Playtesting For Champs: The Control Decks

States is coming. The decks are being built and the gauntlet has been thrown. And now a gauntlet needs to be devised. I think that there are many possible control decks that can be built to take advantage of the new metagame – but the standouts are Mono-Red Control, B/G Control, U/W Control, and W/G Control.

Before I get started talking about the new environment, I need to clear up some things.

I am not a complete amateur deckbuilder. I took the idea for an Elvish Succession deck from a local player and designed and later developed nearly the same deck that Rob Dougherty and YMG came up with.

Before I evolved it into the Fruit Loops BUG deck, it looked identical to the deck YMG did so well with – even if the rest of the world couldn’t make it work.

I saw the potential of Patriarch’s Bidding decks long before they became a Type 2 and Block staple.

Although my rating has fallen as of late, I’ve still been playing Magic for ten years, and that gives me experience. I’ve designed combo decks from the first time I saw interactions between Stormbind and Necropotence.

My first foray into Extended was during Trix/Oath/Gro season and the combo went: Turn 1, Mountain, Orcish Lumberjack, turn 2, forest, mana elf. Turn 3 Mountain, sac forest for three red, tap mountains for two more red, tap elf, cast Savage Firecat with one red floating, cast Reckless Charge on the Savage Firecat to attack for ten. Turn 4: Play Forest, sacrifice Forest for three red, flashback Reckless Assault, win!

I’m still building weird combos. Some of them are top-tier, like the Storm/Skull combo. Some of them are Tier 4 if they’re lucky…Like the Reckless Assault/Orcish Lumberjack/Savage Firecat combo.

People who suggest that my playtesting results are inaccurate should build and test the deck themselves. I’m more than willing to share specific statistics, and it should be noted that I’m not claiming any ridiculous win percentages. In fact, the deck posts barely 50% against the field – if even that.

I don’t write these articles to try and revolutionize Magic, or to develop or spread the absolute best new decks. I write because I love deckbuilding, and it is something I do an awful lot of. When I find a combo or concept that seems to work well, I write about it and share it with people.

If I see a Tier One or Tier Two deck that I enjoy playing, I’ll write an article about that, too. I play Magic because it’s a game, and I write articles because writing is what I do.

One thing I need to apologize for: I misread Solemn Simulacrum. The card does put the land into play tapped. So, in a way, I need to retest the entire TurboFace deck, because there are situations where that made a difference.

To answer the pundits: Play the damn decks I design. Don’t tell me it is a combo deck that doesn’t work because it has no tutors. Play it. If it loses, then it loses… But that isn’t the result that I found, and I don’t think you will, either.

Now, onward and upward. States is coming. The decks are being built and the gauntlet has been thrown. And now a gauntlet needs to be devised.

If I can, I want to write three articles, one for each combo, control, and aggro decks that I’ve seen.

I think that there are many possible control decks that can be built to take advantage of the new metagame, but some standouts include: Mono-Red Control, B/G Control, U/W Control, and W/G Control.

Green/White Control:

One of my favorite concepts from Onslaught Block was the fact that there was a viable Mono-White deck… And it was Mono-White Control. Who the hell builds MWC? Seriously?

But it worked. Or at least, it wasn’t worthless.

When you look at past States, you have stand-out decks. R/G Madness and U/G Madness from last year; Frog in a Blender and Fires from the year before. Going back as far as I can recall, States has always been about aggro – and specifically, creature-based aggro.

And what deck does creature-based aggro hate seeing? Well, yeah, MWC… But specifically cards like Wing Shards, Silver Knight, and Exalted Angel. There are a few cards that I don’t think are necessary – mostly the Dawn Elementals. I reconfigured the deck so that it would look a little something like this:

4 Elfhame Palace

3 Temple of the False God

4 Windswept Heath

4 Forest

10 Plains

4 Silver Knight

4 White Knight

4 Viridian Shaman

4 Solemn Simulacrum

2 Akroma, Angel of Wrath

4 Naturalize

4 Wrath of God

4 Wing Shards

2 Worship

3 Decree of Justice


What you can put in the sideboard will largely depend on what you want the deck to do. You can switch to a more control-oriented strategy, or you can manipulate your options to give you a better variety. The main deck is very well-equipped to deal with just about anything. In fact, it isn’t really even control. In a lot of ways it could be considered aggro-control, since you are going to be attacking more than you are defending. I like that, but some people see it as a weakness.

