Control In Ravnica Allegiance Standard

Hallowed Fountain, Godless Shrine, and the promise of Azorius and Orzhov spells … what’s not to love for a control mage? Shaheen Soorani invites you on his new-set Standard journey!

It feels like just yesterday I was stacking my first Niv-Mizzet, Parun trigger. Time flies in the world of Magic sets, which is what makes Standard the dominant competitive format. Guilds of Ravnica Standard has been riveting, even though some Golgari decks often make me question my life choices. There are lopsided matchups that all my Izzet Phoenix opponents will attest to, but the actual gameplay is skill-intensive from control’s perspective. I’ve fallen in love with the Izzet Dragon, but I know there are many cards that will emerge from Ravnica Allegiance that will swoop me off my feet. Azorius and Orzhov are marching into the format very soon and that means Esper Control will have the tools necessary to dominate once again.

It’s no secret that I have an affinity toward the three colors of my favorite shard, but there are good reasons for it. Blue is the given for control enthusiasts worldwide. It’s the glue that binds our Constructed decks together, allowing us to bury opponents under heaps of card advantage since the mid-1990s. Although other colors have come in and siphoned blue’s trademark purpose, it still serves as the color required to keep our hands full of spells in the war for survival. In addition to card advantage, card suppression is another blue talent. Counterspells are signature blue spells and serve as the answer-all to the full range of threats. Cards like Carnage Tyrant try to break the blue mage, but the support of white and black help strengthens their resolve.

White is responsible for the mass removal and lifegain that is vital in the war against aggressive decks. Cards like Lyra Dawnbringer, Settle the Wreckage, and Cleaning Nova all serve an important role in the build makeup of a good control deck because the best removal, card advantage, and win conditions can’t save you from a flurry of life loss consistently. White offers any control mage the ability to replenish their life total, as well as attack the opponent’s.

Win conditions can come from any of the three colors, but in Guilds of Ravnica Standard we have Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Esper Control in Guilds of Ravnica Standard isn’t bad, but the mana is a bit trickier than we’d like. Not only is the mana not ready yet, but there’s also a giant gap in spells that two fresh guilds will help fill. Even if there are only two to four playable cards from Azorius and Orzhov, that will be enough to push Esper Control over the edge.

Black provides the best removal spells for control decks in today’s Standard. Vraska’s Contempt, Cast Down, The Eldest Reborn, and Moment of Craving are a few of the answers that we have access to already. Vraska’s Contempt had a dip in play with the rise of one-drop aggro decks, but that has changed. Izzet Phoenix, Golgari Midrange, and Jeskai Control are all vulnerable to the cleanest removal spell in the format. The exile, lifegain, and range that Vraska’s Contempt hits make it the frontrunner for the removal staple of Esper Control in Ravnica Allegiance Standard.

In addition to the fantastic removal, card draw, and win conditions, Esper Control enters the upcoming format with the best hand disruption we’ve seen in quite a while. Thought Erasure was the reason for the bulk of my victories with Esper Control. Hitting unanswerable threats early, making land drops, and gaining priceless information made Thought Erasure the real MVP of the deck. It will only get better and easier to cast once the last five shocklands enter the fray.

Although we have only had a handful of preview cards, there’s some discussion to be had early on. Hallowed Fountain and Godless Shrine are the superstars that I and my Esper aficionados have been waiting for. The perfect Standard with optimal manabases for everyone’s favorite three-color deck is right around the corner. When all the shocklands were in Standard before, the format was phenomenal. There were many high-powered decks that continued to evolve because the limitations on deckbuilding were minimal. The hardest decision we will have when trying to construct a new Esper Control deck in Ravnica Allegiance Standard will be which cards to cut.

Thus far, there’s one on-color card that has been released for Esper Control in Mortify. For those who weren’t battling in the multiverse when Mortify was in Standard, it was as sweet as it looks. Back then, I constructed what would eventually be named “The Masterpiece” by Michael Flores in his Swimming with Sharks weekly column. I was a local PTQ grinder, tossing together my first control decks, and this media giant took notice of my four-color control deck featuring all the multicolor removal I could fit into one deck.

To make a long story short, Mortify has a special place in my personal history and I always take that into consideration when tempering my expectations. Standard now isn’t like Standard then, which means it will not shape the future of Esper Control. It’s a versatile Murder that can hit problematic enchantments like Search for Azcanta, Experimental Frenzy, and Ixalan’s Binding, but it isn’t the four-of staple that Cast Down and Vraska’s Contempt most likely will be. I’m certain that two Mortify will be in my maindeck Esper Control deck upon the release of Ravnica Allegiance, which will change how some matchups went down before.

