Spoilers are upon us and I'm just as excited about this set as many of you are. Don't get distracted by Wizards' obvious attempt at revitalizing Golgari/Rakdos within Jund and instead walk with me down the path of planeswalker control.
Check out Vraska the Unseen… Good lord. I would do anything to have those abilities on a planeswalker of a different mana combination. We can potentially splash green in a black-based control deck to enlist her services but I am going to wait for the full spoiler before adding green to my dream team list. At the time of writing this the set is still less than 50% spoiled so I am hesitant to construct a list for future Standard. This article will attempt to tackle the new format with the usual control spin.
Where do I start?
There are so many exciting cards that I am dying to play and there are some cards that are going to be the death of me. Let's start with a few cards that I intend on incorporating regardless of what has yet to be released.
1. Jace Architect of Thought
I want to start off with my favorite card in the new set. It is sad to say that Jace may be a sleeper after rotation. To this day I still proclaim that Sorin Lord of Innistrad is a fantastic card and I will say the same about Jace 4.0.
The reason why I say he may remain a sleeper is the utter lack of excitement I have seen on Facebook and Twitter. I mentioned in a MTG group on Facebook how disgusted I was to see the massive wave of negativity aimed at Jace. Criticisms were thrown at all of his abilities as well as at his overall playability. I attempted to respond to some of the incorrect conclusions drawn about Jace but I decided after a few posts of defense that I wanted to save all that ammunition for this article. Let us break down each aspect of Jace Architect of Thought.
Mana Cost / Loyalty
As to be expected Wizards perfected the mana cost on this planeswalker. Four mana had to be the price tag in order for the card to either be playable or broken. When you pay four for a walker and it comes in with four loyalty that's usually is a good sign. If you are just looking at blue then you have to be excited at the prospect of playing Jace 4.0 into a Tamiyo for a control lockdown. Combine that with another color for removal and additional planeswalkers and we are looking at quite the control deck for the upcoming Standard.
At this stage in the game we haven't seen any solid mono-blue spoilers except for the reprint of Syncopate and Jace man. But having Syncopate allows for a turn 2 or 3 counterspell that can clear the way for our planeswalker to safely land. I know there is slew of uncounterable cards for our opponents to take advantage of but look on the bright side…at least no one will be Mana Leaking our Day of Judgment against Geist of Saint Traft anymore.
+1: Until your next turn whenever a creature an opponent controls attacks it gets -1/-0 until end of turn.
I've heard moans and groans in response to Jace's first ability but I happen to think it is a very powerful ability. Before the days of Restoration Angel I racked my brain for answers to the Delver menace and came up blank for weeks using Magic Online as my tech laboratory. I finally realized that all of the tools in Delver that beat control did it with creatures with low power and toughness so it hit me…Curse of Death's Hold!
Not only did that win me a few games but it propelled me into a run of decent finishes in SCG Invitationals soon after. Jace's first ability is no Curse of Death's Hold but it is close. I know it doesn't kill anything but what it does do is force opponents to apply more pressure which is every control player's dream. The more pressure that has to be delivered to deal with planeswalkers the better our mass removal gets and the easier it is to win.
Am I going to be upset if Jace prevents a ton of damage to me and draws a card or two? Absolutely not. That is the second best scenario for a planeswalker besides staying in play permanently and winning the game. As you control players all know it is all about card advantage through drawing or through removal. The +1 on Jace does as much as it needs to do at four mana easily.
"Giving creatures -1 power isn't going to do anything on turn 4!"
I've heard that statement a few times by local players and it confuses me to no end. Do you think U/W Control or blue-based control decks just sit on their hands until turn 4? In the last planeswalker deck that I championed for months we were removing a creature on turn 2 and playing Liliana of the Veil on turn 3 (or Lingering Souls); I wish I could have slammed Jace on turn 4 this whole time.
There are tons of scenarios control players have to live through in order to climb their way back to a stable board position. Accusing Jace of being weak because of the seemingly pedestrian first ability is a tragic mistake. With the weakening of Delver based decks the power of Jace will grow and I believe weakening opponent's creatures is key to control's success.
I hope the hype stays low with Jace Architect of Thought initially—just like with Jace the Mind Sculptor and his $25 starting price—because I guarantee he will be a staple in every control deck that runs Islands.
-2: Reveal the top three cards of your library. An opponent separates them into two piles. Put one pile into your hand and the other on the bottom of your library in any order.
This ability is the one we have been waiting for on a planeswalker. Tamiyo provides a chance at drawing cards and is in many ways more powerful than Jace but at one mana less we have found a winner. Don't get me wrong; I will be playing Tamiyo until she rotates but there is no reason we can't play both.
