. One player figures out that the other has drawn the “wrong half” of their deck and goes ham.
  4. One player draws multiple Sharks, and uses that to leverage a stronger game position.

Pre-board, whether someone loses in the early- to mid-game is largely a function of who has drawn better. If both players survive to the late game, there's more to the game. You should use Veto in a counter war only very reluctantly, if you absolutely have to. Veto is best prioritized answering opposing planeswalkers. Additionally, try not to Fateful Absence Shark tokens; Fateful Absence is the only convenient way you have of answering planeswalkers that have resolved. Instead, use Portable Hole (only good target for the card) or March (which you may also want to save for a Hall if you don't have a Field, or need to Field their Castle).

If your mana development can bear it, do not use Field of Ruin on a random land to get a basic. Field of Ruin should be saved to hit Castle Ardenvale, Castle Vantress, and Hall of Storm Giants. In some cases, you may also want to Field of Ruin their Field of Ruin if they tap out in order to protect your own Castle/Hall.

If you can at all afford to play around Scenario 1 by ensuring that you have both Dovin's Veto and Censor up on Turn 4, you should absolutely prioritize that. If, on the other hand, you plan to try to win via Scenario 1, you should be very sure that your opponent does not have double counterspell. If they do, they will follow up your countered Teferi with their own, and you'll likely lose.



+1 Dovin's Veto

+2 Mystical Dispute

+1 Narset's Reversal

+1 Summary Dismissal

+1 Lyra Dawnbringer

+1 Starnheim Unleashed

+1 Hullbreaker Horror

-4 Portable Hole

-3 Supreme Verdict

-1 Farewell

Post-board, the Emperor/Teferi one-two punch is more difficult because of Mystical Dispute and the “wrong-half” problem goes away, but the other two scenarios are still possible. Ardenvale is still very good and Sharks can deal enormous amount of chip damage without Portable Hole in the deck.

The new scenario that emerges is the Hullbreaker Horror win (or loss). Fateful Absence and March of Otherworldly Light (yes, I've Marched a Horror for eight mana) are the ways to answer it, and this is most likely to be successful if one player taps out on Turn 7 and slams the Horror. This should only be your plan if you have nothing else going on or are behind, as it is very likely that it will be Fateful Absence'd. Instead, you should deploy Hullbreaker once you have mana up to do something with it, or when your opponent has mana tapped. The expensiveness of the card leaves me unsure of how good it actually is in the mirror, but if you have it, bring it in.

Remember that Narset's Reversal is a tricky counterspell. Suppose an opponent casts a planeswalker, and you cast Absorb. Your opponent responds with Dovin's Veto. If you have Narset's Reversal, you can Reversal your own Absorb and then counter the planeswalker with the copy of Absorb. This kind of exchange can be an absolute blowout because you get to two-for-one your opponent in a counter war (and it always feels neat to “counter” a Dovin's Veto).

Mono-Green Devotion ( even )

Green Devotion has morphed into three different builds: the standard Green version with 0-2 Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God and 0-1 Nissa, Vital Force; the Black version with Vraska, Golgari Queen, and the newest version playing Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset.

I will say up-front that there is always a chance that you will just lose to one of their nut-draws, and no decision would've allowed you to win. Perhaps they're on the play, you keep Veto, Fateful Absence, and a planeswalker, and they curve an Elf into two consecutive Trolls. Or maybe you're stuck with a tapped land on Turn 3 and have Veto up, but they play a Turn 3 Cavalier. In Game 1, you are more likely to lose to a Devotion nut-draw if you are on the draw because of their rapid mana acceleration.

But assuming they don't run away with the game on Turn 3, you stand a good chance of winning if you know how to allocate your answers to their threats. As is so often the case, you should Censor pretty much anything you can. Broadly, you should counter Karn, the Great Creator and Storm the Festival, and try your best not to die to their creatures until you can find a Farewell or enough exile removal. Sometimes, not dying to their creatures means making exchanges that feel bad; you may, for example, need to Fateful Absence their Cavalier. If you can mitigate this by using Field of Ruin, great, but sometimes, it's just a necessary evil.

