Or should I say Khambo and Khantrol?
Know what I mean?
Thassa and Master of Waves?
Unfortunately, just about every source of devotion to blue rotated, and control has been getting punished for the past two years to pay for the crimes of the Azorius. If we're going to make a legit control deck, we're going to have to figure out what the various threats in the format have in common, and how we can exploit that. We're also going to have to figure out what we can actually do for two or less mana that's worth doing, as well as come up with a plan to actually close out games.
To get up to speed on what we're up against, you can find midrange decks onMonday and aggro decks on Wednesday. Today, let's start with the classic control color combination of Esper. Esper may not get any three-color gold cards, but there is plenty of mana-fixing to go around.
This first is a very general cross-section of blue, black, and white control cards. Blue's primary contributions to control are:
Khans of Tarkir brings one blue card to each of these categories with mixed results. Dig Through Time is extremely exciting (and mostly better than Treasure Cruise, I think). It's not clear how many you can use, but I could imagine people (myself included) underplaying it initially, not really appreciating how easy it is to cast or how easily they chain together.
Disdainful Stroke is a totally respectable Magic card, and in fact, on power, I want to use more. The problem is that it isn't really a two-drop, and the bar is pretty high for 3s, 4s, and 5s. I expect a lot of Siege Rhinos, a lot of Polukranos, the World Eater, a lot of Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and even Butcher of the Horde, Stormbreath Dragon, and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker ensure that it's rarely going to be dead.
Pearl Lake Ancient is a pretty poor Aetherling replacement in terms of reliability. Most removal spells + Thoughtseize beat it, and even if you just shoot it every three turns, you can really slow someone down that is trying to win with it. The biggest thing it has going for it is how huge of a body it has with flash, giving you some pretty sweet Nekrataal abilities, as well as ways to fight planeswalkers. Generally, I think Esper can do better, but two-color decks will get a lot more out of it due to its ability to bounce Radiant Fountain and tapped lifegain duals for much needed life in a pinch.
Ashiok is back in a big way. People are kind of sleeping on the Nightmare Weaver at the moment, but they are so good against Courser of Kruphix; they will be back. Courser can never beat down hard enough to threaten Ashiok, and Ashiok can totally regulate the Courser player's draw, turn after turn.
Murderous Cut is absolutely awesome if you're looking for a tempo play on turns 4 or 5, but like Disdainful Stroke, it is not a true two-drop. Utter End is also awesome, but there's a real limit to how much expensive stuff you can play. I would generally avoid Dead Drop. It's just too expensive, and Dig Through Time is a much better use of your graveyard.
Despise is another fine card that kind of fits into the format awkwardly. It's not a bad way to handle creatures and planeswalkers, but that's exactly what we've already got covered in spades. Worth considering, but nothing special. As for Thoughtseize, I think it's fine to maindeck, but I am little less keen on maindecking it in three-color decks right now, due to the tapped lands.
Sorin, Solemn Visitor is great, and Necropolis Fiend is fine, but both are better suited elsewhere. Sorin really needs you to be creature-heavy to be worth it, as he's primarily a creature-pumper. Necropolis Fiend is best suited for Sultai and B/G strategies, possibly Abzan graveyard. In Esper, we're better off saving our graveyard for Dig Through Time. Empty the Pits may sound like it contradicts this (and maybe it does), but at least it doesn't make their spot removal good. We can probably do better in Esper, particularly since we want our graveyard for Dig.
— Victory Conditions - Elspeth, Sun's Champion is the premier kill card in the format, but white also has Brimaz, King of Oreskos and plenty of fatties, like Wingmate Roc, Soul of Theros, Resolute Archangel, and Ashen Rider.
End Hostilities may not be Supreme Verdict, but it is pretty good. That it hoses Gnarled Scarhide, Spiteful Returned, Herald of Torment, Mogis's Warhound, Eidolon of Countless Battles, and Boon Satyr is not trivial, but it's certainly not worth a mana. Of course, let's be honest. We would definitely play Supreme Verdict if it cost five, so the bonus is just icing on the cake.
