With Throne of Eldraine Standard on the horizon, we must prepare our farewells to irreplaceable friends that will not be joining us in the new world. Typically, when rotation is around the corner, I am eager to push away the old and welcome in the new. Control usually doesn’t run the show at the end of a format, and it’s no different now. Core Set 2020 Standard has a very-difficult-to-beat combo deck, a ramp deck, and an aggro deck that have all but killed off the control threat these last few months. Even with control at a very weak point, there is one planeswalker I know I will have a hard time letting go.
Love it or hate it, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria joins the ranks as one of the greatest planeswalkers ever printed. Its play dominated Standard for a long period of time and was competitive in the Eternal formats. When I first saw it running around Legacy in the Azorius Miracles deck, it nearly brought a tear to my eye. I love a good control planeswalker that transcends formats, making it a valuable hold for all collectors and competitors alike. Its time in Standard is about to expire, making control players leaderless for the time being.
The good news is the rest of our control package is relatively intact. We have some shocklands, enemy Temples, and whatever Throne of Eldraine gives us to fill the ally-colored missing piece. This is an exciting opportunity for the control manabases because Temples are great, especially when the format heavily slows down. While nearly every aggressive deck is obliterated by rotation, we get to keep our very powerful core of our Azorius Control deck.
Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils aren’t going anywhere. For better or worse, we’re stuck with these planeswalkers that can be brutal on deckbuilding moving forward. Abilities that draw cards and countermagic are at an all-time low with these two around, but it does provide us with a preset tap-out style of play that I’m all about. Knowing that we will be tapping out often provides us a rough draft for Thrones of Eldraine Standard, and all that is truly missing is a win condition.
I have been constantly refreshing my feed, looking for the game-ender that control is destined to receive in this set. There are some big old creatures out there that we can use in a worst-case scenario; however, that won’t be a formula for winning many matches. I doubt they’re going to give us a planeswalker that has all the game-ending modes like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria had, but I did notice a huge hexproof creature that got me immediately thinking.
An important skill in Magic that many of you are equipped with is deck design. Some folks think that it’s a dying art because the internet provides full decklists with explanations. That may be true, but there’s a level of critical thinking that comes with deck design, most importantly the ability to modify lists to an ever-changing metagame. Even if you aren’t comfortable building from scratch, the ability to diagnose a format and alter gameplay through minor deck changes could put you above the rest on the battlefield.
Shimmer Dragon isn’t a card that most people would see and immediately rally behind, but it has the most potential for a control win condition at this early stage in Throne of Eldraine previews. It has the control prerequisite of being difficult to kill, with a bonus of heavy card advantage. The cost is full-deck construction around artifacts, ensuring that the Dragon cannot be slain at any point during the game.
Luckily for us, this isn’t Modern and artifact hate is always light. Even if people did have some artifact hate, it would be considerably ineffective against a deck built around Shimmer Dragon because of the types of artifacts we would be using. I immediately went into the Advanced Search at the top of this here website and searched for every Standard-legal artifact that isn’t rotating soon.
And coming with Throne of Eldraine:
You all probably see a theme with the artifacts that I have chosen to use when building a deck designed for Shimmer Dragon. Most of these draw cards immediately, and if they don’t, they provide card advantage down the road. We’re early into the preview season still, so I expect to see more options flying our way. The fact that Food Tokens will be incidentally produced could make this deck the real deal.
Bolas’s Citadel will be a nice card around Shimmer Dragon, as it is conducive to the control plan anyway. Both cards could be game-ending depending on matchup, making them the perfect end-game cards in a future deck. The mana stretch would be easy, especially with artifacts that fix mana as a free ability. I am already thinking an Esper Control shell with heavy artifacts, moving us into that full tap-out mode that Wizards of the Coast has pushed us toward with War of the Spark.
Building an Esper Control deck with an artifact theme does take away a lot of deck space for other spells. Mystic Forge and Shimmer Dragon both require a constant flow of colorless goodies, as well as another sweet creature from the new set.
Alela, Artful Provocateur is a mythic four-drop that requires the Esper colors. I was obviously drawn to this card right from the get-go, but it doesn’t have the same protection that Shimmer Dragon has. Without having hexproof, it remains a very powerful creature that would be included in this deck; however, it would not be the finisher most of the time. It has lifelink and makes additional threats, making it still a powerful mid-game must-answer if the format doesn’t prompt players to play a pile of removal.
The ability for a control win condition to not get killed easily is the number one priority. There have been amazing planeswalkers, creatures, and general permanents that I wanted to play in my control decks over the years. Each time they were passed up by an Aetherling– or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion-style card without hesitation. This is the reason that Shimmer Dragon is a superior card to Alela, Artful Provocateur and should demand more deck slots in any artifact-based control deck.
My initial feeling is for at least three Shimmer Dragons in an Esper Control shell, with the hope of guaranteeing it on Turn 6. It’s nearly impossible to kill, will draw you at least one card upon arrival, and blocks like a champ. It also has five power, giving opponents only a few turns to figure out a way to stop it. I’m hoping that we get one more artifact that’s relatively cheap and impacts the battlefield in some way to seal the deal.
The biggest hit from rotation to a deck built around Shimmer Dragon will be Treasure Map. This was the perfect bridge to this mighty six-mana creature, which is probably why they can’t coexist. Obviously sacrificing a Treasure isn’t where you want to be when casting Shimmer Dragon, but tapping a few tokens to draw cards and keep it with hexproof sounds like a wonderful sequence of plays to me. There’s enough love to go around with Guild Globe, Golden Egg, Mystic Forge, Scrabbling Claws, and Witching Well in the early-game, but my hope is we may not have to play many of the last two.
Finally, I have not seen enough to give my blessings to Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge. This Buy-a-Box promo received very little hype due to its lack of Standard application. Since we’re building a deck centered around artifacts after rotation, we must give it the due process it deserves. The main issue is the mana cost, making it a direct competitor with our new win condition and Bolas’s Citadel. If we have enough useful artifacts in the early-game, this could split time with Bolas’s Citadel. I’m not sold on this one, but there is a world where its static ability and ultimate could be enough to get it a starting position.
I haven’t seen an Esper card that produces us a wonderful source of Food yet, but I’m eagerly waiting. WotC was generous with Treasure for control players, so I expect there to be some Food source in the upcoming previews. Artifact tokens that gain life are right up control’s alley and I would be shocked if they didn’t provide something playable that would go right into the deck. If that does happen, expect Shimmer Dragon and an artifact-based control deck to emerge Week 1 of Throne of Eldraine Standard.