His ability to take over an empty board and draw one great card two great cards or needed land is outstanding. For those of you who played during the age of Fact or Fiction this next segment is for you. I will attempt to outline scenarios and likely benefits from a Fact or Fiction like ability.
A control player with a full grip is the most dangerous.
Having a full grip or at least a medium grip of cards makes Jace that much more dangerous. You can fake a weakness to your opponent so that when you activate Jace your opponent will hand deliver you the perfect two cards you want. A great example of that is holding a Terminus against a board of creatures; you flip a Supreme Verdict a Syncopate and a sixth land that you need. There is no way they give you the Wrath and you can pocket the rewards. Thanks to Gitaxian Probe rotating your hand will be secret for the most part.
A control player battling a weak Magician can lead to great results.
When playing against newer players or just bad players Jace will produce cards for you that you should never have received. It's like the old Gifts Ungiven days. You have to know more than your opponent to be successful. I could give hundreds of scenarios based around human error in pile creation. The only real drawback is that there are only three cards for your opponents to mess up with and it will rarely be a blowout. The big advantage however is that this is not a one-time spell but a repeatable ability on a planeswalker.
A control player drawing extra cards always leads to victory.
I hear people grumbling about Jace because of how weak he is on his own. But if you're a sly wizard and can stabilize most of the board before Jace then you'll be rewarded.
How many Brainstorms did it take you to get so far ahead that your opponent's chances of winning approached zero? I'll tell you from my experience that even two ticks of the zero ability on Jace the Mind Sculptor were enough to put the game out of reach especially in the control mirror. We all know the Architect version of Jace is no Mind Sculptor due to his dwindling loyalty as we draw cards but even baby Jace produced enough advantage that he was a powerhouse. Renewable card draw from one source is just an outrageously good ability and cannot be overlooked.
-8: For each player search that player's library for a nonland card and exile it then that player shuffles his or her library. You may cast those cards without paying their mana costs.
This ultimate appears to be mediocre at first but I assure you it is quite good. Slamming a win con from both decks is nothing to shake a stick at but it is much weaker than the other ultimates floating around the format. The final Jace ability will be a rare occurrence but keep it in mind as a decent avenue to win if you are far ahead on the card count.
2. Izzet Charm
This is my favorite non-planeswalker spell that has been released so far. This Charm does everything you could ever want a two-mana spell to do.
I was dead set on playing Azorius after a few stunning spoilers. Everything from the fantastic new Oblivion Ring (Detention Sphere) and Martial Law to the printing of an uncounterable Wrath of God (Supreme Verdict) and a Stroke of Genius / Stream of Life spell (Sphinx's Revelation) make for a powerful U/W Control deck. The old Shaheen would force U/W Control especially in a new Azorius era…but the new Shaheen loves powerful cards.
Talrand was a perfect example of me falling in love with an Emeria Angel like effect and now Izzet Charm will take over my first control deck as the front and center four-of. Let's talk about each mode.
Countermagic has been getting worse and worse with every passing set it seems. First it was the idiotic printing of Cavern of Souls with a built-in ability that wasn't necessary. It didn't destroy Delver but it put a huge hurting on control decks that depended on Mana Leaking an early drop in hopes of stabilizing. I could go on about Cavern but I've been down that road.
Izzet Charm is exactly what you need from a versatile card. It stops many scary things and the biggest weaknesses of control decks: spells not creatures. When playing a control deck we can easily fill slots with removal and now Izzet Charm allows us to have a maindeck answer to any problematic spell that we would not normally have an answer to game 1. I see this card defending key spells in the control mirrors stopping an opponent's card draw or meddling in the middle of a tempo deck's Pike attempt. There are tons of scenarios where the counter ability will be very relevant and I look forward to using one card to answer three different areas of concern for only two mana.
Creature Kill Mode
Two damage is plenty of damage on turn 2. I said Pillar of Flame was a fantastic card and it still is. I look forward to running both the Charm and Pillar in the same deck. A control deck is doing most of its killing with spot removal early in the game and most creatures can't live through two damage. The best part about the Charm in terms of removal is that drawing it late isn't a bad thing at all because of the last ability.
Control decks that include red after rotation will reap the benefits of the strongest spot removal spells and using Izzet Charm to complement that arsenal will result in very frustrated aggro players and very happy control players. Against decks where removal isn't necessary you will be able to pitch the dead cards for replacement ones later in the game with little loss.
Card Draw Mode
Drawing cards…did I mention that is my favorite aspect of Magic? There isn't card advantage from this mode but when did lands eleven and twelve ever matter? A late-game Faithless Looting can be priceless and to top it off it is an instant. In the same deck I'm sure you'll have access to Snapcaster Mage Desperate Ravings and Forbidden Alchemy to create a pile of value.