Core Threats

Non-Censor Answer

Elves, Wolfwillow Haven

Portable Hole

Old-Growth Troll

Fateful Absence, The Wandering Emperor

Cavalier of Thorns

Absorb, The Wandering Emperor

Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner

Ignore, maybe kill with a Shark if you get a chance

Karn, the Great Creator

Dovin's Veto, Absorb, Fateful Absence

Storm the Festival

Dovin's Veto, Absorb

Lair of the Hydra

Field of Ruin, March of Otherworldly Light

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Usually ignore


If you can't Portable Hole an Elf immediately, you should ignore it; it'll get swept up by a Verdict or Farewell at some point, and it's usually not worth an answer after the first two turns. You're not quite as concerned with their mana advantage as you are about their impactful threats, which means you're more willing to save an Absorb for a Cavalier and use a Fateful Absence on an Old-Growth Troll. They'll get a 4/4 at some point, but if they get to that point, you should be winning, and can easily answer it. Kiora might feel bad at times, as they draw cards with their threats, but you should only counter it if it is the key to unlocking an explosive double-Storm or Storm + Cav turn the following turn. Otherwise, recognize that the vast majority of random draws from their deck are bad. With twenty-one lands and around thirteen or fourteen dorks, over half their deck is dead past Turn 2. As such, them drawing random cards off Kiora is a price you're willing to pay in exchange for having a counterspell later for a Karn, Storm, or Cavalier.

Karn is the card you are the most afraid of. Storm is scary, but it at least has a fail rate. Karn, on the other hand, is a flexible threat that will turn into whatever is worst for you at the time: Esika's Chariot, God-Pharaoh's Statue, Pithing Needle, Restorative Burst for value, etc. And if you don't answer it immediately, it gives them another card the next turn. Karn is the card you absolutely cannot leave unanswered.

But again, assuming you don't die in the early game, they have only fourteen cards that can kill you: four Troll, four Cavalier, four Karn, and two Lair of the Hydra (plus any additional walkers like Bolas/Nissa/Vraska/etc). But often, it's not actually that high, as they'll mill copies of these cards with their resolved Cavaliers. Keeping that in mind is important as you move on, and you have more selection in which answer in your hand deals with which threat they deploy. In the very late game, they may choose not to cast Storm the Festival or Cavalier of Thorns out of a fear of milling themselves.

Finally, you should very much prioritize using Field of Ruin on their Lair of the Hydra over their Nykthos. You are trying to get to the late game; if you do, Nykthos is dead, and Hydra is how you die. You can wipe out most of their devotion with a Verdict or Farewell, but you always end up low on resources against Green until you can land a Teferi. As such, you really need to have a Field for Lair, as even without Nykthos, they'll naturally have a lot of mana and be able to make a lethal Hydra.

While you can March a Hydra, and you can Portable Hole an Elf after Turn 3, you often want to save these cards in reserve for a Pithing Needle naming Teferi or Hall of Storm Giants. However, be careful to always deal with Karn before removing the Needle, as exiling Needle means that Karn can simply downtick to pick it back up.

Finally, don't Cycle Censor automatically in this matchup in the mid- to late-game. You can sometimes Censor a Storm the Festival on Flashback, or the second big spell in a two-spell turn. Keep a mental tally of their mana at all times so you know whether or not Censor should be Cycled and won't give away to your opponent that you have it.


+2 Aether Gust

+1 Farewell

+1 Dovin's Veto

-1 Supreme Verdict

-3 Shark Typhoon

MonoGreen Devotion Sideboarding

Little to nothing. If they have Voracious Hydra main, they may cut that for something like Shifting Ceratops or a playable artifact they're unlikely to grab with Karn.

