Usually when a new set is revealed, my Top 10 list of potential control cards in Standard is closer to a Top 20. The reason why Standard historically has been the best format in Magic is its ever-changing nature: out with the old and in with the new. Sadly for fans of the format, that hasn't been the case recently. Temur Energy has been unyielding, embarrassing new strategies whenever a brave brewer presents them.
Rivals of Ixalan has been dampened by the shadow of this Standard menace, with the excitement siphoned out of writers, players, stores, tournament organizers, and all those in-between. Luckily for us, the problem likely will be rectified. Wizards of the Coast staff have flirted with the idea of a banning on social media and articles on their website and there is little doubt in my mind that Attune with Aether is receiving the king's justice on January 15th. This joke I made on Twitter had serious undertones to it as well:
Attune getting banned would be a riot, historically speaking. I'll have to sit baby Ares down one day and explain to him how that and Memory Jar both ruined formats.— Shaheen Soorani (@shaheenmtg) January 6, 2018
Attune with Aether has a similar design flaw to Phyrexian mana. Cards that have standard effects, such as paying one mana to add a land to the hand, should add nothing else in addition to that. Traverse the Ulvenwald followed that rule because it did not provide any additional perks on the first turn for the price of one green mana. Getting delirium wasn't easy, nor was it quick, so having an additional mode on the card was perfect design.
We don't gain anything by beating this thoroughly dead horse any longer, but it is important to note for future card development.
Banning Attune with Aether probably will not be enough to land a death blow on Temur Energy, so I expect they'll attack an additional piece. I'm praying that they don't remove Harnessed Lightning, because that ultimately eliminates red-based control.
Today's article features the Top 10 cards from Rivals of Ixalan with the banning of Temur Energy in mind, but removing Harnessed Lightning would be the death knell to the best shot control has against Ramunap Red when the dust settles. Harnessed Lightning, Magma Spray, Chandra's Defeat, and Whirler Virtuoso would all fade from control's existence for the worse. I hope that Rogue Refiner joins Attune with Aether to help push Standard to a healthier point.
And for the record, this isn't good for the Expensive Sorcery Master, removing Temur Energy from the format.
My dislike of the set's answers to Energy isn't from a selfish point of view. With Energy removed, Red will rise tenfold, effectively pushing control further to the fringe. Still better for the game though.— Shaheen Soorani (@shaheenmtg) January 6, 2018
Control will have to go under a full makeover when Ramunap Red takes the throne in the initial stages. But do not fret, my friends! I will be with you every step of the way, battling the forces of evil with the unlikely help of The Scarab God! Let's get to Rivals of Ixalan and what can help propel control above the aggro menace.
Control's Top Ten
We have ourselves a zinger against control! This is terrible news, because this mammoth of a creature doesn't help us in any other matchup. To increase the angst level, we are forced to play one of these in the sideboard from here on out. You don't want to end up at the gun fight with a butter knife. I think the design is sweet, as it feels like Pearl Lake Ancient in many ways, and it's high on the flavor scale, so we might as well enjoy it!
9. Mastermind's Acquisition
While we're on the subject of big, blue Dinosaurs, we should have a way to cast them Game 1. This is an incredibly well-designed card that offers choice to control mages, which is always a strong incentive for inclusion. The tutor ability allows for a follow-up The Scarab God for pressure or even an Hour of Devastation for cleanup. It fits neatly as a one-of in the Grixis Control deck that I have heavily endorsed.
The reason why it has a low rating on this list is due to its converted mana cost. Four mana is a steep price to pay for any tutor. The beauty of Dark Petition was the three-mana kickback you got for an additional spell that turn. Mastermind's Acquisition is much less creative, but the opportunity to grab one of my Multiform Wonders against Ramunap Red is too attractive to ignore.
8. Vona's Hunger
Vona's Hunger brings back an instant-speed Diabolic Edict effect to Standard, which is never a terrible thing, but the reason a card that has a strong ability attached to a fair mana cost is not worth celebrating over is Doomfall. Doomfall is a sorcery, but it has that popular modality attached. Having the ability to destroy an opponent's hand prior to casting a haymaker, as well as having the answer to their potential haymaker, is too good to ignore.
I don't know if Vona's Hunger will see much play over Doomfall, but I would be shocked not to see at least one copy in each black-based control deck. Hazoret the Fervent can be dispatched before any damage is dealt if the battlefield was kept squeaky clean or The Scarab God can meet a timely demise at the end of turn. Those scenarios keep this card in the removal suite discussion.
This is another sideboard doozy for control players dipping into the forbidden color of red. How many Snapcaster Mages are too many? Brilliant people have studied this philosophical quandary for years without finding the answer. I tend to push that boundary when the costs are low, and Dire Fleet Daredevil matches Snapcaster Mage in that regard.
The huge drawback is that the card only works with your opponent's spells, so this firecracker will have to occupy sideboard slots for the foreseeable future. I hope that other decks beside red-based aggro rise to the top after Temur's predicted demise…and that those decks are full of spells for us to cast!
The pictures above indicate why this fragile critter landed in sixth place for this veteran mage. I'm not a fan of Timestream Navigator as a card, but we have a combo back in Standard.
