I'll always be a Standard fan. Even in the darkest of times, I've found ways to make control viable for those of us fighting on the side of good. This era qualifies as one of the most stagnant we've ever had and has that Caw-Blade stench that we hoped would never return. Energy variants have enveloped over 50% of the competitive live metagame, where that number is much larger when considering the Magic Online scene.
The deck seems to be too strong, fueled by a mechanic that no new set can weaken, but the control mages around the world haven't thrown their hands up in defeat. Control is still strong against Temur Energy and that has been the case since the beginning. I had a very strong run at GP Atlanta last month, losing my win-and-in to Temur Energy after being up a game on camera. My record against the format killer overall was 5-1, which is a depressing thought after the fact. The one loss to Temur Energy came at the worst time, but few things in life are guaranteed. At Pro Tour Ixalan a week before, I re-qualified on the back of defeating Temur Energy multiple times. Grixis Control was, and is, positioned to defeat any Energy variant that people bring to the battlefield.
When the SCG Tour® hits Dallas in January, your Standard teammate may have some angst when trying to decide on a deck to play. I understand that a new set will be out, but that means very little for the Standard metagame. Ixalan, as a format alteration, was a huge bust. Rivals of Ixalan will follow in the footsteps of its predecessor. Some of the blame goes to the design of these weak sets, but the lion's share falls on the sins of the energy mechanic. I am very comfortable discussing a Standard strategy in December, for a tournament in January after a new set is released, for these reasons. The format has a very little chance of being "fixed," or altered to push Temur Energy to the side. It is not in Wizards of the Coast's nature to crank of the power level of an entire set to knock the king from the hill.
So why not just play Temur Energy? Picking up the best deck and running with it isn't always the best strategy to dominating a tournament. Many of you that have been on this journey with me for years understand the camp I represent. Experience, comfort level, and skill with an archetype can yield better results when playing competitive Magic. The one similarity that Grixis Control has with Temur Energy is the age. These two decks added few cards from Ixalan and use the power of Kaladesh as the base. Using Energy to defeat Energy seems to be the only line to take and it has worked well thus far. Let's look at the most up-to-date Grixis Control list:
I've made a few changes since the last time I wrote about Old Faithful here. The most drastic of those changes was the manabase. I didn't believe in the power of Drowned Catacomb for far too long, but that has changed. When using enough cycling lands and basics, Drowned Catacomb feels close to Underground Sea. Leading off with a tapped land on the first turn and having access to untapped blue on the second is huge. This change has made it possible to play an additional Vraska's Contempt, as well as making The Scarab God's multiple activations seal any game quickly. The mana breakdown with the additional multicolored lands is as follows:
Blue sources: 19
Red sources: 15
Black sources: 13
These numbers warm the heart when considering the manabases of previous control decks. I was happy when a third of my lands would enter the battlefield untapped, so I do feel spoiled these days. The additional support of Opt and Search for Azcanta provide insurance for making land drops with the appropriate color production.
The other change to the maindeck, outside of the additional Vraska's Contempt, is cutting a Torrential Gearhulk. This was much tougher to me than it would have been for most reasonable people, but I always sleeved up four without question. I wanted the ability to have an endless stream of threats, but that has caused more losses than victories over the last year. With all the card draw and advantage in control decks, Torrential Gearhulk doesn't have to be played in mass quantities. Moving down to three copies has caused fewer mulligans and losses to aggressive decks without costing me in the control matchups. The Scarab God has stepped up as one of thepowerful win conditions for control decks, allowing us to shuffle away from other win conditions.
Grixis Control After Rivals of Ixalan
Control is Standard may be marginally enhanced after the release of the next set. This pattern is consistent for control decks in history: adding a couple copies of spells from a new set but maintaining the previous shell. There will not be a replacement for Torrential Gearhulk for Grixis or other traditional control decks, but I will be looking at the preview cards like a hawk, waiting for a great instant to join the team before Dallas.