The game plan stays the same post-board, but you pick up four more answers while their number of threats stays the same. While they can absolutely run you over in the same manner as they can pre-board, having four more answers feels great, and you should be favored if you can escape Turn 3 or 4 without being dead on board.

Red White Heroic ( favored )

Use your mana!!! Their advantage is that their spells are so cheap, and they can cast multiple threats and spells in the same turn. Portable Hole, March, and Fateful Absence should be used aggressively, you should Censor anything you can, and Verdict is great. Try not to get blown out by Gods Willing, though there's only ever so much you can do to play around that. If you have multiple cheap spells, like any combination of March, Censor, and Fateful Absence, you can sometimes blow them out by killing a creature in response to a pump spell. Chump with Sharks when you can and hope they don't trample through.


+1 Lyra

+1 Gust

-2 Absorb

Heroic Sideboarding

+4 Showdown of the Skaalds

+2 Adanto Vanguard

-4 Reckless Rage

-2 Invigorated Rampage

They get more than you do post-board, as what you really want is cheap interaction, but you're already close to maxing out on that in the main. Adanto Vanguard is a fine addition for them, as it's one more threat, but it's trivial to kill since all your removal outside Absence and Verdict is exile-based. Showdown can be a bigger problem; if they're going to go off, be sure to have a Verdict ready to go.


Mono-Red ( favored )

The threats you need to be cognizant of here are Anax, Torbran, and Embercleave. Kill Anax before you Verdict, and do your best to play at instant-speed so that you can deal with the dramatic increase in damage output that is generated by Torbran and Embercleave. Portable Hole is an all-star here, answering Kari-Zev and Eidolon of the Great Revel, which are the two-drops that have the greatest damage output potential. They're usually forced to play on curve, so Censor is particularly good as well. As long as you keep their big payoffs in mind and act aggressively to keep your life total high, you should be okay. That might mean spending a removal spell or a counterspell on something the turn before you plan to Verdict anyways. They do have less burn than the old versions, but you should still prioritize keeping your life total high.


+2 Aether Gust

+1 Lyra

+1 Starnheim Unleashed

-3 Shark Typhoon

-1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Red Sideboarding

+2 Rampaging Ferocidon

-2 Play with Fire

I'm not totally sure how Red sideboards here, as the sideboards I see don't have much for UW. Ferocidon, while clunky, is hard to block and shuts off Absorb's often pivotal lifegain. Post-board, you can use Aether Gust as another cheap way to stop yourself from dying to blowouts or dealing with an Anax pre-Verdict. Lyra and Starnheim Unleashed give you ways to close the game quickly once you've pulled ahead, not giving them a window to find the last few points of Burn. 

Mono-White Humans (unfavored)

Mono-White Humans is a problem because their deck is far more efficient than ours, and they are able to go wide and tall simultaneously, while also bulding card advantage. In the early game, you should deploy removal aggressively before they can build up a board, but if you don't have a Verdict, you may need to hold up countermagic for Adeline. Of course, if they don't have Adeline, you're going to be pretty disappointed, and may just need to counter whatever they do that turn, opening the window for them to Adeline the following.

If you have a Verdict in your opening hand, then you don't need to deploy your removal as aggressively, particularly if you're on the play. You'll want that spot removal to deal with their Extraction Specialist post-Verdict. Games that you win almost always involve a Verdict on turn 4 or 5 (if they have Thalia) followed up by Emperor or Memory Deluge into another Verdict or Teferi. Thalia is a major problem, as Verdict is so vital to counter White's velocity. If you have a Portable Hole ready to go and can afford to, hold it for a turn to see if they play Thalia on Turn 2. You'd much rather Hole Thalia than a Hopeful Initiate or a Dauntless Bodyguard.


