Feature Article – Austin Extended #2: Control

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Friday, September 4th – In the second article in his Austin Extended series, Quentin Martin examines the Control decks on offer in the pre-Zendikar Extended format. Such developing ideas are sure to form the basis of the metagame at the upcoming Pro Tour: Austin.

Before we dive into the world of control, there are a few updates for the beatdown:

1) I forgot that Silver Knight has also rotated out of the format.
2) The Affinity deck actually runs Chromatic Stars, not Spheres. Instead of the Darksteel Citadels, play the fourth Springleaf Drum and a second Soul’s Fire (which is definitely better than Fatal Frenzy).
3) Concerning RDW: Keldon Marauders is better than Slith Firewalker; Chrome Mox is awful; Flamebreak might be a better sideboard option than Volcanic Fallout; a couple of Keldon Monoliths/Ghitu Encampments could, maybe, be swapped for some Mountains.
4) For the WW, Harm’s Way is a good option if Mana Tithe doesn’t prove too hot.
5) I completely forgot about Dark Confidant (duh!) for the GB deck, so cut two Bitterblossom and two Elves of the Deep Shadow for them. There should probably be some Great Sable Stags in the sideboard (four things to cut: a Seal, a Shaman, the Crime/Punishment and the Extirpate).
6) I want to quickly reiterate that the sideboards are purely theoretical and that I haven’t checked to see if the board out/in numbers add up! We need a metagame and the last set to come out before we can truly get a read on the correct numbers.

I’m choosing to do Control now over Combo as I’m still working on the ins and outs of the combo decks, whilst I know what a lot of the control decks (which seem intrinsically strong against the combo decks) need to address. The combo decks that I’m currently factoring in mind are some form of Elves, Dragonstorm and Hypergenesis. There might well still be a Cascade Swans deck but for now I’m going to assume that it is just strictly worse than Hypergenesis.

Before I delve into the various archetypes, I want to talk about a few individual cards. First, I don’t like Chrome Mox unless you absolutely need the speed. It means you mulligan poorly and it is card disadvantage. If your control deck relies on Chrome Mox to combat quick starts then the deck will generally fail without it on average. Secondly: Engineered Explosives. EE is a card that, like Repeal, always costs more than what it answers. However, it might be good if beatdown decks become massively orientated around 1cc guys, like a lot of the decks in my last article. However, you are still paying three mana to kill a one mana creature. Glen Elendra Archmage was a card that just didn’t do enough last time and it still seems to do little now. Sower of Temptation used to be fantastic and, in all likelihood, it still is. I am a little worried though that has gotten worse now that Lightning Bolt and Path To Exile are so popular, along with a likely surge in popularity of Volcanic Fallout. Only metagame development and time will tell for sure though.

The first thing that will be blatantly obvious soon is what I think of as the ‘Blue Package.’ This is the core of ‘must-play’ cards that seem to form the foundation of any Blue control deck. These are Ancestral Vision, Spellstutter Sprite, Spell Snare, and Mana Leak. After this almost always comes: Mutavault, Vendilion Clique, Sower of Temptation and Umezawa’s Jitte. This means that almost all the control decks in this format, or the blue ones at least (the ‘good’ ones), will have a Fae base. I also found that towards the end of the last season that Cryptic Commands turned out to be really good and that the full compliment was better than less. This means that you will find a lot of the deck lists are very similar but with differing strengths and weaknesses.

I’ll kick things off by looking at Mono-Blue Fae, a deck that I had a lot of experience and success with last season. Once all of the above cards are taken into account and assuming you want to play twenty six land (the number I believe to be correct if you play that many four drops), there are only really three spare slots. These used to be two Stifle and a Venser, Shaper Savant. I’m struggling to find three cards that fill these slots well. Options include: Vedalkan Shakles, Remand, Repeal, Engineered Explosives, Threads of Disloyalty, Venser, Shaper Savant, Disrupting Shoal, Thirst for Knowledge, and Meloku the Clouded Mirror. It could even be a Ninja of the Deep Hours!

The problem is that this decision is always going to come down to how the metagame develops. Do we need to have answers to Great Sable Stag that we cannot fit into the sideboard? Are the beatdown decks too quick? Do we need something like Trickbind (something better as there are now no sac-land to Stifle) to combat combo? Is there another colour we should be playing for main/sideboard options? For now I’m going to do what I always do in doubt with a few extra slots — either play a massively powerful singleton, cards that duplicate effects of other cards already played or concentrate on the mirror.

That means that for now, two of the slots will be Vedalkan Shackles. They are very powerful in the mirror, especially now that Lab isn’t around, as well as providing an out to the Stags. This leaves us with one slot. I am toying between a Venser or a Thirst For Knowledge (meaning I will play 4 Seat of Synod). I figure Venser is probably way worse now that Riptide Laboratory is gone, so the Thirst it is. Alternatively, they could all be Remands, but we will have to wait and see how good they are in the format (great for countering Hypergenesis and Ancestral Visions, etc). I feel that it is also fine to run four Remands here and cut a land or, maybe, to run a second Thirst; which is what I’m going to suggest today as there are several matchups where both Shackles and Jitte are either too slow or redundant.

