Winning the RPTQ last weekend felt wonderful, my friends. I completed over 50 Sealed leagues in preparation, and I felt as prepared as humanly possible. I've always fancied Limited tournaments, so it wasn't as painstaking as it sounded. With that format on its way out, it's time to look toward the future. I have the next two Pro Tours to prepare for, one being Standard and the other being Team Constructed.
I receive an elevated level of enjoyment from analyzing new cards from the control perspective and giving you all my best predictions of the impact they will have on control decks soon. Dominaria has quite a few cards with competitive potential, but I enjoy the challenge of narrowing the list down to a Top 10. This helps me weed out cards that have more fringe prospects than actual tournament impact. I want Oath of Teferi to be an immediate force in competitive play, but I know it will not take new Standard by storm. There are a few cards, such as the Oath, that land in the honorable mention pool, however.
Yawgmoth's Vile Offering has the feel of Dark Intimations but can be used in more decks. Cards like these have a role in the control mirror or against a slower midrange foe to swing a losing game with one misstep from the opponent. When I was playing Grixis, Dark Intimations came in against Temur Energy and the control mirror, punishing opponents that tapped out for a planeswalke or robust creature late in the game. Yawgmoth's Vile Offering brings back a fallen threat and then clears an opposing one for a reasonable mana cost. The mana isn't the issue with a card like this though. Legendary sorceries have a role in the new format, but this falls a bit short in practical theory. If you have a legendary creature or planeswalker on the battlefield, a card like Yawgmoth's Vile Offering isn't probably needed to pull ahead. Dark Intimations allowed you to go from rags to riches, whereas Yawgmoth's Vile Offering requires some wealth to get started.
Counterspells are in a good spot these days. The reprint of Essence Scatter, a good Cancel in Disallow, Negate's timeless existence, and the champion we know as Censor have allowed control mages to build a strong permission package. Normally a reprint like Syncopate would have me jump for joy, but sadly I don't think it's better than the counterspells previously listed. It's close to Disallow in many ways, but it can't even interact positively with Torrential Gearhulk, making it a very risky option.
Evan Erwin (@misterorange) April 5, 2018
Oh. My. God. @Top8Games— Shaheen Soorani (@shaheenmtg) April 5, 2018
There has been a running joke for a while between the historians of the game that is centered around my love for the spell Rewind. It may be my old age, but I don't recall ever championing that counterspell, but these gentlemen are sure that I'm the number one Rewind fan and caster of all time. This legacy prompted a quick tag when Unwind was previewed. I heavily disagree with Evan Erwin and think this card may have been good in a world where Negate didn't exist. Negate effects are typically used in the control mirror, where untapping lands is less important than resolving the blue spells in the counter war. Unwind costs one more than Negate and that negative is enough to put this card right in the trade binder and out of my Standard control decks.
The Top 10!
Not the most exciting way to bring in the top ten, but here we are! Divination brings a smile to faces worldwide that had the opportunity to enjoy a little U/W Control of the past and enjoy the associated nostalgia. Three mana for two cards isn't exactly a bargain, but it does hit the minimum efficiency required for playability. Read the Bones has been the best of that category in recent history, but Divination does avoid life loss. I expect Divination to see some play at the beginning and much more when Glimmer of Genius exits Standard later this year.
Josu Vess, Lich Knight is my pet card of the set that I can't wait to throw in my black-based control decks. I've had great tournament success with spicy one-ofs that win the game soon after--Rude Awakening comes to mind as it always ended the game in one crashing attack after resolution. Josu Vess, Lich Knight gives me that similar win condition, floating around in the deck until utilized in the late game, creating an army of Zombies to attack for lethal the following turn. Unlike Rude Awakening, however, this can be used in the early game to apply pressure if drawn instead of rotting in your hand as an expensive dud. I don't think it's better than Rude Awakening as a win condition, but it does have a lot of appeal for those looking to apply a control knockout punch in Standard.
8. Dark Bargain
This is one sweet draw spell! After reading it, I was positive that it would be a sorcery, but I was pleasantly surprised. This has all the workings of Read the Bones with a slight rise in cost in exchange for instant speed. That's a trade I'm willing to make most of the time and is why Vraska's Contempt/Hero's Downfall are much better than their sorcery speed equivalents. Glimmer of Genius is still a better card draw spell, but not everyone is in the blue-based control camp. B/W Control, or some new black-based midrange deck, can now draw cards with the best of them.
Isolated Chapel's return opens new opportunities for Esper Control decks. The mana for Esper Control has been suspect at best, but it's about to receive a blessing with this reprint. The rest of the cycle doesn't help control mages out much, except with Sulfur Falls. The reason I didn't include Sulfur Falls in the title is because I don't think that red control decks are going to be viable moving forward. Harnessed Lightning, Abrade, and Hour of Devastation are great cards, but black has been able to support blue for months without the assistance from these spells. Black is about to get even more powered up with Dominaria, so Sulfur Falls will have to warm the bench for the time being.