The right mix of two-cost interaction is challenging to put together, particularly since some of the efficient answers, like Suspension Field and Reprisal, don't work on turn 2 (a running theme). I have generally been liking Utter End more than Banishing Light, but both are fine.
Elspeth (along with End Hostilities) is the reason to play white. A lot of people don't play the full four, but I would definitely start there. It's not like you have an Aetherling or an Elixir of Immortality to clean up. You may need to brute force things, even if you have Prognostic Sphinx in your deck.
Making your colors work in Esper is a little bit of a challenge, but you end up playing so many lands and card draw and it works out. That said, if you want to smooth out the mana a bit, you can always demote one of the colors to no double-cost cards of that color. For instance, if you go minor in black, all you have to give up is Hero's Downfall, which can be replaced with a mix of Banishing Light and Utter End, depending on your curve. Maindeck Thoughtseize could also help ease the burden. Such a deck's manabase might look like:
The next logical step is to consider cutting one of the colors. Can we get by with just two? There are some benefits to the manabase.
We looked at a B/W Midrange deck on Monday, which was this concept applied to cutting blue. Let's try cutting the other colors, one at a time, and see what that looks like. First up on the chopping block: white. What does no Elspeth, no End Hostilities look like?
Four Radiant Fountain? Yeah, and I'm guessing it will be fairly standard for two-color control decks. You've got access to more mana-fixing than you need, and with so few good plays early, you're incentivized to play more than four tapped lands. You could trim Evolving Wilds and play less Fountains, or you could even turn an Evolving Wilds into a basic and cut the Nullify. I just like Evolving Wilds with Dig Through Time (and Murderous Cut in the sideboard).
Having the full eight lifegain lands makes Pearl Lake Ancient halfway respectable, forming a makeshift "lifegain engine." It may sound janky, but an extra life or two a turn can make all the difference.
Perilous Vault stands in for End Hostilities here, and that's actually not all that bad. Yeah, it's a little slow, but as long as people don't destroy it, Perilous Vault actually has a pretty big impact on the game. If Sultai Charm, Reclamation Sage, Unravel the Aether, and Revoke Existence all increase in popularity, we could have a problem; which is to say nothing of Banishing Light and Utter End already being able to remove it.
What about cutting black? Can we get by on just blue and white cards? That ended up working pretty well in the previous format.
This list looks a little more appealing to me than the U/B one, as Elspeth and End Hostilities bring a fair bit of raw power, and Banishing Light is not an embarrassing Hero's Downfall replacement. Our biggest weakness is the two-spot, but it's not like U/B's twos are killing it either. If U/B succeeds, it is likely because of the strength of Ashiok.
As for U/W, Omenspeaker is an attempt to defend ourselves early with a card that isn't horrible against non-aggro decks. If we decide Nyx-Fleece Ram is maindeckable, that is also an option, though maybe we just want to load up on Suspension Fields and Last Breaths.
Here's a crazy thought. What if instead of white or black, we paired blue with red?
Perilous Vault is the only thing that has me really considering this list, because otherwise, we'd just have too many weaknesses we can't address. Even still, we are terribly vulnerable to fatties, and there are going to be a lot of them. Clever Impersonator tries to do a little work in this area, but it is just such a crude way to try to fight Polukranos or Surrak Dragonclaw. Burn Away and Master the Way are actually starting to get into possibly embarrassing space, but it's not like Fated Conflagration is all that hot either. At least Burn Away also has utility against Sultai self-mill decks, and Master the Way is a two-for-one.
Then again, who knows? I mean besides Wafo-Tapa. Maybe it's actually right to play four Master the Ways and the card just ends up awesome. It is definitely the type of card that becomes a four-of real quick, if it's playable (which is probably isn't).
