Brewing is my favorite aspect of Magic by leaps and bounds. Having multiple browsers open and rummaging through each legal card that will survive the rotation purge is a talent that has been lost with the era of social media. There are many that wait to see what wins/performs well, copy the list, and begin to learn the ins and outs through testing and tournament play. There is nothing wrong with this method of deck selection, but being from the old school gives me a different perspective on it all. I love creating new decks and being a part of the social media that thousands turn to when deciding on which deck to sleeve up each and every weekend.
Don't let my Esper obsession from last season fool you. I did play Esper for the last couple years (with a brief Talrand, Sky Summoner cameo), but before that, I piloted many different decks. My affinity toward blue, black, and white is still the reality, but even I realize the powerhouse cards that remain in green. Red is still a very weak color for control, which will upset some that read this write up. There are cards like Anger of the Gods, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, as well as a few gems from the upcoming wedges that contain red, but the real strength for control decks exist in Sultai from Khans of Tarkir. The first charm released gave us insight to that fact; showing us a card draw spell, disenchant, and removal spell all in one. Sultai Charm is an insanely powerful card because of its versatility, and control thrives with cards that can do many different things. And when you add a card draw element to any spell, it becomes at least semi-playable with major upside.
This set has provided me a lot to think about in regards to changing the way I play control. When WOTC told us about the removal of two mana removal spells and four mana sweepers, I was rather upset for a short period of time. Format after format, control has been lingering around with a few victories, but hasn't been dominant like it was in the old days. I understand the reasoning behind the change and the logic behind WOTC making creatures as powerful as they have. Control being dominant is never a good thing for format popularity or card sales, which gives me and you guys the resolve to make best with what we have. The Azorius rotation, however, is a detrimental blow to traditional control, and I've toyed with Esper without it.
The result is not very promising.
The mana is awesome, the planeswalkers are sweet, but the spells to help provide board control are lackluster. Adding an additional mana to a sweeper seems like an innocent change to make aggro players happy, but it is a huge blow to the traditional control strategy. End Hostilities has made me feel hostile in every aspect of the word, knowing that a Supreme Verdict type reprint would have been just fine for the entire Magic community. Even when control is weak, the four mana sweeper provides hope to any mage daring enough to take on their aggro enemies. It is a security blanket that has become a huge part of the game and a sizable portion of the community is not happy about the needless nerf. I could go on and on about how Doom Blade and Wrath of God are fair and balanced spells that needed zero adjustment, but we all know that won't do any good. With the massive rotation, weakening of board control elements, and lack of lifegain available in Esper, I have shifted to Sultai for the beginning of the new season of Standard.
Let's talk about the new cards from Khans of Tarkir that make this deck work:
Killing a mono-color creature seems like a weak effect with an incoming set that champions creatures of many colors. That said, the scariest creatures in the format will still include some that would have been killed by Ultimate Price. Cards like Courser of Kruphix, Stormbreath Dragon, and Polukranos, World Eater can be slain for the price of three mana with instant speed. The best part about Sultai Charm, however, is the ability to ditch it early on when it is apparent that no creatures can be targeted by it, or you're playing against a control deck that has no creatures period. Drawing two and discarding one doesn't provide card advantage, but allows a dig to powerful planeswalkers and answers to threats that will exist in the new Standard.
The biggest advantage is having a Disenchant effect in the maindeck. Control has had cards that could deal with artifacts or enchantments in the main before, but Detention Sphere and Banishing Light are shaky answers at best. Many mages became so frustrated with the temporary answer that Detention Sphere and Banishing Light provided that they stopped playing them entirely and turned to Planar Cleansing to avoid sticky situations. Sultai Charm gives outs to every threat that may come your way and if it can't do the job, it'll find something that does. I wrote briefly about Sultai Charm last week, and it's certainly as good as I thought it was. It takes a lot to get old Shaheen to sleeve up Forests, and Sultai Charm definitely helped the cause. This card, combined with a weak showing of "traditional" control cards in the right colors, has pushed me into the Sultai strategy at least for the time being.
This is easily my favorite card in the set if we aren't counting Sorin, Solemn Visitor (I'm currently not counting my buddy Sorin because he's hanging out on the bench for at least the first few tournaments). Clever Impersonator may appear to be just a clone, but is so much more than that. There hasn't been a card that copies planeswalkers yet and this little fella is going to rock the world of Standard. There has been very little chatter for this super clone, but I think the masses are overlooking the ability to copy things that aren't creatures. Control has the ability to copy a powerful card, and then remove the original threat. This gives other avenues to victory besides the strength of your win condition armada.
Clone effects like Phantasmal Image and Phyrexian Metamorph saw a lot of play in previous formats, and I think that Clever Impersonator will follow along the same path. Although it costs four mana, it's as powerful as its predecessors and will see play from me for a long, long time. I wish my words could illustrate how absurd copying an opponent's planeswalker, casting Hero's Downfall, and then using that said planeswalker is, but trust me when I say that it's awesome.
