Guilds of Ravnica is upon us and the excitement of a new set is undeniable. Although my previous article was filled with some level of doom and gloom, preview cards fill me with optimism. The loss of Torrential Gearhulk, The Scarab God, and Fatal Push force the control mage population to shift away from creature-based win conditions. There's no shame in leaning on Teferi, Hero of Dominaria soon, but the advantage from control having the ability to lead a multifaceted attack strategy is something special. There's no doubt in my mind that the top tier control deck of the future is based in blue and white; however, there have been a few preview cards released that have peaked my interest elsewhere.
As expected, shocklands have returned to Standard. I'm always torn about this, due to the advantage it gives to aggressive decks over those options I fancy. The rest of the competitive community could care less about their life total, sometimes dealing damage to themselves for the shear joy of it. Those of us in the control caucus understand that life points are precious and shocklands can put a heavy strain on our total. When the mana fixing enters the battlefield tapped, that's when we gladly toss them in the deck and the aggressive crew avoids them like the plague. Although this disadvantage exists, it still promotes a healthy two-color manabase, as well as a beautiful Esper/Grixis manabase for those adventurous enough to take the three-color plunge.
Creating the mana for a control deck is going to be very easy moving forward. You toss a variety of Hallowed Fountain, Watery Grave, Godless Shrine, Isolated Chapel, Drowned Catacomb, and Glacial Fortress into your deck with a few basics. Field of Ruin will always be a one-of in these three-color manabases, more when the splash is tiny enough. Standard is at its best when the mana is strong and there are fewer legal sets. I'm not excited about the upcoming World Championship and the dead format they are showcasing, and it's baffling to me that they would revive an older, although more popular, Limited format to join dead Standard in crowning the next hero. I don't get paid the big bucks to dissect these types of concerns, but I will say it has made me that much more excited about control's next chapter.
The mana being great is the foundation for control's success, and the spells have a lot of wiggle room in terms of power level. Three-mana counterspells, two-mana removal spells, ridiculously overcosted draw spells, and wonderful win conditions have come and gone in the champion's archetype. If we can cast spells on curve, I know we will have a good shot at tournament success.
Disallow has been control's go-to for far too long. It's not a busted card by any means, but it has conditioned us to accept the status quo on mediocre blue spells. There was a wonderful counterspell previewed from Guilds of Ravnica and I've seen some community members weep for Disallow. I don't judge them for this misguided view, because I'm sure most players can't recall the feeling of a well-timed Dissolve from years past. Having the ability to Stifle made Disallow a versatile option and protected us from deadly planeswalker ultimates, but that didn't occur often enough to create a dependence on the effect. Dissolve was fantastic on a regular basis, and this spell is even better.
Sinister Sabotage gives us a reason to celebrate in the blue community. Scry was great, and surveil is better. Adding cards to the graveyard boosts Search for Azcanta, which will be the bread and butter of control's early game. Torrential Gearhulk may not be with us anymore to take advantage of an increased graveyard, but I guarantee there will be more cards previewed that reward us for binning things. Three-mana counterspells are the unfortunate future of Standard, but luckily, we have one that is as good as it gets. Scry has been the mechanic that has saved players from countless mana screws, especially those choosing a mana-hungry archetype. Control decks live and die by the land drops, making surveil the mechanic of choice. It's already a given that true control decks will sleeve up four copies of the top three-mana counterspell, so this early preview was music to my ears.
Not many cards have been previewed thus far, but we already have an option for card draw that I really like. Glimmer of Genius is going to be the biggest hit to control decks with the upcoming rotation. Sinister Sabotage is great, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria will win the game easily, battlefield sweepers exist, but how do we get to do all of that? Meet our Think Twice variant:
Think Twice would have been a nice addition to the new Standard, though Radical Idea may be good enough. It has the same start cost as the French favorite, but I don't think I'll see my friend Wafo-Tapa playing it in Modern or Legacy anytime soon. The new flashback mechanic is jump-start and is not necessarily worse that flashback, as flashback typically had a higher cost for the second go around, where jump-start has the original cost attached. The drawback is the discarded card which, admittedly, is a significant one. This would almost serve to hit land drops early and loot away excess ones later in the game. Search for Azcanta is still the way better deal for two mana; however, instants like this can always find a home. This card by design does not produce card advantage and that can present a problem. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria can fill your hand and run away with the game, but that's a bit ambitious without the ability to clear the battlefield early.
Control decks that depend on mass removal can afford to lose out on raw card advantage, but decks that try to one-for-one an opponent to death may fall short. Decks like U/B Control and U/R Control of old, went after an opponent's creatures little by little. Once the fuel dipped near empty, a Glimmer of Genius would help fill the hand back up. We still have most of the set to see, but I'm stoked seeing these two spells this early in the process.
There's a third preview card that makes me want to commit to Esper Control weeks before the release of Guilds of Ravnica. The last time Ravnica came by, I was casting Thoughtseize turn 2, Dissolve turn 3, Supreme Verdict on turn 4, and a glorious Sphinx's Revelation at any point after. We may not get to do most of those things again in Standard, but Dimir has come through with a nice hand disruption spell to create some guild excitement!
When I first posted my excitement about this spell on Twitter , a follower of mine tried to rain on the Dimir parade with a Thoughtseize reference. He questioned the power of a two-mana version of a Modern and Legacy staple. I always jot down a warning when looking at previews, especially when rotation is upon us, to not dismiss them because they aren't as powerful as their Eternal variants. Thoughtseize isn't coming back for quite some time, and the two-mana hand disruption spells that have been printed after have seen a great deal of competitive play. It feels just like yesterday when I was casting Transgress the Mind in each deck I played and my opponents cast it against me in each deck that they played. Thought Erasure hits equal or more targets than its predecessors, as well as surveils! Nothing would make me happier than to take my opponent's best card on turn two, toss a spell in the graveyard, then miraculously hit my land drop to continue my control lifestyle. Take all your things, counter all your things, and kill all your things are the pieces to the puzzle that we should strive to assemble.
Those are the exciting preview cards that will be tested in a variety of control shells when Guilds of Ravnica gets closer to its release date. I do have some more exciting news that will be set in full motion as the new Standard is ushered in. I took great pride in leading the Team CardHoarder charge last season, and I have far too much energy to not take on another project at the ripe old age of 35! Eli Kassis and I hit Gold for the first time in our long, entertaining cardplaying career, so we sought other like-minded mages to join our new crew. We added a few CardHoarder folks, some new friends from our northern neighbor, and a couple players that I have had the pleasure of knowing for many years.
Without further ado, I present to you Team FaceToFaceGames.com!
- Devin Koepke
- Jacob Baugh
- Joey Andrews - Manager
The Pro Team is comprised of Gold competitors and a Hall of Fame legend in Gabriel Nassif. I'm used to crafting a team from a pool of players that had no home, somewhere I found myself often. I've never had the luxury of playing Magic full-time, due to work and life events, so that left me with minimal qualifications. This year will be the first year where my team has players with the drive, skill, and qualifications without worrying about picking up invites in the future. Team Lingering Souls and Team CardHoarder were both filled with players with drive and skill, but we were always scraping to get to the final Pro Tours. This team, sponsored by FaceToFaceGames.com, will be attending each high-level tournament we can get our hands on. Additionally, the SCG Tour® is hitting a few east coast locations that will entice over half of the squad to come out and compete. The entire team is brimming with excitement and we can't wait to make our mark in the competitive arena.