“Control is dead! Long live control!”
Many of you, like me, were watching the coverage of Pro Tour Kaladesh from the comfort of your own computer chairs. I wish that I could say that I was totally surprised about the results from the Pro Tour, but I kind of talked about what exactly happened last week.
“Smuggler's Copter was the story for Week 1, but now that the threats have been identified and the speed of the format is known, it's time to look at more midrange or control decks and ways for them to stabilize and find their place in the metagame.
In that world, I really like Torrential Gearhulk.
I would not be surprised to see some sort of Grixis Control or a very streamlined U/W Control deck perform well at the Pro Tour.”
Have you ever looked at a card and just felt like it was good? Like it was too good to sit idly by and not take its rightful place as a format all-star?
I've had a few moments like that before. The first was Baneslayer Angel. At a time that it was seeing zero play, I put one in the sideboard of a R/W Boat Brew deck that I threw together back in 2009 when I started playing Magic again for the umpteenth time.
- 1 Burrenton Forge-Tender
- 4 Figure of Destiny
- 4 Knight of the White Orchid
- 3 Ranger of Eos
- 3 Reveillark
- 2 Siege-Gang Commander
Spoiler alert: it was good.
I had/have the same feeling with Torrential Gearhulk, and I'm glad that I was right. The format was defined, mostly, after the SCG Tour®stop in Indianapolis, and that paved the way for proper control decks to be built. Control, in general, is about leveraging information. You already know, or can identify, what your opponent's plan is, and then you navigate the game into points where you are able to dismantle that plan by using the appropriate answer for whatever question they have.
Questions and answers, really. That's what the essence of a control deck is.
When you don't have the best idea of what questions will be present, it can be difficult to bring the right set of answers. When you have a much clearer picture of what needs to happen, that's when you can plan accordingly and win.
For Shota Yasooka's Grixis Control deck and Carlos Romao's Jeskai Control deck, they both knew what questions they had to answer: different shades of aggro and Aetherworks Marvel with a sprinkling of Prized Amalgam on top. That's what I have to imagine they saw the meta as going into the Pro Tour, and their decks and builds performed admirably.
Now, getting to watch two of the greats play awesome control decks would have been more than enough excitement for the weekend, but there was also another pleasant surprise. Last week I wrote about what I wanted to update W/R Vehicles with and laid out just why I wanted to do that. I then ended up streaming that same list on Wednesday and went 4-1 in my first League with the new list. It felt very good, and I would have happily recommended it to anyone battling at the Pro Tour. In fact, I had planned on playing it myself at the SCG Regionals.
I was pretty surprised on Saturday night when, looking at the Top 8 decklists, there was something familiar about Ben Hull's deck.
- 3 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 4 Veteran Motorist
- 3 Depala, Pilot Exemplar
- 2 Pia Nalaar
It's a pretty awesome feeling to see someone playing a deck that you wrote about and doing well. It was humbling to hear my name mentioned on the PT Coverage, but I do want to point out the original deck was indeed an Andrew Tenjum masterpiece (who also won the MTGO PTQ this weekend with a sweet Jeskai deck).
The above Vehicles list was pruned down from the initial deck and was poised to do very well in a field of the mirror and other aggressive decks. Adding Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to the maindeck also helps with combating Delirium and Elder Deep-Fiend strategies.
Ben reached out to Team Cardhoarder for some sideboard advice against Shota's deck. The best I could muster was “cross your fingers."
Really, though, we thought that cutting the three Harnessed Lightning for the three extra planeswalkers was pretty easy. We also though that some number of Skywhaler's Shot might be worth it, since Shota doesn't really have a lot of ways to actually end the game.
In any case, lots of mulligans aren't going to help a poor matchup, and the rest of history.
It was pretty cool though.
Moving forward though, what can we do with the Vehicles deck? Of course, not every opponent is going to be as skilled and/or handsome as Shota or Carlos, but on paper I think that the control decks are quite poor matchups.
We have quite a few different cards in the sideboard already for the aggressive decks, and it definitely pays off, but if there are going to actually be control decks, then we have to adapt.
One way to do so is to include something like Archangel Avacyn as a way to save our creatures from sweepers and to play a bit of a flash game where we don't have to commit as much to the battlefield during our main phases.
I know that Reid Duke and some of the Pantheon members played Archangel Avacyn in their Vehicles decks and did well, so that's likely a good start.
We can also potentially look to another color. Lee Shi Tian was a full four colors so that he would have access to both black for Scrapheap Scrounger and Unlicensed Disintegration and blue for Ceremonious Rejection.
We could also potentially look at green for more planeswalkers like Arlinn Kord or Nissa, Vital Force, but double green is rough and another four-cost planeswalker might not be what we want.
