There are those who prefer to play the flavors of the month, which are typically considered the ‘best’ decks, in order to increase their probability of winning, or at least making Top 8. The proof is in results, but Modern rewards deck experience, proactive designs, and meta knowledge. The fact of the matter is that your success isn’t always predicated upon playing the best deck, but playing the deck you know best, and having a bit of luck on your side.
Other reputable players, such as Reid Duke and Craig Douglas Wescoe, choose to stick to just a few decks they’ve mastered and adapt them through changing metas. There’s an inherent and invaluable advantage of mastering your deck, knowing the ins and outs of your 75, understanding the format, and being able to show up at a tournament – while knowing the angles of opposing decks. Against an open field filled with variance, it’s wise to play what you know best, but the deck has to be meta-conscious and competitive in design.
In my case, UW Midrange has been my favorite archetype since I started playing Modern in 2011. The archetype has never made a competitive breakthrough in the format, but that hasn’t stopped two particular players, known as JB2002 (Junichiro Bando) and Curryvore on MTGO, from championing UW Midrange since Modern’s inception.
After several years on a personal quest to find the mastermind behind ‘Curryvore’, like Ryan Gosling hunting down Harrison Ford in Blade Runner 2049, I came across a recent article written by the UW Midrange master himself! His name is Saito Takaya of the Onogames team in Japan. Most recently, Saito’s 5-0 list from 3/9/18 took 4th at GP Kyoto on 3/25/18. Saito went onto place 1st at a GP Kyoto - Monthly Modern Masters event with UW Midrange: "https://mtgdecks.net/Modern/wu-control-decklist-by-saito-takaya-737201
He’s also had 7 5-0 performances on MTGO with UW Midrange since March of 2018.
I reached out to Mr. Takaya for an interview, which I’ve anticipated more than any other to date, and he gratefully accepted.
Let’s get right to it.
Francesco: Hello, Mr. Takaya. I’ve been sharing your performances in my Modern Blue White Midrange/Control community since 2014. It’s an honor to finally meet the mysterious UW Midrange master we’ve known as ‘Curryvore’.
How long have you been playing Magic? Why UW Midrange over other UWx archetypes, such as UW Control, in Modern?
Takaya: Hi, nice to meet you! I’ve played MTG around 16 years. I played a white Aggro deck for most of the time. However, I was impressed with the UW control I saw on Twitter by JB2002 a few years ago. I have been using UW control ever since. My deck employs many creatures, but I’m playing this deck as control instead of midrange.
My goal is to make a control deck that accepts all the decks that dominate the meta. In Modern, there are Aggro, Combo, Controls, and various other deck types. I believe that adopting a wide range of effective cards is a way to achieve that.
For example, I don't want to draw more counters against Aggro decks, removal spells against Control, expensive spells against Combo, etc. I’m using many creatures to mitigate that variance. They support the early stage as a removal, acquire advantage, and become finishers in the later game.
Francesco: Is it a good choice for the current meta dominated by Humans, Hollow One, Mardu, Affinity, and Jeskai? For you, personally, is UW Midrange always your choice or is it a meta call? What is your overall record with UW Midrange?
Takaya: I’m fighting well against those decks, but Humans are the most difficult in terms of Aggro. It is rich in disruption and exceeds my deck in the amount of creatures. However, I can win if I’m casting board wipes.
Affinity is historically reasonable, Hollow One is also fine because of Runed Halo and Rest in Peace in my sideboard. I haven’t lost to these recently.
Mardu is even. After sideboard, it is advantageous if I can play Rest in Peace. I just want to take care of Blood Moon carefully and be cautious if using Fetches and Field of Ruin early.
I had thought that my deck was favorable vs Jeskai before, but Teferi makes me feel a bit at a disadvantage. It is very difficult to deal with once it lands, as even my first Jace will be buried by his -3 ability. I think that the opponent has the overall higher deck power. It is difficult to get around because board wipes are used effectively for the opponent. I often lose when the game is lengthened.
I think that Midrange is good now, but I don’t know if there will be changes in the future. In the past, I’ve used more Planeswalkers in Control.
Modern meta games are starting to move away from the success of Humans. Mardu, Jeskai, Tron, and Valakut are currently popular, too.
It is important to capture the trends at that moment, but there are still many types of decks in modern. I would just like to build a deck with wider acceptance than focus on any deck in particular.
The following is the result from returning to the Midrange type at the end of March.
MTGO: 125 - 61 (67.2%)
5 - 0 (7x)
Paper: 18-5 (78.3%)
Francesco: What advantages and disadvantages does it have compared to other UW decks in this format? What are some of its best and worst matchups? With Jeskai Control being the most represented Control deck, what do you think of this matchup for UW Midrange?
Takaya: UW Midrange is a deck that can flexibly switch between defense and offense depending on the situation. As you know, Restoration Angel works as both removal and clocking. After she controls the game, she can immediately end it with Celestial Colonnade. To finish the game quickly, it deprives the opponent's counterattack time and reduces the risk of the draw.