Magma Jet is better than Lightning Strike here since we already have Anger the Gods to deal three. Of course, this points to the real problem with this deck. What are we going to do if they play Courser of Kruphix? Maybe that's why we have to play all those Master the Ways? Honestly though, it just seems silly to straddle ourselves with such big blind spots just to keep a few more lands untapped and gain a few life.
If you're really into U/R, maybe there's some wackiness possible. Maybe you can go a little more combo-rific. After all, delve + Riddle of Lightning is a mondo combo, since the mechanic lets you play a lot more expensive cards than you'd normally be able to get away with.
Unlike most Riddle of Lightning decks, we're not taking the expensive cards as losses. Much the opposite, they add up to a powerful card draw engine that gives us a powerful way to grind out opponents.
We're actually in pretty great shape against aggro decks, with more cheap burn than we could possibly need. Bigger creatures, however, are more problematic, as usual. Unlike most U/R decks though, we do have Riddle of Lightning on top of Perilous Vault, so maybe we'll be okay. It's tempting to use something like Spite of Mogis, but it is too bad of a nombo with the delve cards.
The basic gameplan is to hang out playing a sort of counter-burn game, eventually getting ahead with tons of card draw and looking to finish the opponent with some massive Riddles and Master the Ways. Master the Ways isn't super efficient, but we're usually going to be pretty good at keeping our hand full, so killing big creatures is a totally realistic option. Then, when we make it to the delve part of our gameplan, we can chain draw spells together and Master for a ton.
I don't really see a ton of control options in U/G, though you do have Aetherspouts I suppose. Really though, every time I try to sketch out a U/G deck, it turns into a Yisan/Prophet of Kruphix deck, like the one that won the 9/23 Magic League trial by Kabelis:
- 2 Arbor Colossus
- 1 Clever Impersonator
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 1 Genesis Hydra
- 1 Hornet Queen
- 1 Hydra Broodmaster
- 4 Kiora's Follower
- 1 Nylea's Disciple
- 4 Prophet of Kruphix
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 1 Sagu Mauler
- 1 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
- 4 Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
- 1 Nylea, God of the Hunt
Obviously descended from the Reid Duke Yisan decks, there's a lot of addition by subtraction (in terms of hostility in the format), as well as Clever Impersonator and Sagu Mauler.
Clever Impersonator is very overrated, but it's still a fine card. It's too bad that it's not better against Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker; but at least it beats Nissa, Worldwaker pretty well, and is totally respectable against Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Sagu Mauler is a crucial weapon against Hero's Downfall based strategies. Besides, at the end of the day, it's just a strong card. There aren't a ton of blue cards I love right now, but I could imagine splashing Sagu Mauler into a two-color deck, regardless of whether the green or the blue is the splash. Even if you don't draw the splash mana, you can still play it as a morph. Interestingly, if you splash Rattleclaw Mystic in your primarily non-blue deck, you can also morph it when you don't draw green mana. Then, on turn 4, unmorph it and hardcast your Mauler, despite no green mana!
Bant might be the color combination least prepared to take advantage of the Sagu Mauler, due to competing with Elspeth, but even there it might have application:
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Kiora's Follower
- 2 Master of Waves
- 3 Prognostic Sphinx
- 2 Sagu Mauler
- 2 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
The combination of Prognostic Sphinx and Sagu Mauler is a potent counterattack to Hero's Downfall mages, as long as we can survive early assaults. The experiment here is to try Master of Waves as a source of blockers, as well as turn 3 Polukranos. Overall though, I think Bant is not a natural place to be, as End Hostilities clashes hard with the creature/ramp strategy. Besides, if you're paying this serious of a price with your mana, you might as well gain some three-color power cards.
One idea that comes to mind is to add black to Bant, giving us the power of Abzan and Sultai at the same time. Can we make the mana work?
That's not the worst manabase I've ever seen, but are we getting enough to be worth it? We're still playing stuff like Last Breath and Sultai Charm, and we don't even get to take advantage of that many of the best gold cards. Siege Rhino is a boss hog, but its utility is greater when you have more creatures so that your opponent's removal is overworked.