These types of additions help strengthen the maindeck, but that isn't what control needs to be ultimately successful. For control to be successful, Temur Energy must remain as oppressive as it is. This is not what I want as a fan of the game, but it is an observation that I need to make. Temur's success continues to dampen the aggressive decks beneath it, pushing Ramunap Red, Mardu, and B/R Aggro into the fringe.
Take note of the sideboard of this Grixis Control list. I sideboard in one copy of Doomfall against Temur Energy and that is it. One sideboard card for the absolute best deck in the format.
It isn't that I'm feeling unwell, but because the matchup is as good as advertised. There is always a catch and it's the weakness to aggressive decks. There are eleven sideboard cards that come in against red-based aggro. Magma Spray, Chandra's Defeat, Whirler Virtuoso, Doomfall, and my favorite Standard robot, Multiform Wonder, all come in to help level the playing field to 50/50.
I've never really delved into the advantages of Multiform Wonder because it's a fragile haymaker in the matchup, absolutely devastating for the opponent in combat but easily removed. The Scarab God helped increase Multiform Wonder's stock, because I have had many opponents sideboard out some or all of their Abrades. If that happens, the robot can take over a game with a few five-damage lifelink attacks.
Bringing in eleven cards isn't ideal, but luckily, I haven't been forced to do so recently. Magic Online and live play have been infested with more Temur Energy than most can stomach. This has resulted in me having more Play Points than I know what to do with, but that is beside the point.
This article is a prediction for the future of Standard and not a bold one. Most players have abandoned my favorite format of all time for good reason. If you are not a control fan, Standard is a wasteland for ingenuity and enjoyment. The SCG Tour® has already made the appropriate changes to their event schedule and removed individual Standard tournaments. Modern is a format that I've never loved, but I have accepted it as the future of competitive Magic (at least until Kaladesh rotates). With Team Constructed, though, Standard will still be in our lives in 2018 and we must have a plan.
Since we can safely assume that your Standard opponent sitting across from you is casting a Longtusk Cub on Turn 2, let's make sure you're equipped to defeat them. Practicing and mastering Grixis Control in the current metagame will carry over to the next one after the release of Rivals of Ixalan. There will be no quick fix printed, no powerful mechanic unleashed, to take Temur Energy down from the top, but we don't need them. Control has all the tools required to continue to dominate Temur Energy and can only get better from additional sets. The key to success is to avoid aggressive decks as much as possible, either with the luck of pairings or the continued dominance of Energy variants over their blitz rivals.
Control in Modern and Legacy
I don't want to leave your other teammates hanging in the other formats, so let's discuss what a team of Shaheen, Shaheen, and Shaheen would play in Dallas when the SCG Tour® arrives in January. Grixis Control in Standard is an easy choice, but the others aren't as cut-and-dried. Modern has quite a few options for control mages. U/W has gained some momentum with the uptick of Tron and other combo decks, having the ability to deny mana extremely well. I still think Jeskai variants have an edge with their ability to turn into the aggressor, but it's close. I suggest Jeskai, this version between tempo and true control, is the way to go:
Legacy has been led by Deathrite Shaman recently. This one-drop does it all and it has recently made me abandon Esper Stoneblade after six full years of dedication. This change didn't occur from losing to the one-drop, but because I'm in the wrong for not playing it myself. There are Esper Stoneblade lists that play Deathrite Shaman (Deathblade decks), but I've gotten a taste of true control in Legacy. Watching a few Europeans have a blast with all the best control cards, fueled by the perfect mana of Legacy and the ramp of Deathrite Shaman, has finally drafted me into the team. My suggestion is that your Legacy player deploys a list like this, provided by my friend Andrea Mengucci:
This is a slightly older list, and I'd change a few cards myself, but it's a good starting point. So many sweet spells that take back this old mage to a better time and I can't wait for the next Legacy event! This excitement is bittersweet, however, as I had to tuck away my weathered copies of Lingering Souls in my binder of heroes. Maybe one day the Souls will linger in Legacy again.