I think I’m on blue control this weekend.
I mean, it’s always possible that I am just out in the wild, just grazing peacefully, and suddenly find myself unable to resist the alluring call of the
Rhino. You know what it’s like. Sometimes, you just can’t keep your eyes off its horn. If you’re like me, your idea of a good time is three…
…And there really is no greater earthly pleasure than letting someone know you’re draining them for three.
What about “I think I’m on blue control this weekend?”
Right. “Activate my Jace” is a pretty good indicator that you are doing something out of this world!
Brandon Nelson won a PPTQ this past weekend with an update to the list Paul Rietzl, Matt Sperling, and I used to great effect at the Pro Tour.
Looking at the changes from the PT list, the first one that jumps out is the addition of maindeck Tasigurs and Dragonlord Silumgar.
The list we used at the Pro Tour took too long to actually win, considering the sheer volume of time you have to spend shuffling in this format,
contributing to five draws between the three of us. This update is down an Ob Nixilis Reignited, but up three more victory conditions.
This does increase our vulnerability to Crackling Doom, of course; however, both of these threats can get around it in some circumstances. Early, it will
be common for Tasigur to cost less than Crackling Doom, so sometimes, it slows them down to actually try to deal with him. Later, he can come down and draw
a card in the same turn without much trouble.
If you play a Dragonlord Silumgar when they don’t have the mana available to Doom in response, you can often steal their Mantis Rider, giving you
protection. Besides, Duress and Negate are both great at clearing a path or protecting Silumgar or Tasigur.
Dragonlord Silumgar’s real strength comes from his ability to steal planeswalkers, though. Gideon is particularly nice since he’s usually at the exact
right amount of loyalty to take himself out. I know I’ve been talking about Silumgar a lot lately, but I can’t sing his praises enough.
I was happy with the manabase we played at the Pro Tour, but when tuning the list for PTQs, Opens, and GPs, there is even more desire to sacrifice power
for consistency. By cutting a land and a spell for two Anticipates, we will get “mana screwed” as well as mana flooded a little less often. We’re also
going to be able to capitalize on opponents giving us extra time with more looks for our sweeper or lifegain or whatever. The format has slowed down a
little anyway, so the speed we are losing isn’t as costly as it would have been before.
To make room for these new cards, we had to trim a few places. This list cut Despise, Clash of Wills, and a Ruinous Path. Despise and Clash of Wills were
already the weakest cards in the deck (though not bad), while the Ruinous Path cut was actually a little hasty. Brandon suggests putting it back in,
perhaps cutting a Duress instead.
This build also features a Stasis Snare instead of a Murderous Cut as a concession to the Tasigurs that are increasing the burden on our graveyard for
delving. I love Stasis Snare, in general, though it is a little dicey trying to set up double white on turn 3 after casting a two-cost spell on turn 2. If
you play a Sunken Hollow on turn 1, it can get awkward. Even if you find a Plains on turn 2, you’d need to be able to find the other Plains, which then
leaves you without double blue or double black. That said, the card is sweet. No regrets!
Changing Dragonlord’s Prerogative into Painful Truths is a concession to Abzan, plain and simple. They are real close in power anyway. Besides, with all
these Tasigurs, it’s kind of nice to have a cheaper card draw spell since later you can just activate Tasigur more.
The other change Brandon suggested was cutting Ob Nixilis, or at least moving him to the sideboard. There’s less G/W Megamorph than there used to be, and
more Negates and Duresses. It might be time for another Dragon of some variety, but another Secure the Wastes or Gideon could also be the answer. Even
Monastery Mentor is an option.
