Journeying Into Nyx With Control

Six-time SCG Open winner Shaheen Soorani writes about what control might gain from the new set and updates his Esper Control list just in time for #SCGDET!

It’s spoiler season, and things are heating up! The season of new cards is upon us, and the old rusty gears in my brain are turning. When I look at a list of spoilers, the first thing I think about is how it will impact Standard and more specifically the deck I’m currently piloting. There are a few occasions when a card is interesting for Legacy or even Modern, but this time around I have to think about Block Constructed for the upcoming Pro Tour.

I’m with the majority of you guys and am rather disinterested in learning the Block Constructed format. I’m a Spike that is driven by the tournaments that are available to me, so this naturally pushes me toward Standard and Legacy as opposed to fringe formats like Block Constructed. I remember when Block Constructed was an entire PTQ season and we all had no choice but to dive into the wild limited-resource format. In today’s Block Constructed format there are no guilds, no effective board sweepers, and no Sphinx’s Revelation. I don’t want to say I’m at a loss, but I do feel a bit outgunned by the obvious aggro players that will be standing in my way at the finish line for 40 thousand dollars.

Today I’ll chat about a few different cards that will impact my Block Constructed decisions, but the focus will mostly be on cards that I feel are powerful enough to play in Standard.

Silence the Believers

Simply put, this card is fantastic and is easily the most powerful card spoiled so far for those of the control camp. I have been questioned as of late for my one-of Gild in the maindeck of Esper Control. Gild has been a powerful singleton, removing Gods and dealing with tough to answer creatures. It acts as a slightly worse Hero’s Downfall, but sometimes the single black in the casting cost has been relevant in saving my life against the aggressive onslaughts of green decks.

Gild has ramped me to a turn 5 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion more often than one would expect as well as provided an additional mana for a powerful Sphinx’s Revelation. The additional mana has come in handy time after time, and the reason why it’s a perfect fun-of is that it complements the “better” removal spells that have a higher density in the deck.

Sure, I could play one more Devour Flesh, a third Hero’s Downfall, or even a Doom Blade in the main, but it serves a different purpose than the average removal spell. Having any bonus attached to a removal spell has proven to make a card effective in powerful format after format. Gild is not an amazing card by any means, but it’s a fine card that often provides a free mana for your discretionary use.

Silence the Believers is just better.

Silence the Believers is an instant speed removal spell that will replace Gild upon its release. It being an instant makes it do amazing work against all the decks in the format. It can kill a Mutavault, which may sound like a minor advantage but is quite important for control decks. Mutavault is a super annoying card that has plagued me since I saw it being reprinted in the core set last year. Having additional answers to the colorless threat is never a bad thing, and it follows the rule of having perks attached to an already decent spell.

There will be a testing period to see if this is just another Hero’s Downfall, but I think the seven-mana option will happen on a regular basis. Control is all about the late game, and removing two creatures from the game late acts almost as a Supreme Verdict. Rarely will you yield better results from a Supreme Verdict later in the game than killing two threats, which gives Silence the Believers the feel of a Mizzium Mortars. I don’t think this can be more than a two-of in any control deck, but I think it’s in the conversation of splitting time with removal spells in the Esper decks of Standard. It is no secret that I love expensive powerful spells, and this card is being tossed into the mix.

Block Constructed is a format in which Silence the Believers will easily find a home. At this point I can’t imagine playing anything without black since it has Hero’s Downfall and Thoughtseize, which gives me enough reason to create a skeleton out of the other black cards played in Standard.

Keranos, God of Storms

This is the most exciting card of the set thus far. It has the most important ability of any card a control mage would wield, which is producing card advantage. Whenever a new spell spoiled has the text “draw a card” on it, a few of my emotions kick in. Fear that the card is overcosted, too weak, or not in the right colors are just a few of the things I worry about. Oftentimes however excitement kicks in as I crunch the control numbers and determine how I’m going to shave enough cards to incorporate an additional card advantage engine. The remaining feelings that are triggered by new spells spoiled with card draw engraved on them can range from severe disappointment to maximum jubilation.

Keranos, God of Storms is somewhere in the middle at this point. I think the card is fantastic and a must play if you’re in its colors, but it being U/R makes things a little difficult for this Esper native. You might remember the U/W/R deck I advocated ages back, but due to the popularity of G/R/x Monsters it had to be put to rest. The big issue is that G/R/x Monsters is just as popular if not more these days, and we’re going to need a bit more assistance than a God to defeat them. When you inspect the playability of this card against the field, though, it’s pretty good against everything but G/R/x Monsters. Having the matchup get even worse is just not an option, but we will see what else Journey into Nyx brings us.