I think that U/R Control can manage without the black splash for The Scarab God if this pair is included. The combo is expensive, requiring eleven mana to go off from an empty battlefield, but it costs only eight to win with Saheeli Rai already on the battlefield.
Four-Color Saheeli decks from before the banning were able to keep the planeswalker alive and ticking for multiple turns, so it isn't an unrealistic expectation for a control deck to do the same. There are obvious situations where this avenue would be a stretch, like against Ramunap Red, so the deck would have to be built much more defensively.
I have no idea if this deck will have the tools to win after some of the energy components are removed, especially if Whirler Virtuoso gets whacked. We'll have to wait and see if combo re-emerges as a top-tier deck.
It's a time to strategize, not complain, so I won't write 500 words about neglecting to add a strong, cheap, instant-speed removal spell from black to Standard. We have Moment of Craving and that will have to do.
If Longtusk Cub and Whirler Virtuoso are back in the bulk commons/uncommons of people's collections, this card has true potential to join Fatal Push as the early removal answers to Ramunap Red. The sad news is there are eleven creatures in their maindeck that can't be killed by this card, and three of them happen to be a two drop. Kari Zev, Skyship Raider laughs in our face as we arrogantly play lifegain-attached removal in our maindeck, killing her pet Monkey to salvage some life points. This is the best we have to back up Fatal Push, so for those who plan on using The Scarab God to defeat your enemies, God speed.
This is my second-favorite card in Rivals of Ixalan. It isn't the second-best card on my list, but the ceiling on it is very high. Having lifelink is enough to grab my attention with the red flood approaching, as well as a second mention of that wonderful keyword at the bottom. Elenda, the Dusk Rose takes a bit of work to get rolling, but it has the upside of creating a formidable force of lifelink tokens that would put any aggressive player to rest.
Another great perk attached to Elenda is you're rewarded with at least one creature if she's killed immediately. Usually aggro decks are the ones with annoying triggered abilities in the early-game, but this card has control written all over it. Elenda rewards players for keeping her alive with a future life boost, and that's good enough for me to work on an Esper Control build right after the upcoming Pro Tour.
The new Flametongue Kavu lands at number three, which may cause some to question my judgment. Ravenous Chupacabra is the strongest incarnation of its kind, removing any opposing creature without condition.
I have long dreamed of a card like this for Standard, but I'm not ready to throw four in every black-based control deck yet. Cards like Vraska's Contempt and Glimmer of Genius compete with the new removal creature at the four-mana slot, making this even more difficult to evaluate. On one hand, Ravenous Chupacabra works wonders with The Scarab God, killing and then blocking a creature, and is a hard removal spell. On the other, it's sorcery-speed, doesn't hit planeswalkers, and is very weak against decks that don't care if you kill creatures. Such decks include God-Pharaoh's Gift, U/W Approach, Token variants, and fast aggressive decks that contain indestructible creatures.
I think Ravenous Chupacabra will be a major player in Standard, but I don't think it'll warp the metagame as some fear.
Azor, the Lawbringer has the look of a card I would have created had I won a Wizards of the Coast Invitational back in the day. The days of winning with a beautiful Sphinx's Revelation seem like ages ago, and I know that I'm not the only one who misses the feeling. This legendary control weapon provides us that nostalgia and epic win condition that could replace Approach of the Second Sun for some Azorius fans.
The first thing that came to mind for me was a debilitating fear of my opponent killing it with a Harnessed Lightning and then activating The Scarab God to end the game immediately. With great power comes great responsibility, and Azor, the Lawbringer is a shining example of that. This card must be played with patience against decks that can take it from you, counter it, or kill it before it is utilized. Another responsibility we all have is in deck construction. It shares a slot with Torrential Gearhulk and I don't think it's better in most scenarios. I'm glad it's in the format and I know it'll see control play, but six-drops that don't gain life immediately or kill anything may be a liability in a field of red.
1. Baffling End
"Baffling" may be a great description for this top card for control out of Rivals of Ixalan. The best control cards are not the flashiest, but the ones that keep us alive.
The lack of good removal in Standard keeps me awake at night, so a card like Baffling End fills a gap in desperate white-based control decks. Approach of the Second Sun decks were caught with Unsummon at the end of the last season because of the removal neglect from the development team in Seattle. Control is an important part of the metagame health in Standard, which is why cards like Harnessed Lightning shouldn't be banned, Grasp of Darkness should have a comparable successor, and Baffling End was printed.
This is easily the top card for the control team and gives hope to those who wish to explore white-based control outside of Approach of the Second Sun. Esper Control is on the table now, having Fatal Push and now a two-mana follow-up. Even straight U/W Control received a powerful win condition and removal from Rivals of Ixalan to become a contender.
My initial tweets about the set were negative, not because control is doomed but because Temur Energy has caused Standard organized play to plummet and the set provides no relief to this issue. I feel revitalized now, with the assumption that Wizards of the Coast will do what must be done in a few days. I hate bannings in Standard as much as the next person, but I'm stricken with sadness when you all hate the very format that has brought me years of happiness.
Let's get Standard back to the top!