Planeswalker, Dragon, And Madness Control Decks

Control mages unite! Your champion has returned! Lots of aggressive Zombie and Human decks are floating about, but what about those who want the grindy route through new Standard? Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin is ready to get this format under control!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease March 26-27!

I’m just gonna let you know from the jump: the new Sorin was destined for greatness.

It’s not just his rate, but that should give us some clue. As should become clear shortly, the card was priced to move.

Rather, it’s his positioning. Sorin was designed to occupy a very important role in the metagame, to prey on certain cards, and to provide some structure to the format. Make no mistake about it: Sorin, Grim Nemesis is one of the defining pillars of the new format.

My starting point for evaluating new planeswalkers is looking at their middle ability. It’s typically the biggest impact they can have on the battlefield the turn you cast them, so it’s sort of like a spell with that effect (that potentially leaves you with a planeswalker left over). From there, we can evaluate how much we need to get out of the other options to make the card worthwhile.

Sorin’s middle ability is “-X to deal X damage to a creature or planeswalker and gain X life.” That’s huge!

So, for starters, you can drain something for six. That’s a pretty big impact already. However, we’d generally prefer to drain for five (or less) so that we can keep our Sorin. Whenever we live in that world, we are kind of crushing it. For instance, let’s imagine our opponent just hit us with a Reality Smasher last turn. It’s pretty awesome to drop a Sorin, kill the Reality Smasher, get all the life back, and still have a Sorin on the battlefield.

Obviously, that’s a pretty good scenario for us, but there are a lot of targets that die when you drain them for five. In particular, it’s awesome when you can drop Sorin and kill a planeswalker. Like, oh, I don’t know, Chandra, Flamecaller?!

If nothing else is going on, Ob Nixilis Reignited and both Jaces go up to six; however, sometimes you can get in there with something, and sometimes they used their minus ability. Even when you have to drain for six, you’re still six life the better of things.

Besides, every once in a while, when the stars align, you get to play Oath of Gideon before dropping Sorin. Now every “fair” fight is slanted in your favor!

Okay, so Sorin’s minus is a big deal. What about his +1?

To start with, this is drawing a card with upside. But how much?

Well, obviously that depends on your deck, but it’s often going to be close to 1.5 damage if you’re playing a classic midrange deck. That’s a lot more attractive than Ob Nixilis Reignited’s card draw! The damage is broken up in very uneven amounts, though, which adds volatility. When we’re losing, we’ve got chances to get lucky. When we’re winning, we probably don’t care about the damage as much.

While it’s generally not going to be the normal use case, if you have some way to rig the top of your library, you can do some pretty crazy things. For instance, if you had Liliana Vess, you could dome your opponent for the highest cost in your deck. Likewise, anything remotely Worldly Tutor-like could get dangerous, particularly if it turns out Innistrad’s moon is in the next set and costs fifteen, or whatever.

How good is this ability? Fan-freaking-tastic. It’s exactly what you want when you just dropped Sorin and drained something for a bunch. Now you’re drawing a card every turn while also putting your opponent on a clock.

Finally, we come to his ultimate.

“-9: Put a number of 1/1 black Vampire Knight creature tokens with lifelink onto the battlefield equal to the highest life total among all players.”

Well, given his other abilities, that’s often going to be you; however, it’s nice that, even if you’re behind, Sorin can threaten to kill in one hit. That you get so many Vampires across so many bodies means we’re pretty resilient to removal. That they all have lifelink ensures that, even if we’re losing by a wide margin, we’re generally going to have great chances of coming back and taking over the game.

Okay, so let’s throw Sorin into a deck!

I’m pretty excited about the prospect of playing some kind of B/W midrange deck with Sorin. We’ve got a lot of great interaction to choose from, good mana, quality card draw, and a nice mix of threats.

Descend upon the Sinful is a very exciting alternative to Planar Outburst that is a lot more meaningfully different than End Hostilities was. Exiling can be very important, both against graveyard recursion and indestructible (such as a flashed-in Avacyn). The really exciting part, though, is the 4/4 flier we get sometimes for zero extra mana and zero extra cards.