Although I’ve done the above, the deck’s power is inferior to others. To put it badly, this deck is incomplete in both offensive and defensive. Recently, I’ve often suffered against Teferi, but I think that some countermeasure is necessary for him.
UW Midrange is strong against Hollow One, Burn, Affinity. After sideboard, Runed Halo will perform wonderfully.
On the other hand, a poor matchup is Blue Combo decks. Turns and Mill are the worst. I’m also not good against 4c Scapeshift. They get ahead on lands and combo while holding counters.
Dredge is easier to win than imagined. There are many removals that can be banished from the main as a whole, which is the reason that the sideboard is very effective. Runed Halo → Bloodghast, Prized Amalgam RiP → ALL!
Francesco: Generally speaking, players unfamiliar with this deck have a difficult time grasping the concept of playing creatures with sweepers, even though this deck is designed to take advantage of board wipes by forcing overextension with Wall of Omens and Kitchen Finks and curving into a sweeper, then recovering and turning the corner with strong fliers and Walkers.
What would you say is the general core (main cards) and philosophy (concept/gameplan) for this type of deck?
Takaya: The main protagonist is Restoration Angel. She is a key to offense and defense, and is also an advantage source.
The base of the deck is defense. Wall of Omens and Kitchen Finks will provide protection. If you have a board wipe, play it after the opponent has overextended. If the opponent isn’t Aggro, play creatures as early as possible and utilize them as a clock.
Francesco: Richard John from my UWx community wants to know:
In regards to tempo, at what point do you continue to play to the board and when do you decide it's a lost cause and need to use board wipes? Is it a math thing? Does it depend on your hand?
Takaya: I try to avoid losing tempo as much as possible. I want to play it after I’ve stabilized, pulling out removal and additional creatures from my opponent's hand.
Francesco: Playing creatures with Flash seems to be an important element against Combo and Control. Disruption + pressure is also key, which is a great plan vs Tron, too. How do you generally approach Combo and Control matchups with UW Midrange?
Takaya: In the case of Tron, I earn time by attacking the opponent's land. Then I aim to win with creatures and counters. I will consider how many turns I need to win, which includes Celestial Colonnade. Techniques for preparing the startup cost of Celestial Colonnade by hitting Wall of Omens with Path to Exile are important. Also, keep in mind that Celestial Colonnade will not be destroyed by Ugin or Stone.
Cryptic Command sometimes bounces the land during the main phase, and if it is a Venser, it is still wonderful. If I can draw Vendilion, the game will be very easy, so now I have adopted the third one in the sideboard. We also use Dispel. It is to protect Spreading Seas and Stony Silence from Nature's Claim. Although the target is only Nature's Claim, the exchange is easy as there are many cards that can be replaced from the main board. I get a big return when this works effectively.
As for Control, if the game is prolonged, it becomes disadvantageous and the risk of the draw increases. Play as aggressively as possible. Now, these decks do not adopt Jace very much, so I will play Kitchen Finks even in the third turn and build the battlefield. However, I must be careful about Teferi's turn.
If the opponent's land drops stop, I will not move until I see the opponent's discard. In most cases, they will throw away a removal card. When the opponent plays Search for Azcanta, I may leave Field of Ruin in my hand until it transforms. If there is a Field of Ruin in play, your opponent will not choose to transform.
Francesco: Your style is very similar to JB2002, Junichiro Bando, who has been playing UW Midrange for about a decade. Most notably, Yuuya Watanabe played a variation of his UW Ojutai at the 2015 World Championships to a 10th place finish.
What immediately stands out to players regarding this archetype is the lack of Serum Visions/Opt and Snapcaster Mage.
Can you briefly explain why you play less of these cards compared to UW Control? What’s the most you’d play of each in this type of UW Midrange with 3-4 Wall of Omens and 4 Spreading Seas?
Takaya: I understand Serum Visions and Opt are important cards for Control and Midrange because I can find the cards I need and avoid unnecessary cards. However,I’m adopting Wall of Omens in this slot. It is for Restoration Angel, which is the deck’s concept. Against Aggro, Wall of Omens has an important role. It’s also important not to be affected by Thalia, Guardian of Thrabe. I think deck’s power will improve by changing Serum Visions to Wall of Omens.
Spreading Seas and Wall of Omens cause tempo loss depending on your opponent. Therefore, it will be replaced frequently during sideboarding. However, their drawing ability is not completely unnecessary in the main board.
Wall of Omens does a good job of stopping Snapcaster Mage against Control. Therefore, it 100% does not side out. The best Wall will enhance the value of the best Angel.
Snapcaster Mage is not very strong in my deck because Instant and Sorcery are few. I am also concerned about the anti-synergy with Rest in Peace in the sideboard. I'd certainly play Rest in Peace in Modern. I don’t want to deal with advantage sources from the graveyard.
Francesco: Your most recent 5-0 lists play 1 copy of Serum Visions. In your list that went 7-1-1, you played 2 copies. Would it be ok to play 0 and replace it with a counter, removal, or threat? Maybe even 1 Snapcaster Mage?
