How To Play Control At #SCGCOL

Many authors will advise you not to play control decks Week 1 of a new format. Shaheen thinks that’s nonsense. He’s taken many a control build to SCG Tour® Top 8s early on in formats, and the #SCGCOL Standard Open could have a lot more control mages than you think!

With the full set spoiled, the cards I loved from last week’s article are even more powerful. Pro Tour Eldritch Moon is quickly approaching, but luckily we have #SCGCOL the weekend before to give some insight on the new format.

Usually the second set doesn’t have much of an impact; however, in Eldritch Moon, Wizards really cranked up the power level. There is everything from low-costed planeswalkers and creatures to amazing Eldrazi that require a small sacrifice to wreak havoc across the battlefield. Each one of those Eldrazi creatures can have an entire deck built around them, and the scariest, most powerful one fits perfectly into the U/W Spirits deck that will easily be one of the decks to beat in the new Standard.

With all these powerful cards blindsiding the professional and casual community alike, choosing a deck has suddenly become very difficult. I’ve already praised the power of our new overlord Emrakul, the Promised End and I’m doubling down this week.

The card is the solution for control decks that find themselves flailing around in the late-game, unable to close and defeat the opponent. The frustration I have had prior to this Eldritch Moon release centers on that dilemma. No more, my friends. I hit the lab, developing deck after deck trying to utilize the power of Emrakul, the Promised End, and I have an Esper Control delivery for all of you today.

This deck is going to appear a bit wild on paper, but trust me in its ability to handle the incoming metagame of U/W Spirits and already powerful Green X. “Green X” refers to the playsets of Sylvan Advocate and Tireless Tracker that can honestly pick up any other color and smash their way to victory. We have seen Collected Company with a Human theme, Bant Company with all of the value, Seasons Past, Naya Tokens, and the list goes on where the green duo is called upon. This new metagame won’t erase any of those Green X decks, but it will enhance a few existing archetypes for sure.

I’ve never been big on developing sideboards prior to the release of a set because the metagame is undefined. I can guess the decks to beat like anyone else, but until #SCGCOL occurs we can’t be sure. The following cards could find a spot in the sideboard of Esper Control:

Esper Control Breakdown

There are more fringe cards that could possibly make the list, but these are the biggest hitters off of the bench for Esper Control in the first week. The deck has one mission, and that is to put different card types in the graveyard to unleash the power of Emrakul, the Promised End.

Oath of Jace is the card guaranteed to spark some controversy because it’s barely been used since its release. It provides the cards necessary to continue to play lands, remove creatures, and hit planeswalkers on time while filling the graveyard with all kinds of goodies. Oath of Jace plays the role of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in the looting department, but it also can’t be stopped by a Fiery Impulse. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is great; however, the maindeck has to remain immune to spot removal spells in order to not fall behind in the card- and tempo-advantage war.

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is the only risky creature in there, but it’s a nice bullet to tutor up later in the game against aggressive decks that have you on the ropes. The Fleshbag Marauders make much more sense, because they do exactly what needs to be done the turn you cast them. Getting creatures in the graveyard to increase the amount of card types is tricky in these types of tap-out control decks, so creativity is a must when designing one.

Seth Mansfield’s Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad Esper Control list was a great example of a control deck that takes advantage of the metagame’s heavy-removal mentality. There is no easier way for control decks to steal a win than by having no targets for a fistful of an opponent’s removal spells. Seth had an unfair advantage when drafting his version of Esper Control, because he was under no obligation to play creatures. In order to cast Emrakul, the Promised End consistently, creatures must be somewhere in the maindeck.

The removal that black provides is better than ever. New creatures (especially those Angels) have fantastic stats for low mana costs. The good news for control mages in the upcoming Standard is the power of Grasp of Darkness and Ultimate Price continues to skyrocket. U/W Spirits, Green X, and Humans (now W/R or G/W) all fall victim to the onslaught of two-mana removal spells with pretty powerful sweepers behind them.

Languish gets around indestructibility, Grasp of Darkness and Ultimate Price fly at instant speed, and, just in case those don’t work, Ruinous Path is still ready for deployment. There are always the naysayers who believe control is too risky for a new format; however, those people don’t believe in the power of sweepers, removal, card draw, and a powerhouse finisher. Control had the first two already, but the remaining requirements have just been filled.