6. Blink of an Eye
I'm not sure why this isn't called Into the Roil, but I'm glad it's Standard-legal again. Bounce spells have been mostly unplayable for control decks throughout history. Mages cannot waste a resource to return a permanent to its owner's hand without a replacement, which Blink of an Eye provides. Card draw is everything to people like us, so tacking that onto a spell turns it from trash to treasure.
Damnation is back…kind of. Phyrexian Scriptures gives us mass removal the turn after we cast it, making it slightly stronger than a five-mana sweeper. Yahenni's Expertise is the closest thing we've had to a powerful sweeper until this gem was previewed early on. Bontu's Last Reckoning has seen some play, but I heavily dislike that card due to the fact I enjoy untapping my lands. Phyrexian Scriptures has a unique and powerful design that separates it from the current options we have in Standard. It's essentially a turn 5 sweeper that prevents your opponent from adding additional threats the turn prior. The other abilities attached may have minor impact as well. The first ability saves one of your giant control win conditions from the destruction, and the third wipes potential graveyard threats. This is especially effective against embalm creatures that are seeing a great deal of recent tournament success.
4. Seal Away
This is the best white removal spell added to Standard in quite some time. Seal Away is only two mana and deals with nearly every possible threat in the format. I couldn't believe it has flash and exiles, but it does and it's glorious. Enemy Gods, violent Dragons, and early threats stand no chance against a two-mana removal spell that will revolutionize white-based control decks moving forward. This takes me back to the Condemn days where the criticism was "it's easy to play around." That ended up not being the case and creatures were constantly put on the bottom of their owner's library. Seal Away will provide comparable results, exiling attackers left and right. Aggressive decks have no choice but to attack, and the only decks this will be ineffective against are control or slow midrange options. Two mana removal isn't going to be fantastic against those decks anyway, so sleeve this with confidence.
3. Lyra Dawnbringer
Baneslayer Angel…is that you? She was one of the angelic soldiers that hoisted me off to multiple Pro Tours back in the day, so Lyra Dawnbringer has some real-estate in my heart. She has all the stats that make her just as good as Baneslayer Angel but comes with the legend tag. There are potential upsides to being a legend, but I'd much rather have an army of Baneslayer Angels ravaging my opponent's life total. Since one is Standard legal and the other isn't, I'll have to make do with the newest incarnation of the greatest Angel ever to grace the heavens. Lyra Dawnbringer is a resilient win condition in the format, only dying to a few spells that are commonly played. Against the most aggressive decks in the format, she's nearly indestructible. Five toughness allows her to completely avoid red's reach and that makes her a deadly option in a white-based control deck. First strike allows her to dominate combat, flying gives the necessary evasion, and lifelink ends the game upon contact against one of control's toughest matchups.
2. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
We finally have a playable planeswalker in control colors! Teferi, Hero of Dominaria has the perfect mana cost, resolving after premier removal and/or card draw. The first ability provides the required advantage for a control planeswalker, drawing cards with the bonus of untapping lands. The two untapped lands provide us instant access to removal or a counterspell for the follow-up play of our opponent. It seems like a minor advantage, but it can make the difference between playable or unplayable. The second ability was even better than I thought it would be, putting a nonland permanent third from the top, instead of in hand. Most of these planeswalkers repelled a threat to the opponent's hand, but Teferi, Hero of Dominaria sends it packing to the library. Third from the top is a big deal, giving us time to develop a battle plan for a severe problem. The ultimate needs very little hype, because it will be nearly impossible to beat. Planeswalkers with these types of ultimates increase their playability significantly. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is new and exciting, giving U/W Control a fresh look that may be significantly different from the Approach of the Second Sun strategy. This planeswalker, along with better early removal, is enough to build a traditional U/W Control deck that resembles the current U/B Control shells. With some Isolated Chapels, The Scarab God can make this Esper deck a control contender.
1. Cast Down
The absence of Grasp of Darkness has been noticeable, but not devastating for black-based control players. Fatal Push has been carrying the work load for the last few months and could use some backup. Cast Down may be the removal spell we have all been waiting for. There has been a lot of hate for this card, which mirrors the sentiment of Ultimate Price/Go for the Throat when they were released years ago. A removal spell that only kills creatures of one color in a set with all these multicolor threats shouldn't have been good, but it was. I suspect Cast Down will have a similar debut. I have faith in Wizard's ability to create a removal spell like this and have it play a vital role in Standard. I'm aware that there are a significant amount of legends already being utilized at the moment, but there are also many aggressive creatures that Fatal Push can't keep down on its own. Cast Down may not be a four-of, but it will help supplement the removal suite required for control to remain competitive in the early game.
With the arrival of Dominaria, things are shaping up nicely for us control mages. I can't wait to get to work on finding the best control deck for SCG Atlanta and PT Dominaria.