+1 Starnheim Unleashed

+1 Lyra Dawnbringer

+1 Farewell

-3 Shark Typhoon

MonoW Humans Sideboarding

+2 Selfless Spirit

+2 Reidane, God of the Worthy

+1 Wedding Announcement

-4 Brutal Cathar

-1 Brave the Elements (not sure on this one)

Post-board, it gets even worse for us. They pick up the tools to counter or delay Supreme Verdict, and we're stuck crossing our fingers that we draw all of our cheap removal and then hit every land drop (but don't flood!) and can land a Lyra and then also haven't been able to go wide enough that they can just kill us with Brave backup. A lot needs to go our way to win these games.

Yeah. It's not good.

Bant Spirits ( slightly favored )

Against Bant Spirits, Verdict is the name of the game. The trick, however, is setting up a Verdict that will actually do anything. They have Selfless Spirit and Spell Queller to answer Verdict, and if they Queller, then they have Mausoleum Wanderer to try to counter a removal spell on the Queller. Additionally, they have Collected Company to recover post-sweeper.

The bright side is that Bant's curve is much higher than Monoblue's, which means Censor and Absorb are able to shine and do a lot more work against them. In terms of threat prioritization, you definitely want to answer Mausoleum Wanderer if you plan on casting spot removal or counterspells (which is nearly always). You also want to answer Rattlechains, as their ability to play on your turn makes the game much more challenging to navigate. Selfless Spirit needs to be answered in order to Verdict, and you just want to keep CoCo and Spell Queller in mind.

That might sound like a lot of must-answer threats, and it is, but they also have cards that you can mostly ignore. Spectral Sailor, Skyclave Apparition, Shacklegeist, and their lords are all fine beaters, but easily fall to Supreme Verdict. Additionally, if you answer a lot of the more interactive threats above, then the lords become less scary, as they shouldn't be able to go too wide.

Shark Typhoon is one of your strongest cards. It's not quite as good against Bant as it is against Monoblue, as Bant's creatures are bigger. Still, an answer to a Spirit that dodges Rattlechains and Spell Queller is quite powerful.


+2 Mystical Dispute

+1 Lyra Dawnbringer

+1 Starnheim Unleashed

-3 Dovin's Veto

-1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Bant Spirits Sideboarding

+1 Reidane, God of the Worthy

+2 Extraction Specialist

+1 Cemetery Illuminator

+3 Lofty Denial

-3 Empyrean Eagle

-1 Glasspool Mimic // Remorseful Cleric

-3 Skyclave Apparition

Mystical Dispute is quite strong against Bant, as it enables you to double-spell, which is often where Spirits is able to pull ahead. Disputing a play and then Marching an attacker is a surefire way to pull into a strong position. The only card that Veto hits is Collected Company and Lofty, but games don't typically play out with counter wars, so only hitting one substantive spell makes it a bit too narrow for my liking.

Lyra and Starnheim Unleashed are two more Shark Typhoon-style threats that act as board control until you're ready to close, dodging both Rattlechains and Spell Queller (as long as X=2). Post-board, the number of annoying threats you have to answer increases, but Reidane, Specialist, and Illuminator are all three-drops, which makes them less scary, as it means that it will be the only spell Bant casts that turn. 

Rakdos Sacrifice ( did they draw Ob? )

Ob Nixilis, the Adversary (SNC)

If they have a Casualty'ed Ob Nixilis, they are a heavy favorite to win. If they do not have Casualty'ed Ob, then you are heavily favored. They don't deal damage quickly enough to kill you, as you can easily answer the Mayhem Devil when it comes down, and Farewell will clean up everything else. There really isn't a great axis on which to fight Ob pre-board; you're going to have to two-for-one yourself (or worse) in order to deal with the planeswalker.

Use Portable Hole on Oven, not Cat, and Censor whatever you can. If they have a more aggressive start with Bloodtithe Harvester and Fable, then they play out more like a Rakdos Midrange deck, and you'll need to prioritize dealing with those threats before moving onto Cat/Oven. 


