Written by Rhody Nilon
Ever since 4c Saheeli decks evolved in the Standard meta, control has disappeared into thin air. Originally the Saheeli decks themselves started out as control decks until people quickly realised that it was just stronger to run the deck in a more midrange style build to both have a decent Mardu matchup while still being able to out-value any potential long-game decks. This week has been quite controversial for many different reasons—the Felidar Guardian being only one of many questionable decisions from Wizards, along with the bannings and restrictions in Legacy and Vintage. While this is not the focus of the article, I do wish to express to any of those who have doubts about Wizards' ability to plan and control the evolution of their game, that even the almighty Wizards can make mistakes. I myself am extremely disappointed in Wizards’ decision to ban Sensei’s Divining Top, not because Miracles wasn’t strong enough to be ban-worthy (it most definitely was), but because Terminus was the correct ban for a number of different reasons. One thing that Wizards has proven time and time again is that they DO in fact learn from their mistakes, and they have made this apparent on many occasions in the past, so please don’t be dissuaded by their actions this week; they are in fact well aware of their shortcomings and I’m sure that this will lead to a major tuning of their R&D process.
Now on to the topic at hand! With the Felidar Guardian combo out of the way, what can we look forward to in the new Standard? As an established control fanatic, my first instinct was to brew the best possible control deck. Some people have been playing around with Drake Haven, but while I understand the potential high power level of Drake Haven, I’m not a person who plays synergistic decks. What I mean by this is that when I’m playing a deck, I want ALL of my cards to be good. Sometimes a deck's synergy works out to be really powerful. Affinity in Modern is a perfect example as to how a bunch of do-nothing cards can be put together to make something amazing, but I don’t like playing sub-par cards simply because they make other cards better. Because of this, I have aimed to simply build a classic control deck, with good, solid cards that have defined roles. So let’s get into it!
Firstly, what is control? This may seem like a really simple question to answer, and in essence it is, but there are many boundaries between midrange and control that are often not clear. Control decks aim to survive the early and mid-game stages of Magic to play powerful, over-the-top cards to secure a win. Essentially we need a pay-off. I mean otherwise why should we control when we could just win early. Simply put, control decks are extremely powerful in a Meta where aggro decks are low in numbers, or where we have the answers to said aggro decks. This is the reason why I myself have chosen to play Black over White as our secondary colour. While White has got some sweet cards in the form of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Dovin Baan and artifact/enchantment removal, its low-CMC removal spells are extremely lacking. The best we have are Immolating Glare, Blessed Alliance, Cast Out and things like Gideon’s Reproach. Three out of these four require the creatures to be attacking, and Cast Out costs four mana, so it is not considered an early game removal spell.
So what is our removal suite?
The famed Fatal Push, now a multi-format staple, is an extremely powerful card….when you can trigger revolt reliably. This is the largest problem in out deck. If we wanted to trigger revolt reliably for fatal push, we would need to be playing cards like Evolving Wilds, which would slow our land drops even further. I feel that the lengths that we would go to for triggering revolt would defeat the purpose of have Fatal Push in our deck in the first place. For this reason, the last two pushes are in our sideboard, for when we truly need early game removal. Fatal push is strong against the Mardu deck as well as pretty much any deck that plays creatures on turns one and two. Notably you are able to kill mana dorks, an extremely powerful effect.
Grasp of Darkness
This is probably the most important removal spell in our deck. Grasp of Darkness is our go to removal spell for most creatures in the format. It kills almost all creatures early, and even the majority of creatures later. Notable creatures that it does NOT kill are Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Torrential Gearhulk, Verdurous Gearhulk, Ormandahl and a really really big Tireless Tracker. This is why we have packed some alternative removal spells in our main and sideboards.
Murder is our ‘your creature is too big for Grasp of Darkness’ removal spell. We need some of these spells, even if they’re slightly overcosted, to strengthen our late game against other decks. We obviously do not want too many of these though as they are expensive to play, especially on the draw.
Blue-Black as a colour combination has significant difficulty with planeswalkers. This is why we need to play this card. The plus side is that we can also kill creatures with this card, but since it is not an instant-speed spell, we have to be care when we play it, and also it’s quite important to note that we cannot cast this spell with Torrential Gearhulk.
Trial of Ambition
Standard has not had a two-mana edict since Gatecrash was released. Two mana edicts are extremely powerful in certain metas, where decks are casting one creature per turn, or where hexproof/indestructible creatures are prominent. They are absolutely terrible, however, if the format is based on decks that play multiple creatures a turn. Notably they are also weak to vehicles; however, we have many instant speed answers in addition to the Trial and I believe that this edict is worth at least ‘trialling’.
This is our ‘I need to stay alive’ spell. Blue-Black also has many difficulties gaining life, an aspect that is often important in control decks. Essence Extraction doubles as a removal and a life gain spell, and it actually kills many creatures in the format. We have more of these in the sideboard for aggressive matchups.
This card is currently in the sideboard, but could easily be in the mainboard depending on the meta. If it turns out that Trial of Ambition is not very strong in this meta, it’s likely that Yahenni’s Expertise would be the correct alternative, as it’s basically its immediate opposite.