Honestly, I'm not quite sure what the next step is, but I have a little bit of time to figure it out. My next Standard event outside of Classics won't be until the SCG Invitational in Atlanta, since the SCG Tour®stops coming up in Milwaukee and Baltimore are Modern and Legacy.
It's no surprise that I am lost in Modern. I've talked about it on social media and in articles quite a few times. I've played everything from Infect to Bant Eldrazi to Burn, but I really haven't found anything that clicked and was well-positioned like when I had success with Amulet Bloom.
Thankfully, I have the awesome Team Cardhoarder to help me out with my preparation and decisions and one of the decks that I am considering for Milwaukee is Infect. I use this as a segue to talk about how I ended up not going to SCG Regionals in Portland last weekend because of the “Stormpocalypse."
Apparently, some latent typhoon weather from Japan was slated to hit the west coast throughout the end of last week, and as such I ended up taking the cautious route and staying home. Where I am in Seattle wasn't affected, but I have seen and read reports of plenty of damage happening, so I am pretty glad that I didn't risk it and drive down.
It helped that there was a Modern 1K locally that I could play in, so I decided to sleeve up Brad Carpenter's winning Infect list from the Modern Classic in Indy.
The deck felt great, as always. Blossoming Defense in theory is an amazing card, although it was never relevant in any of my games. There were, however, quite a few spots where any pump spell was live for lethal and an Apostle's Blessing wouldn't have done the trick, so having the pump spell/protection spell combo definitely is an upgrade.
As with almost every Modern deck, sideboarding is extremely important. As with a lot of my experiences in Modern with decks that I don't have a million reps in, sideboarding felt pretty hard. There are so many decks that you can play against in Modern, so having the right sideboard is a challenge in and of itself, but also sideboarding properly is extremely important.
I knew that shaving pump spells for resilient threats or interaction is generally where you want to be, but I found myself cutting Gitaxian Probe and shaving some Become Immense most of the time, and it felt wrong when I went back and cataloged all of my matches mentally.
I ended up dropping at 3-2 with one round to go, since there wasn't a shot at Top 8 anymore and prizes were only through eighth. My two losses were against Mono-White Eldrazi Taxes and Living End. Both match-losing games were punts, either extremely small or quite big, that directly led to my loss.
Against Living End, I was able to kill on the following turn and have a Spell Pierce available for his Living End, but I ended up using a Might of Old Krosa to get in for six poison when I only needed to hit for two. This left me with only one blue source and vulnerable to the Beast Within that he used on my end step, which caused me to lose the game.
Against the Taxes deck, I was in a position where I likely would have to try to win with damage, using my Dryad Arbor alongside a few Noble Hierarchs. He had a Serra Avenger and Spellskite when I just drew a Dismember. I attacked for three, which he blocked with the Spellskite. At this point, my Dismember is worthless on my turn, so I passed. When I try to Dismember his Serra Avenger on the following turn, he redirects it to his Spellskite so that he can continue to clock me. I was able to draw into enough pump to have lethal…if I had used the Dismember to kill his Spellskite on the turn that I attacked with my Dryad Arbor. Instead I fell three points short of lethal because I didn't pull the trigger at the proper time on the Dismember.
I wasn't able to determine how the game would end and find the path to victory. That is definitely a skill to hone when you are playing a deck like Infect.
I still plan on working on Infect for Milwaukee, and even though it's likely the deck on everyone's radar, it's resilient enough and powerful enough to pump through the hate.
Comments from Last Week
Each week I like to end my article by highlighting a couple of comments from my piece last week. Make sure you add your input in the comments below so that you may be highlighted in the following article!
“Great stuff Chris! I know control is not your preferred archetype, but I was just wondering if you have tested any builds that seemed good in this aggro field? Or any cards in particular that you fear sitting across from when playing R/W or R/B? Congratulations on the win and good to see you back on the circuit!”
- Jacob Bachand
Well, thank you very much for the congratulations, Jacob. Thankfully, this question was answered by Shota and Carlos at the Pro Tour! Control is very much viable, and it's mainly on the back of cheap removal like Galvanic Bombardment and Harnessed Lightning, Radiant Flames as a sweeper, and Torrential Gearhulk as a huge 5/6 body that can close the game out very quickly.
I don't see that changing anytime soon.
“Thank you for the reply. I wouldn't agree more that Gideon is where this deck wants to be. I'm just stuck trying to make Nahiri good in Standard.”
- Jeremiah Kilby
I think that Gideon is definitely one of the best cards in the Vehicles deck and plays very well with our sideboard plans against most of the field. Nahiri, on the other hand, is a card that I haven't been too excited about but has been put to good use by my teammate Andrew Tenjum.
This seems like a good place for you to start!
This weekend I will be in Milwaukee for the SCG Tour®stop, battling in the Modern Open. Maybe we can win back-to-back Opens. What do you think?