+1 Lyra

+1 Starnheim Unleashed

+2 Rest in Peace

+1 Farewell

-3 Supreme Verdict (unless they're splashing Green for Korvold)

-1 Dovin's Veto

-1 Absorb

Rakdos Sacrifice Sideboarding

+4 Thoughtseize

+2 Go Blank

+1 Ob Nixilis, the Adversary

-4 Claim the Firstborn

-3 Fatal Push

Post-board, they have more Obs, and they are better able to protect it with their hand disruption. Your angels are wildly powerful against them, able to close the game quickly, answer Ob, and gain life. Rest in Peace shuts off their dies triggers and Cat/Oven, which is fine, but Ob is the real threat.


Abzan Greasefang ( even )

Pre-board, this matchup is likely unfavored. The fact that they have four copies of Can't Stay Away, all of which have flashback, puts you at a card disadvantage. If they're able to build a game where they pressure you with one or two 3/2 Raffine's Informants while threatening the combo, you're going to have a bad time. Luckily, many of their cards don't do anything, but the ones that do, such as Esika's Chariot, are an enormous headache. It feels like a leaky dam, where you're trying desperately to plug hole after hole, but eventually, enough breaks through to kill you.


+2 Rest in Peace

+1 Lyra Dawnbringer

+1 Starnheim Unleashed

+1 Farewell

-2 Supreme Verdict

-3 Portable Hole

Abzan Greasefang Sideboarding

+3 Duress

+2 Graveyard Trespasser

-4 Stitcher's Supplier

-1 Witherbloom Command

Post-board, the matchup gets a lot better. Rest in Peace forces them into playing a deck that has only one threat that's actually threatening: Esika's Chariot. Lyra prevents their combo from being all that scar, and an additional copy of Farewell doubles your odds of drawing the “answer-the-entire-Greasefang-deck card.”

While they can certainly Witherbloom Command your Rest in Peace, and they have more hand disruption, the post-board games being slightly favorable are what push the matchup toward even.

Lotus Field ( unfavored )

Game 1, you are praying that you draw nothing but countermagic and The Wandering Emperor. That is unlikely to happen, so you are quite likely to lose.

Nevertheless, you should counter whatever you can with Censor (Shimmer of Possibility, Sylvan Scrying, Bala Ged Recovery). If you have a Field of Ruin, do your best not to tap out to buy yourself more time to find countermagic. If you already have countermagic, then feel free to tap out to deploy the Emperor and start the clock.

Keep in mind that Emperor, Sharks, and Hall of Storm Giants are your only ways to win. Teferi's Emblem does actual nothing against the Lotus Field deck, so always go up. Emperor takes four turns to kill from the turn that you play her, and Lotus typically kills on Turn 5.

Additionally, you must counter Granted; they are always going to fetch Thought Distortion, which you auto-lose to in Game 1.


+2 Aether Gust

+2 Mystical Dispute

+2 Narset, Parter of Veils

+1 Narset's Reversal

+1 Summary Dismissal

+1 Dovin's Veto

+1 Hullbreaker Horror

-3 Supreme Verdict

-1 Farewell

-4 Portable Hole

-2 March of Otherworldly Light

Post-board, the matchup becomes entirely about Thought Distortion. If Lotus resolves Distortion, UW loses. If Lotus fails to resolve Distortion, UW is likely to win because their deck no longer has dead cards (Fateful Absence is kinda dead, but you need to keep it in as an answer to Lier).

Your best answer to Distortion is Narset's Reversal, where they end up Thought Distortion'ing themselves, and you win the game instead of them. Summary Dismissal is another way to counter the spell, and Hullbreaker Horror is the final way in which you can shut them out of the game.

The weird thing to remember is that whereas pre-board, you need to kill them or you lose, post-board, you are the one who has inevitability, so not acting benefits you. Lotus can't beat Hullbreaker Horror coming down on their end step on Turn 7, so prioritize keeping up countermagic and digging to find an answer to Thought Distortion. The latter is vital; Cycle early and often, cast Deluge even if it means tapping Field, do what you need to in order to grab a Reversal or Dismissal.

