With only thirteen previews available for us to work with, Aether Revolt's contribution to the control fight is still unclear. There are a few cards revealed that create a careful optimism in the control world, but there needs to be a full Return to Ravnica-style boost to get us back to the promised land.
The biggest issue with reactive decks in this format is the inability to hit land drops outside of leaning on four copies of Anticipate. The aggressive decks are able to sacrifice Clues that come free with their threats; attack us with a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy-plus artifact creature that cannot be killed with sorcery spells; and deploy a Vehicle that produces mana at first and then smashes us for five next.
These elements that exist in nearly every aggro deck in the current Standard prove yet again that the opponents have it much better than us. On the other side of the spectrum, you have B/G Delirium and Aetherworks Marvel decks that make hitting land drops look like child's play. Attune with Aether, Traverse the Ulvenwald, Grapple with the Past, and a variety of other spells and creatures that produce mana help them never miss a beat. The inability for traditional reactive control decks to hit lands on a consistent basis makes them a huge dog against any deck in the current (and foreseeable future) metagame.
This weakness moves me to try a more proactive approach, which is really my comfort zone.
I love to tap out with a threat, a planeswalker preferably, and continue to use all of my resources on my own turn to deal with enemy threats. With the rise of Aetherworks Marvel, this has some potential with the declining number of Smuggler's Copters out there. The reality is that Smuggler's Copter is great, and no matter how “bad” it is against these combo decks, people will still play it in droves. Any mage can gear a control deck to defeat B/G Delirium and Aetherworks Marvel, but the outlier aggressive population is just waiting to sit across from us at a tournament for the easy victory.
What Is Needed
Aether Revolt has to provide us a few specific tools to make control way better. The biggest boost required to propel us forward is an additional two-mana black removal spell. Right now Grasp of Darkness is handling business and is the premier answer to creatures from the most-played control color.
The games I've won with my black-based control variants involve me having a Grasp of Darkness in my opening hand more often than not. I had recently attempted Grixis Control and saw some success with it online because I was able to infuse the control deck with Harnessed Lightning power, giving myself the seven removal spells at instant speed that were pretty great in most matchups. I took that same Grixis Control deck and got slaughtered at the Invitational a few weeks ago in Atlanta, not because it didn't have the spells required for success, but because hitting color-appropriate land drops just didn't occur.
Playing a third color is not too difficult thanks to Aether Hub, but Grasp of Darkness is a card that really limits the amount of a third color you can use in any given control brew. For this reason, we really need another black removal spell to pair it with the color best suited to control the board. If another Harnessed Lightning-level card is printed, U/R Control could be in the conversation, but that involves leaving one of the previews stranded that I really want to use.
Yahenni's Expertise was the first preview card that I set my eyes on for this set and I was instantly in love. Losing Languish was devastating and basically killed tap-out control for me in the current Standard (in conjunction with that annoying Smuggler's Copter). I was fairly certain that Wizards of the Coast was going to revisit the black battlefield sweeper and they made a card that could be even better when all the cards are revealed.
Yahenni's Expertise cleans up all of the problematic creatures that cause control players to butcher their maindecks in order to have a shot against them. The creatures of note that survive this removal spell are Grim Flayer; Ishkanah, Grafwidow; and a few other monsters from the midrange decks that control typically defeats anyway.
The free spell we get upon resolution is the real reason that this card will see play. Having a Ruinous Path clean up a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar finally gives new life to this sorcery-speed answer that we hate to play. Presenting a Liliana, the Last Hope to defeat a creature that wasn't quite handled all of the way is a real problem for our future opponents. Yahenni's Expertise gives us a possibility of playing a sweeper and then adding a planeswalker to an empty battlefield. That is the kind of world I want to live in.
The power level of Yahenni's Expertise at the moment is moderate, but I suspect it will get better. That same line of reasoning applies to Torrential Gearhulk, which just yearns for new sets to be released.
Torrential Gearhulk needs a few more powerful spells to really flex its muscles in Standard and return control to relevance. A black removal spell that has already been previewed is Battle at the Bridge, which I think is a very cool card. Lifegain on a removal spell that can potentially kill any threat is amazing, but they made it a sorcery.
Sorcery-speed removal really doesn't have a place in the competitive Magic scene outside of a sideboard, so I don't think it will further the cause. I am waiting, we are waiting, for an instant-speed removal spell that fits right into the Torrential Gearhulk, Yahenni's Expertise, and low-mana-curve spot to help us win the first game against aggressive decks while still having the tools to defeat our historically good matchups.
