As expected, this week has hit us all with great preview cards from Ravnica Allegiance. My role in this process is to continue to break down possible staples from the new set for you control enthusiasts out there. For those of you that don't enjoy counterspells and removal, I'm sorry. But I'm not sorry that you don't gain anything from this because you absolutely do. I have always had a strong aggro following for a good reason. If you enjoy beating down your opponent relentlessly with silly creatures and hate losing to blue decks, you come here to see what the enemy is up to.
Aggro players that read my literature do so to understand the weaknesses control decks have and to exploit them. This reality has always caused mixed feelings for me. On the one hand, I'm accomplishing my number one goal as a strategy writer, which is to expand the game for everyone. I accepted the position over a decade ago and continue to give my readers a competitive, control perspective. On the other hand, I don't think my articles helped to reduce the frequency of Carnage Tyrant or Goblin Chainwhirler this past year. Go ahead and steal our secrets, red fans.
Luckily for us, the Azorius Senate and the Orzhov Syndicate are just arriving.
There has been a void in the card draw slot for control decks since the exit of Glimmer of Genius. Glimmer of Genius was a one-stop shop for hitting land drops past turn 4, as well as getting all business in the lategame. I have ranted and raved long enough about the ineffectiveness of Chemister's Insight. In a world dominated by creatures, Inspiration simply isn't good enough. Dressing it up as an eventual "draw four" is lunacy and an investment on mana that simply cannot be our best option. Notion Rain has been the better draw spell prior to Ravnica Allegiance in Esper Control, but the shift to Jeskai Control made that argument obsolete. Now that we're back to the greatest control shard of all time, the discussion would have to continue if we weren't given a better option. Fortunately, we were gifted a top-end card draw spell that has the power to bury an opponent with a single cast.
Precognitive Perception looks like Jace's Ingenuity on the cover, but it's far more powerful. Having any ability tagged onto drawing three cards is already an upgrade, so this preview turned the heads of all control players once it was released. There are still many cards that haven't been unveiled from Ravnica Allegiance; however, two card draw spells have already made it into the public's view. I won't spend any time discussing Sphinx's Insight due to how bad it is. Precognitive Perception is likely the flagship card draw spell from our believed Azorius overlords.
Simply put, five mana is a bargain for this effect. This may be one of the best designed cards I've seen for #TeamControl in quite a while. Precognitive Perception can be the best possible card in your hand on turn 5 for multiple scenarios. There are times where Teferi, Hero of Dominaria cannot be cast due to the dangerous battlefield presence of the enemy. We end up tossing our beloved planeswalker onto the battlefield, snag a card, and soak up some damage on the way out. While that's a fine play on occasion, it often hasn't led me to victory against my tougher matchups.
One of the many skills required to pilot a control deck in today's Standard is baiting the opponent to fall into one of your card advantage traps. This could be playing additional threats into a battlefield sweeper, attacking with more than enough into a Settle the Wreckage, or playing too cautiously to get upended by a few spot removal spells. Precognitive Perception gives us the ability to draw our enemies into those types of situations more often. Passing with five mana open screams Settle the Wreckage but may result in a handful of new cards if our opponent plays around it. Against aggressive decks that go wide, casting it on our main phase all but guarantees a mass removal spell will occur on the following turn. Precognitive Perception allows us to have more lines of play, causes opponents to play less rehearsed, and gives us the opportunity to dig for any answer in our deck.
Looking at six cards is huge. This has the capability of Dig Through Time, just at a higher mana cost. There are obvious differences between a banned delve card and a better Jace's Ingenuity, but any three cards from the top six is comparable. There are multiple gamestates, matchups, and situations that require multiple cards to emerge victorious. This has been one of the big issues with control decks in Standard lately, having weaker spells and stronger creatures forces us to have more resources to win.
The decks that beat us in the current Standard aren't necessarily as explosive as those of the past. The Golgari Midrange decks out-threat us with grindy creatures and a stupid Dinosaur that was pieced together at the eleventh hour by very mean, blue-hating developers. Decks that play one-drops haven't been an issue as of late, and Bellow of the Carnarium is a sweet sideboard card to help ensure that remains the case. This is without seeing what new battlefield sweeper is in store for us because there will be one. It may not be Supreme Verdict, but I'm hoping for something at least half as powerful.
