UW Stoneblade in Modern
The combination of Jace, the Mindsculptor and Stoneforge Mystic completely dominated a standard format with the printing of Sword of Feast and Famine in Mirrodin Besieged followed by the printing of Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace in New Phyrexia. “Caw-blade” became the absolutely busted standard control deck of the time and would eventually lead to a banning of Jace and Stoneforge Mystic in Standard. Possibly due to the memories of this format, the initial modern banned list included both of these powerhouse cards, both of which have only recently been unbanned after years of exile.
Sorry buddy! We are leaving you out of this one!
Legacy has shown the combination of Stoneforge Mystic and JTMS isn’t just a new-format fad. “Stoneblade” has been a staple archetype in Legacy for years, and derives its name from the standard decks of old. JTMS and Stoneforge are so powerful together that the deck has cycled through numerous iterations: deathblade, esper blade, jeskai blade, and the current favorite UW Stoneblade. So where should we start with control in modern?
PASCAL3000 and Pete Ingram have very similar answers to this question, and both finished strong this weekend with a 7th place MTGO modern challenge finish and a 12th place SCG Dallas finish respectively. I want to start by taking a look at Ingram’s list:
Moving into the weekend I saw many members of the control community posting list with 2 Vendilion Cliques, numerous Spell Quellers and Geist of Saint Traft maindeck. As a hardened control player this had me raising an eyebrow, as generally speaking more creatures leads to a less controlling deck. This led me to assume that for this weekend UW control would shift to a tempo-centric role with a full set of Snapcaster Mages and Stoneforge Mystics along with a menagerie of other creatures. But it seems I might have jumped the gun. The closer the decks stayed to the UW control of the previous format, the seemingly better they did this weekend(excluding a few Jeskai lists I saw floating around).
Some inclusions in Ingram’s list I’m surprised by are the second Batterskull in sideboard, and 2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar as well. I assume the second Batterskull comes in as a hedge against Smash to Smithereens, but I’m willing to accept a different line of thought or gameplan. Gideon most likely comes in against the mirror; he has historically been a nightmare to have cast against you by the various BW hatebear decks and it can also battle an opposing Teferi, Time Raveler with no chance for the opponent to tick down and bounce him. I could also see him coming in against jund as a threat that doesn’t die to bolt easily, Abrupt Decay, Vraska or Liliana and is a source of continual value.
4 Force of Negation! Honestly, I don’t hate it. This MH1 card has been an absolute allstar in the control decks. It sures up so many of the issues the deck has typically had: it allows us to play a threat while keeping a Counterspell up against combo, a matchup often lost for lack of putting an opponent under pressure. Force allows us to stick a powerful planeswalker, especially JTMS, and fight back most non-creatures from destroying said walker. Untapping with an early Stoneforge Mystic can be game ending and Force of Negation gives us a way to protect it for 0 mana. Exchanging card advantage for proactivity is necessary in Modern and Stoneforge plus the equipment acts as a way to keep card parity; in a way replacing the blue card you exile to cast Force.
Moving forward, I expect to see a continuation of the trend to include 3-4 Force of Negation in most blue based Stoneforge Mystic packages. Stoneforge shells that don’t have access to Force don’t seem like the solution and I think we will see the community come around to that in the next few weeks.
Narset, Parter of Veils has gone away, and as much as I hate to say it, that trend will likely continue. Don’t get me wrong, I love the ability to activate Search for Azcanta twice on my hate card as much as the next person, but with the addition of more creatures to the deck, and with the banning of looting decks, which Narset shined against, these decks just don’t have room for the planeswalker in the current landscape.
In Narset's stead, lists are back up to 3 Jace the Mindsculptor. Jace’s brainstorm didn’t need much help to be absurd, but Stoneforge Mystic gives you an extra shuffle effect and Jace can smooth out your clunky hand by putting back extraneous equipment or Mystics. It’s also notable that playing a Jace on turn 4 let’s you dig for a Force of Negation or a blue card to pitch with it and subsequently protect your Jace.
The new trend seems to be shaving down to 2 of this emblematic creature-land moving forward. Stoneforge Mystic + Batterskull is just too powerful of a combination to warrant messing around with a grind out Colonnade game plan. Additionally, UW decks seem to be shifting to 24 instead of 25 lands, and colonnade gets the first cut. That may not seem like a huge deal, but 25 lands has been the hard and fast rule for modern UW for a long time.
My last note on decklists moving forward is an homage to Spell Snare. This card is good again! Burn, Jund, and Stoneforge Mystic are three things I’d expect a lot of and Spell Snare is outstanding against them all. As such, a 2-of is likely going to continue as a baseline for a while.
Beware of Tron. Tron is not a great matchup for UW, it’s probably something like 50/50 or better in their favor and Ingram knew that. 2 Surgical Extraction (to pair with Field of Ruin), a Disdainful Stroke, and 2 Ceremonious Rejection are definitely a concession to this factor. Plus surgical can hit the Thopter Sword combo of Urza decks which can also be difficult to battle. You need to pressure Tron, as their long game is much better than yours. So stick a threat and then control as best you can.
Now that I’ve gone over the bulk of my thoughts on UW control moving forward, I wanted to have some fun and show you a deck I built and piloted to the top 8 of this weekend's Flipside Modern Elite Event. Welcome to Faerie Blade:
I haven’t played many decks I thought were “sweeeet” in a while, but this was definitely one of them. I got the idea from hearing about how Martin Juza, along with others, had a Faerie deck that ran Stoneforge Mystic back in 2011 Extended. I immediately looked at some decklists and started brewing, and this is where I landed for the weekend. I really wanted to exploit the Spellstutter Sprite + Mutavault (and occasionally Vendilion Clique) synergy and found that it did in fact work very well against the low curve decks. I’m always happy to sure up my Prowess and Burn matchups, and this can even come in handy against Jund and the mirror.
The main reason to run Spellstutter now is that you don’t mind having extra bodies around to throw equipment on, especially ones with flying. I was also pleasantly surprised by how good Mutavault was versus control and Jund. Against control the biggest worry is Teferi, Time Raveler existing on your opponent's battlefield. If you force them to bounce some other creature Mutavault can finish the job, and if not the vault at least provides a threat to clock teferi and requires another source of removal than a down tick to bounce it.
The sequence of Teferi, Time Raveler to bounce their blocker, animate Mutavault to attack their planeswalker (with Teferi giving you protection from any instant speed kill spells) is one of your best paths to get a planeswalker off the board in the midrange/control mirrors.
Although this deck is a ton of fun, I’d probably avoid taking it to anything very competitive moving forward. Tron is very strong, and having a Field of Ruin package over Mutavaults is very necessary. Additionally, I think I need to be on 3 JTMS maindeck. This is what I’d play next weekend:
Ingram’s list looks pretty solid, and there is only a few tweaks I’d like to make for personal preference. Whatever list you end up on, remember to watch the timer, search up Batterskull, and don’t let yourself get Clique'd in response to a SFM activation.
As always feel free to reach out to me with any comments or questions on facebook or on twitter @jeremy_langevin.
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