Control Is Tier 1 In Modern

Whether you like to admit it or not, Todd Stevens says, the control archetype is Tier 1 in Modern, and not just the Jeskai version! Find out what other decks have the SCG Points leader’s eye going into SCG Baltimore!

“You can’t play control in Modern.”

This is one of the longest-standing opinions about the format: that Modern is too diverse, with too many linear decks attacking from too many angles, and it’s impossible to play a control deck that can have every angle covered. We’ve heard players say this time and time again, some complaining more than others, but control in Modern died long ago.

Welcome to Modern in 2017

While this may have been true in Modern’s past, it no longer is today. Modern in 2017 is new and different, and it welcomes control mages from far and wide to counter spells and sweep battlefields. Control is not only playable, there are multiple Tier 1 control archetypes out of the handful of archetypes in all Magic that I would consider Tier 1. Playing a blue control deck is secretly one of the best things to be doing in Modern, and most people haven’t realized it yet.

I’ve been playing plenty of Modern over the last week to prepare for #SCGBALT this weekend, and I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of the decks I’ve played against. Now, I know this isn’t the largest sample size, but this week I’ve played a total of 30 competitive Leagues on Magic Online, or 150 matches of Modern. A StarCityGames.Com Open is fifteen rounds, so that is the equivalent to playing ten weekend tournaments. Again, somewhat small sample size, but 150 is a lot of decks.

Out of those matches, I’ve played against a blue control deck 23 times, or just over 15% of the time. I’m not including combo decks like U/R Through the Breach or U/R Kiki-Jiki, or even Lantern Control; I’m talking about Cryptic Command control decks.

I’m talking Shaheen Soorani control.

This is double what I would normally expect from looking at the metagame breakdown on mtggoldfish.com, which unfortunately has been hampered with accuracy lately due to the change in how Magic Online results are published (keep fighting the good fight!). Anyway, the point is there has been a change in Modern that is now allowing control decks to flourish for the first time in ages, and that’s what I want to talk about today. Let’s start with an understanding of what’s happening at the floor of the format.

There are plenty of small creatures in Modern that can end the game on the spot if they are able to untap, which has led to a “kill or be killed” mentality in the format. Removal’s stock has never been higher because killing creatures has never been so important. At the base of the format, you have these creature combo decks that win on Turn 3 a high percentage of the time if left unchecked, which forces you to play early removal for these creatures.

In addition, the newest kid on the block, Humans, is filled with creatures that are made to counteract spells. The first removal spell you have will most likely not be enough against the 37-creatures deck, making a plethora of removal more desirable. Midrange decks now need as much interaction as they can afford to run to go along with their own cheap threats to ensure they are able to stabilize the battlefield. This leads us to players playing the fast creature combo decks such as Abzan Company and U/R Gifts Storm, disruptive creature decks like Humans, or an abundance of removal to combat them.

Willy Edel is one of the best B/G Modern players in the world, and he is always innovating to stay on top of the metagame. His latest take on Abzan not only has entire playsets of both Fatal Push and Path to Exile, since that’s apparently not enough removal, there are three copies of Engineered Explosives as well! That’s not a card you see in maindecks very often, but it’s a concession to the power of Humans if left unchecked.

I think this is an incredibly strong version of Abzan right now. From playing both with and against it this week, it has been solid. It still struggles mightily with the big mana strategies of the format, namely G/X Tron, but has game everywhere else. In this “kill or be killed” Modern metagame, Abzan is absolutely a Tier 1 deck that is a respectable choice to win a tournament with.

Now that I’ve set the baseline for what the Modern format currently is, let’s talk about why this is a good thing for blue control decks.

Angles of “Attack”

Back to the original statement of the article, “You can’t play Control in Modern,” again the biggest reason people claim this is true is there are too many angles that other decks attack from and you can’t control them all. While this was true in the past, I don’t believe this to be true anymore. The metagame is filled with aggressive creature decks, removal-heavy midrange decks, and a spattering of big mana strategies, but honestly that’s about it.

Now, of course that is an incredible simplification of the metagame, but it’s not hard to lump almost every deck into one of those categories. Although the individual card choices deck by deck are different, the overall gameplan of many of the decks has been homogenized over recent months. Suddenly there isn’t the overabundance of angles that decks are attacking from, which makes it easier to build a defensive deck that has the tools necessary to handle the metagame.

We’ve already seen this with Jeskai Control, which has established itself as one of the best decks in Modern over the last two months, starting with Harlan Firer’s win at #SCGKY.

