White puffy clouds.
Crystal clear blue streams.
Plentiful card draw, mass removal, and planeswalkers.
Not a creature in sight.
This is my happy place. My Magic happy place… at least it used to be.
It’s been a while since I’ve been there, because it’s been a while since I’ve been able to legitimately feel that playing a control deck will mean playing the best deck.
There have been a few decks that have come close recently, but nothing outstanding.
Now that the full set of Kaladesh is revealed and Collected Company kicked the can and is out of sight and mind, it’s once again time to check if the verdict for control decks is that they will once again reign supreme.
This is of course a cautiously optimistic check. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. There’s a reason creatureless control decks haven’t seen much play as Magic becomes more focused on creatures. But maybe this time they let something slip through the cracks.
Naturally the first and best place to check is straight U/W Control. The days of Sphinx’s Revelation and Supreme Verdict will not be forgotten and must be relived if possible. Red mages will still flinch if you tap enough Plains and Islands confidently and all at once. It’s called Post Traumatic Sphinx Disorder.
Without further ado, let’s Crew up the Hype Train and build some decks!
There are plenty of great new tools here, but also a few holes in the deck.
Not many of the new cards from Kaladesh immediately jump out as all-stars for a true-blue control deck, but there are some subtleties among them that suggest plenty of these cards might just end up being better than they first appear.
Take Dovin Baan, for example.
I think it would be hard for there to be less buzz around Dovin Baan, which says less about Dovin than about how amazing Kaladesh is and just how many interesting cards there are.
Despite being a little bland, Dovin Baan has some good things going for him. Unfortunately for Dovin, he kind of got overshadowed by his three Kaladesh Mean Girl planeswalker setmates, who are all clearly popular and interesting, while poor Dovin got sent to the back of the class to wear a dunce cap and stay out of the way.
But there is a group of people hyped for the blue man. There are dozens of us! Dozens!
His +1 is a solid protective ability and even stops some relevant creature activations from the likes of Eldrazi Displacer, Selfless Spirit (highly relevant if followed by a Fumigate), or ramp creatures like Hedron Crawler or Deathcap Cultivator.
I do worry about his effectiveness against other planeswalkers, like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Nissa, Vital Force, who seem particularly seem well-equipped to shove him in a locker. He isn’t good at fighting back.
Dovin’s -1 is just very solid. No fuss, no muss. Draw a card, gain two life. If you use his -1 two turns in a row unimpeded, you’ve drawn two cards, gained four life, and still have a planeswalker on one loyalty, which is an excellent deal for four mana.
Even in some of his worst-case scenarios, where he uses his -1 and is immediately attacked and killed, it’s still not a terrible deal, effectively being the mode of Ojutai’s Command giving you a card and four life. Dovin is consistent at doling out value.
His ultimate is unfortunately remarkable only because it’s so mediocre. In theory a Static Orb ultimate is interesting and powerful, but it isn’t a win condition, which is what you would want in a control deck. There are theoretically some situations where you’d slowly tick up to seven loyalty and it would be beneficial to ultimate Dovin, but it seems too slow and weak to be likely.
Still a planeswalker is rarely defined by their ultimate and Dovin Baan will probably not end up being Baad.
Fumigate seems Fumi-great. Like Dovin Baan, Fumigate comes with some incidental lifegain, which can be very powerful and often vital to a control deck’s ability to stabilize. Some sort of noticeable advantage is exactly what a five-mana Wrath effect needed to be great, and I think the added lifegain might be good enough for Fumigate to be a shining star, since it fits exactly what control decks will want.
Revolutionary Rebuff is depressing, but might still be reasonable. It might also just be all we have.
Linvala, the Preserver looks really good right now as a top-end finisher that will lock up the skies and be able to pressure opposing planeswalkers.
The deck needs more win conditions and ways to get value every turn. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar does both of those things and is still great, so he makes the cut too.
