Hexproof
Exploring Control Options in Standard

Joshua Vanderwall | 7 Nov 2012 16:00
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Prior to Return to Ravnica, there wasn't a lot of Control going on in Standard. With the tempo-oriented Delver of Secrets decks dominating the top tables for long stretches, slower control decks just didn't have much leverage on the field. Now that Delver is old news, Control decks have started showing up again en masse, and today I'd like to run through some of the various builds you may see floating around. We've talked about Bant Control to some extent already over the past couple of weeks, so I'll give that a miss and focus on the less prevalent decks that you might encounter, namely American Control, Esper Control, and Grixis Control.

American Control, as you might have guessed, favors Red, White, and Blue, and put up a number of solid placements during States. We'll focus this discussion on the top States finisher for Tennessee, which you can check out here. On initial inspection, you'll probably immediately notice a distinct lack of creatures. This player obviously favors the use of Planeswalkers, sporting a total of seven in the deck. I don't know that this is quite enough to call it a "Super Friends" build, but it's awfully close. The closest thing to a creature is the trio of Entreat the Angels, which looks like it serves as the primary win condition. Sphinx's Revelation is a great way to gain some life and generate some card advantage in later turns of the game, while Feeling of Dread is a stall tactic, to keep the opponent from running over you with powerful creatures. Here we're seeing the full playset of Supreme Verdict as well as Terminus for sweepers, plus four Detention Spheres, which is at worst 1-for-1 removal, and potentially garnering some card advantage against multiple copies of a creature at best. Running 26 lands is fairly typical, or perhaps even a bit low for a heavy control deck, and this most certainly fits the bill. Anytime you're running eight sweepers, plus removal, in a Planeswalker-centric deck, you're definitely in heavy control territory. Given the seeming strategy of this deck to clear the board with sweepers, force opponents to overextend with Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, and eventually put lethal damage down with a timely Entreat the Angels, your best bet is going to be to try not to lose too many creatures to a Supreme Verdict. Post-board, you've got some extra controlling goodness to worry about, as they can side in Dissipate for slower matches, which can give the control deck a serious leg-up in the right situation, as well as Geist of Saint Trafts, which will beat down any deck without adequate defenses in just a few turns.

Esper Control, or White, Blue, and Black, is going to take a slightly different approach to victory. While the creatures are still few and far between, a pair of Snapcaster Mages provides some card advantage and redundancy, while Augur of Bolas replaces himself, as long as he connects with an Instant or Sorcery spell. We're still seeing the inclusion of Jace, Architect of Thought, since he generates card advantage immediately, while Tamiyo, the Moon Sage holds down the fort, stopping the inevitable Thragtusk in his tracks. It seems like Lingering Souls may well be the primary win condition in this deck, as you can discard it to Forbidden Alchemy for value, as well as equipping the Spirit tokens with Runchanter's Pike for some extra damage every turn. It shouldn't take long to get a few spells in the graveyard to make any Pike-wielding spirit a real threat. This build isn't nearly as heavily focused on control as the American brew, in fact running only four total sweepers, and a bit of spot removal. Watch out after sideboarding, as Curse of Death's Hold can dominate a mirror match, since the dominant creatures in the deck have one toughness. There's also an extra Terminus in the board for furthering the control plan, which likely comes in alongside Nephalia Drownyard for when neither you, nor your opponent, is really doing anything on any given turn.

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Finally, we get to my personal favorite, if only for the inclusion of a single Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, Grixis Control. This deck takes us further down the control spectrum, playing an even more aggressive game than Esper Control, by virtue of the one-sided sweeper, Mizzium Mortars. When you can kill just the opponent's creatures, you don't have to worry so much about your own board getting swept away, so you can freely play more creatures. This build looks like it's generating tons of card advantage with Jace, Architect of Thought, while Forbidden Alchemy and Think Twice help to dig him out of the deck. At one point these spells were both mainstays in virtually every control shell. More recently, however, they've not been as prevalent, but I'm glad to see them back. Along those lines, counter magic has largely fallen out of favor in control, so I'm similarly delighted to see Syncopates in here as well. There's a bit of damage-based removal like Pillar of Flame, which takes care of pesky Undying critters, but hard creature removal like Dreadbore and Sever the Bloodline are going to keep your opponent off balance more consistently. Finally, there's the creature suite, with four Augur of Bolas digging for your Mizzium Mortars, a single Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius to whittle away an opponent's life while drawing cards, or taking out little creatures for a couple mana, the obvious pair of Snapcaster Mage to re-buy your spent spells, and, my personal favorite creature in the deck, Talrand, Sky Summoner. With only 19 spells, I'm not sure how much mileage you're actually getting out of Talrand, but generating a flier every time you cast a spell is pretty powerful regardless, and it definitely seems to have worked for him.

That just about wraps up our look at the state of Control in Standard right now, but keep in mind that Bant Control is still one of the top dogs in the field, so be prepared for lots of Thragtusks and sweepers at your next event. Are you a control player, or do you favor more aggressive tactics? Which flavor of control do you fear most, and what can you breeze through?

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