Mortify will allow us not to waste sideboard slots on Disenchant effects for the foreseeable future. Although there are some artifacts that can knock us out, they’re far and few between. I’m perfectly fine ignoring an enemy Treasure Map while having the hard answer to a more detrimental Search for Azcanta from the opponent. I’m a firm believer that Treasure Map is much better than Search for Azcanta currently, except in the control mirror. Treasure Map is a required piece to power out Niv-Mizzet, Parun, but loses some of its pizzazz when that win condition isn’t in the picture.

Mortify makes Ixalan’s Binding a much worse answer for control’s threats. If Esper Control takes a backseat to Jeskai and Grixis Control, this may not become an issue. Control decks that attempt to lock away a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria with enchantment-based removal against an Esper Control foe will regret it in Ravnica Allegiance Standard. I still think Ixalan’s Binding is great against Izzet Phoenix, but it sees as much play that it does because of how effective it is against control as well. I have always been against using it against Golgari Midrange decks, as they easily can punish us for using a four-mana sorcery-speed removal spell. On top of the sluggishness of it, they have multiple ways to destroy our enchantment with ease.

I can’t see a world where Azorius and Orzhov don’t gift us with the required playables to make Esper Control the future end boss archetype of its kind. Niv-Mizzet provides stiff competition, but Jeskai Control will probably slide in popularity. This will happen because of its inherent weakness to Golgari Midrange, which will only improve with access to a third color. I can feel the Rakdos nonsense heading our way, as they have historically tormented our side of the isle since their emergence into the multiverse. There’s already a released Rakdos preview that stirred intrigue instead of fear.

Whenever a Rakdos card gifts us with their presence, I tend to have a negative reaction. Bedevil had the opposite effect on me, giving me hope for another control archetype possibility. I think that Esper Control will be dominant with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and perfect mana, but Niv-Mizzet will still demand a piece of control’s dominance in Ravnica Allegiance Standard. This card is a start for the Grixis Control conversation to kick up a notch, offering the best three-mana removal spell I’ve seen since Hero’s Downfall. I’m a little jealous, because I hoped they would have the Azorius equivalent that hit a planeswalker, creature, or enchantment, but that could have broken the color wheel just a bit. Bedevil will see play in any deck that uses black and red mana because it’s a cheaper version of Vraska’s Contempt that some decks yearn to have access to. I’m not sure how relevant artifacts will be at this point, but the other two pieces make this card a top-tier option.

Grixis Control already has the groundwork completed for Ravnica Allegiance Standard. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager hasn’t gone anywhere and is still a very powerful threat from the midrange/control camp. It was difficult crafting the perfect Grixis Control deck for Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica because the four-mana slot was bloated. Nicol Bolas, Vraska’s Contempt, and Ritual of Soot all competed for that coveted spot, making the deck not flow as well as the alternatives. Bedevil gives an immediate solution, allowing a Grixis Control player to cut down heavily on Vraska’s Contempt, a luxury that other black-based control decks will not have.

Esper, Grixis, and Jeskai Control will all be viable in the next Standard. Manabases are what held deckbuilders down the most, preventing us from having the requisite double colored spells from each section of the chosen shard. That’s why you see Jeskai Control wearing the crown in today’s Standard. The sweepers in Jeskai Control are very good and will continue to play a vital role.

Deafening Clarion is a tough spell to match, but I can see a similar option given to Azorius and/or Orzhov in Ravnica Allegiance. There’s currently one Infest effect that black has access to (Golden Demise) and it does the trick against Boros Aggro and Selesyna Tokens. I expect a better version in Ravnica Allegiance at minimum and a glorious sweeper from the Azorius Senate at best. Azorius is known for its ability to draw a ton of cards and efficiently remove threats from a cluttered battlefield. The only Azorius preview I’ve seen isn’t going to impact us in Standard but will help us extensively in Modern.

Lavinia, Azorius Renegade is a sweet addition to Humans and Azorius Control in Modern. It appears to be a hatebear that would hurt us at first glance, but it’s a boost against decks that control continues to struggle against in Modern. Big mana and combo decks are going to take a huge hit with this just existing in the sideboard of Humans, and we get to enjoy having it as insurance in case they didn’t get the hint. I love cards that are printed in Standard that have format-altering implications elsewhere.

I continue to refresh my feed on social media in order to not miss anything from Ravnica Allegiance. We were deprived of two out of the three guilds that make control great in Standard. The silver lining is the excitement that’s brimming for Azorius and Orzhov cards that will be hitting the preview shelves in the weeks to come.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter in order to join me in celebration as Esper Control builds itself one day at a time.