Ah yes, the all-important part of the puzzle. How do we control what’s NOT on the board? I first want to talk about Censor, and why it is NOT in this deck. Censor is a good card. Very good in fact. I expect to see it in strong numbers, especially early in the evolution of the new Standard. However our deck needs strong, reliable answers to threats. Censor is not reliable later in the game, and sometimes not reliable at the start either. For this reason, we loaded up on early-game removal in place of playing Censor. So what counter spells are we using?
This is the best counter spell in standard. Cancel was already a playable card and they’ve given us something better. This has already been established in the previous standard, but notably this card allows us to interact with cards and abilities that can’t be answered by traditional counter magic or removal spells, such as an activated Aetherworks Marvel, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Man-lands and others. We’re playing four.
This card acts as our 5th and 6th Disallow. We simply just need more to cover our bases later in the game. In addition, the exile effect is strong against any cards using delirium and decks that involve grapple with the past or Liliana, the Last Hope.
Many people would argue that we should be playing Essence Scatter instead of Negate. I disagree. We have a strong removal suite that can pick apart any creature-based deck. We need interaction that can pick apart non-creature based decks. For this reason, we play Negate.
So now that we have all of the answers we need in our decks, how do we make sure that we draw them?
The answer is simple. DRAW MORE CARDS. Our deck plays six draw spells in Hieroglyphic Illumination and Pull from Tomorrow.
This was a tough decision to make, because Glimmer of Genius is an already well-established draw spell with higher potential upside than Illumination. That scry two is arguably way better than the cycle. However my argument is this; I have seen many other players brewing decks with both Anticipate and Glimmer of Genius in their decks to cover the early AND late-game draw spells. But by doing this, they either decrease their land count of their removal count. In my opinion, it would be better to have them both in the same card, and allow more room for customisation in the rest of the deck.
Pull from Tomorrow
This card blew me away when it was spoiled. Could it be? Wizards actually giving Blue Mages something to work with? Yes. Yes they did. So why am I not playing four? The answer is simple. It interacts terribly with Torrential Gearhulk, a centrepiece in our deck. If we play four of a spell, it better work well with Gearhulk or we may as well just go home. This card lets us drown our opponents in cards, which is why we’re playing it, but it’s not so powerful as to include four copies. Still, I expect big things from this card.
So, how do we actually win?
We have a small selection of threats which also serve other, versatile functions as well, making them great cards to include in our deck.
Threat number one, and possibly public enemy number one in the new standard, is Liliana of the Last Hope.
This card’s absurdity has already been established. Unfortunately the rise of Saheeli pushed Liliana out of the spotlight for a while, but I fully expect her to make a huge comeback. She’s essentially a recurring removal spell that eventually makes a virtually unbeatable army of Zombies. While her creature buyback ability won’t be used all too often, the ability to buyback Torrential Gearhulks aint nothin’ to scoff at. The best part about Liliana is that even against other control decks, she’s absurdly difficult to deal with. With this in mind, she is our primary threat.
This card is one of the best blue cards printed since Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Having a massive flash threat coupled with a free flashback is intense for any deck to deal with. The only thing to be wary of is that with the rise in graveyard hate in the new set, resolving the ability on gearhulk may be more difficult.
Westvale Abbey // Ormandahl, the Profane Prince
This card has dropped out of the spotlight ever since Black-White control stopped seeing play. Initially it was the adoption of stasis snare in decks that hurt Ormandahl, and then eventually the whole deck flew out the window all together. It honestly isn’t the most ideal win condition ever, but it’s something a little extra. It’s almost free as we have 12 dual blue-black lands, so we are unlikely to run into mana problems with these in our deck, and it also grants us the ability to continually make chump-blockers if that is a situation that’s necessary.
Since this is a fresh new format, we can’t be sure what the meta is going to look like, so we should just make educated guesses. Seven of fifteen cards are just extra copies of cards we have in our maindeck. We then have Scarab Feast, a card that will be brought in for any deck that uses the graveyard as a resource. It’s a great card given that it’s instant speed, costs only one mana, and can also be cycled when it isn’t doing anything. Additionally it can be cast off Gearhulk, which is always a bonus.
We’ve already touched on Yahenni’s Expertise. Basically bring it in against any deck that floods the board with creatures.
Lastly I want to talk about Lay Bare the Heart, a card that almost replaces Transgress the Mind. The ability to pick apart the hands of other control decks is very important, especially given that there aren’t actually many legendary, non-land cards that see standard play. Ishkanah, Grafwidow, Yahenni, Undying Partisan and Archangel Avacyn are the only ones that come to mind. The exile effect on Transgress the Mind was very useful, but the added functionality of being able to hit cards like Servant of the Conduit and similar is well worth it.
Check out the decklist below!
2 Essence Extraction
2 Fatal Push
3 Grasp of Darkness
4 Hieroglyphic Illumination
4 Liliana, the Last Hope
1 Never / Return
2 Pull from Tomorrow
3 Torrential Gearhulk
2 Trial of Ambition
2 Void Shatter
That’s a wrap for today. I’m pretty keen to see the other exciting brews people have for standard. If you have any input, don’t hesitate to put it in the comments! Any sweet brews or thoughts. Anything really.
Have fun cycling to the top!