Is Control Better Than Wilderness Reclamation?

Shaheen is always one to believe in control, but can it really be a better strategy than the supposedly crazy things Wilderness Reclamation can do? SCG Indy is coming up quickly, Shaheen!

With SCG Indianapolis and SCG Baltimore hitting us on back-to-back
weekends, Standard is the talk of the town. It doesn’t take much for me to
get excited about my favorite format, but two competitive tournaments with
Standard two weekends in a row entices me to continue to brew. In the last
two articles I’ve written, Esper Control was the featured decklist and is
still my weapon of choice.

I truly believe Esper Control is in a great place at the start of this
format, doing all the marquee Esper Control things well. Notion Rain and
Precognitive Perception are still underrated, not receiving the respect
from the professional community that I would have expected by now. Gerry
Thompson recently wrote about twenty competitive decks that could take down
one of these early Standard tournaments and had a version of the deck I’ve
been pushing since the Stone Age.

You’ll notice in his list, he enlists Notion Rain as the card draw spell of
choice also. Chemister’s Insight is not a functioning card in a deck with
tap-out elements. I have written endlessly on the subject, condemning the
crummy Glimmer of Genius to the uncommon box in my spare bedroom
indefinitely. If I have access to Dimir cards, Notion Rain is where I plan
on hanging my loyalty because that’s the reality until a reactive, Flash
version of Esper Control takes the wheel.

In Gerry’s version of Esper Control, he cut the Island, a decision which
I’m still torn on. Kaya’s Wrath has performed above and beyond
expectations, but the double blue requirement for premium counterspells is
still very important. I’ve tried a full reactive and tap-out version of
Esper Control and after many matches, a mix between the two is still the
direction I plan on taking the deck. Gerry explains the same conclusion I
reached and added a few guildgates to handle the blue requirement. I’ve
been resistant on adding guildgates for obvious reasons, but I do see
myself moving toward at least one copy to replace the Island if it ends up
damaging my ability to destroy all the creatures on time. At this point, it
hasn’t caused me much angst. Since it is only a one-of, it would have to
show up against a wide attacking aggressive deck, and I would have to have
no other land to play. It’s a pretty narrow setup, but I can easily see
making the change just in case.

Outside of that, I wouldn’t adopt Gerry’s list at this point. One reason is
because I think that Chromium, the Mutable is at its worst right now. It
pains me to see an Esper Dragon not fit the mold of any of my decks, but
seven mana for a threat that’s slain by enemy battlefield sweepers, blocks
ineffectively the turn its played, and doesn’t see the light of day against
very aggressive decks are simply too many negatives to include it in the
maindeck. I have been dying to get The Scarab God or Torrential Gearhulk
back in some form, but sadly the best we have at that mana cost is The
Eldest Reborn, which provides the best removed threat, knocks one of their
creatures out, and has them pitch a card to create a card advantage package
hidden in a win condition.

In order to make room for the pricy enchantment, I cut Dovin, Grand Arbiter
from my takes of Esper Control. I had big hopes for the new planeswalker,
but at this point the format is far too sporadic to defend the three-drop
with Esper Control. The dream was to have a planeswalker survive Kaya’s
Wrath, making it more dependable than creatures in the long run. There’s
also tremendous upside on a planeswalker that resolves on an empty
battlefield, which is likely when on the play. Dovin did some work, but was
embarrassing against red-based aggro and sad on the draw in many matchups.

The rest of the deck looks close to what I’ve been suggesting over the last
few weeks. The big differences will always be in the sideboard. If you
haven’t noticed, the sideboard drastically changes in each publication.
This is one of the main reasons I don’t support sideboard guides, and all
my competitive brothers and sisters out there need to be ever vigilant in
metagaming. Leaving the sideboard the same week after week in Standard is
probably a mistake unless the format becomes dominated by one or two decks.

For the last few hours I’ve been trying Twilight Prophet out, and I’ve been
impressed. It’s a mythic that I’ve always wanted in my control decks,
giving valuable lifegain once you receive the city’s blessing. Before that,
it has four toughness and can block the creatures from the aggro and
midrange decks you sideboarded it in against. I’m not completely sold on it
yet, but early signs do look promising. My style of Esper Control often
swipes the sideboard games easily because of the surprise factor of
creature threats. Before it was the happening thing to do, I would
sideboard in four Bloodghast in my Dimir Control deck along with a Sword of
Feast and Famine for good measure. Even if your opponent knows you have
some creatures, they can’t leave in the full complement of removal in
anticipation for the army they’re about to see. Six of the eight creatures
stampede slower decks, and four of them are elite at handling those that
try to beat you down.

