Baneslayers Making Baneslayers - A Guide to UB Midrange

Hey all, Mark Jacobson here, Gold Pro and captain of Massdrop MTG. After my finish with UB Midrange at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, folks reached out asking me to share information about the deck. I ran it back at Grand Prix Milwaukee with some tweaks and I think it’s still a powerful option for the metagame. Without further ado, here’s my guide!
Dimir was a guild that interested me early on in the format. With access to counters, discard, and arguably the best selection of removal, it seemed like it could achieve the rarely achieved position of being favored versus both control and aggro. I shared an early controlling style 5-0 list by Lagzilla to the team forum, but it didn’t really earn any attention from the rest of the crew. Most of the team's excitement was pointed towards a WWr build with Heroic Reinforcements which seemed to be beating everything. Well, almost everything, as Ethan Gaieski, who was our main proponent of WW, lost two matches to UB decks. Ethan said the matchup didn’t feel too awful, but it did seem like a properly tuned UB deck could be favored against our aggro frontrunner with its various ways to answer Adanto Vanguard and sweep the board. I again tried to build interest in the deck, but couldn’t hook anyone in; I didn’t have time to get in any reps that week, and I can tell you it’s much easier to get teammates interested in a deck if you have results to back it up instead of just theory. Luckily for me, right around Grand Prix New Jersey, John Rolf and Hunter Cochran went deep in the tank working on UB. I don’t know what caused them to reconsider the archetype at the time, but they emerged from the tank with a beautiful new approach. With further polishing it became the Pro Tour deck of choice for the three of us and Jacob Nagro, and put me within one game of my first Pro Tour Top 8. Protect the Queen “Protect the Queen,” originating from Chess, is a commonly seen strategy in Magic. The idea is that there is some creature that can win the game on its own, so you devote as many resources as you can to preserving that threat. Baneslayer Angel was a longstanding example of such a creature in Standard, and Delver of Secrets often plays that role in Legacy. Using a Force of Will on a Lightning Bolt while at 20 life is arguably a bad play in a vacuum, but if that Lightning Bolt is targeting your flipped Delver of Secrets, you might see a line to keep it alive long enough to carry the game. Protection doesn’t have to be reactive; discard spells can proactively clear the way of removal spells before you deploy your threat. Our deck (which coverage called UB Control but is clearly midrange) played both proactive and reactive ways to protect our Baneslayers, but took it to the next level by playing TWELVE Baneslayers. It turns out that one other way to get a game-ending creature to stick is to play an endless stream until your opponent taps out.
search 1 Blood Operative 2 Cast Down 1 Detection Tower 1 Dimir Guildgate 4 Discovery/Dispersal 1 Disinformation Campaign 2 Dive Down 4 Doom Whisperer 4 Drowned Catacomb 1 Duress 1 Fungal Infection 1 Golden Demise 4 Hostage Taker 6 Island 2 Ritual of Soot 9 Swamp 1 The Eldest Reborn 4 Thief of Sanity 4 Thought Erasure 3 Vraska's Contempt 4 Watery Grave Sideboard 2 Disdainful Stroke 2 Disinformation Campaign 2 Duress 1 Fungal Infection 1 Golden Demise 2 Moment of Craving 2 Negate 2 The Eldest Reborn 1 Vraska's Contempt Thief of Sanity, Hostage Taker, and Doom Whisperer were the creatures we felt could often win the game on their own if we got one to stick. Lines like Turn 2 Thought Erasure clearing the way for Turn 3 Thief of Sanity and turn 5 Hostage Taker leaving up Dive Down often left opponents scrambling to stay in the game. The four copies of Discovery/Dispersal were important roleplayers, digging to whatever important pieces we were missing, or inherently providing protection with its Dispersal half against awkward permanents like Carnage Tyrant. With all the Surveil, we played a few narrow but powerful 1-ofs that we could dig towards. One such card is The Eldest Reborn, which is particularly powerful in this list since we fill our graveyard with Surveil, fill our