Down And Dirty – Red/Blue Control: Izzet The Answer For Standard?

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open Series Comes to Nashville!
Wednesday, November 4th – Kyle Sanchez turns back the clock to bring us an Izzet pun straight from the days of Ravnica. He suggests a number of intriguing Standard decks in time for the upcoming StarCityGames.con $5000 Standard Open in Nashville on Saturday, culminating in an exciting Red/Blue Control deck. Intrigued? Read on…

As you guys know, I’ve been bouncing around back and forth on Standard for quite some time now. This has been pretty boring for me from a creative perspective, but there’s just so much going on! Vampires is on the rise now that they figured out Mind Rot is a suitable Standard inclusion, which accompanies main deck Duress. This forms a nice discard package that is great against the midrange Jund decks with hands full of removal, as well as the aspiring control decks that run few creatures to get around Jund’s artillery.

This Vampire list has been testing really well against both Jund and control decks. I wasn’t a big fan of Nocturnus before, but with Duress and Mind Rot backing him up I feel much more comfortable playing the Hill Giant with a big bonus. I kind of contradict myself by playing an awesome discard suite with no Vampire Nighthawk, but that guy just dies. Every. Single. Time. In my brief but dense history with Vampires, I’ve yet to connect just once with him where it would have been important. Sure, there are those late-game scenarios where he’s the last dude standing and you’re both in topdeck mode. He dominates the board then, but that’s any creature, right?

The lack of Doom Blade is sure to upset @Doom_Blade_Guy on Twitter, but that card does nothing right now. I believe we’re finally seeing the decline of Baneslayer Angel since everyone is giving up trying to stick her with protection in this removal-packed format. So many games come down to both players being in top deck mode, trying to squeeze out a win after hands have been neutered and creatures toppled. It’s a universal trend I’ve noticed with nearly every deck I’ve played so far, and it stems from the lack of good card drawing available. Standard is just a big bloody brawl where everyone is going at it with knives and machetes trying to chop down the opposing squad.

One of my fondest times was when I made the Colfenor’s Plans deck. This sought to abuse the 2BB enchantment that for all intents and purposes read: “Draw 7.” The card advantage provided by it was so huge that games were never close. Finding a similar means of attrition in current Standard has been troubling, but the mill decks might actually have it right. For one, they get to use Jace, Howling Mine, and Font of Mythos to throw out any Blightning problems, and on top of that they play no creatures, which make the excess draws they have essentially dead. Perhaps that’s the best route to claiming a hand advantage right now…

An Esper deck with no Esper Charm main deck? Nemesis of Reason in the board? What is this hodge-podge of bad cards? It’s a semi-dedicated control deck with a splash of mill, that’s what! And although it’s in the rough stages, this version has been much more potent than the UB strains I’ve been seeing recently.

Like I mentioned earlier, I was looking for a deck that blanks their removal while abusing the synergistic Howling Mine + Jace Beleren card drawing engine. We protect our dome with premium White spells Offering to Asha, Path to Exile (another mill card!), and Day of Judgment. We’ve got Blue’s permission with Negate & Essence Scatter, and a ten-card mill package with Twincast, Archive Trap, and Mind Funeral.

My initial mill deck involved the typical Tome Scour, a full set of Mind Funeral, and Black’s bad removal, until I realized just how hard it is to race by milling. I sought out more controlling White cards to lean on, and it’s been fairly successful so far. Mind Funeral is probably the first card I’d cut, but it’s there to punish them in the late game once they’ve used several Fetchlands and I’ve used Path to thin their lands. Playing 4 Mind Funeral (or even 3) just isn’t correct because of what a terrible three-drop it is. It’s more like a seven- or eight-drop, being most effective then since it doesn’t get in the way of me casting spells in the same turn.

The mana has been a little suspect ever since I went down to one Traumatic Visions from three, but once Howling Mine and Jace are online it’s been pretty easy to find the necessary colors. Magosi has been really great in here, as a way to set up Nemesis post-board, which comes in for Mind Funeral when they board out their removal. And every once in a while I can kill them by skipping a turn or two.

I also don’t think there is a more powerful response to a turn 4 Verdant Catacombs into Bloodbraid Elf than playing Archive Trap and using Twincast twice!

The key to this deck is to be patient. Using Mind Funeral on turn 3 is an awful play since you could dig them to Bloodghasts or Hellsparks, which are increasingly popular due to Blightning. Another important key to success is that they always have to attack Jace, which buys you a ton of time. Just keep pumping it up and making them lose attack phases while overextending into Day of Judgment.

Telemin Performance is a card that’s also straddled the line of playability in decks like this, and is really a pretty solid card opposite control decks, but for every time you get a Baneslayer or Sphinx of Jwar Isle you’ll get several stupid Bloodbraid Elf or Putrid Leech if you run it main deck. As a sideboard card, it just isn’t deep enough. I’d rather have a card like Traumatize if I wanted to go that route.

