The full spoiler is out and my first control deck is ready for deployment! I built Grixis, Esper, Mardu, and B/R; however, only one of those lists has performed at the level required to make a big debut in this new Standard format.
I know most of you would bet the house on Esper Control being the weapon of choice for this old mage, and I don't blame you. Esper Control has always had the arsenal of answers to deal with the most volatile of threats, the tools used to provide card advantage and card quality, the mass removal that is required to deal with any battlefield that has gotten away from us, and the win conditions to make the other shards jealous. That is still the case in this current Standard, but the power of Chandra, Torch of Defiance has forced my hand.
Red is the weakest supporting color for a control deck, but the upside of Chandra, Torch of Defiance makes up for that.
Dovin Baan is a great role-filler for those who don't want to play a red-based control deck and gives options for those skillful mages to maneuver around this creature-dominated world with success.
I am not completely sold on the deck I am about to present to you, but with a format that is unknown and open, this is the most consistent option with the most power available. Let's take a look at the deck I'll be using for the first few weeks (at least) of the new Standard:
This deck has a lot of spillover from the last Standard and that's always a good thing. These cards have proven to be powerful and will continue to do the heavy lifting while everyone figures out Kaladesh.
With the emergence of Chandra, Torch of Defiance, the stock of Ruinous Path will skyrocket. To a lesser extent, Nissa and Dovin Baan require a swift answer before they get out of hand. Ruinous Path is a planeswalker killer, an answer-all removal spell, and a win condition. The sorcery speed of the Hero's Downfall reprint has always made its playability questionable as formats shift and change, but Grasp of Darkness and Murder have given us the luxury to play a few copies of sorcery-speed removal with little penalty.
Ruinous Path has tremendous upside late in the game for B/R Control because of the absence of creature-lands that would typically give control decks inevitability after the dust has settled. Without creature-lands and Emrakul, the Promised End, we have to implement a proactive strategy in the form of awaken, additional creatures, and a higher density of each planeswalker.
This forgotten gem has dropped in power level with the rotation of Kolaghan's Command. Without the Commands, Goblin Dark-Dwellers can't be as unfair as it used to be, but it still packs a punch. The removal, hand disruption, and card draw has been increased in the early turns, and we've added Liliana, the Last Hope. Liliana, the Last Hope complements Goblin Dark-Dwellers moreso than the majority of creatures legal in the upcoming Standard. Rebuying a creature that allows us to recast removal is a huge swing when facing a midrange foe.
I was sad when I had to put down the five-mana Snapcaster Mage, but Chandra, Flamecaller wasn't a strong enough reason to stay loyal to a red control deck. The fiery planeswalker has been remade and upgraded, so I'm giving the red control gods another shot.
The core of black control survives rotation and that is the huge draw to keep it as the base for any control deck moving forward. I mentioned that Esper and Grixis were other control decks I brewed in the last few weeks, and each of these decks builds on the black foundation. Grasp of Darkness is still the best removal spell in Standard, killing creatures from turn 1 to 4 at the low price of two mana. There are some cards from Kaladesh that try to pull me back to my roots of U/W Control, but the removal suite in those colors is very weak. I would be very skeptical of any control deck in the new Standard that doesn't deploy the already proven control staples.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is the only creature protecting control against the graveyard recursion nonsense that typically plagues control mages. Outside of the legendary Zombie, we have Descend upon the Sinful, which was the reason I drafted Esper Control as my first choice for the new format.
Descend upon the Sinful is one of the few powerful white control cards that survives rotation and is worth building a deck around. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is a card that immediately comes to mind in response to that claim; however, the powerful planeswalker is pretty mediocre in most control decks. The format is rarely slow enough for a 2/2 to hold down the fort compared to Dovin Baan, who neutralizes a creature, or Narset Transcendent, who has a ton of loyalty. There simply wasn't enough depth in the color to justify sticking to my comfort zone, but luckily Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet does a good enough job keeping the graveyards empty.
The hand disruption in today's Standard heavily outclasses the countermagic. Every set I look for a reprint of Essence Scatter, or even Dissolve, and the disappointment continues. The attempt at appeasement with a ghastly version of Miscalculation is not going to do it. Revolutionary Rebuff is a card that has sparked some conversation, but the playability is very low. Clash of Wills is comparable, better or equal on all turns except 1, and it was a fringe card for the year it was legal. I know there are situations where you can have two mana open after casting your first spell, but that scenario isn't enough to boost this card's strength into the top tiers.