Jeskai Control has continued to put up results ever since, including it being the deck to put up the most Top 8s at the nine #SCGRegionals locations across the country. It fills a similar spot in the metagame as Abzan, as it has an abundance of removal to keep the small creature decks at bay. So Jeskai Control isn’t necessarily anything new and is incredibly similar to other midrange decks in playstyle, and therefore it isn’t the Control deck that I wanted to touch on today. I’ll let Jonathan Rosum handle that over on Select tomorrow.

My focus is on the emergence of U/W Control into Tier 1.

If you’ve been waiting to play control in Modern for all these years, yearning for the day when you could have one of the best decks in the room, then today is your day. Many people thought it would take something catastrophic such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor being unbanned in Modern for control to see the light of day, but all it took was a reduction in the metagame to go with some key new cards. This U/W Control deck from McWinSauce is a thing of beauty, and I love everything about this decklist. Let’s take a look at some of the newer card choices, starting with the sideboard:

I’m somewhat torn on the inclusion of Settle the Wreckage over the fourth Supreme Verdict in the list, but I understand why. The biggest reason to play the Ixalan instant over the uncounterable sweeper is the rise of Humans and their use of Meddling Mage, which will oftentimes name Supreme Verdict. The problem is Humans, and other decks, also have the ability to see your hand, and if Settle the Wreckage is revealed, the opponent can play around it easily. Settle the Wreckage can also deal with problematic permanents such as Thrun, the Last Troll among others if need be.

Did you remember Bribery is legal in Modern? I forgot about this Cube staple until I played against McWinSauce with Eldrazi Tron. I had a Karn Liberated on a clear battlefield, and they cast Bribery and took a Reality Smasher from my deck to get rid of Karn. I can see plenty of applications for this back-breaking card, especially in the sideboard of a control deck when opponents aren’t expecting creatures. Thanks for the Primeval Titan or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn!

Over in the maindeck, people were very excited from Day 1 for the newest Gideon’s Modern prospects, and it hasn’t disappointed. It can come down on Turn 3 and make your opponent overextend into a Supreme Verdict the following turn. I’ve been playing Gideon of the Trials in R/W Prison to see how it fits there, and I’ve noticed that while the first one is almost always useful to draw, Gideon of the Trials isn’t strong enough to overcome the downside of drawing multiples, and therefore I like having access to two in the list.

Also a two-of and from the newest set, Ixalan, Search for Azcanta has been incredibly impressive for me in Modern where filling the graveyard isn’t a hard task. It’s a wonderful card on Turn 2 that gives you much-needed card selection in the early-game, acts as a ramp spell in the mid-game when you transform it to allow you to get ahead or keep up with the opponent, and then buries your opponent in card advantage in the late-game. It truly does everything, and even when drawn in the late-game, it simply acts as a Search for Tomorrow with suspend one that has a scry attached and then can start finding spells. The only time it isn’t good is when you draw it when you are far behind, but at that point there aren’t many cards that are good and the rest of your deck hasn’t done its job. Search for Azcanta isn’t the biggest addition to the deck from Ixalan, however; that would be Field of Ruin.

We all know that Ixalan hasn’t had the impact on Standard that we hoped for (yet), but wow has it had an impact on Modern! Ixalan has revitalized Humans, given life to Merfolk, and introduced a new cantrip, but that’s not all. Field of Ruin was the weapon U/W Control was missing before, the weapon it needed to fight the big mana strategies. Field of Ruin has brought control to the forefront of Modern.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was completely wrong about this card when it was previewed and people were asking my thoughts on it, but that was because I was thinking through the lens of G/W Company and not a control deck. Field of Ruin allows U/W Control to attack manabases early in the game while not hindering its own mana development. It pairs perfectly with Spreading Seas, which was already one of the strongest cards in the deck, to have an effective plan at disrupting the stretched Modern manabases. I love the inclusion of Crucible of the Worlds in the maindeck as well, and with that addition, U/W Control has an incredibly strong late-game of locking opponents out. Before, they had to wait with Tectonic Edge until the opponent had four lands on the battlefield and then hinder their own growth, but Field of Ruin has completely changed that.

I’ve been such a fan of how good Field of Ruin is in U/W Control that I’ve been testing it out in B/G Midrange as well to much success, as I think it could be the tool B/G Midrange was looking for to beat the big mana strategies.

With access to Field of Ruin, U/W Control’s matchups against the big mana strategies, which were the toughest decks for it to beat before, have greatly improved, and it’s now one of the strongest decks of the format. Ixalan as a whole has shown that introducing new cards into Modern naturally through the printing of new sets is the best way to shake up the format, and that the cards on the banned list are there for a reason and can stay there. Many players have complained for years that Control wasn’t good enough to play in Modern, but they can’t anymore.

Today’s the day. Control is Tier 1 in Modern.