I have recently seen many articles go up showcasing some version of a control deck and how it is the deck to play right now. I feel like this is far from the truth, at least with the versions being submitted. I rarely do this, but I had to make a stand for the Standard grinders.
The first thing to look at when building a control deck in this environment is what you are out to accomplish. The format is basically broken down into control, ramp, and aggressive decks. I feel that most decks have about a 50% win percentage against Wolf Run Ramp so that matchup is one I will leave out of this article. The most important thing to think about is what you want to be beating right now. It is very difficult to build a deck that has a high win percentage against the aggressive decks as well as against control.
This deck is dedicated to beating aggressive decks. He has no way to deal with any of the control decks unless they are built similarly to his own. His threats are easily taken care of, and he only has two Snapcaster Mages to put early pressure on his opponent.
Snapcaster Mage is actually a good way to win control mirrors. It gives you repeated counterspells as well as a clock that forces an opponent to play into you. It is nice when you get to put something cheap on the board to start the clock. This allows you to then take over the control route and wait for your opponent to be put in a very awkward situation where they have to play into you just to stay alive. This is the best way to land a powerful spell like a planeswalker.
The only thing Jeremy's deck can land is a creature-based threat that is easily wiped off the board in a game one. It doesn't really matter if the player gets to draw two cards off the Sphinx. Most of the cards in the deck are very low impact in game one anyway.
So this deck is designed to beat up on the aggressive decks in the format, but I feel that it does a worse job than another deck out there trying to do the same thing. That would be Gerry's Four-Color Control. This deck does all the same things but more efficiently. Here is my take on the deck.
I have been very happy with this version of the deck. Not only are most of the cards good against the aggro decks, but some of the cards can still work against control. Ratchet Bomb is a prime example. It is there to deal with creatures but is also a great way to stop a White Sun's Zenith.
The next problem I have with Esper right now is how weak it is against the most popular deck (at least on Magic Online) in the format. U/W Humans is everywhere, and I mean everywhere! It is taking up close to 50% of the 3-1 or 4-0 slots in every Daily Event as of late and is the scariest deck right now. Day of Judgment into Elesh Norn is the grand idea but does not work as many times as you would hope.
This deck has a couple annoying mini combos that make it very difficult for control decks to beat the early press.
This combo is great at dealing a ton of damage in a single turn. Being able to shut down instant-speed answers is amazing with Angelic Destiny. Throw a Doomed Traveler into the mix, and you have twelve points of unanswerable damage out of nowhere.
These cards are the heart of the second wave. The only real answer that Esper has to this is getting Elesh Norn into play. I guess that is the whole backbone strategy of the deck, so that is really what you are counting on, but this is a very difficult matchup for making this happen.
The best way to deal with the Spirit push is to have Ratchet Bomb. I am in love with this card right now. Of course it is amazing when backed up with a Sun Titan, but it's still a very powerful card even without the six-drop. I never thought I would register this card, since it is always a turn slow, but not when there are so many tokens in the format. Many times this card comes down and destroys half an opponent's board right away. It is surprising how good this card is.
U/W Humans is actually step one for trying to build a good control deck. You have to be able to beat this deck because the numbers are growing very rapidly, and it will be the powerhouse deck of the format until the next set comes out.
Being able to deal with Sword of War and Peace is a must. This card is in every U/W Humans sideboard, mostly for the mirror match and Mono Red, but it is very good against most white-based control decks. This card helps them get right past Timely Reinforcements and allows the player to keep 1-2 threats on the board.
I think Jeremy has a decent shot at dealing with this matchup, since he is completely dedicated towards aggressive decks, but it is still not as good as you could make it if you really wanted to.
The next deck I want to talk about is Pat Cox's take on U/B Control.
Don't play U/B Control. Did you want more context?
U/B Control is the best deck to take to battle when control is taking over the format. This deck just destroys anything control. It has lands that win the game, spells that are miles ahead, and even a great and cheap planeswalker to win with.