Summary Dismissal could be a very important card if emerge and Emrakul, the Promised End are a large share of the Standard metagame. It’s great at stopping Eldrazi for good and just being a hard counter but also has plenty of other applications, like as a way to wipe the stack clean after an opponent puts a planeswalker’s ultimate ability on it.
Quarantine Field and Stasis Snare seem to be in a good spot as well right now since Dromoka’s Command is gone and everyone is more interested in artifacts. Quarantine Field also scales nicely into the late-game and is hard removal for planeswalkers.
Unfortunately, the heavy use of Quarantine Field and Stasis Snare means you can’t run one of the most powerful white cards from Kaladesh: Cataclysmic Gearhulk. It also makes you vulnerable to an opponent’s Cataclysmic Gearhulk. You’ve got many important enchantments in the deck, and if they’re on the battlefield, you’ll need to sacrifice all but one.
So what about a variant of the deck starring Cataclysmic Gearhulk?
It’s rare that we see such a powerful effect attached to such a large body for so little mana.
If the opponent goes wide, you can punish with your sweepers. If they don’t flood the battlefield, you can manage what they put out with a couple of planeswalkers.
Speaking of having a couple of planeswalkers, even if you have out both Dovin Baan and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, you can still cast Cataclysmic Gearhulk without much worry. Just make sure to +1 your Gideon, Ally of Zendikar first, making it a creature, and then you can choose to keep all three from being sacrificed.
Depending on how prevalent aggressive decks are and how easy it is to fit into most decks, Cataclysmic Gearhulk will likely be a large part of the metagame, since it’s the perfect way to keep in check decks trying to go wide. Sure they have control over what they choose to sacrifice, but a 4/5 with vigilance that eats a couple of creatures is still potentially amazing.
So what happens if the precious white and blue spells fail?
This isn’t exactly U/W Control, but it still looks pretty inviting if you’re looking to blast through a creature-heavy metagame.
You get to run the full amount of what might end up being the two most objectively powerful planeswalkers in the format: Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Liliana, the Last Hope. They make up a fearsome duo of card advantage, removal, and ultimates that will end the game in a hurry.
Cathartic Reunion might just be excellent card draw. Tormenting Voice was already solid, so what is essentially the same card but bigger deserves some Careful Consideration. Cathartic Reunion digs you deeper, perhaps towards a missing land or a turn 3 Liliana, the Last Hope. If you know what you need and what you don’t need, trading in an extra card should only be upside.
Cathartic Reunion also allows you to dump more cards in your graveyard, which isn’t all that important here but could matter a great deal for delirium. It’s also another card you can cast nicely after dropping Chandra, Torch of Defiance and using her mana-making +1 ability.
The biggest downside to Cathartic Reunion is fully realized when you think of Spell Queller. If they Quell your Cathartic Reunion, you’re out two cards and out of luck. Same goes for any other sort of countermagic. Is it worth the risk? Right now, I’d say yes.
Goblin Dark-Dwellers on Cathartic Reunion might not quite be the same as on Ancestral Vision, but you get the idea. Draw three is still draw three. You just still have to discard two cards to Cathartic Reunion, even when it’s being cast with Goblin Dark-Dwellers, so make sure to hold onto a couple of extra lands in the late game.
Ramp isn’t dead despite Nissa’s Pilgrimage and Explosive Vegetation getting thrown in the rotation wood-chipper. We might be getting more off-track from finding a pure control deck, but there’s still plenty of value and planeswalker goodness in this list.
We know there’s still going to be an amazing ramp deck in the format, or at least that there’s still going to be an amazing Emrakul, the Promised End deck in the format, which will probably be rampy. The question: what is its optimal form?
Emerge is an obvious great contender, and emerge decks will be a thing, but I also think Chandra, Torch of Defiance might inspire some ramping.
While we’re at it, Nissa, Vital Force likes lands and can even ramp a little herself by untapping a land. She can even untap Shrine of the Forsaken Gods if you need a little extra boost to Emrakul later on.
Will control be a major player in Kaladesh Standard? What other sweet strategies will emerge or re-emerge? I look forward to finding out.