With Settle the Wreckage, an upgraded Infest, and hopefully something better than Cleansing Nova, decks like Boros Aggro and Mono-Red Aggro will have a difficult time winning with small creatures. Precognitive Perception seems overcosted to be effective against these types of decks, but looks can be deceiving. Control's success against aggro decks stems from combating early threats with spot removal, cleansing the battlefield in the midgame, then ending the game with a powerful win condition and/or burying them under card advantage. When I was working with Ari Lax last year with Grixis Control, I was adamant about never sideboarding out Glimmer of Genius against Mono-Red Aggro. This sounds like a crazy notion, but it helped me curve the matchup from the horror that was game 1. Especially after sideboard, you'll want to fuel your hand with the cheaper removal spells and find Lyra Dawnbringer with a defensive counterspell. It doesn't seem intuitive to have pricier card draw in against decks that pressure you on turn 1, but it has been a historically successful gameplan.
Back when we were digging through time, my most common find would be a counterspell and an action spell to deal with the threat on the battlefield. This, or find a trusty Dragonlord Ojutai, with its pal Silumgar's Scorn, and lock the game up shortly after. Although Precognitive Perception does this at sorcery speed and for more mana, the same formula may prove to be successful. With our new card draw spell, we get to take three cards, which changes the game completely. This may result in picking up a Ritual of Soot to clean the mess up on turn 6, an Essence Scatter to handle the following enemy play, and a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to turn the corner soon after. These specifics can obviously change and similar spells can be found if the dream set isn't there. Removal spells can act as counters, other win conditions instead of the optimal planeswalker, and the counterspells are all effective these days. The tools will be there in Standard for Precognitive Perception to hand select at sorcery speed; and when the game is going well, holding it up with your instant speed answers sounds pretty good.
Precognitive Perception costing five mana isn't a con, but it is sharing a slot with our mandatory planeswalker is. I don't see control decks playing The Eldest Reborn maindeck anymore, especially with some better alternatives and mass removal at our disposal. This leaves just Teferi, Hero of Dominaria at the five mana slot, center stage. Precognitive Perception doesn't play the same role as discussed earlier, so it shouldn't be a huge issue in the end. The only slot that had room to share for Esper Control decks is three, and in Jeskai Control decks it's four. We can't command the crafters of Ravnica Allegiance to print cards that perfectly fit on-curve, but we will gladly work with what we've got. The three-mana slot of Esper Control may have a new planeswalker joining the team, making the deckbuilding process very difficult once the full set has been released. Dovin, Grand Arbiter is a sweet card that may find a home in control decks, but that depends on the rest of the set.
Due to the mana cost, Precognitive Perception will not be a four-of. Glimmer of Genius was an easy spell to max out for turn 4 plays, but this cannot be the case for Precognitive Perception. I'm personally going to play three, but there's a high likelihood that the number will fall to two. This is a card that you probably won't need in multiples, and it's strong enough alone to provide a handful of powerful spells to lock the game up. It doesn't help you hit land drops in the early game, which will now fall solely on Search for Azcanta, Treasure Map, Thought Erasure, Sinister Sabotage, and additional cantrips that may find their way into our decklists. This isn't a time to summon Divination because the incidental scry and surveil attached to some Standard cards are powerful enough to get the job done.
The biggest flaw of Precognitive Perception is the draw to cast it at sorcery speed in most situations. Scry 3 then draw three is significantly more powerful than any card draw spell that we've played in quite some time. There will be situations that demand an addendum and we will comply, but it will be very important to not give into temptation when the game is relatively under control. Having a counterspell in hand, facing down a threat, knowing the opponent can make life much worse with a resolved planeswalker, and then tapping out to get your scry on is not a recipe for success. Understanding the game flow and not giving a window for your opponent to steal the game from your tap-out is going to be front and center with this card.
Consecrate//Consume is a decent answer to Carnage Tyrant while having the "cycle" ability early on if need be. Depose//Deploy is a similar split card but has a better cantrip side. Depose can save you significant life points, as Revitalize has done in the last few months. Deploy gives us an additional avenue for victory and some more life just in case.
With more previews hitting the scene daily, expect a preliminary decklist for Esper Control in the very near future. I've already started tinkering but would like to hold out for a better Cleansing Nova and maybe even a two-mana removal spell that could be revealed very soon.
Enjoy looking at the top six cards and taking the best three. You deserve it!