How hard is it to get delirium? I’m not sure, yet. It does seem like it shouldn’t be too hard if you try, and there are many ways to do that. You don’t need to be playing some dedicated delirium deck to get there, but you do need to make sure you’ve got one or more plans for how to get there.

Lands – Evolving Wilds, Warped Landscape, creature-lands, looting (particularly Magmatic Insight)

Artifact – Hedron Archive sends itself to the graveyard pretty effectively, and both Hangarback Walker and Hedron Crawler count as two types.

Enchantment – Dead Weight is pretty decent at getting into graveyards, but even Silkwrap and Stasis Snare can get there sometimes when you are activating Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy.

As for sorceries, instants, creatures, and planeswalkers, they are usually pretty straightforward, but it is interesting to consider when to alter our mix of removal to diversify types and increase our ability to delirium.

It may be tempting to just pick four types and plan on getting those four into the graveyard, since that is all you need; however, diversifying further increases the chances that you can get enough of a mix to trigger delirium.

For instance, if we play ten sorceries, ten instants, ten ways to get land in the graveyard, and ten creatures, we’ve got a lower chance of drawing one each of four types than if we played eight sorceries, eight instants, eight ways to get land into the graveyard, eight creatures, eight planeswalkers, four artifacts that go to the graveyard, and four enchantments that go to the graveyard. That’s a pretty extreme case, but the principle is true in general.

This is a much tougher-to-evaluate delirium card. Descend upon the Sinful’s primary limitation is that there’s a lot of competition at the six-spot and you can’t play all that many. By contrast, To the Slaughter is regular piece of removal that happens to get a bonus sometimes, like Silence the Believers.

The reason it’s tough to evaluate, however, is that it’s an Edict effect (which is normally less reliable) that can hit planeswalkers. This makes it far more reliably a card you could put to work than, say, a Foul-Tongued Invocation, because of its ability to kill a planeswalker, even though it can’t reliably get a planeswalker off the table.

People seem to be going nuts for this card, but I think it’s a pretty glorified Utter End. Three life is a lot. It’s a fine card, but it’s not like it’s out of Ruinous Path or To the Slaughter’s league or anything.

This card is sweet! The opportunity cost is low, it adds multiple powerful new dimensions, and it’s not actually immediately obvious how to optimize it. I kind of imagine a lot of people will play too many copies or be too tunnel-vision-focused on activating it over and over, or perhaps throw away five tokens for Ormendahl, Profane Prince despite how obvious it is that their opponent has a bounce spell.

You know what’s sweet? Secure the Wastes for five in the end step, untap, drop the Abbey, and make the 9/7 immediately.

I’m excited about this one. A three-mana discard spell isn’t turning any heads, but it’s not that hard to turn it into a Lobotomy, and when you are hitting the Ramp player’s Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or the Control player’s Dragonlord Ojutai, that’s a big deal.

Let’s take a look at a possible control deck, once we add blue into the mix:

It’s not yet clear how much we want to be a draw-go deck versus how much we want to play tap-out, but there are lots of great paths to pursue. Not being able to lean on Dig Through Time is a pretty radical change to the control experience.

This Jace is fine. I’m not sure we can actually get away with playing it, since it does “planeswalker uniqueness rule” away Jace, Telepath Unbound, but it’s probably still doable. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy can also sit in play as a creature, giving us a planeswalker under glass.

As for Jace, Unraveler of Secrets, he’s a lot like Ob Nixilis Reignited. The -2 to bounce a creature is definitely worse than Ob Nixilis’s -3 to kill a creature, and the ultimate is much worse (one of the weakest ever), but this Jace is all about the +1 ability. “Scry 1, then draw a card” is a lot better than Ob Nixilis’s card draw ability. Jace, Unraveler of Secrets could literally have no other abilities and still be a playable option.

Why am I not more excited about the latest Jace? I mean, it’s fine; it’s just that it’s a pretty boring card, since it’s so one-dimensional. There are a few options to it, but it’s just not radically changing the landscape the way Sorin is.