Sultai Charm is not actually as good as it looks, because of just how many of the best creatures are gold, but it's still fine. I mean, it still kills Goblin Rabblemaster and Courser of Kruphix, so how bad can it be? The real question is how good is the Naturalize mode? I think people will try putting this in too many graveyard decks, but it's totally reasonable in midrange and control decks. It's also a card that's going to jump in utility over the next year when more mono-color creatures get added.
Abzan Charm is one of the best Charms, if not the best. It's a better removal spell, since it hits basically everything except Goblin Rabblemaster and Courser of Kruphix. It's better at drawing cards, since we'd usually rather pay two life than discard a card. Its pump ability is awesome in more aggressive decks, but here, it is mostly wasted. It's a fun combo with Elspeth though, letting you kill more of their creatures. It is also a fun way to win Sphinx on Sphinx combat.
What about just cutting white and running Sultai Control, ala Theros Block Constructed?
There are a ton of cards to try in Sultai, including Perilous Vault, Sagu Mauler, Hornet Queen, Yisan, Prophet of Kruphix, Chord of Calling, Liliana Vess, Nissa, Necrotic Fiend, Sidisi, Satyr Wayfinder, Empty the Pits, and many, many more.
One card I am really excited about in Sultai is Disdainful Stroke. It counters the stuff you actually need to counter while being much easier on your mana. Just look how many Temples we managed to squeeze in here! It's also great for turn 4 when you have a Caryatid and you want to play one of your many three drops and hold it up for their big play.
Finding the right way to build Sultai is going to be a challenge, particularly since Abzan sets such a high bar. However, there's a lot of evidence to suggest it has the tools. I'm curious how important Ashiok will prove to be, as Ashiok has generally been at its best in Sultai, thanks to the strength of green creatures at blocking.
While Sultai is the default first Khan to build into a control deck, Jeskai has some pretty enticing arguments as well.
We've got a pretty solid mix of early creature removal and answers for fatties. We've got Banishing Light for utility. We've got a respectable amount of card draw. We've even got a pretty solid mix of kill cards.
End Hostilities is obviously a clutch new card, but Dig Through Time and Sarkhan provide much needed new power. Disdainful Stroke also matches up well here, as this list is able to get away with more cheap cards than most control decks. This lets us set up two-spell turns more often.
The Mantis Riders out of the sideboard are actually huge. They let us transform into a much more aggressive set-up, particularly when combined with Stormbreath Dragon. At the same time, if we end up on the backfoot, they are great at defending. I also like the positioning of the card, as most people will be targeting one-drops and four-toughness creatures. The one-drops get blocked by the Mantis, and most of the answers to them don't stop her mana efficiently.
As for the four-toughness creatures, most of them can't block the Mantis, and the answers to those creatures can kill her but often not until she's already dealt at least three damage and often for three or more mana. Lightning Strike is the big exception, but I'm not sure it'll be popular unless Fleecemane Lion proves to be a defining card (stranger things have happened).
The post-sideboard version of this deck is so appealing, I kind of just want to make that the maindeck, you know?
Even though we are ostensibly a control deck, we actually have a pretty respectable amount of haste and direct damage. Jeskai Charm, in particular, is going to add a lot of Fireblasts to places that wouldn't have otherwise had such a dimension in their gameplan. Once you add in the ability to pump and lifelink your team, it's going to make it consistently hard to race Jeskai decks with creatures. Jeskai Charm is so good in creature decks, it really makes me want to avoid the all-spell route that is always so tempting with control decks. This creates an interesting tension with the Jeskai mechanic, prowess, which explicitly wants you to play spells.
Of course, you can do both…
Spells that make tokens like Hordeling Outburst and Raise the Alarm give you the best of both worlds, regarding prowess-type spells-matter stuff like Jeskai Ascendancy. Goblinslide is another way to get rewarded for lots of spells while also playing into the token theme. Dictate of Heliod is another great way to pump your creatures, often giving you extra bonuses by way of being an instant speed non-creature spell.