Bant Humans ( slightly favored )

Bant is far less likely to have the uber-fast draws of Monowhite that go wide and tall, and they play dead cards like Reflector Mage in their deck. While CoCo is the one upgrade they do get, it doesn't tend to be quite enough to pull them ahead in the matchup. Same advice as against MonoWhite Humans – save Portable Hole for Thalia, try to Absorb or Censor Adeline, and be ready to deal with Extraction Specialist post-sweeper. Otherwise, you should sideboard the same.

Niv to Light ( favored )

Pre-board, both decks have a decent number of dead cards, though they have more than you do. Portable Hole has no targets (assuming they don't cast Valki), but otherwise, you should be able to grind them out of ways to win. You should prioritize countering Bring to Light over Niv Mizzet Reborn because BtL gets Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor, which is the scariest card in the matchup. Niv, on the other hand, will draw them a few cards, but many of those cards will be things like Abrupt Decay, Vanishing Verse, and Tolsimir. If you can counter both, you definitely should, but try to use Absorb on Niv and Veto on BtL. Even if you have both, don't let them resolve the BtL and counter what they get – you specifically would like to cash in Veto. On the other hand, if you only have Absorb, then it's fine to let them grab something and Absorb that instead (but not post-board!) Supreme Verdict is your best answer to the messy boards that result from Niv, Tolsimir, Caryatid, Omnath, et cetera, whereas Fateful Absence is best saved for a resolved Tibalt.

Additionally, you will need to spend an Absorb or a Farewell on The Scarab God. Its ability to generate card advantage is absurd, though slow. Expect Game 1 to take a very long time, but you overall have more answers than they have threats, so you should be able to grind them out. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is your best card in the matchup, and they have only two Dreadbores to answer it. 


+2 Aether Gust

+2 Mystical Dispute

+1 Dovin's Veto

-4 Portable Hole

-1 Supreme Verdict

Niv Sideboarding

Niv lists vary wildly, and there doesn't seem to be a single stock version. In general, they will cut Abrupt Decay and other dead removal along with their lackluster threats (Tolsimir) and bring in whichever of the following they have in their sideboards:

-Voice of Resurgence

-Surrack Dragonclaw

-Notion Thief


-Dovin's Veto

-Go Blank

-Mystical Dispute

Voice of Resurgence is why we keep in March of Otherworldly Light, which is otherwise serviceable, but lackluster. Notion Thief isn't too big of a concern, as we only ever draw one card at a time off Shark Typhoon or Teferi, but it's good to be cognizant of its existence. Surrak Dragonclaw is the reason why it's important to counter BtL post-board instead of allowing them to grab something with it, as they'll likely grab Surrak.

The games are closer post-board, as both sides (Niv in particular) have fewer dead cards, but fundamentally, UW is still advantaged because their threats are so expensive and we have so many answers. Nonetheless, expect these games to be long and grindy.

One other note – Niv has no creaturelands, which means you should use Field of Ruin aggressively. It's unlikely you'll mana screw them, but it's something that can happen. They typically run a Forest and a Plains, so focus on hitting their Grixis mana.

I'd also like to bring in Hullbreaker Horror in this matchup, but haven't found a cut that I like.


And that's it! UW Control is a great choice for Pioneer, particularly if you enjoy close games with plenty of agency and decisions. There are no overwhelmingly terrible matchups (though MonoW Humans is pretty bad), and lots of very close to slightly favorable matchups. And you get to do it while playing the two best planeswalkers in the format.

Ryan Normandin is a grinder from Boston who has lost at the Pro Tour, in GP & SCG Top 8's, and to 7-year-olds at FNM. Despite being described as "not funny" by his best friend and "the worst Magic player ever" by Twitch chat, he cheerfully decided to blend his lack of talents together to write funny articles about Magic.