A few months ago at the SCG Standard Open in Las Vegas, I was chatting with the great Patrick Sullivan about the then-impending return of Breeding Pool to Standard. Patrick laughed and said that you can't get too greedy about adding shocklands or you're just going to end up losing to guys like [him].
It's not good enough to be Naya. You've got to be Dark Naya. "Traditional" Bant at this point has got an Overgrown Tomb. The big Bant from Pro Tour Gatecrash was Bant with Kessig Wolf Run (i.e., Bant with a red splash). In formats like today's Standard—full of great dual lands—the all the rage move is to add more and more colors. While you undoubtedly obtain more potential functionality by adding Sphinx's Revelation to your already three-color green deck, it is important to understand the trade-offs. You add dual lands, and more of your lands come into play tapped or straight up hurt you. Good—great—potential, maybe, but you can risk clunky opening hands or being unable to cast something relevant when under pressure.
What I wanted to try out was a deck that held some of the advantages of some more recognizable strategies... But without giving up the costs necessary to field a three-—or even four-—color deck in the format.
This is what I came up with:
The way I set up the deck at this stage is to just draw Draw DRAW cards and use those cards (primarily) to kill creatures. Killing creatures is generally done via point removal, with Augur of Bolas and especially Snapcaster Mage making up for the missing Supreme Verdict by turning on so many two-for-ones.
- Tragic Slip - I noticed this card in the sideboard of Tom Martell's The Aristocrats deck from Pro Tour Gatecrash. Tragic Slip is awesome! There are so many cards that Tragic Slip can upstage from just one mana... How about Falkenrath Aristocrat?
- Dissipate and Psychic Strike - One of each; Psychic Strike is actually synergistic with Dimir Charm and Nephalia Drownyard in this deck, but in terms of countering target spell, it's hard to argue with Dissipate, especially with decks like Human Reanimator in the format. The sideboard also contains a bit of a mix.
- Curse of Death's Hold - This card is largely there to piggyback the inclusion of four copies of Dimir Keyrune. You can go straight to five on turn 4 and hopefully get a bunch of little guys in the process. You don't have to splatter a ton of Avacyn's Pilgrims the turn you play Curse of Death's Hold; while it might be best against little guys, it can have far-ranging effects on opponents with other strategies. These stack really well—the only thing better than a Curse of Death's Hold is three of them. Eventually, even Boros Reckoner and Thragtusk must bend the knee.
- Staff of Nin - You can't play too many big sixes, but I decided to play one Staff of Nin to at least bridge the power level of our missing Sphinx's Revelations. Not as explosive, obviously, but in a long game?
The Dimir Control deck has an intended end game of Nephalia Drownyard, but unlike many Drownyard decks in the format, it goes all the way to four copies. Nephalia Drownyard has two powerful incentives. First, it is an almost inexorable kill condition. It's tough to stop. It runs around many and most defensive interactive cards (e.g., life gain, including gaining infinite life). It doesn't use a card—we don't have to spend cards on Millstone any more. Secondly, Nephalia Drownyard punishes people for doing things that they want to do. Sphinx's Revelation can be bad. Draw a bunch of cards? Go die in a fire.
Now, speaking of Sphinx's Revelation, that is the major concession of Dimir Control. The default control deck of this style is Esper Control. Dimir can be thought of as Esper without Sphinx's Revelation and Supreme Verdict.
In order to make up for that, I resurrected onetime staple Forbidden Alchemy. Forbidden Alchemy doesn't draw quite as many cards as Sphinx's Revelation, but it is a self-contained source of card advantage that you can first access on turn 3 and can be awfully good at finding an answer now.
The general operating procedure for the deck is to try to trade one-for-one, keeping your hand up with card drawing. Think Twice can draw an extra card for five mana; Divination accomplishes much the same thing for a bit more than half the mana. In a deck that already has Think Twice and Forbidden Alchemy, Divination is a bit of a cherry on top... But hey, building your own
Lauren Lee Mulldrifter.
Versus R/G Aggro
One of the things that makes this deck attractive to me is that it can play a much cleaner game against multiple fast creatures than decks like Bant or other midrange. One of the scary parts about playing a deck like Bant is that you can potentially lose the roll and then watch the opponent drop three aggressive one- and two-drop creatures. Cards don't even exist in Standard that can dig you out of that spot unless they stumble. Unless you have a miraculous Terminus, you will probably be in a lot of trouble. Tap out for a Supreme Verdict? At what life total? You could be meat to their haste monsters.