As far as playtesting went, this deck was very successful. Since I have tried to develop and adapt more than fifteen different decks for these three articles, I didn’t do excessive match analysis. Rather, I picked three decks (Goblins, R/W Control, and MBC) and set down against all of them with all of my decks.

Against Goblins, a green/white deck should be considered the huge favorite. You can play different games, depending on what is in your hand. If you have the creatures, go ahead and trade with the Goblin horde and eventually move in for the kill. Silver Knight and White Knight both have First Strike. If you have Wing Shards and Wrath of God, sit back and wait until they overextend, and then wipe the board and drop Akroma. As third strategy is to hide behind various numbers of creatures with Worship until the Big, Bad, Angel of Ass-kicking shows up. Ultimately, the matchup is vastly in your favor, unless the Goblin deck is specifically teched out to beat you. The Sulfuric Vortex doesn’t stop you, though, and most of the Goblin sideboards I have seen have little to offer except for Flashfires. If you expect Flashfires, you should have Second Sunrise in your board.

I’m only going to make this comment once about Goblins: Yes, sometimes you just lose. Goblins sometimes just plain wins. But even so, those ridiculous hands that the mono-red menace musters up are rare, and for me to say G/W can win well over 55% of the time is not inaccurate.

Against R/W Control, you are still favored. You have four maindeck ways of dealing with their enchantments, eight maindeck ways to deal with any artifacts they might be using, you have board-sweeping effects, and tons of threats. Depending on the R/W build, you should be able to win sixty percent of the time or more.

Against MBC, I’m not sure. So many people are huge proponents of the new MBC that I really need to see some optimal builds. So far, nothing I’ve found anywhere on the internet is posting better than mediocre results against anything I’ve built. Oblivion Stone? I’ve got Naturalize, Viridian Shaman, and Second Sunrise out of the board. Barter in Blood? Sure, take my Sex Elves and Solemn Simulacrums… Akroma still has haste. White Knight and Akroma, Angel of Wrath, make Terror and Dark Banishing look like Phyrexian Tributes.

I just don’t get it. Please! Somebody build an awesome version of this deck that they can prove to me actually wins! I’ve seen mono-black decks, especially Sui-Black aggro, but I just can justify MBC right now. The internet says it is a benchmark, so I benchmark it…

U/W Control

Now, what other deck from Onslaught Block played Wing Shards, Silver Knight, and Angel? Oh, yeah. U/W control. Now wait, wait. I know. I said that U/W control was bad – in fact, I just said it last week. I was, well, wrong. I’d like to thank the people who e-mailed me explaining, in fact, just how good U/W control was. This is the consolidated version of several decklists I received:

4 Coastal Tower

4 Flooded Strand

5 Island

9 Plains

2 Secluded Steppe

4 Temple of the False God

3 Exalted Angel

2 Akroma, Angel of Wrath

4 Eternal Dragon

4 Mana Leak

4 Wrath of God

4 Wing Shards

4 Rewind

3 Decree of Justice

4 Akroma’s Vengeance

For this sideboard, you want a variety of cards to deal with specific deck types, as your maindeck is less old-school control (versatility for every situation) than the W/G deck.

Rewind is fine at four mana, as it allows you to counter spells and still let you cast an end-of-turn Decree or to cycle a Vengeance away in search of a win condition or a Dragon for a Plains.

I want Annul, perhaps Flash Counter, Story Circle, and maybe a Silver Knight or four. This deck has potential, and the colors have a brand new combo I am still working my ass off to break.

So let’s talk about Read the Runes and Second Sunrise.

At first I was skeptical. You can’t use this”combo” until the fifth or sixth turn at the earliest. And then, it is only good for one or two cards. Sometimes, you don’t even gain card advantage. But then I watched it work in all the best ways.

With Extraplanar Lens, all sorts of sick things start happening. Let’s see, I’ll draw nine cards, return eight untapped lands to play, and then draw some more cards, play a few dozen cheap spells, and Brain Freeze you into oblivion.

Yet that seems better suited to a deck that has Mind’s Desire in it.

The other heralded U/W combo is Zur’s Weirding/Words of Worship. This puts your opponent in a lock… That is, assuming that they don’t have complete board control and/or a creature with more than three power. I am extremely skeptical of this combo (odd, since I am so willing to experiment with other cards…) but it makes me nervous to see how many slots are devoted to a lock-combo that barely guarantees victory.