I had toyed around with a Mikokoro, Center of the Sea but I feel that you will use it far less than it will frustrate you for by not being a blue source. The full compliment of Faerie Conclaves is still somewhat experimental but I feel that with the loss of Riptide Laboratory, the deck needs a few more threats and these should give you an edge in the mirror. It also provides you with more non-Island Blue sources to protect you from hosers.

I feel that there will be a reasonable amount of Dark Fae, featured next, running Bitterblossom. To this end, and for Affinity too, I’ve decided to run the full set of Annul in the board. Wall of Frost is completely untested but looks spicy. The problem I’ve always had with Threads of Disloyalty is that it’s pretty difficult to get an untapped creature with it; they also fail to stop Ranger of Eos and Woolly Thoctar, whilst the Wall seems generally handy. The Trickbind are there for Dragonstorm and cascade in Hypergenesis.

Dark Fae is a deck many people will be familiar to because of its almost identical standard version. Little has changed since then and the removal of the Labs means we have more room for UB land.

Peppersmoke might seem out of place maindeck, but I feel that the metagame will evolve to be such that there will be plenty of good targets for it (pretty much anything in the mirror, Savannah Lions and Elves). The sideboard might look very random but the cards have sufficient overlap to allow you to board superior options in some matchups whilst bringing the full compliment in others with little loss. You keep your options open whilst giving your opponent more options to keep guessing.

I’ve toyed around with Uw Fae and Ugw versions of Next Level Blue, but they were either lacking in power or had manabases that I didn’t feel were worth it (too many shock and Vivid lands). You can play Forest Fae with just Tarmogoyfs but I feel you might as well go the whole way and play the very powerful Kitchen Finks too. Once you’ve tweaked the mana enough to play these, it also gives you access to the potentially very powerful Great Sable Stags in the sideboard. I’m not sure exactly how strong these will be, but I’m guessing very. I’ve chosen a spread of artifact hate in the board to leave you flexible against the various decks you might play whilst still allowing you to stop any Bitterblossoms or other pesky enchantments that might be thrown against you.

I was toying around with a Red Fae deck which I wanted to give the snappy name of Fire Fae but, somewhat sadly, it evolved into a Swans deck. Lightning Bolt finds a great home here as a cheap creature removal in a control deck that also doubles as an Ancestral Recall in the late game. If I’m correct in my call that Kird Ape will get dropped from Zoo decks, then I feel that Volcanic Fallout will be great card in the new metagame as a reliable sweeper for both Fae and wee critters.

I’m still playing two Electrolyze which might be great if there is an abundance of mirror and Savannah Lions, but I feel that time will probably ensure they’ll be upgraded to cards that deal with the metagame better. However, for now, I feel that they are good enough against Fae, Elves and lil’ guys for a spot. I’m not exactly sure what the critical amount of burn is to have enough to let you take maximum advantage of your Swans. I’m running eleven now and wonder if it’s not a little too light. It might be the case that cutting two Cryptic Commands for two Seismic Assaults will be a dynamic enough shift to push this deck over the edge, but for now, in lieu of a better manabase (i.e. one that does not rely on Cascade Bluffs), I’ve kept the deck more control than combo.

I had Vendilion Clique main for some time and then eventually cut them down to one, which was just cut for a solo Seismic Assault. I want to try the Assault out and feel that it is much more powerful as a singleton than the Clique, no matter how legendary it is. The Mutavaults are there to provide other sources of damage, threats against Fae, but mainly to turn on your Spellstutter Sprites as I think the format is such that they are good enough without many other faeries if a deck can be stretched to add these manlands.

There is one Tier 1 (ish) deck from last season that survives almost completely untouched from the rotation. All it lost was the less-than-stellar, in this deck, Riptide Laboratory and Future Sight from the board. I speak, of course, of Tezzerator. I spent quite some time tinkering it, most of which was spent on the manabase and the still tight decision between Firespout and Volcanic Fallout.

Both cards have excellent strengths. Volcanic Fallout is far superior against Fae, especially if Bitterblossom becomes popular. However, it is a strain to the mana making sure you have access to RR on the third turn and it is inferior against beatdown decks, which is the main purpose of this slot anyway. Firespout kills Kird Apes and Wild Nacatls but needs green mana to kill Faeries; it also doesn’t deal you two damage. It was when I realised that I needed less red sources if I ran Firespout that I found I could add a Tree of Tales to the manabase to let it take out fliers too. This serves the additional purposes of meaning you can set Engineered Explosives to three and can still play Ancient Grudge in the sideboard. Fallout might eventually prove better but only the metagame will tell us.