opponent’s graveyard with our discard/removal, and can bring back a Hostage Taker with all our mana available. Hostage Taker is a pretty tricky card to play with. In relatively stable games, it will often be a play with 8 mana, stealing and immediately casting something like Crackling Drake or Ravenous Chupacabra. This dodges a lot of the removal options. In games where you don’t have this luxury, you might cast it on turn 4 and hope for the best; at least it was still a 1 for 1 trade and that creature did not get to attack for the turn. Other times, you’ll get to exile a Knight token or a castable 1 drop, which doesn’t feel too bad. Note that if your opponent has no creatures or artifacts in play, you will have to target one of your own. It received errata so it can’t target itself, so you might play one out as a beater, such as game 1 versus Fog. The rest of the maindeck was rounded out with removal to relieve aggro pressure. The sideboard was built with GB Midrange, UR Drakes, Control, WWr, Mono Red Aggro, and GW Tokens in mind, taking a relatively balanced approach since we felt our deck generally improved more than opposing decks postboard. It would be difficult for people to sideboard against us, as we had must-answer creatures while also being able to play a raw control game. With this list we felt favored vs. Drakes, Control, WWr, and Red; felt even vs. GB; and felt slightly behind vs. GW Tokens (Trostani is really scary when we are trying to play their creatures, especially if following early-game pressure). Mono Blue Aggro felt like an unlosable matchup, but we didn’t expect the deck to be popular. Baneslayers Making Baneslayers At Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, I went 7-3 with the deck, facing the following formidable gauntlet: 2-0 vs. Yuuya Watanabe (UR Drakes) 2-0 vs. Michael Bernat (WWr) 2-1 vs. Sam Black (WWr) 1-2 vs. Jeremy Dezani (Slightly Bigger WR) 2-0 vs. Luis Scott-Vargas (WWr) 2-1 vs. Seth Manfield (GW Angels) 2-1 vs. Adriano Moscato (GB Midrange) 1-2 vs. Michael Kundegraber (GB Midrange) 2-1 vs. Lukas Blohon (GW Tokens) 1-2 vs. Andrew Elenbogen (WWr) Overall, 3-2 vs. WWr/WR 2-0 vs. GW 1-0 vs. UR 1-1 vs. GB It was frustrating to come up one game short of top 8 in my match vs. Andrew Elenbogen (congrats on the win!) but I had some sweet moments in the other matches. The first was in a feature with Yuuya Watanabe to kick off the Constructed rounds. He was on Drakes and in game 2 I was taking a ton of pressure from creatures. I navigated the game to a spot where I could Hostage Taker his Niv-Mizzet while leaving up Negate. I tanked deeply when he led off his turn with a draw spell; if it was a bait spell and I pulled the trigger on Negate I’d lose the game, but I smelled blood and cast the counter to cut off his outs. I got to untap and play the Parun for myself. From there I took heaps of damage but I finally stabilized at a low life total and won the game. Thanks for the Dragon Wizard! The second sweet moment was in another feature, this time on camera, versus Seth Manfield and his GW Angels deck:
Skip to 30:34 After crunching the numbers, I can assure you that Baneslayer (Thief of Sanity) making a Baneslayer (Lyra) is pretty good. Post-PT with Grand Prix Milwaukee After the near-miss at the Pro Tour, my fire was burning strongly and I booked a last minute flight to play the deck again at Grand Prix Milwaukee. My meta prediction was that WWr would be one of the frontrunners and folks would bring Mono Red Aggro to beat up on it. I expected Jeskai Control, GB Midrange, and UR Drakes to be the other most popular decks while GW Tokens rounded things out. Given this meta prediction, we decided to swap things up with the list, effectively pre-boarding versus WWr, Mono Red Aggro, and Drakes at a slight cost to GB and GW. This mostly meant transferring the Thief package to the sideboard. We found the 4th Hostage Taker to be a bit clunky so it got axed. The 4th Doom Whisperer and 4th Vraska’s Contempt got cut due to diminishing returns. Search for Azcanta was a fun add to our new maindeck given the synergies with Surveil and our now higher non-creature count:
search 2 Cast Down 1 Detection Tower 1 Dimir Guildgate 4 Discovery/Dispersal 1 Disdainful Stroke 3 Disinformation Campaign 3 Doom Whisperer 4 Drowned Catacomb 1 Fungal Infection 2 Golden Demise 3 Hostage Taker 6 Island 2 Moment of Craving 2 Negate 2 Ritual of Soot 1 Search for Azcanta 9 Swamp 2 The Eldest Reborn 4 Thought Erasure 3 Vraska's Contempt 4 Watery Grave Sideboard 1 Disdainful Stroke 2 Dive Down 3 Duress 1 Fungal Infection 1 Moment of Craving 1 Negate 1 Reaver Ambush 1 The Eldest Reborn 4 Thief of Sanity Unfortunately, my meta read was a bit off; I overestimated the number of WWr and Mono Red Aggro opponents in the field, and didn’t get to face either deck. I started 6-2 with a close loss versus Esper Control and a not-so-close loss to GW Tokens, but the second day was a disaster as fatigue took ahold of me and I was no longer playing tight Magic. I lost a million games to GB Midrange but somehow walked away with a perfect 4-0 in games versus Jeskai Control, getting a bit lucky to have Disinformation Campaign ready to rip apart their hand in game 1. Although I lost some confidence in the deck, looking at the Grand Prix Milwaukee top 8, I think the archetype was reasonably positioned to win the tournament. The Eldest Reborn, Hostage Taker, and a pile of discard/counters seem like great tools to beat decks relying on Niv-Mizzet. Hostage Taker being good against Treasure Map, Seal Away, Justice Strike, Shock, and sorcery-speed interaction is helpful as well. GB decks playing fewer maindeck Carnage Tyrants is more good news. I think UB has the flexibility to remain competitive as the metagame continues to shift. Sideboarding I’m going to walk through sideboarding with the new controlling style build versus the major archetypes. Since the maindeck Thief build has a ton of overlap, the postboard configurations will be very similar in a given matchup. So, these will still be useful if you are sticking to the original style from the Pro Tour. With the variety of threats and answers our deck has access to, you have a lot of flexibility but a lot of decisions. The deck can take a proactive or reactive stance in any given matchup, which makes it really interesting to play with. The cards your opponent sees in game 1, as well as how they seem to be approaching the matchup, can strongly influence how you sideboard and play the postboard games. Playing too proactive or too reactive when the situation calls for otherwise can be a game losing mistake. Moment of Craving is normally unplayable vs. Jeskai Control, but if you’re on the draw without a Cast Down handy and your opponent is all-in on Legion Warboss, it could be game saving. Practice a lot with the deck and the sideboarding and gameplay will get a lot smoother! Jeskai Control +3 Duress +1 Negate +4 Thief of Sanity +1 Dive Down +1 The Eldest Reborn +1 Disdainful Stroke -2 Ritual of Soot -1 Fungal Infection -2 Moment of Craving -2 Golden Demise -1 Detection Tower (reconsider if Dive Down) -1 Doom Whisperer -1 Hostage Taker -1 Discovery/Dispersal I like to keep in as many Cast Down as I can in the dark because of how devastating Legion Warboss can be, breaking apart our grindy gameplan with its aggression and multiple bodies. It’s nice that it can kill a Drake to help us save other removal for planeswalkers or Niv-Mizzet. The Hostage Taker and Discovery/Dispersal I cut are the closest to being left in the deck depending on what your opponent has. Sometimes our Dive Downs are mediocre, and Hostage Taker is even better when there are Treasure Maps to steal. Vraska’s Contempt is merely okay, as you would rather rip Drakes/Teferis from their hand, counter them, or snipe them with The Eldest Reborn. I could see shaving there depending on the opponent’s build, and I don’t think I would ever see myself boarding into a 4th if I had access to it. UR Drakes +3 Duress +1 Negate +1 Reaver Ambush +1-2 Dive Down +1 The Eldest Reborn -2 Golden Demise -2 Ritual of Soot -1 Fungal Infection -1 Disdainful Stroke (reconsider if heavy Murmuring Mystic) -2 Moment of Craving (keep both if on draw against Electromancer) -0-1 Doom Whisperer (usually keep in, but sometimes worried about having too many 5s on the draw) Don’t freak out about Firemind’s Research - it’s actually pretty mediocre versus our deck. In general, UB is favored in the long game, so do what you can to mess with what the opponent is doing. Try