Transgress the Mind is the best weapon control has to help push through threats and remove weapons from your opponent's hand. Mind Rot is another sleeper that gains instant playability in a deck with Goblin Dark-Dwellers. In order to defeat decks that tutor up Emrakul, the Promised End, you'll need to keep their hand empty throughout the contest, which Mind Rot does very well.
The Exciting New
In my previous article, I gave my word that my first control attempt at the new format will be centered on Chandra, Torch of Defiance's power. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is the blue planeswalker we have been yearning for these last few years. The only catch is that we have to play red, which isn't the best for control these days. Luckily, with Goblin Dark-Dwellers sticking around, playing red isn't an impossible task for today's control mage.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and red control in general, will only get better when the next set is printed. The list I've been playing and testing with here is clearly dominated by black, but that is largely in part to the lack of options we have from red. Outside of Goblin Dark-Dwellers and our flashy planeswalker, the only other red spells in the main deck are a couple of Harnessed Lightning and one Unlicensed Disintegration (which is just an easier-to-cast Murder).
Harnessed Lightning provides additional Energy with Live Fast. I had Oath of Chandra in that slot prior to a friend suggesting I try out Harnessed Lightning. The suggestion was very helpful, as I was able to kill off pretty large creatures with my excess Energy and help fuel the Beast from Kaladesh that has stolen my heart.
This mythic was revealed early on and I immediately knew it was going to be a pretty powerful win condition. The mana cost warrants the huge flying 5/5 body, and then all of this text is written on it. The relevant Infest effect helps with an active Liliana, the Last Hope or Chandra, Torch of Defiance to finish off creatures on the battlefield. The reanimation ability is easily attainable by just the Demon itself; however, when combined with Live Fast and Harnessed Lightning, the Energy bar reaches full very quickly.
The synergy in this deck hits new levels when you continue to resurrect Goblin Dark-Dwellers, casting old spells, and devastating your opponent's hand or battlefield. The sleeper ability on this card is returning an opponent's Emrakul, the Promised End or other monster that was put in their graveyard early by a Grapple the Past.
The Saddening New
This card is an absolute stinker, but necessary in a deck like this. B/R Control packs a punch with big creatures but isn't blazing fast by any means. When a control deck is slow, the Emrakul, the Promised End decks are waiting to pounce eagerly. Because of this weakness to Eldrazi, Lost Legacy has to be in the lineup somewhere. There are many games where Transgress the Mind and Mind Rot will do the trick; however, that risk is not worth taking. Having an opponent draw cards as you remove threats from their possession is not the spot I want to be in, so when you do sideboard this in, you need to make sure it's sparingly. Lost Legacy is the Prized Amalgam / Eldrazi killer and nothing more.
I mentioned the benefit of boosting Energy early in the game; however, this card is significantly worse than Read the Bones. Read the Bones guaranteed land drops for the Grixis Control decks of the last format, and now we are on the "leap of faith" plan after casting Live Fast on turn 3. The inverse is also worth mentioning. When we rip the Read the Bones in the late-game, the celebration begins as we bottom the two lands and draw action spells easily. Without scry and with Energy is a huge drop, but we will make do as we always have.
I typically don't like adding sideboards to my lists as they are released because so much changes on a daily basis as I discover new weaknesses to decks. This sideboard is a very rough draft, so be sure to keep up with me on social media as I make changes prior to the official rotation next weekend. The cards that I know will be very important coming off the bench are Mind Rot; Lost Legacy; Essence Extractor; the third Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet; and the second Ob Nixilis Reignited.
The four Galvanic Bombardment are there to answer a potential aggressive R/G deck. There could be room for Flaying Tendrils or Kozilek's Return if the popular aggro builds stay low on the toughness scale. There is a strong possibility that the new format could be filled with three-toughness threats again and the old G/W and Bant decks learn to exist without Collected Company, which would force this deck to move into a third color to bring the Radiant Flames upon them. So far in testing, that hasn't been the case, and this deck has that brute power feeling that only Goblin Dark-Dwellers teamed up with ridiculous planeswalkers could deliver.
Good luck in Indianapolis, my friends!