This deck has less of a problem. The fast answers starting with Tragic Slip let you start interacting on turn 1, and then you have lots of two-mana instants and of course Snapcaster Mage to recycle removal. Augur of Bolas and Snapcaster Mage block while setting up more answers. Cards like Victim of Night and Tribute to Hunger let you slide into turns 3, 4, and later with cards that can snipe Boros Reckoner (and bigger threats) while gaining ground.
What I like most about this deck is its ability to compete with fast beatdown while doing very "blue" things like drawing cards, obtaining card advantage, etc. rather than relying on specific big answers.
What I like less is that without Sphinx's Revelation, you don't have a really pure way to bust down the midgame that stabilizes your life total while putting distance between your opponent and victory. Ravitz has always maintained that even when it is appropriate / powerful, life gain cards make control or midrange players play worse. With this deck, the goal is largely to stay ahead of their burn cards and / or haste creatures, which often means putting them on a clock if you have stabilized at say eight life. So turn on those Keyrunes and start swinging!
Versus U/R/W Control
A few weeks ago, I was absolutely convinced that the Lucky Charms version of U/R/W Control was the best thing you could do in Standard. Similar control shell to Gerry Thompson's deck...but with an infinite combo? Sign me up!
It turns out that the combo, while certainly powerful in some contexts, isn't even relevant across the board. Having 999,999,999 life doesn't save you from Nephalia Drownyard.
I quite like the control matchups with Dimir Control. It's not like we are overwhelmingly rich with permission in game 1, but if you want to stop a Sphinx's Revelation, you probably can. I have been choosing to ignore those and let the opponent draw. Rather, I have just been focusing on killing all their ways to win. They can draw a bunch of cards, and then what? They still have to kill you with Thragtusk, Boros Reckoner, Augur of Bolas, etc. You have more than enough tools to deal with their actual threats and can out-Drownyard most decks.
I have had the most trouble with resolved planeswalkers, but that is probably not news to anyone playing control in Standard. Gotta get in there with Keyrunes if you don't have a permission spell at the right time. Cyclonic Rift is a nice way out, so if you are way under planeswalker pressure, you know what to dig for [now].
Midrange decks usually have only a couple of cards that matter; again, resolved planeswalkers can be hairy. Against a deck like Jund, I have had good success fighting Rakdos's Return with Dimir Charm. Obviously, you don't want the opponent resolving Staff of Nin.
Elsewise, most midrange decks in Standard are just slower versions of beatdown decks or control decks from your perspective (think Naya Blitz to Naya Zoo or U/R/W Reckoner to U/R/W Dragons). From the beatdown perspective, I think you would much much rather play against the midrange version, but from the control perspective, the midrange version is more dangerous. I mean, what if they have the Searing Spear? Beating Geist of Saint Traft didn't suddenly get super easy for blue decks and Thundermaw Hellkite might just be a guy (albeit a very good guy), but you still need a pinpoint way to stop a 5/5; neither one of those threats shows up alone.
Next Stage in Dimir Control
When I started brewing this deck, I didn't really put a lot of thought into anti-graveyard cards, sideboard or no. The graveyard has been increasingly strategic in Standard the past couple of weeks, with the new version of Human Reanimator and impressive comeback performances from Junk Reanimator.
Obviously, Grafdigger's Cage is inappropriate (turns off our Snapcasters Mages and flashback suite). Cremate? There is an issue where a Human Reanimator player can just hold Angel of Glory's Rise and wait until they find Cavern of Souls before doing anything—they can probably wait until turn 7 or later to try to win, as Dimir Control is s l o w to the finish line.
I haven't figured out how to stop that strategy yet, and Cremate isn't sweeping enough to stop that particular way to win. Tormod's Crypt? It's important to remember that you can still lose to them attacking you with Burning-Tree Emissary or Huntmaster of the Fells fair-sies!
One thing to keep in mind when playing a deck with lots of reactive elements is that in a diverse metagame, it is nearly impossible to anticipate every angle specifically, so you have to have cards that can prove effective on multiple fronts. That is why I chose to focus on killing creatures (almost every deck in Standard wins at some point with creature attack) and light permission—two-for-ones feeding these two macro buckets of answers.
Yes. Perhaps Tormod's Crypt.