The problem is this deck cannot beat the one-drop decks unless it draws perfectly. I don't even see how this deck could stand a chance against U/W Humans. This format is far too wide and aggressive for this deck to do well in it.
The deck I still battle with in this format is U/W Humans even though everyone is picking it up. This is the version I am playing today.
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Doomed Traveler
- 3 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Grand Abolisher
- 4 Hero of Bladehold
- 4 Mirran Crusader
- 2 Geist of Saint Traft
I do feel that control has a place in this environment but nothing that is being played right now. I think that Gerry's deck is by far the closest to perfection in the format, but still needs more work to be good enough for a serious event.
I want to touch on the rules changes that just got made this last week. I am not sure I fully understand them yet, but I do have a grasp on what everything “thinks” they are out to accomplish. There is one thing that I think is for the overall good of the game and is not something WotC set out to fix. These rules changes make players get better.
I find myself at Friday Night Magic every once and a while, but I was always there a few years back. I was the best player in the room by far and almost always won. Every once in a while, I would be in a match with a crowd building up, and my very-wet-behind-the-ears opponent would make a silly mistake that would cost him a card. It was an obvious misplay like attacking a 2/2 into my untapped 3/3 or him forgetting that I revealed Mistbind Clique to Bitterblossom. He would then ask for a take back, and I would refuse.
Some people would look down upon me for not letting him have it back when I would obviously be winning the game anyway. People would whisper that I take FNM too seriously and should keep that jerk persona I have at the Pro Tours. I myself always thought I was doing the kid a favor. I couldn't care less about winning the tournament. I enjoyed the chance at helping a kid get better, and that usually meant making him lose a game to a mistake.
Magic is a very difficult game, and you will always be making mistakes. The only way to learn from them is to lose a game by making them. The kid in question will never get better if he is always allowed take backs when he does something stupid.
Magic these days is getting easier to play, which is causing new players to never get passed the “just play them and see what happens” phase of learning. We have all been there at some point in our careers. That is just how we learned. We started out the game by playing our hand out and seeing if we won.
More and more cards have come out with must triggers that force opponents to help players remember their triggers. Titans also help players just play cards, since the cards today are so powerful that they usually just win the game on the spot. The game has gotten easier to learn, which is a good thing, but also easier to play, which is not. These new players have fewer ways to be forced to get better.
I remember a great story from Grand Prix Minneapolis. Cedric Philips needed a top 32 finish to qualify for Worlds the very next week. He was trying to live the dream and hit the last chance qualifier, which was this tournament. He was out for blood that weekend.
The format was Zendikar Block, which was filled with may triggers. This format was also very fast, which meant that one misplay could easily lose you a game. The format was almost based on pressure. The board got filled quickly with many monsters that not only could kill fast but also had some may ability attached to them.
Cedric found himself in a must-win situation against a friend of mine from Fargo, Daniel Green. Now Dan was not an experienced player and was in his very first Grand Prix. The board filled up, and Cedric found himself in a very awkward situation where the only way he could win was if Dan missed multiple Blood Seeker triggers. Cedric then went to put on the show of the year by acting very crazy and getting Dan to start having fun. This worked, and Cedric went on to win the game.
Now what Cedric did was not what a normal person would do but was of course not cheating. He was just using a tactic we have not been able to use for very long. Nowadays you have to sigh and tell them their Shrine of Burning Rage gets another counter, and then they realize you are dead.
Yes, these rules changes will give the better player a slight edge, but you cannot take away that it will benefit weaker players in the long run. It is much better for these players to have to remember more and see firsthand that their mistakes cost them games more often. This will force them to either get better or continue to lose to themselves. Seeing holes in your game is much better than winning an extra game at Friday Night Magic for most players out there. I know some new players will look back on this change and enjoy it once they realize that it cuts their learning curve by many months if not years.