Takaya: I think there is a possibility of change, but now I feel that playing on this list is exactly right. Since the Wall of Omens or Spreading Seas often comes out after sideboard, I think that there is a role as a lubricant for playing lands consistently.
Francesco: How have Archangel Avacyn and Venser, Shaper Savant performed? What matchups are they particularly good against?
Takaya: Archangel Avacyn was discovered when looking for a strong card that can be added while keeping to the deck’s concept. Restoration Angel can not respond to 4/4 Mantis Riders, but are stopped by Avacyn. Although it is nearly impossible to actively transform it, its ability is often a one-sided advantage that works well with Wall of Omens and Kitchen Finks.
Venser was also adopted after a match with Humans. In front of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, I lost without being able to play the board wipe and Cryptic Command. Venser does a great job against Combo and Control, especially against Tron. While building the clock, it interferes with Tron setting up its lands, while acting as a Remand against expensive spells. He has a good friendship with Restoration Angel, too.
Francesco: JB2002 shared his recent list and he opted for more Planeswalkers than Kitchen Finks and Restoration Angel, but still plays 4 Wall of Omens, 2 Vendilion Clique, and 2 Dragonlord Ojutai, which he thinks is still “the best creature”, with or without Minamo.
He stated that he wouldn’t currently play any copies of Kitchen Finks because it’s outclassed by other, more powerful creatures in the format.
What do you think about this statement and what are your thoughts on his updated list compared to yours? You played a similar list on 3/9/18 that went 5-0, which also went onto to take 4th by Akira Tanaka at GP Kyoto on 3/25/18.
Takaya: I’m not as good as JB2002, so I wasn’t able to master his list. I think that the play style of the person who made it is strongly reflected in the list. Regarding Kitchen Finks, I think it’s performed well, overall.
Francesco: Unlike Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in Jeskai Control, Jace, the Mind Sculptor hasn’t had much success finding his place in Modern beyond Blue Moon and UW Miracles. It may just be that the format is too aggressive for him to make an impact, or it could be that players haven’t utilized him correctly.
Do you think UW Midrange is one of the best shells for him? If so, why?
Takaya: This deck can easily protect Jace, so I think that it is suitable for using him. However, I feel that there are decks that can utilize Jace more effectively. The Future of UWx Midrange
Francesco: Are there any other cards worth considering and testing in the main or side? I think the Gideon tribe would be powerful here. Other viable options are Crucible of Worlds, Geist of Saint Traft, and Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir.
Takaya: Gideon is also compatible with Restoration Angel. Gideon with reduced loyalty can attack, then be blinked to restore loyalty and use his + ability.
Crucible of Worlds is strong when combos come together, but is the most effective against Tron. It is also strong against Liliana of the Veil, but I’m not adopting it because it is not compatible with Rest in Peace, which I want to side in against BG.
Geist of Saint Traft may be adopted to counter Jeskai. 3 mana threats like Geist of Saint Traft may be nice. He does avoid Negate.
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir was being used with Cavern of Souls during the Twin days. I haven’t considered him much now.
Francesco: You’ve also dabbled in Esper by splashing Black for Collective Brutality, Lingering Souls, and Collective Brutality. Would you do this again?
Takaya: Collective Brutality was a wonderful card with a wide range of effect. However, its effect itself is weak. Also, adopting the third color is high risk, mana trouble, Blood Moon, and more. However, depending on new cards, I think there is a possibility of trying again. (Shambling Vent was a good card)
Francesco: Do you have final thoughts about UW Midrange, or any advice for players interested in playing this archetype?
Takaya: This deck basically acts as Control. It is important not to lose your life so that you don’t lose card advantage to avoid backfire. However, it is important to play while looking for opportunities where you can reduce your opponent's life. Especially when your opponent's life is 14, consider whether you can attack with Restoration Angel, Vendilion Clique, and Celestial Colonnade by 2 turns to 0.
Using Restoration Angel and ability creatures is a lot of fun because you can play many kinds. I’m glad if there is something that will be conveyed to you by this answer.
Finally, I’m looking forward to seeing you anywhere in the world or on MTGO!
I’d love that! Thank you for your time! You’ve been an inspiration and asset to me and the Modern UWx community.
Philosophically, I believe that for certain types of personalities, there is a subconscious, introspective connection between the decks we prefer to play and who we are. These decks become a reflection, and representation, of our identity and personality, which is also apparent in other interests and passions in life that resonate with us.
Although past event results can be a reliable measurement to indicate and predict subsequent trends, sometimes we have to expect the unexpected. This isn’t only true for Magic, but for life itself. Things may not always go according to plan. Life can be full of surprises and disappointments, but failure is not defeat; it’s an opportunity to learn, improve, and triumph. How we choose to respond and adapt to these challenging moments defines the quality and resiliency of our character. In regards to Magic, sometimes, making progress is not about changing your deck, but awareness and willingness to change your perspective.
As Rocky once said, “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”
When you feel like quitting, never forget why you started.
Giving up is never an option.
Assess and adapt.