One Step Ahead – Five-Color Control in the New Standard

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open Returns to Richmond!
Wednesday, October 15th – The New Standard Metagame is slowly taking shape… and while some things change, some things stay the same. With Faeries and Five-Color Control still proving popular and powerful options, Gerry Thompson takes us through his own personal vision of the ideal Five-Color Control configuration, without a Cruel Ultimatum in sight…

I only get to play with Reflecting Pool for one more year, so I’m going to make the most of it. There are going to be some Standard PTQs (very exciting), half of a Standard Pro Tour, States, and of course, the upcoming StarCityGames.com $5K Standard Open.

Why should you play Five-Color Control in Standard? For the answer, we should take a look at the potential metagame.

Faeries: This is obviously the big one. Most people think that Faeries is enough of a reason to not play Five-Color Control, but they would be wrong. I’m of the opinion that Faeries is going to be a positive matchup for Five-Color Control, mostly thanks to Esper Charm. Not only that, but the Fae no longer have Ancestral Visions, which makes them lean harder on Bitterblossom. The games where they don’t draw Blossom are usually cakewalks for Five-Color Control. Without a solid two-mana counter like Rune Snag, Five-Color Control’s big spells are easier to resolve.

Faerie decks also aren’t what they used to be. Mario Pascoli played a very interesting Five-Color Faerie deck at GP: Rimini, tuned to beat the mirror. I fully expect that some sort of multicolored Faerie list becomes at least as popular as UB Faeries, as the splash options are very powerful. While powerful, the deck becomes less consistent as a whole (as Faeries basically hates lands that come into play tapped), which makes Five-Color Control an even harder matchup.

Kithkin (or simply WW) is a difficult matchup for Faeries, one to which they have to adapt. You will see lists with a decent amount of a removal main. RDW is also a terrible matchup for Faeries. How does the Fae plan on coping?

Kithkin/WW: This matchup is probably the best reason to play Five-Color Control. Aggro is easy to defeat with a good control deck. When you lose to a deck as linear as WW, you know you are probably doing something wrong. While they get a bunch of new toys from Shards, it’s still mostly the same old stuff. Meanwhile, Five-Color Control gets some powerful additions from Tenth.

If you are sick of losing to WW, maybe you should pick up the Vivid lands.

RDW: My friend, Chadwick McKenzie, used this to win a Cruise Qualifier in Chicago:

That list has basically everything a good aggressive deck wants. Consistency, reach, power, and if you ever draw two Demigods it’s very hard for any non-White deck to win. You even have sweepers for other aggressive decks, and Naturalize in case you have “the fear.”

RDW loses to a well-prepared Five-Color Control, and usually to WW, but should beat everything else. Red was the deck to beat during last year’s Nationals season, and I don’t see any reason why its popularity should fade. It will be one of the top three decks.

Doran/Rafiq: These decks are basically the same. They are midrange strategies that are similar to Five-Color Control, but have creatures instead of good spells. If you like winning with giant animals, that’s fine. Just know that when you have dudes and I have card drawing and Wrath of Gods, you don’t have much of a chance. They still need to play sweepers to deal with Kithkin, which waters their deck down further against Five-Color Control.

Their threats used to make playing Doran a better a deck than Five-Color Control, since your matchup against Faeries would be better. However, that isn’t really true anymore. Faeries’ only threat is Bitterblossom, and Five-Color Control can deal with that easily. At this point, why would anyone ever strategically consider a Doran or Rafiq deck over Five-Color Control?

Merfolk: Definitely one of the harder matchups, mostly because they don’t give you a bunch of time to draw the correct answers. They hit hard, fast, and with disruption. If they have Cursecatchers, you can consider yourself lucky if you win the match. The slower, more colorful versions are better matchups.

You can expect most of the people who used to be playing Merfolk to experiment with stuff like Rafiq, as those cards are splashy and powerful. That will slow their deck down and give you a better matchup overall.

Reveillark: While this might not be a deck right now, eventually it will be. Once the format fleshes out, people will figure out how to build a Lark deck that will beat most of the decks that Five-Color Control is good against, while being able to play some insane trumps against Five-Color Control.