to save exile effects for Arclight Phoenix so that The Eldest Reborn can hit something real. Play to taking your opponent’s potential Niv-Mizzet if you can afford to do so, as getting it into play is usually game winning. GB Midrange ??? I honestly feel like every game of this matchup feels so different, depending on the specifics of your opponent’s build and which cards each deck draws. I felt I was onto something reasonable during preparation and during Pro Tour testing, but things felt so out of whack at the Grand Prix. Maybe it was just variance taking its toll; I took ideas for the plan from Hunter Cochran, who has found continued success in the matchup. As the GB builds evolve, these plans might need to evolve to match. They key cards from the opposing side, in no particular order, are: early aggressive creatures such as a 4/3 Jadelight Ranger, Carnage Tyrant, Find, and Vivien Reid. Together, and sometimes joined by Midnight Reaper, they cause a frustrating deluge of pressure. Their removal options such as Ravenous Chupacabra, Cast Down, Vraska’s Contempt, and Assassin’s Trophy make it difficult to contest the board or apply counter-pressure. Their pile of sideboard Duress always have juicy targets against us. The Explore creatures protect their hand from Disinformation Campaign and The Eldest Reborn, or find Memorial to Folly to rebuy key creatures. In game 1 with this build, we play the control role, and it honestly felt pretty good against the GB decks at the Grand Prix. Try to kill and counter as much as you can, and you can eventually win the game at your leisure as their hand is presumably ripped apart as well. Try to leave up mana for Fungal Infection if there might be an Explore creature. Ritual of Soot is one of the key ways to turn around a board disadvantage, and it’s nice for mopping things up for The Eldest Reborn to hit something big. Depending on how the Explore triggers go, Golden Demise can sometimes do a lot, but it’s too unreliable after game 1. Postboard, the control plan is much more difficult with their discard, extra planeswalkers, and extra Carnage Tyrants. With that in mind, here is the default approach, where we try to rely on Thief of Sanity: Default approach +4 Thief of Sanity +1-2 Dive Down (perhaps skip 2nd on the draw) +1 The Eldest Reborn +0-1 Fungal Infection (always in on the draw, or if you see Plaguecrafter) +1 Disdainful Stroke -2 Moment of Craving -1 Disinformation Campaign -2 Golden Demise -1-2 Hostage Taker -0-1 Doom Whisperer -0-1 Fungal Infection (always keep in on the draw, or if you see Plaguecrafter) -0-1 Negate (better if your opponent is playing extra planeswalkers) After having so many awkward situations with Thief, where it either got killed immediately or couldn’t provide enough advantage to counteract the pressure I was receiving, I wondered if there’s some way to go even harder on the control angle. This is completely experimental as I have never tried it before, but I’m curious if it works! Experimental approach +1 The Eldest Reborn +1 Fungal Infection +0-1 Moment of Craving +1 Negate +1 Disdainful Stroke +1 Reaver Ambush (if see Midnight Reaper) +0-3 Duress (better on draw) -2 Golden Demise -1-2 Hostage Taker -1-2 Doom Whisperer WWr +2-3 Duress +1 Moment of Craving +0-1 Negate +4 Thief of Sanity on the play, +2 Thief of Sanity on the draw +1 Reaver Ambush +1 Fungal Infection -1 Detection Tower (reconsider if Knight of Grace) -1 Disdainful Stroke -1 Discovery/Dispersal -3 Disinformation Campaign -1-2 Vraska’s Contempt -2 The Eldest Reborn -1 Search for Azcanta Experimental Frenzy is the one truly scary card, as it can win the game on its own even if we wipe their board. That’s why we try to protect ourselves more with the Duresses and Negates. Contempt is mediocre here as it will often trade down significantly on mana; it’s nice to hit a resolved Ajani. Heroic Reinforcements can be scary too, but the anti-Frenzy plan already covers it pretty well. Thief is even better if facing the Healer’s Hawk build. I think Disdainful Stroke is a bit too narrow but it’s not unplayable given it can hit a Loxodon. Negate answering History of Benalia is more important, in my opinion.

Outside the Pro Tour site hotel in Atlanta; or, a live look-in to the WWr matchup?