These removal spells are not all that's needed to put control back on its feet after a season of disappointment. Blue will always be my favorite control color as long as it has the best card draw. Glimmer of Genius is a decent card draw spell, but the mana cost has made it very weak against fast decks. Oath of Jace was one of my favorite cards in the last Standard because it came down on turn 3 and nearly guaranteed an incoming Languish on turn 4.
I'd love nothing more than using a removal spell on turn 2, Oath of Jace on turn 3, a Yahenni's Expertise (with an Anguished Unmaking) on turn 4, and then a planeswalker on turn 5 on a partially clean battlefield. Tap-out control has a real possibility of resurgence in the new Standard, unless the instant pool is too busted to ignore and we figure out a solution to the land drop dilemma, which would then push us into a reactive strategy. Both ways, control is great and I would love nothing more than to control Pro Tour Aether Revolt and the SCG Tour®event in Richmond the weekend before.
I discussed a few of the preview cards already, but there are a couple more worth taking a look at through a control lens. Disallow is the best counterspell we have had since Dissolve and I'm happy to swap out all my copies of Scatter to the Winds for it.
I have been an advocate against Void Shatter for months due to the possibility of a Ceremonious Rejection destroying our hopes and dreams. I lost a few matches to that one-mana answer, which was enough for me to use Scatter to the Winds as my answer-all of choice. I also found that exiling random creatures from the B/G Delirium deck isn't that effective and the matchup is quite easy anyway.
Disallow does way more than all of the other three-mana counterspells of years past since they gutted control, so you won't hear a complaint out of me about this card. The ability to counter an Emrakul, the Promised End trigger; planeswalker ultimate; or a spell on the stack is enough for me to jam four in my reactive control deck for the foreseeable future. Torrential Gearhulk also gains a slight boost with this and is just waiting for that expensive instant to really take advantage of the free spell text.
Negate, a two-mana spell, is seeing maindeck use currently. In the new Standard, Negate has to be included in order to prevent Aetherworks Marvel from entering the battlefield, stop Smuggler's Copters while on the play, and handle business against the tutoring that B/G Delirium is capable of.
I am still hoping for an Essence Scatter to arrive in Standard to fully armor up control against all foes, but in the meantime we at least have Negate. The current countermagic isn't unplayable, but there is a certain power level that must be attained in order for us to sit at the grown-ups' table in Standard. Negate, Anticipate, Murder, and cards like it all do the job but do not win championships on the SCG Tour®.
Aether Revolt Christmas Wish List
- Early and effective spell that draws a card
- Instant-speed, two-mana removal spell (preferably a black spell)
- A powerful Tezzeret
- A three-mana, instant-speed card draw spell
- Essence Scatter or Clash of Wills
- A red spell that destroys an artifact (What year is this?)
- An expensive instant that Torrential Gearhulk can make great
- An outlet for mana flooding
- Read the Bones to push Goblin Dark-Dwellers to greatness again
- A series of cards printed that makes Smuggler's Copter too weak to run
I am very aware that many of the pieces on this wish list are not going to happen; however, that is the very reason I created so many items! I learned as a kid if I asked for one or two things, I may not get either because my parents really didn't have money. This led me to give plenty of options that had some of the pricier things (like a Nintendo Entertainment System) or the more realistic things (like a couple of G.I. Joes).
I know my buddies at Wizards are reading, so please take a look and let's compromise a little. The first three wishes I have listed are the ones that I've discussed throughout this article. Cantrips are required to hit land drops and Anticipate alone isn't enough. We can't run 28 lands in our deck because there is no outlet for mana flooding at the moment, so we have to run 26 and pray. That “low” land count puts a strain on the spells in control decks and makes running four Torrential Gearhulk a risky business. I am hoping that there is something to help us play lands early without guaranteeing eventual flooding in the majority of our matches.
The third wish has me and all of the other control enthusiasts waiting eagerly. Right now the only new planeswalker that fits the color scheme perfectly is Dovin Baan, and it is unplayable. As long as Smuggler's Copter is a card in our opponents' decks and red randomly doesn't have an answer for it (see the sixth wish), then Dovin Baan will have to stay in the binder.
The new Tezzeret will likely be around the four-mana mark, and as long as it doesn't solely rely on artifacts like the former versions, it will hopefully have a spot in our control decks. The rest of the list is pretty clear, and I added number ten as a Hail Mary that would allow me to play my Oath of Jace / Emrakul, the Promised End sweet tap-out control deck again.
Let's hope that Wizards of the Coast was in a giving mood when they developed this set, and be sure to thank them for already giving us Yaheeni's Expertise as an appetizer.