The problem, as always, is Faeries. Until people realize just how mediocre Faeries has become, they will be too scared to play a deck that basically has no shot against it.

Right now, it just seems like everything is falling into place for Five-Color Control. With all that in mind, I present to you:

The removal package was chosen specifically for what I expect to play against. Giant midrange fatties and little White animals are going to rule the format, at least in the beginning. Things like Story Circle and Runed Halo are unbeatable against midrange decks, as most of them don’t main deck enchantment removal, and barely have any for the sideboard.

Over time, people have come to realize that fighting Bitterblossom might not be the most effective way to combat it, and should instead just attack through it. When you present a ton of hard to kill threats, Bitterblossom is little more than a Forcefield.

Even if the masses start loading up on Disenchants, you still have Wrath of God and card drawing to fall back on. By no means are you all in on something like Story Circle, but they need to kill it in order to win. That is exactly the type of card I want to play, and why I prefer White cards to playing something as unnecessary as Cruel Ultimatum.

Yes, it draws you a bunch of cards, but who cares? At no point are you going to say, “Well, I was losing, but then I drew the Ultimatum.” It isn’t going to help when you’re behind. At seven specific colored mana, I would want it to at least help me not lose. I would rather attempt to cast Violent Ultimatum. While “only” a three for one, and certainly less splashy, it gets the job done, whereas Cruel Ultimatum only helps when you are already winning.

You might be thinking, “Well, obviously Cruel Ultimatum isn’t there to deal with Kithkin hordes or Demigods. It’s there for the control mirror!” However, if you are playing Cruel Ultimatum strictly for control matchups, why wouldn’t you just have Mind Shatter and/or Negate instead? Both of those are more mana efficient, and both happen to be very good against opposing Ultimatums.

I obviously respect Patrick Chapin a great deal, but Cruel Ultimatum is just unnecessary. I enjoy killing all of my opponent’s permanents and making them discard their hand while simultaneously gaining an arbitrary amount of life as much as the next guy, but is that really necessary? Just cut the seven drops, play some threes that will always be good, and you will win more, I promise.

You might not have any big, splashy wins to remember, but you won’t remember having many losses either. In the end, winning is all that matters.

Most of you have probably stumbled across the Top 16 decklists from the recent StarCityGames.com Cruise Qualifier, and by far the most noticeable thing is the fact that five Five-Color Control decks made Top 16. Of them, four were packing Cruel Ultimatum. Now, that might seem like a big reason to run Ultimatum, but it is such a small sample size you simply cannot rely on those results yourself.

The fact that these four players did well despite having Ultimatums in their deck could be a testament to their playskill, and the overall viability of Five-Color Control in general. It could just be possible that Five-Color Control is good enough on its own, even if you don’t get the 75 quite right. I maintain my stance and urge you all to try the Ultimatum for yourself.

You might be surprised to see me without any Cloudthreshers, but as I said before, only Bitterblossom matters. Cloudthresher doesn’t directly solve the Bitterblossom problem. They can just deal with Cloudthresher and then Bitterblossom will go back to killing you. You need a permanent answer. With a ton of card drawing and plenty of answers to their main threats, how do you expect them to ever beat you?

Puppeteer Clique is definitely less of an issue when you have Remove Soul, but cutting Cloudthresher makes their Cliques irrelevant. Being able to almost cut a color also improves the manabase significantly.

I see a lot of people clamoring for more Shriekmaws and Mannequins in these types of decks, and I don’t really get it. Makeshift Mannequin is only as good as the stuff you are returning. Shriekmaw is worse than all of the White removal, Cloudthresher is now irrelevant, and past that there are only Mulldrifters. Mannequin was great in Block Constructed because we had no other options. You don’t need to mess around with that garbage in Standard. Your options are plentiful.

I tried Mind Stones, but the colorless mana usually wasn’t very helpful. It also suffered the problem that most Rampant Growth effects have, which is being terrible if you have to cast it the turn you missed a land drop. A land would be better in that situation almost every time. That came up too often for my tastes, with four Mind Stones and 26 lands. I cut back to three Stones, then two and added a 27th land, but then cut them entirely.