Although I’d love to write about just Esper Control every week until the
day I’m unable to punch letters on a keyboard, I want to share a deck with
you that I’ve played on the side.

Todd Anderson has been an advocate for this Temur Reclamation deck, and I
had a pretty cold take on the enchantment early on. After gaming with it,
Wilderness Reclamation is going to be a force in Ravnica Allegiance Standard. I bashed the original Bant Nexus
decks early because of narrow, egotistical reasons. Every time I have faced
the scary monster, it was defeated with great ease. Game 1, these decks
have very live cards that are vulnerable to excessive copies of Thought
Erasure, maindeck copies of Negate, and a healthy amount of other
disruption. Esper Control has dead cards too, but they truly have a much
tougher time sticking a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria than we do. The key is
really to keep Wilderness Reclamation off the battlefield, have a decent
shot of stealing game 1, and be heavily favored in the sideboard games.
That was the formula for success against the Bant version, but the Temur
variety is a bit different.

In Todd’s’ list, he has four copies of Expansion//Explosion, which can
cause a headache for a control opponent. He has a few too many Shocks in
his deck, making game 1 still tough for the Temur Reclamation deck to take
on Esper Control. Todd’s deck relies completely on burning opponents out,
adding Primal Amulet as an additional must-answer for us. I’ve changed his
list slightly in testing, moving one Firemind’s Research maindeck, which
has helped push the number of bombs in game 1 to a frightening level for
all the slower matchups.

I’ve only played one Magic Arena event with a version of this deck, so
let’s look at Dylan Hand’s take on it. As discussed earlier, Bant Nexus
harnesses the power of Wilderness Reclamation, but it adds more powerful
spells than Todd’s Temur Reclamation deck. I do think that some of the
chaff in this version of Bant Nexus needs to be removed to have a fighting
chance against some of the slower decks of the format. Four copies of Gift
of Paradise, Root Snare, and Settle the Wreckage is a bit ambitious, as
well as slicing a land off the typical 25 count. That said, I really like
having Hydroid Krasis maindeck because of how well it fits the theme of the
deck. Bant Nexus will go off with Chemister’s Insight, powering through the
deck very quickly, but that’s only if the Wilderness Reclamation sticks the
landing. For it to do that consistently, there must be other threats that
pull the attention of the disruption away from the bread and butter of the

Gift of Paradise was underwhelming for me in my test run, as well as looks
very mediocre on paper. Back in the day, Bant Nexus decks used it because
they had to. There was no Wilderness Reclamation and when rotation kicked
in, the deck vanished from competitive play. Gift of Paradise was cute with
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and allowed for Nexus of Fate to launch a turn
earlier. With the addition of Growth Spiral, Gift of Paradise feels like an
embarrassment from the past that has lived out its welcome. If you plan on
running Bant Nexus this weekend at SCG Indianapolis, I’d remove them for a
25th land, one Cleansing Nova, and two Absorb. I’m not sure why it’s taboo
to have a couple counterspells in these styles of decks, but I plan on
breaking that norm.

I’m not sure if this take on Wilderness Reclamation is better than those
with Nexus of Fate, but I do know they have a much harder time with red
decks than Esper Control has. It’s easy to detect the broken elements of
these decks with just a few test runs. I don’t think that anything will get
banned from these decks due to the ability to combat them with fast,
aggressive creatures or enough disruption from the control end that
prevents their four-mana threats from resolving.

We’re all getting a bit too generous with bans, especially in Standard.
I’ve agreed with a healthy portion of them, but to call for them this early
is a bit much. Sounding the alarm for a ban (or unban) is in my wheelhouse,
so I don’t want to come off as hypocritical in that regard, and I tend to
get mutilated for months and months before dusting off my old, control

This weekend will be very telling as we gauge the format’s health. I have a
Mythic Championship coming up in Cleveland, but I always prepare my testing
gauntlet with decks that emerge from the SCG Tour. For quite some time, the
SCG Tour has been cutting the ribbon on every new Standard format, giving
us competitors a window into the early health of the format. I’m confident
that we’ll see multiple control decks break into the Top 8 this weekend in
Indianapolis. The aggro decks are fierce and the midrange decks are still
powerful, but control has the tools necessary to compete against them all.

The real question lies with style. Will it be a deck centered around
Wilderness Reclamation? This would validate the opinion of many, making the
call for bannings louder.