Seeker of the Way may seem surprising, but it's just an excellent card. We need some two-mana plays anyway, and I'd rather commit more to the board than play a removal spell. Then on turn 3, we can drop one of our many three-cost spells and gain enough life on the crack back to make up for ignoring their threat. Plus, we have so many ways to pump the Seeker, it's often going to function as a Baneslayer Angel.
Herald of Anafenza is a bit more speculative. I wanted one more cheap play, and it does feed into the token theme pretty nicely. Remember, it's not just three mana to make a token. You also get a +1/+1 counter on the Herald, turning it into a bigger threat for the turns you don't have extra mana lying around.
One of the challenges of every sort of Jeskai deck is how glutted your three-spot is on the curve. For instance, we didn't even get Brimaz in here, let alone Mantis Rider. I went with Goblin Rabblemaster for either because of how often our creatures are going to die. At least the Rabblemaster will usually get one token made before it dies.
On the topic of Goblinslide, Jeskai Ascendancy, and the rest of the prowess family, I wonder if we want more cantrip non-creatures, like Dragon Mantle and Defiant Strike. We're usually going to have creatures when we want to use them anyway, and card draw is the only way we're going to consistently trigger our cards more than once a turn.
We also didn't make room for Spear of Heliod, but it's very possible we want to cut one of the enchantments for it. I'm really not sure how good Jeskai Ascendancy will turn out here, but I could see it being sweet. There are diminishing returns to looting, as we run out of cards we don't want to discard, so I don't hate the idea of only playing a couple. If we were playing a dedicated Ascendancy combo deck that tries to draw its whole deck, obviously we'd want to max out, but that is not this deck.
This, however, is that deck:
The darling of Reddit, Ascendancy Storm is a relatively fast combo deck, albeit an extremely fragile one. You dig to Jeskai Ascendancy with a couple mana creatures in play. Then, you keep casting cantrips for free, or netting mana, since your team untaps each time. You're also drawing two (and discarding one) each time, letting you filter away the lands you draw.
If you find a Retraction Helix, you can go all the way off, since one of your creatures can now bounce a Dragon Mantle over and over. Each time you recast the Dragon Mantle, it untaps the creature with the Helix ability and your other mana creature (which taps for a mana to pay for casting the Dragon Mantle each time). Even without the Helix though, you can often cycle through your entire deck, eventually finding Burning Anger. Put that on Rattleclaw Mystic or a Kiora's Follower and you can just tap it over and over to kill someone. Remember, they will be huge from the Jeskai Ascendancy anyway, so it won't take much. Sylvan Caryatid can also do the job, thanks to Dragon Mantle.
Against a goldfish, this deck comes out fast, often turn 5-ish. Unfortunately, it is extremely vulnerable to:
And much, much more. Unfortunately, few opponents are going to let you goldfish. However, it is a fun concept to try to make work, to try to fight back against the hate. It's also a factor to keep in mind if pursuing devotion strategies, as they often have less interaction than normal decks.
If no one knew about this sort of combo deck, maybe it could catch the format by storm, but given the thousands and thousands of people experimenting with it and discussing it in very public forums, that ship has sailed. Of course, maybe there's another sister combo deck that can use some elements of this one in a more robust way. Either way, it's a fun change of pace from the Standard formats we're been used to.
Khans of Tarkir has certainly shown itself to be a set with some range. Courser of Kruphix, Hero's Downfall, and Elspeth all give us lots of reason to build midrange decks. There are many good aggressive creatures and support spells, suggesting far more true aggro than was found in block. Control is always harder to find, but as we've seen today, looking very promising. Even combo decks might pop up, whether Yisan, Riddle of Lightning, Jeskai's Ascendancy, or even old favorites like Constellations, Reanimator, and Self-Mill.
What I'm wondering is...
...What will the top 3 decks of week one be?