When in Doubt, Control ’em Out

This past weekend was another Team Event filled with fun. I got the chance to team with Dave Long and Rob Long for the event, and despite losing the last few to miss Day 2, we still had a fantastic time. I played the Esper Gift deck, which I think is still a good choice in Standard but perhaps my build wasn’t great. My matchups also lined up atrociously. I’d say the worst matchup for this deck is likely the {U}{B} Control deck and the Grixis Midrange deck. I played against both decks three times. While I escaped with a positive record against the bad matchups, that is not what I was expecting to play against. I had a fine time playing against the aggro deck and {B}{G} Snake deck, but struggled really hard against the Grixis Midrange deck. I’m not sure what needs to change to make it easier though.

During my time walking around the event, I noticed creature decks abound. Paying attention to Standard, these last two weeks have given us insight to where players want to be, and it’s looking aggressive. The creatures hit hard and provide value even from beyond the grave. Creatures like Rekindling Phoenix have proven to be fantastic against all kinds of strategies, becoming a mainstay in Red decks and will most likely continue to prove difficult to kill.

Right now in Standard, we have some fantastic removal spells that line up well with the creatures being presented. Magma Spray and Vraska’s Contempt come to mind. The question is how good is a deck where you also have to play four Glimmer of Genius, Disallow, and Censor alongside those two removal spells?

Overall, it’s probably not great. Three colored mana bases can be awkward, especially when you’re playing a control deck. But what if we just built it with a strong two color mana base utilizing what I think are the best two removal spells in Standard?


Besides our mostly pristine mana base, there aren’t that many strict color requirements. Because of this, mana problems will arise very rarely. Interestingly enough, I got this idea from someone I played against in the event. He said he’d been having a fantastic time playing against aggressive decks all day and dodged true hard control decks but felt confident in his ability to win that matchup post board. I can see how control might be tough, but I like my plan against them.

Azor's Gateway
Treasure Map

{B}{R} Control is just a fine deck. It doesn’t seem overly powerful, but it has plenty of removal and the win conditions are all fantastic on their own. Our planeswalkers all win the game. One of the interesting aspects of being closer to a ‘tap-out’ style of control decks is that Chandra, Torch of Defiance is almost always going be used to her full potential. If the board is clear and you flip a removal spell, it’s no sweat since the deck is filled with so many. The deck also has plenty of action every turn, so it’s rare in midrange or creature matchups that you’ll be struggling with how to proceed.

Out of the choices in this deck, the one that would probably stand out the most is Azor’s Gateway. This unassuming artifact might end up being one of the keys to decks like this. I was completely unenthused upon first glance, but fellow Gathering Magic writer Ali Aintrazi convinced me of the card. At worst, it’s a great way to loot through your deck. The real prize is flipping this card. Your life total generally isn’t under a ton of pressure, so when you do get to flipping the Gateway and gaining five life you’re going to have access to a ton of extra mana. And lucky for you, your deck gets to play a Fireball that’s disguised as a removal spell. It’s pretty likely, between splash damage with your planeswalkers or Glorybringer, you’ll only need to use Ribbons once to end the game on the spot. Even without Ribbons, being able to flip anything off Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Gonti, Lord of Luxury and cast it in the same turn with no worries is going to keep you ahead when you’re trying to trade one for ones.

I was most impressed with Treasure Map. Standard is a touch slower, despite being filled with plenty of bombs, and Treasure Map is a free way to keep our draws clean and give us card advantage, potentially ramping us into some of our more expensive cards or keeping ahead by being able to cast multiple spells in a turn. Part of the reason the Grixis midrange deck is good is because when it gets to cast two spells a turn it’s easy to pull ahead. Without the downside of poor mana {B}{R}, Control rarely skips a beat, which means getting back tempo is going to be easier if you ever fall behind.

Against Control decks, our sideboard plan is old hat, but I still like it here. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is extremely powerful and can help put the game far out of reach for an opponent. In a control mirror where you don’t really have creatures, The Scarab God is going to look downright mediocre. I would imagine {U}{B} control to be a good matchup, but something like Approach could be difficult.

Just like my opponent from the Team Event playing this deck, I’ve included one Forest and Vraska, Relic Seeker. Enchantments are notoriously hard for this kind of deck to deal with, and Vraska might just be our only out. It’s likely correct to include a second one somewhere in the 75 for more outs to those kind of permanents. Vraska also fits the theme of being able to win the game on her own. Since we’re playing so few win conditions, you’re basically playing protect the queen on your important pieces. Fortunately, all the planeswalkers can protect themselves in some way, so it won't be that difficult to pair a removal spell with a planeswalker to clear the way.

Why this over UB?

To be blunt, I think {U}{B} Control is terrible. Your mana base is somehow atrocious and Fatal Push is a very medium removal spell that’s situational at best. Being forced into playing Evolving Wilds and Field of Ruin makes the mana worse than the average two color deck. Finding a balance between removal and draw spells is a challenging task, and it often feels like there’s not enough room to manage all expectations from a control deck. We often see these traditional control decks fall behind when they are unable to cast the draw spells because they need to use removal to survive. Moving to the artifacts in this version gives you an easier move to loot through your deck at a lower cost, which pans out well for tempo.

Overall, it appears Standard is shaping up in a way that a control deck might be primed to take over, and I’m a big fan of the options afforded to us by the {B}{R}control variant. I’m looking forward to playing more Standard.


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