Wizards has to be very careful when printing cards that draw additional cards. Who would have thought that the best decks were running twelve cantrips up to this point? We now know that no matter how insignificant a card appears if it draws cards we have to consider all the different scenarios in which that card can be abused. Izzet Charm will be golden both early and late. Play it with confidence.
I feel great excitement and fear with this card. How long have people been begging for a Phyrexian Arena reprint? Well here you have it folks. It is arguably worse because of the one-mana permanent investment but it is close enough. This card like Phyrexian Arena is format warping for control mirrors and slower decks but I don't think it's plausible as a maindeck card in the Grixis list I'm crafting.
The new format will have the remnants of Zombies and Delver which can pack a huge punch very early. There's also the threat of Huntmasters and Thragtusks along with mana accelerants—without their Birthing Pods (thank god). I think the card is unbeatable in half the matchups and too dangerous in the other half. There are a few reasons that I won't play it maindeck right out the gates.
- Occupies a land
- The power level of the aggressive decks
- Slower rewards compared to Forbidden Alchemy against aggro
- Lack of life gain in black
The last reason is the biggest hindrance as it's almost impossible to gain life back after use. The only playable black blue or red spell that can help is Vampire Nighthawk and he will have to carry the workload alone. Luckily the card is still THAT good against a few of the future decks and will earn a spot in the sideboard unless more cards are released that upgrade it to the maindeck.
What Magician would ever hate an answer-all removal spell? When this card was first spoiled a few things stood out that I didn't like. I didn't like the mana cost nor did I like another sorcery removal spell…but then I realized it costs two mana so I should shut up and play it.
A Terminate that can be a bomb against other control decks and Snapcaster Mage's dream card is an auto-inclusion if we can support the colors. This was another shove in the direction of Grixis over Azorius in the early stages. There is arguably nothing better than an answer in all control decks besides card draw. No more getting our Oblivion Rings Naturalized!
5. All Those U/W Control Cards
Sooooo many good cards! It is an understatement to say I love this set and it has pushed me to create three separate decklists for you great people. Each of these cards is very good so I'll give you a nice two liner for each.
A memory lapse for attacking or blocking creatures is a fantastic removal spell for the two best colors in magic. All I can say is this and a little Thought Scour is pretty exciting.
Better than Maelstrom Pulse for control decks because it removes it from the game and does more work than Oblivion Ring in theory. When I saw it has the same converted mana cost while having many uses I fell in love with it… It's a good one!
I keep telling my friends to relax when sweepers rotate in base sets. This Wrath effect will rock Standard as well as put a real hurting on Legacy aggro decks that depend on Stoneblade's answers getting countered.
The only sweet single-color spells that I've seen so far are Syncopate Cyclonic Rift and Martial Law. Syncopate will take the spot of Mana Leak as a much weaker two-mana answer to anything and everything opponents try to land in the early game. Even though Syncopate will probably not see as much play as Mana Leak did I am still grateful that they threw us a bone in the countermagic category.
Martial Law is also a pretty nice card against aggro decks. A rotating and renewable removal spell will force opponents to overcommit in order to get any pressure established. The enchantment combined with a few planeswalkers demands an aggro deck go all-in only to run into a Terminus or Supreme Verdict.
Cyclonic Rift is one of those cards that will get you out of sticky situations. If you ever need a miracle one-of this card will do the trick later in the game. I don't know if it's better than Into the Roil but I do know that it can act as an end of turn bombshell.
As long as they print Wraths card draw and awesome win conditions then I will always be able to give you a list to try out.
My Ravnica Creations
Sorry for the lack of sideboards but I feel the need to wait for the new format to mature before we prepare for the metagame. We all have heard the hype of Jund Zombies Thragtusk and Delver decks. I'm sure most of them will pan out and become the decks to beat but some will not. Control is at its best in an undefined format due to the versatility we possess in the maindeck and the reach we have in the sideboard. Once the decks to beat are clearer I will try write an article filling in the sideboards of these decks and if I can't get enough time from work to make it happen I'll share the news on Twitter.
I can assure you each of these decks has a chance to break out if the field is infested with Zombies and Thragtusks so pick your poison my friends.
Do you like a more tempo-based control deck with some Angels and Thragtusks? Or do you prefer one of the creature-light true control builds? I personally will be playing Grixis before the other two barring some insane U/W or G/W releases in the next week or so. I hope you all enjoyed my article as much as I enjoyed brewing and sharing my opinions with you.
Like always don't hesitate to tweet me a question or email me and I will do my best to get back to you promptly. Take care everyone and see you next time.
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