Sadly, the loss of sac-lands meant that we have to lose the solo Vedalkan Shackles which was the power bullet for Tezzeret to find against Fae and other midrange-esque decks. I’m unsure exactly what to replace it with so I will leave it for now and shift the Trinisphere back to the maindeck to combat Elves, Hypergenesis, and Dragonstorm. Watch this space. What this left me with, quite coincidentally, was almost a card for card copy of the build I suggested last season in a previous article, aside from the land.

Vedalken Shackles might be powerful/necessary enough so as to streamline the deck to be almost mono-Blue and play Firespout off fewer sources. The following manabase would give you fourteen red sources (Trinket Mage can find Great Furnace) and then have fourteen Islands but no green source. This would mean we couldn’t play Fallouts but would also not take any pain from Shivan Reefs:

2 Academy Ruins
10 Island
4 Steam Vents
3 Cascade Bluffs
2 Great Furnace
1 Mountain

I’ve been trying to work out the best cards in the mirror if the deck becomes strong/popular enough to seriously consider it one of the biggest decks. Vendilion Clique is up there as is Tezzeret and Shackles. Ancient Grudge is certainly a very good sideboard option but is more general than specific. Meloku is certainly strong, especially if they don’t have Shackles. I can’t help but feel that there might be other options — like adding manlands, but this would mean you couldn’t play Shackles again. Jace Beleren might be enough or even Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. For now let me leave it as is and worry about late metagame shifts nearer the time if and when they are relevant!

I was going to cover UG Tron and Tooth & Nail in this article but they are quite combo-like in nature and, for the sake of space, I will save them until next time. Instead, I’ll leave you with a Braid of Fire deck I’ve been toying with for a little while. With the absence of manaburn, I figure this Coldsnap gem might finally have found its time to shine. Sadly, most of my efforts have wound up either awful or looking just like other decks. I’ve gone through several kill methods, the quirkiest being a solo Teferi to find and cast with a Mystical Teachings, so that I could then find, cast and burn a solo Swans! Then I stumbled across the never-played Pact of the Titan

There are plenty of options and tons of quirks packed into this deck so let me explain. There has never been a deck more perfectly suited to Remand and Repeal. Both cards stall for time and draw you cards, digging you deeper to a Braid if you don’t already have it and if you do, they let you survive longer so it gives you even more mana, essentially burying them in a sea of tempo. Braid combos well with Pacts letting you ambush people with a Pact of the Titan or protect a Hellkite with a Pact of Negation well before you normally could do so safely.

Room is super tight in this deck and as much as I want to play Ancestral Visions or something similar in, I can’t. Visions wouldn’t be perfectly suited here as you wouldn’t be able to use the mana Braid generates slowly over turns. I mean, only on the one turn when the Visions resolves can you explode, rather than use the mana and cards steadily over time, as lots of cantrips let you do. Magma Jet was one of the last cards cut and I’m only playing an Electrolyze over a Fallout because I love the card and want to see if it’s good (there’s also a reasonable chance it is more deserving of that single slot).

The Mutavaults might not be needed at all, but the deck began with Spellstutter Sprites and using extra Braid mana to pump manland seemed cute. Now they could certainly be Reflecting Pools if the deck wants to get even funkier with its card selection, but I feel that the Mutavaults let you attack/threaten Fae whilst you manoeuvre for position. I should remind you that although several versions in, this deck is still incredibly beta.

I have Teferi in the board because the deck can use Pact of Negation more efficiently than most to force him through to neutralise opposing countermagic, letting you resolve your Hellkites uncontested. It’d also be nice to have a good instant card advantage spell to find with a Teachings to let you stall until then and then refill and play on, but I can’t think of any. There are probably several instants that could be played in the board too that I haven’t yet considered, but I am currently sans internet, and am happy that the sideboard viably includes a spell of each color for now, hehe!

A card I have wanted to play for ages is Wildfire Emissary. In all honesty, he be better served being an Annul, another Clique, and another Pact of Negation, but if there was ever an opportunity for him to be good again, this is it! Remember why he was good the first time around? The key removal spells of the time were Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolt and he dodged them both. Sadly, we no longer live in an age where such spells exist… not. As Path and Bolt are the two big removal spells on the block, maybe Emissary can dust off his weapons and take to the battlefield once again. He blocks every creature Zoo plays and keeps Jitte from charging on most. This deck can easily stall to turn four; then when it gets there, you can even pump the Emissary with excess Braid mana. He won’t get a better time than this!

With Fallouts, Bolts, and Repeals fighting creatures, a range of counter magic protecting you and plenty of cantrips to gain you time and find Braid, I feel this deck has the potential, maybe, to be more than just fun.

I hope this will keep you happy till next time and don’t rag on me for not including any non-Blue control decks, it’s not my fault that the Blue Package is just too good right now!