Torrential Gearhulk has been the backbone of control for almost two years. The moment it was previewed, I knew it would be a game-changer. The more sets that were released, the more busted it became. Standard control decks without it have come and gone, but it has ruled the archetype for most of its tenure.
The entire set of Kaladesh has been a train wreck, producing an overpowered energy mechanic that required a remedy from our friends at The Duelists’ Convocation International. Aetherworks Marvel joined the likes of Smuggler’s Copter and Reflector Mage on the sidelines. Through this whole ordeal, Torrential Gearhulk remained a constant presence for those wizards daring enough to pilot control in turbulent waters.
Once Vraska’s Contempt was released, the tables turned in favor of the heroes. The Scarab God joined Torrential Gearhulk to create the deadliest combination of win conditions. Tournaments were won, fun was had by all…but the Standard story always ends the same way. Eventually we lose those win conditions we love and then we must adapt. Rotation is what keeps Standard fresh, and even though Modern is easily the most popular format around these days, we need to remember what keeps boxes selling. Standard may not be the choice for competitive events like it was, but it still fuels the most FNMs and casual play, and is beneficial to keep healthy for all parties.
Rotation makes Standard unique. This time around, we’re losing more than we’ve lost in prior shifts due to the new-old rotation model. It feels like I have been summoning my opponents’ creatures from the dead with The Scarab God for a decade, followed by a second Glimmer of Genius from my good friend Torrential Gearhulk. This change that is coming down the road will be the most impactful for control since the absence of Sphinx’s Revelation.
Goodbye Kaladesh, Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, and Hour of Devastation
Let’s talk about what we will be left with and some ideas for the future. I understand an entire set isn’t out yet, but it’s easy to speculate when we are losing four sets while gaining one.
This is a beautiful example of control in its purest form, full of card draw, counterspells, a light dab of win conditions, and tremendous power. I consider Andrew Cuneo a player cut from the same cloth, one of six members of an exclusive organization. When control is not at its best, he makes it work. Luckily for him, control has been at its best in Standard for quite some time. This will not last.
Out of the 47 cards in his maindeck that aren’t basic lands, nineteen will not rotate in a few months. Out of those nineteen cards, only ten of them are actual spells. U/B Control as it stands will be a distant memory, barring a control renaissance in the next set. White control gets hit, but not as badly as The Scarab God’s home. These losses will hurt the most:
You’ll notice that the card draw of Standard gets obliterated. Glimmer of Genius has been a two-year staple and has even seen Modern play. Without the ability to see the perfect cards on Turn 4, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria may not see the bright light of resolution. Even the weaker alternative, Hieroglyphic Illumination, is leaving us as the same time. Both spells are instants and fit perfectly into the Standard control mold.
A rotation this big will not just hurt control, but all other archetypes as well. Control, however, suffers from its strict card requirement. If there isn’t a good card draw spell in Standard, control can be close to unplayable. If the primary sweeper is mediocre, evil is strengthened. Losing the best spot-removal spell, Fatal Push, is going to certainly put black-based control into the extinct category without a suitable replacement. Rotations, especially this one, keep us control players on the edge of our seat as previews come. We’re anxiously waiting as each card appears online, hoping for the mandatory replacement.
The non-negotiable replacements are Glimmer of Genius, Disallow, and a strong multicolor land. Fatal Push is stellar, the win conditions are dominant, but the the blue cards that keep you above water early in the game are the core of control.
Glimmer of Genius has the biggest shoes to fill from the next set because the remaining card draw spells are so much weaker. Disallow could probably be as effective as Cancel nine times out of ten, but nobody feels good casting that gross excuse for a counterspell. I’ve been forced to play Cancel before and I’d rather not revisit those dark days. Glimmer of Genius is the most obvious dagger to our heart, but Fetid Pools and Irrigated Farmland may be the most difficult to survive.
Mana is so great in Standard due to the synergy between cycling lands and checklands. Having a flood protection mechanism built in through cycling and having many of your other multicolor lands enter the battlefield untapped makes the Amonkhet land cycle powerful. I know they’ll have something for us in Guilds of Ravnica, but if it doesn’t have the basic land types attached, it’ll be a downgrade from what we have currently. This means we could see the elimination of a third color, pushing us away from our sweet new Dragon win conditions that have seen some fringe play from Core Set 2019.