I went into great detail in last week’s article about Take Inventory and how it filled a void control had for quite some time. One-mana cantrips and two-mana card-draw spells are a thing of the past, so when one strolls back in our lives, we have to relearn its strength. This card is slightly better than Think Twice, which was a control staple in more dangerous times.

On the play, casting a turn 2 Take Inventory is a freebie in this version of Esper Control. There are no counterspells, so holding mana open to end the life of a potential two-drop is unnecessary. There will be times on the draw that an Ultimate Price must be launched at an opposing creature, which puts us in the same situation as before with any other card-draw spell. Sometimes the coast is clear and we can be proactive, but sometimes holding back is correct. This draw spell only costs two, so there will be very few games where there isn’t enough time to cast it in the early-game.

Dark Petition is the bread and butter of Esper Control and other control decks until rotation. It was the primary tech in my Grixis Control deck, which created a domino effect in my professional career, resulting in three upcoming Pro Tour invites. I wrote a couple articles and had a wonderful deck tech with Nick Miller where I explained the card’s power in duplicating every spell in any given deck.

Having two copies of Dark Petition in a deck essentially allows Magicians to play the bare minimum of expensive spells and maximum quantity of removal and sweepers while enhancing the power of the sideboard. The biggest impact to come with Dark Petition is the ability to tutor up Emrakul, the Promised End the turn before an opponent’s demise.

Building the Perfect Sideboard

Waiting for a few more articles to come out prior to #SCGCOL, brewing with friends, and identifying what decks are going to make it into the new Standard from the old are the best ways to begin developing a sideboard. The list I gave gives plenty of suggestions to start piecing it together, but it really depends on your playstyle and which metagame you are preparing for.

A tournament like #SCGCOL will showcase the safest of the decks played by the average mage attending. I would predict this metagame being filled with U/W Flash and different versions of green decks, as discussed earlier. If the climate still appears to be similar to that, then the sideboard choices narrow greatly. Control decks must incorporate cards that fill in the weak areas of any respective metagame the wielder is battling in.

U/W Flash has an armada of instant-speed creatures with the flagship monster being Elder Deep-Fiend. These cards all have pretty decent abilities, so killing them quickly is highly recommended. Cards like Murder can come in from the sideboard to help battle them at their level and are great answers to Elder Deep-Fiend to prevent finding yourself tapped out and killed instantly. Ojutai’s Command is another card that is great against a flash-creature strategy, but the mana on it is risky in this Esper Control list with minimal white sources.

The creatures that assault control from the ground are much different and require a unique plan. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet with an armada of spot removal spells can put away a W/R Humans opponent quickly.

Flaying Tendrils is another card that works very well against the most aggressive Humans strategies and can be used against small flyers as well. This card has been relatively forgotten due to the near-extinction of control decks and the power of Languish. Seasons Past is the deck that utilized Languish the best, but Esper Control requires a faster sweeper to deal with the best draws of Humans. Having access to Oath of Jace allows control players to sideboard in cards that diminish in strength later in the game and not have to defend a Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy to eventually loot them away

Dead Weight is an all-star in this deck and should be brought in to boost Emrakul, the Promised End. This card should come in against any deck that has a plethora of creatures with two toughness or less. If I were confident in knowing the upcoming metagame and believed there would be a larger number of aggressive decks than midrange decks, I’d find room in the maindeck for it. Enchantments aren’t the easiest thing to get into the graveyard, and banking on Oath of Jace is a bit risky when it’s not drawn in multiples. Dead Weight and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet being in the graveyard make casting the haymaker Eldrazi much, much easier.

Conclusion and Prediction

I have many more decks that I’m working on, which even include some lists with copies of Forest in them. I know this is shocking, but for this upcoming Pro Tour I am leaving no stone unturned.

As far as true control goes, a list very similar to this will make an appearance at #SCGCOL. The numbers may need some tweaking, Oath of Jace may be a bit too adventurous for some, but in some way or another there will be many different card types in Esper Control graveyards everywhere with an Emrakul, the Promised End looming above. This Eldrazi is the win condition of the future and defeats opponents easily when casted.

Wherever you go with your control strategy, be sure to include a multitude of card types. Try Hangerback Walker (creature and artifact), Terrarion, maindeck Dead Weight, Oath of Liliana, and any other unique card types that the mainstream isn’t onboard with yet.

That is where you’ll find true control success in the upcoming Standard format and possibly even take down #SCGCOL. I will continue to tweak my version of Esper Control and keep it public, because even my pro team can’t silence my Esper Control passion. Good luck at #SCGCOL!