I wish I could give you all more cards that are a slam dunk for control from Khans of Tarkir, but I can't. Outside of Sultai Charm, Clever Impersonator, and the lands, there are no cards that I would add to my maindeck. Despise is a sweet reprint that provided my old U/B Control deck a powerhouse discard spell years ago, but even that is cast aside for Thoughtseize game 1. Murderous Cut would be an interesting one-of, but right now I'm willing to pay three to kill anything with a Hero's Downfall.
Powerful Cards of Old
Cards like Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix always intrigued me when thinking outside the box for a control deck. Both of those cards have a lot of control in them; defense, lifegain, ramp, card advantage, and a possible win condition are all aspects of greatness. That said, Courser of Kruphix received a heck of an upgrade with the release of fetchlands. Being able to manipulate your deck and gain a few extra life in the process is huge and a no brainer inclusion to a control deck running green. Sylvan Caryatid provides perfect mana for a control player, a body that blocks most aggressive threats, and ramps to answers or threats depending on the matchup. These are cards that I highly respected in old Standard and will only get better as the Return to Ravnica elements make their way out.
Garruk, Apex Predator is real saucy one from M15 that earns a one-of spot in the main deck. This card reminds me of Karn Liberated, which was a staple for old control decks. Karn Liberated was a bit better, but Garruk, Apex Predator does a lot of things and each one is very good. Killing enemy planeswalkers, making threats, and removing opposing creatures from the battlefield with a little lifegain are the best qualities of the expensive haymaker. If you know me, you know I can't create a deck in good conscience that doesn't include an expensive sorcery element, and the Apex Predator is my guy. I wouldn't dare to add another one in the 75, but there will be plenty of other spicy numbers in our list.
Nissa, Worldwaker is the most powerful green spell making the cut for our Sultai control deck. Nissa, Worldwaker took the Magic world by storm, earning spots in the top 8 of Pro Tour Magic 2015, has experienced quite a bit of Open Series success, and even shines at the kitchen table. The fact that the lands gain trample may be a mistake in design, but puts a hurting on opponents of both control and aggro style of play. Elspeth, Sun's Champion looks like a chump against Nissa, Worldwaker and she costs one mana less! It is a bit depressing, but now that I'm tapping some green mana and summoning the improved Nissa, I don't feel as bad about it.
There are other green powerhouses in the form of Polukranos, World Eater and Reaper of the Wilds, but at this juncture they will remain on the bench. I think Reaper of the Wilds will be very good in a world of no sacrifice effects or good sweepers, so that leaves Polukranos, World Eater at an odd spot in this control strategy, but we'll see.
Hero's Downfall and Thoughtseize are reason enough to make Black the color of choice in the new Standard. Thoughtseize is an absurdly powerful card that I never gave up on since its reprint. You can use reactive cards to do the job of Thoughtseize, but the two life payoff is a much more efficient line to take. Counterspells have gotten worse and worse, so my shift to a more proactive style isn't by accident. This Sultai list I'm promoting is following the same play style as my lists of old, taking the fight to our opponents during the main phase. A big bonus of Thoughtseize is the ability to clear the path for a powerful planeswalker against decks that pack only a few answers.
Hero's Downfall also falls in the category of sweet black cards that are sticking around post-rotation. The ability to kill any creature in the format and have multiple, maindeck answers to planeswalkers cannot be passed up. I have toyed with the idea of playing less Hero's Downfalls and more Sultai Charms or other spicy removal spells, but having a definite answer to everything in a new format is just better.
With the rotation of Doom Blade and other cheap removal, Bile Blight is another card that survives the rotation. Bile Blight is a sweet card, but sometimes it can be pretty depressing when ineffective. Sadly, Bile Blight is a necessary evil that is required in the 75 to deal with any Rabble Red strategy that lingers after rotation. It is an easy card to sideboard out and can do fringe things like kill Elspeth, Sun's Champion's tokens, use multiple copies on a bigger creature, or one on a bigger creature while blocking with Courser of Kruphix.
The blue powerhouse stands alone in the list. Prognostic Sphinx is too good to pass up in the new Standard. Like Reaper of the Wilds, Prognostic Sphinx is nearly unkillable in the new Standard. There will be fewer sweepers played, but Diabolic Edict effects are almost nonexistent. Prognostic Sphinx was absurd in Block and will also take a fair share of tournaments in the near future. It has evasion, super scry, and is the perfect power to avoid an Elspeth, Sun's Champion's removal mode. Even though it taps to achieve hexproof, it is a phenomenal blocker in many cases as well.
Prognostic Sphinx is the all-star, but its backup is a planeswalker I gave a hard time for a while. When Ashiok was first released, I made it pretty clear that I thought the three-mana planeswalker was garbage in Standard, and for the most part I'd say that was pretty dead on. But when I played four Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver at Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx, I realized that it was better than I originally thought. Ashiok still fails to protect itself, which makes it good in only a few scenarios, but those scenarios will happen more often now that the format has slowed down drastically. And since the format has slowed down, I believe the future is one that will be filled with Ashiok quite a bit.
I didn't include a sideboard with this list, because at this point I don't know how the metagame will shape up. After pre-release next week, I'll have a better idea of how many more copies of Clever Impersonator, Despise, Drown in Sorrow, and Pharika's Cure to include in my fifteen. I'll be sure to send that update via Twitter and/or in the next write up delivered to you guys, but if you have any tips on how to improve things, let me know!