The first half of this article is meant to brace us for impact. Many of my friends that play locally plan their deck and card purchases based on what will be relevant after rotation. Not many people out there are interested in buying Andrew Cuneo’s 75 just for it to become full irrelevant in a few months. For those out there who play solely for the love of the game, it’s important to plan for the next Standard early. Luckily for us, the best planeswalker printed in many years isn’t going anywhere.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is the present and future of control. The card is at the power level of Torrential Gearhulk but can end the game upon resolution more often. An uncontested Teferi is lights out for many opponents on the other side of the battlefield, and I foresee that weakening of black in the coming months, which would make planeswalkers that much deadlier moving forward. If fewer players tap into black for Vraska’s Contempt, planeswalkers are going to become much more oppressive than before. Good removal for planeswalkers is paramount for a healthy Standard.
Teferi isn’t the only U/W Control staple left behind. We all know sweepers will be printed in Guilds of Ravnica, but we also know that they will likely be mediocre, so Settle the Wreckage will hold down the fort regardless. Whatever comes to assist Settle the Wreckage, whether it’s Cleansing Nova or a new Guilds of Ravnica option, at least have this powerful effect sticking around. Seal Away is a great removal spell, Lyra Dawnbringer crushes the aggressive resistance, and we know that Wizards of the Coast loves to make white the blue control companion of choice.
One thing not to forget is that the conditional countermagic of U/W Control will remain intact. Essence Scatter, Syncopate, and Negate are all staying in Standard for a long time. We’re all used to Negate by now, but the other two options revitalized control when they were reprinted and I’m very happy to see Essence Scatter sticking around. Disallow is truly a loss, but it’s mainly to our pride and our unwillingness to sleeve up Cancel.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and Chromium, the Mutable are Dragon lords we can still cast. I mentioned I’m suspicious on their viability with the loss of cycling lands, but Guilds of Ravnica could surprise us. A powerful multicolor land that synergizes with those left in Standard, a few spells that make it foolish not to splash a third color, and we’re back in business! Both Dragons are powerful win conditions that will impact Standard as long as they are around, but Chromium, the Mutable has led me to multiple mirror match victories at the last Pro Tour and I would love to keep playing it if I can.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is still the more powerful option of the two, but red loses every reason to be in the control discussion as Harnessed Lightning, Hour of Devastation, and Abrade all abruptly leave our card pool. This makes red a pure dud for control mages, and I can’t see it being the secondary color for a long time. This doesn’t mean they won’t entice us with that perfect red card to splash, making Nicol Bolas an easy inclusion with it. Drowned Catacomb, Glacial Fortress, and Dragonskull Summit all need a boost from Guilds of Ravnica to make this happen. It’s tough to continue to be original, making lands that count as the basics, but it would be the perfect time to reintroduce the shocklands.
Many of us think of shocklands when Ravnica is brought up, as they debuted there and were reprinted in the next incarnation, and here we are again, ready and waiting. We can’t guarantee their return soon, but it would keep the three-color manabase viable. Shocklands were amazing in each Standard format they were legal in, so I would be beyond excited to see them back in action. The damage they deal is clearly a disadvantage for control players and a freeroll for aggressive ones, but my love for my archetype is secondary to the health of the format. Keep the mana strong and the format will follow suit.
In the Meantime
We still have a couple of months of Standard left to enjoy our Torrential Gearhulks, and I’m attending Grand Prix Richmond, a tournament which will require me to polish my Esper Control deck for another go. My suggestion to you all is to continue to play the Torrential Gearhulk deck that you love. This could be Oliver Tiu’s U/W Control deck from GP Providence, Andrew Cuneo’s U/B Control list that was mentioned earlier, or my Esper Control deck that I wrote about in my last article.
You can’t go wrong when you’re casting Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, The Scarab God, and/or Torrential Gearhulk as your win conditions. The accompanying spells are too powerful to create unwinnable matchups, making you fear no deck in Standard. I used to sweat profusely when my opponent played a Mountain on Turn 1, but these days I welcome my enemy’s burn with open arms. For those of you who don’t have the old control staples, work on acquiring Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. That one card will keep control afloat and be a three- or four-of in most decks moving forward.
We will build around Teferi and continue to fight darkness with light, my friends.