Mono Red Aggro +3 Duress +1 Moment of Craving +1 Negate +1 Fungal Infection -1 Detection Tower -2 Ritual of Soot -2 The Eldest Reborn -1 Search for Azcanta This is another matchup where Experimental Frenzy is a key card. Fortunately for UB, it’s extremely difficult for Mono Red Aggro to win without a Frenzy in play, and Doom Whisperer is so good against them that it can sometimes win through a Frenzy. The 4th Discovery/Dispersal is a bit clunky, but finding Doom Whisperer is so important, and on occasion it can snipe a resolved Frenzy. GW Tokens +3 Duress +0-1 Moment of Craving (in if both Emmara and Adanto Vanguard) +1 Negate +4 Thief of Sanity +1 Disdainful Stroke +1 Reaver Ambush -2 The Eldest Reborn -1 Fungal Infection -3 Disinformation Campaign -2 Cast Down (reconsider if heavy non-legends postboard like Knight of Autumn and Nullhide Ferox) -1-2 Hostage Taker -0-1 Search for Azcanta (especially out if Knight of Autumn) Disinformation Campaign is pretty decent against their deck, but the risk of Nullhide Ferox is really scary. Plus, I’d hate to be trying to Campaign if my opponent got under me with an aggro draw. The Carnage Tyrant possibility out of the board means we need to keep in our Detection Tower. Thief of Sanity pulling things like History of Benalia or March of the Multitudes should be enough to win the game, but accept the fact that you might need to wipe the board if things get dicey. Pay close attention to your permanent count in case you can pull off something sweet with token makers and City’s Blessing powered Golden Demise. Note that the creature tokens you make are immune to Trostani’s ability. Ritual of Soot is really important for killing Thorn Lieutenants, since most of our other cards don’t answer it cleanly and the games tend to go long. Try to save Reaver Ambush and Disdainful Stroke for Trostani, but don’t be afraid to use a premium counter on something like Conclave Tribunal if you can protect the queen to victory. Tweaking the List I think the second Dive Down in the sideboard can be cut as it’s not impactful enough. I wonder if some of the maindeck sweepers should go back into the sideboard, as the aggro decks are not as popular as expected. A third Cast Down could be an example swap for a sweeper, as it can still help versus aggro while being useful in basically all the matchups. A one-of Syncopate could be interesting for the maindeck, as seeing the first copy could make opponents play around other nonexistent copies. Memorial to Folly and Memorial to Genius are cards that have been in the list at various points, and they could help fight against the flood the deck sometimes faces. I’d start with just one over one of the basics, since Search for Azcanta is another mana sink and the deck is relatively mana hungry. If control takes over, consider cards like the 4th Disinformation Campaign and Sorcerous Spyglass. Other cards we have considered, but did not find enough reason to play, include The Immortal Sun, Nezahal, In Bolas’s Clutches, and Unmoored Ego. The 4th Doom Whisperer is only really great versus Mono Red Aggro, but keep it in mind for the sideboard if that deck rises to the top again. There are some drastically different approaches available too, but I have not yet tested them. Grixis has risen in popularity, and it’s basically just UB splash Nicol-Bolas, the Ravager. I’ve also seen UB lists focusing on Karn as a card advantage engine / win condition (sometimes with Treasure Map), mostly skipping creatures. Both of those styles seem worth a try at least! Closing Thoughts UB is a deviously fun deck to play and deceptively powerful in its metagame position. I think there’s still a lot more that can be done with the deck given how few person-hours were ultimately put into the deck compared to our team’s other archetypes. A bunch of you have reached out to me online or in person about trying the deck and that means a lot to me. If you have any questions about the list or sideboarding, let me know in the comments. Otherwise, I hope you all have a blast trying to level each other’s sideboarding in dimirror.
Stay tuned for more articles, giveaways, and updates as the season progresses.


Dec 3, 2018
Great article mark! I've been playing a more control version on arena to great success! Have you guys tested nezahal, memorial to folly or karn at all?
Nov 29, 2018
Thanks for the info here. Is there anywhere to find game logs or play by play from the Pro Tour, Grand Prix, etc events?
There isn't a full play by play, but you can find a few video feature matches. One is in the article above. Here are two additional videos, one about my Constructed deck and one about my day 2 draft.
Dec 1, 2018
Thanks, Mark! Not exactly what I was hoping for, but definitely helpful! Particularly the draft one
Nov 29, 2018
detailed article! Thanks for the info
Nov 27, 2018
After thinking about the deck and the guide, what do you think about cards like essence scatter (2x main copies maybe) or the Dream eater? Maybe scatters may be too much with all the removals we have, but can the sphinx tell her in some way? EDIT : Chemistrer's insight ? mainboard x1-2
You are right on Scatter that we already have a lot of removal. Might be reasonably playable, but better if playing more instand speed cards. We almost played a 1-of Chemister's Insight. We were concerned about the 6 mana on Dream Eater given that its kind of a small body.
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