I’ve only played a handful of sideboard games so far, since I’ve been really concentrating on getting the main deck right, but it’s been a pretty decent starting point. Luminarch Ascension is the default “I Win” card in the control mirrors; however, I’m not sure if it’s needed here. The problem is that once they get rid of their dead removal post board I feel like I might need an alternate plan, which is why Nemesis and Ascension are so attractive.

Celestial Purge is obviously for Jund, Vampires, and Red decks with Hellish forms of attack. Duress is obviously there to protect Luminarch Ascension and to clear the path for Archive Trap + Twincast since a counter there hurts a bit. Nemesis of Reason is great against non-Jund Red decks and Vampires when they don’t have seven Swamps and boarded out their Gatekeepers. He even plays pretty good defense the turn he comes down and starts a three-turn clock when he gets to attacking, which is usually enough to race Baneslayer Angel! I had one in the main deck for the longest time, but it didn’t turn out so great unless I could set him up with a Magosi, and even then I felt like I was going out of my way to just mill ten cards most of the time.

This deck is good and all, but really just filler for the next brew I’ve been wanting to talk about.

This is what I want out of my control deck in the new Standard. I’m immune to Anathemancer and Goblin Ruinblaster lines of attack, I give them dead removal spots with Sphinx as my only critter, I’ve got a counter arsenal that would make Randy Buehler blush, and there’s Earthquake as my planeswalker and creature answer, all of which supported by Jace Beleren and Mind Spring. I basically just play one-for-one Jace, Chandra, Earthquake, Mind Spring, or Sphinx shuts down their offense. Nothing too techy, but the deck’s solid mana and consistent reactive game plan, along with tough-to-handle threats, are what make it a strong contender.

I’ve been a little Sphinx crazy recently, but it really is one of the premier creatures we’ve got in our deck building tool box. Along with Gargoyle Castle and Chandra, those are the only realistic ways of killing an opponent. I’ve had the pleasure of decking several people with Jace, but that’s just because the +2 is negligible in this deck, given I don’t care about most of their spells and can just counter/burn whatever is important. I had four Sphinx for a long time in this list, since dropping turn 6 and 7 Sphinx can really only be beat by Baneslayers or Cruel Ultimatum on the opposing side, which is thankfully pretty easy to predict.

I’ve already discussed why I like Burst Lightning over Lightning Bolt in previous articles, but that point is cemented in a deck like this that has few outs to Planeswalkers once they’re on board. Having the ability to kick one for four damage on an Ajani or Garruk, or to team up to take down a bigger walker like Chandra, Sorin, or Liliana, is also quite useful.

There’ve been many counter/burn decks in the past, but this one has a weapon that previous U/R decks didn’t have in the form of Swerve, which is an extremely versatile weapon right now that can increase your hand size on occasion from an opponent’s Sign in Blood, or sink their hand with their own Esper Charm. It also plays a huge role in the Jund matchup, forcing them to play the guessing game of instants I could have, with Swerve usually being a complete blowout opposite a Maelstrom Pulse, Blightning, or even Lightning Bolt to save Jace.

Gerard Fabiano wrote an article awhile back about a Grixis deck I gave him in preparation for Nationals. In it, he discussed what a huge advantage having so many instants in your deck can be, and that point is hammered home for this deck. There aren’t any Bituminous Blast shenanigans going on, but with so many cheap effective spells you have a lot of room to tactically outplay the opponent, which is something Standard has been sorely missing.

There are two glaring problems I’ve encountered when playing this deck. The first is when I’m battling against Bloodghast, which is one hell of a problem. Magma Spray and Relic in the sideboard is there to battle the recurring Vampire, but even those might not be enough, and they can end up being too little too late since they can usually find a way to kill the Bloodghast in response. I hate losing to such a horrible card as Bloodghast, so I have a few ideas to stop that. Adding White would give me access to Ajani Vengeant, Path to Exile, and Wall of Denial, which sounds like a major upgrade, but then I have a serious mana issue. Playing eight fetchlands isn’t my idea of a solid manabase, and is tricking a lot of people into believing their mana is solid when actually it’s worse than playing basics. For one, there’s the life loss from playing so many fetchlands, but the real problem is they thin the deck out and you don’t draw lands when you need to late game. This wouldn’t seem like a problem, since you’ll obviously draw spells if you aren’t drawing land, but it’s really been a problem for me to get to six, seven, or eight mana consistently.

The second glaring problem that I’ve yet to overcome is opposing Sphinx of Jwar Isle, which I actually have no answer to whatsoever. This is a pretty big problem, and I’m not sure how to overcome it in a straight Izzet build. Wall of Denial would shut them down, and I’d have access to Martial Coup and Day of Judgment, but again, I haven’t found a strong enough manabase that isn’t all enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands to support such a righteous cause.

Those two problems aside, the deck is still what I want to be doing to control Standard games right now, and it has great mana. It’s not like those two things can be thrown out the window because Sphinx and Bloodghast cause problems, right? They might not even draw those cards!


Although if White is added, I could have a deck name with some kind of “Whizz” pun included. That might be incentive enough…

Thanks for reading…