This one is a lot tougher to evaluate. A thorough breakdown can be found here.

Two mana – Cantrip (but draw the lesser of the top two)

Three mana – Anticipate (but they can stick you with a “draw two” instead)

Four mana – Inspiration (but slightly worse, given the piles, though you can also make it a one-and-three split for when there’s a key card involved)

Five mana – Steam Augury (for a mana more)

Six mana – Jace’s Ingenuity (but slightly worse, although with much less opportunity cost, since you can’t cycle Jace’s Ingenuity)

The thing about Epiphany at the Drownyard is that it’s not actually that bad for low amounts of mana, and even if it doesn’t scale as well as Sphinx’s Revelation, it’s often going to just be enough to win the game anyway.

Here’s another direction we could go with Esper:

This is only lightly touching white for Dragonlord Ojutai, which I have some reservations about. We’ll see how many people play To the Slaughter, but I kind of just want to cast Sorin too much to go all the way back to Dragons. Besides, I don’t love trying to support Silumgar’s Scorn and Grasp of Darkness, and I don’t know how you make the removal work without Grasp.

Maybe we play straight U/W?

All right, we’re kind of doing it. Without Ugin in the mix anymore, there’s less pressure on us to avoid Silkwrap and Stasis Snare. That said, we do still need to watch out for Dromoka’s Command, not to mention stuff like Compelling Deterrence.

I’m kind of nervous about being this reliant on Dragonlord Ojutai. What if they have Pick the Brain? We can still win with Descend upon the Sinful and Jace’s ultimate, but without Silumgar’s Scorn, it’s going to be a lot harder to take control of the game.

The control I’m most excited to dive into is actually U/R!

This deck is just so insanely exciting to me. My favorite part about it?

Why, it’s the most exciting ramp card in the set…

We’ll see how good it ends up being, but it sure it interesting to me, the idea of discarding Drownyard Temple to Jace or Tormenting Voice (or Magmatic Insight, or whatever). For three mana, and at instant speed, we get to draw a Mox.

Imagine it’s turn 2 and you shipped the turn with a Jace. If you just have Jace untapped on their third turn, they have no idea what you’re capable of. If you loot away Drownyard Temple on their end step, you can then immediately put it onto the battlefield and have access to five mana a turn earlier than they were expecting! And we’re not talking some Simian Spirit Guide “trade a card for a temporary boost” type of deal. We’re actually ahead a card, not behind.

It doesn’t take much to make a sorcery-speed Twin Bolt playable. When you madness it, you are getting an instant-speed Rolling Thunder for a mana cheaper. That’s bonkers, not to mention that it’s effectively a cantrip since we’re playing so much looting.

Normally, a deck like this would have a weakness to big creatures and getting tempoed out by people too fast…

Just the Wind is functionally a one-mana Repulse when combined with Looting. That’s ridiculous. Lightning Axe can solve most of our hard problems for super-cheap and typically lets us play our madness cards for cheaper and at instant speed. Hell, we can even use a Lightning Axe on turn 4 to kill the Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet they just cast, discarding Drownyard Temple. On their end step, get it directly onto the battlefield, untap, and drop Chandra, Flamecaller!

It’s worth noting that, even though we’re usually going to want to discard a card, there’s nothing wrong with spending six mana if we’ve got mana to spare and don’t feel like discarding anything.

This one is expensive, but going long, an instant-speed Control Magic is a very powerful effect. We’re probably not stealing Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy often, but when we do, be careful not to flip him!

Draw three, discard two is really not that bad. However, if we cast this on turn 5, discarding Fiery Temper and Just the Wind? That’s just crazy. It’s not just a draw-three, since we’re also getting to Lightning Bolt and Unsummon something this turn. That’s a great way to take advantage of Drownyard Temple ramping us straight into five mana on turn 4. Plus, at the end of it, we’ve got Oath of Jace on the battlefield, which can potentially give us a scry here and there.

Okay, I’m out for this week. I’ll see you back here Monday. We’ve got a lot of cards to cover and a brand new format to break. Any requests? Let me know, and I’ll see you then!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease March 26-27!