Not only does Keranos, God of Storms produce card advantage, but it throws damage as well! Usually I don’t get too excited for Lightning Bolt effects, but this makes the U/R God much more than a card draw engine. It’s pretty rare to find a permanent that can do all three, and I hope after some play that it’s as powerful as it seems. The mana cost of five is very fair as well since it allows for a Supreme Verdict; a Jace, Architect of Thought; or even a spicy Silence the Believers (or Gild if you are still feeling the vibe) to come before it.

The issue at hand is still its viability against the bevy of G/R planeswalkers available because the answers are very few and far between for both Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler. Stormbreath Dragon is also a nightmare for U/W/R and any other control deck without black. There are answers like Turn // Burn and Mizzium Mortars, but the problem is holding those cards for specifically Stormbreath Dragon and threats that your other spells have a hard time dealing with. If you want to give the U/W/R strategy a shot and use this sweet new card, I’d play three or four Turn // Burn to deal with problematic cards that exist in today’s Standard.

As far as Block Constructed goes, there simply aren’t enough cards to play a U/R Control shell in my opinion. Anger of the Gods and the red spell package are quite underpowered for the true control plan, so that is one idea that I am putting on the back burner.

Nyx-Fleece Ram

This card is really sweet. It’s very problematic for any aggro or burn deck in Standard, and I can definitely see it in the sideboards of control decks. At this point I’m not adding any to my Standard Esper Control list because aggro is just not as viable or popular as it has been in years past. The big shots are all playing midrange type decks or devotion, which this 0/5 can’t do much against. It reminds me of Fiendslayer Paladin as a sweet card against the blitz decks around the world, but if aggro isn’t in your local metagame, save this one for later.

Worst Fears

Mindslaver is back! Okay, not really, but it’s cool to have this type of effect in Standard. I have been known to cast an expensive sorcery here or there, and this card fits the bill. I think it’s an outright blowout against control when set up with Sin Collector, Thoughtseize, and various other disruption spells. Being able to Sphinx’s Revelation for zero, blow all of their spells on nonsense, destroy their own permanents, and do other destructive things with a Mindslaver is pretty nice. This issue is that eight mana is a lot, and it’s probably just worse than another Aetherling anyway. If actual Mindslaver was being printed, I could argue its validity as a one-of, but as it stands Worst Fears might have to stay in the bulk section for quite some time before it sees competitive play.

Block Constructed is kind of slow, and in some bizarre sweet control deck I could easily see myself playing one of this haymaker. I’m glad it’s being printed, and I’m sure a lot of you are happy to see this effect back in the mix of things. Hopefully I feel frisky enough to tap eight and lunge at an opponent’s mind in the near future.

I want to end on my current list of Esper Control and talk about a few of the choices I’ve made. I know everyone is on the Nightveil Specter plan, but stay true to the Sin Collector my friends. Against average opponents who decide to board out too many copies of Detention Sphere, all of their spot removal, and Supreme Verdict, Nightveil Specter is better. If you play against seasoned control veterans, they will not make this rookie sideboarding mistake, and a Nightveil Specter on turn 3 will meet a Hero’s Downfall, Far // Away, or Detention Sphere.

The key argument I’ve heard is “good, they wasted a Detention Sphere!”  The problem with that logic is that Detention Sphere doesn’t have as many targets as people think in the control mirror, and I typically cut two of them for that reason. On the other hand, Sin Collector provides hand information that is essential to winning the mirror match, and that kind of enters the battlefield ability with a body attached makes him the safe play over the flying card thief. Nightveil Specter is better when it stays in play of course, but in my experience and specifically in my match against Brian Braun-Duin in the SCG Invitational: Las Vegas Top 8 last year, I’ve learned that just doesn’t happen too often.

I’ll provide further updates to Esper Control as Journey into Nyx reveals itself as well as discuss the future of control if a color change is warranted. If there are any cards that you think deserve attention and are possibilities for Block Constructed or Standard, please let me know. Sometimes there are cards that I miss during spoiler season, and I’ve love to have a debate or discussion with you all about cards that deserve their time in the spotlight.