You have a solid curve, especially post board against aggro decks, so you never needed the acceleration.

Firespout versus Pyroclasm effects is an interesting debate. On one hand, one of them can kill Figure of Destiny, even if you’re on the draw. On the other hand, Firespout kills everything else, usually even Figure. Glorious Anthem, double Wizened Cenn, and Boggart Ram Gang exist, therefore I will never play with Pyroclasm.

Wrath of God is clearly better than both, so I don’t expect anyone to question four copies.

I chose Remove Soul as my secondary counterspell for a number of reasons. Mainly, most of the cards you want to counter are creatures, especially against Faeries and Reveillark. Remove Soul is going to help you in your bad matchups, which makes it even more valuable.

Negate is too narrow, Broken Ambitions is mediocre, but Remove Soul is almost always going to amazing.

The Bant Charms might be a bit greedy, with only ten sources that can cast them. There just wasn’t anything specific I wanted in those last two slots, and they are good against all of the matchups. They can also help protect your Story Circles.

Against Faeries… I’m not going to lie. Your game 1 isn’t stellar, but such is the price to pay for being able to beat every non-control deck in the format. You just have too many dead cards.

I would side in 3 Wispmare, 3 Negate, and take out 4 Wrath of God and 2 Story Circle. You still want a couple of sweepers against them, but you don’t want to ever draw more than one.

I tested this matchup against future American standout John Penick, and he suggested I needed more ways to beat an active Bitterblossom. I don’t feel like that is very possible game 1, assuming you want to be positioned well against the rest of the field.

He said something as simple as a few Resounding Thunders could do the trick, as he finished most of our games at a low life total. Thunder could also be a solid plan for the mirror match as well, so that is something I will have to look into.

Against WW, you are heavily favored. Just remember to mulligan correctly. There is no need to keep sketchy hands, as you can easily win if you just mulligan.

I would side in 2 Firespout, 1 Story Circle, and a miser’s Runed Halo for 3 Esper Charms and the River Kelpie.

Play tight, don’t miss land drops, draw some cards, and you will win. Simple as that.

Against RDW, you can lock up the game very easily with a Story Circle. Actually winning the game is a different matter, as they can assemble a strong air defense with a couple of Demigods. This matchup is one of the few reasons why I am even playing a singleton Oona. I considered a Nucklavee, but that is too vulnerable to removal. Mobilization could be fine also, as it’s harder to kill than Oona, but Oona is much better against Faeries and the mirror. The single River Kelpie could be a second win condition if you are worried about going to time.

I would side in 4 Runed Halo, 1 Story Circle for 4 Esper Charm and the River Kelpie.

Treat this matchup similar to WW. You have a great matchup, so don’t throw it away by keeping risky hands.

Against the mirror, the first thing you should is try to get a read on what their plan is. Are they trying to gain a bunch of card advantage with Cruel Ultimatum? Are they closer to a Block style control deck with Mannequins? Once you figure how they are trying to fight you, you can formulate a plan. Figure out what you need to play around, what you need to counter, and how you plan on dealing the killing blow.

I would side in 3 Negate, 2 Mind Shatter, and 3 Runed Halo for 2 Firespout, 2 Story Circle, and 4 Wrath of God.

Runed Halo should be able to effectively fight most of their threats, including Cruel Ultimatum. Generally the best strategy is to play the waiting game. Once they blink and make a move, you should be able to Shatter their hand away.

Doran, Rafiq, and Merfolk are all pretty similar. You definitely want Halos against the midrange decks, and possibly against Merfolk depending on what kind of bigger guys they have. The amount of Firespouts you want post board depends on their deck. You can probably afford to cut Esper Charms and the River Kelpie, regardless of what you need to bring in.

As I said earlier, no matter what you do, Reveillark is going to be a tough matchup. You definitely want to bring in the Mind Shatters, but past that it’s dependant on what they have in their deck.

Sadly, I’m going to have to miss out on the StarCityGames.com $5K Standard Open on October 25th. The last one I went to was tons of fun, so you guys should definitely attend if at all possible. For those folk playing… good luck!

Currently, I don’t have a topic for next week, so I’m open to suggestions.