In looking at options for this weekend, I’ve been experimenting with a variety of different directions to go. For instance, one of weaknesses of this style
of Esper, compared to a version like Reid Duke’s, is the need for double white and double black on turn 4. That’s not hard, but it’s also not free. If we
could get by without needing double double (blue is basically free), that would increase consistency (at the cost of power, but maybe that’s okay for this
Here’s a version that only touches white:
This build borrows a number of elements from Reid’s Esper list. We’ve got more counterspells and Mage-Ring Network + Ugin, the Spirit Dragon instead of
Mage-Ring Network plays very nicely with the counterspell plan (as opposed to the tap out for a planeswalker plan), and helps support our ability to drop
Ugin or Silumgar to close, all while still holding up a counterspell. Ugin can win a game in a hurry, including in extra turns if need be. Being able to
seal the deal with counterspell-backup means less games where you have the game won, but a few removal spells buy your opponent the time they need to get
I just love this card right now. Sam Black was high on it in testing, noting its strength against Mantis Rider and Soulfire Grand Master, which are often
found alongside Jace or Gideon. It’s also a way to sneak more counterspells in your deck without using narrow dedicated permission. I think I
underestimated it a little, as it has proven to be extremely well-positioned. It’s expensive and slow, so it’s hard to play many, but I’m a fan.
If we’re going to lose Silkwrap, we’ve got to do something. We need two-mana plays, we need ways to interact with cards like Hangarback Walker and
Deathmist Raptor. Maybe Utter End is enough, but Horribly Awry and Complete Disregard gives us more cheap ways to interact with Mantis Rider without always
taking a hit first.
Reave Soul might be okay, but sorcery speed is already a big knock against it, and it gets fizzled by Abzan Charm, Dromoka’s Command, Atarka’s Command,
Titan’s Strength, and Become Immense.
Alternatively, we could shift towards white. Reid’s list is the default way to approach U/W splashing black, but another possible route could be something
This list is all about the Secure the Wastes into Gideon combo, which kills in a hurry and is resilient to removal. Secure the Wastes is already good
against Jeskai Black, but it would be especially good if you expected an increase in the popularity of red aggro, where the card is at its best. Being able
to trade with a Dragon Fodder or Hordeling Outburst early, while taking over the game later, is just awesome.
Moving away from an Ugin gives us the freedom to use Silkwraps and Stasis Snares instead of being slave to the sometimes awkward black removal. It does
require some concessions, though.
I love Languish right now, but Planar Outburst is a totally passable Languish alternative. I generally prefer Languish, as the speed really does matter,
not to mention your creatures living through it; but at least Planar Outburst kills Rhinos and Dragonlord Atarka. I prefer Planar Outburst to End
Hostilities because the ability to sweep the board and then attack a planeswalker for four is much more often going to change the outcome of a game than
killing an opposing awakened land or Sword of the Animist.
Why not cut the rest of the black or the rest of white?
Good question. The main answer? I love, Love, Love Shambling Vent. Utter End (in small numbers) is also invaluable. Besides, it’s not like
the mana is “hard.” That said, it’s worth exploring going “all the way.”
Cutting black makes it real hard to avoid a heavy reliance on enchantment-based removal, which rules out Ugin. It’s unfortunate to not have Ruinous Path,
Utter End, or Silumgar’s Command for dealing with planeswalkers, but at least we have Quarantine Field.
Quarantine Field is a Banishing Light for four, sure, but it’s also a very powerful sweeper late. Mage-Ring Network means we’re eventually going to get
some pretty big amounts of mana. Having such a great way to take advantage of it late is a nice added dimension. Secure the Wastes is another great spell
to sink all the extra charge counters into.
The nature of Dig Through Time decks is such that even a single answer to a problem makes a big difference. Each Dig Through Time is seven more chances,
but even when we miss, we’re going to be able to find another Dig Through Time a good percentage of the time and try again next turn.
Of course, it wouldn’t be hard to splash green, even if just for Lumbering Falls…
I can’t help but wonder how greedy we might be able to get away with being. What if we actually wanted Nissa, Vastwood Seer? That’s no small cost since
we’d probably want to play at least three basic Forests. For science:
- 3 Dragonlord Dromoka
- 4 Dragonlord Ojutai
- 4 Orator of Ojutai
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 3 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
It’s already asking a lot to get those Forests in there, but to want Silumgar’s Scorn too? Now that is greed!
Once you have this many Dragons, Orator of Ojutai gets pretty awesome. With seven Dragons, we’re already about looking at having one to cantrip on turn 2.
If we don’t have one, we can hopefully play a different card on turn 2. Even if we need to play the Orator without the extra card, it’s not the end of the
world. An 0/4 flier is actually a pretty respectable blocker these days, particularly against Mantis Rider.
Okay, let’s not get carried away…
Going the other way, we could cut white and try to get by on black removal. And just to spice things up a little…
While the above lists are surely at least serviceable, this one is much more speculative, the sort of list that can be very informative in testing. I’m
guessing I’m not going to get far enough on this one to have it battle-ready by this weekend; but even just sketching out the concept and playing with
different configurations can help inform other decks. Besides, sometimes you get there!
I particularly like Hedron Archive in a control deck. Whenever I see someone with Blighted Cataracts in their decklist, I wonder if they have considered
One “natural” blue control color combination that hasn’t be explored much is Grixis.
Grixis actually has several things going for it, the least of which is cheap removal.
Fiery Impulse is just so mana efficient, and we’re typically going to get the full three damage pretty quickly. It’s a fair bit better than Wild
Slash right now, due to how much more often the ability to kill a Mantis Rider, Warden of the First Tree, or Shambling Vent matters than the ability to
send the two damage upstairs (at least when you don’t have Soulfire Grand Master in your deck).
The one Draconic Roar gives us some added options on turn 3 and in long drawn out games. Besides, drawing one Impulse, one Roar is often better than one of
each. We’re getting the extra three damage to the face a not-insignificant amount of the time since we can just wait to flash it back when we have a Dragon
(which includes a Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker attacking for four).
While Gideon dipped a little in popularity in this week, I expect it to rebound, and Sarkhan is an excellent answer to it. He is a little vulnerable to
Siege Rhino and Tasigur, but sometimes we can add a little burn to the mix to finish the job.
Kolaghan’s Command is an excellent answer to Jace and Soulfire Grand Master, but it’s also a great tool against mid-speed decks when you are just grinding.
Frequently, you make them discard a card while getting back a threat. It’s not just a two-for-one, sometimes it’s a Time Walk, since you can cast it during
your opponent’s draw step. That is kind of evil, though.
Okay, now that’s evil. However, if you are the one person in twenty that doesn’t use tokens, there is a reward!
I actually think there’s a lot of promise to Grixis, but it does have two major problems. It doesn’t have a creature-land, and it really struggles to gain
life. Maybe we don’t really need the creature-land, but no life gain is real tough. What if we splashed white?
- 1 Dragonmaster Outcast
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 2 Soulfire Grand Master
- 2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
- 1 Dragonlord Silumgar
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Adding white gives us access to Mantis Rider, which is a nice way to fight planeswalkers and put pressure on people while still defending the homefront.
Soulfire Grand Master is a mondo-combo with all of our red removal, gaining us all that life we wanted. It’s also a card draw engine that helps make
Ojutai’s Commands into bigger threats late.
Speaking of Ojutai’s Command targets, Dragonmaster Outcast is a sweet one-of that can take over a game in a hurry. I don’t like playing multiples, though,
since it’s really bad to draw early when we don’t have a Jace.
Crackling Doom is the other big pay-off for adding white to Grixis, giving us excellent answers to fatties like Siege Rhino and Tasigur while also adding
damage to the Mantis Rider and Kolaghan’s Command damage that can all really add up.
All and all, I think the addition of white could be a huge boost in power to Grixis. It does hurt the mana a little, but I kind of think it’s worth it. I
would guess this strategy shows up a little this weekend. People love grindy-control decks, and well over half of the spells here generate card advantage!
Now, that’s my idea of a control deck…