As far as U/W goes, there are many possible builds of combo U/W, but I think that the control U/W deck I’m focusing on is at least Tier 2. I’ll elaborate on the combo portion of the States gauntlet in a later article, for now, I’d rather say this about U/W:

You have counters to stop game-breaking spells, and you have board-sweepers to handle creature rushes. With an optimal hand, you have no reason to lose – but the trick is winning the game with subpar cards. Against a creatureless MBC, you need to have a use for Wrath of God and Wing Shards, and there is no mechanism for ditching the worthless cards in this deck. So you sit with dead cards game one. As far as U/W goes, it is playable in an environment full of creatures, as States promises to be. Whether or not it can win against all other sorts will depend on your sideboard.

Against Goblins, you are supposed to be favored… But, well, I haven’t been able to make it work that way. I’m posting about 50% right now with U/W Control against Goblins. Taking out Silver Knight from the main has really hurt my game one… And there isn’t all that much that I’m wanting to Rewind. With eight Wrath of God effects, if I am still alive to get to four, five, or six mana, I can pull out a late victory; the problem is making it that far.

Against R/W Control, this is a good matchup for you. Between Mana Leak and Rewind, you can stop most of their major threats, as many of their control mechanisms will not affect you. You have more board sweepers than they do, so don’t be afraid to bait them or waste a Wrath of God on one or two creatures. Still, U/W in this match-up is 55% favored, which still isn’t as good as G/W – but B/G isn’t posting a better record.

Against MBC, you should win far more often than you lose. Counter their Consume Spirits – especially with Mana Leak if they fill up the spell with all their loose mana. Most of the MBC decks are playing with few or no creatures. If they have the Nekrataal/Phyrexian Plaguelord/Ravenous Rats-type control mechanisms, they are probably playing Suicide Black, which is an entirely different game. After boarding, they can do some things to wreck your house, and remember that this is a match-up where Decree of Justice can sometimes be better suited to make Angels, not Soldiers. Overall, I’d say the statistic is reasonably 55%. It would be higher, but sometimes you have too many dead cards.

B/G Control

B/G Control is a pet deck of the Internet. The Rock has thousands of loyal followers who all insist that it can be built in every format. I don’t believe it… But I still like the idea of a B/G creature-based control deck.

4 Ravenous Baloth

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Wirewood Herald

1 Caller of the Claw

1 Viridian Shaman (please see note on this)

2 Phyrexian Plaguelord

4 Ravenous Rats

4 Nantuko Husk

4 Nekrataal

3 Festering Goblin

3 Solemn Simulacrum

3 Oversold Cemetery

3 City of Brass

11 Forest

9 Swamp


I’m getting nervous about suggesting sideboards, because I have seen so many articles and forum posts with comments like this:”In the post-Mirrodin artifact-heavy environment, you are going to want ten artifact kill cards.” (I have even been caught saying stuff like that.) I’m maindecking Naturalize, in many cases at least in part, to destroy pesky artifacts. Except, um… Where are all these artifact decks? More and more I’m seeing decks that are designed to beat artifact decks-and there aren’t any mono-brown (er…silver) decks. So I’m making the note of the”Sex Elf” being in there only if these magic Mirrodin builds start appearing somewhere; otherwise, the”Sex Elf” is largely irrelevant.

This is B/G creature-based control. Phyrexian Plaguelord, Ravenous Baloth, Caller of the Claw, Ravenous Rats, Nekrataal, and Festering Goblin are all control cards (believe it or not). You use your creatures to set up board position, and then you smash in with your recurring Caller tokens. Or your 4/4″control” creatures.

It should also be noted that you need a way to deal with Withered Wretch. Suicide Black is gaining limited popularity (I’m including it in my article about November Type 2 aggro) and Withered Wretch is maindecked in most builds. You can still win without recursion, but remember to pack Smothers in the board.

I want to mention that I’m not running Gravepact or Phyrexian Arena, or Oblivion Stone, and the reason is because every deck I’ve written about – and every deck I’ve seen online – is fully prepared to deal with enchantments and artifacts. I wouldn’t even run Oversold Cemetery, but there it is necessary to give the deck that ultimate control feel.

Overall, I think B/G control has a spot, although I don’t see it being Tier One. The deck relies on creatures, and having Oversold Cemetery to recur creatures after Wrath of God does no good when the Wrath is actually an Akroma’s Vengeance.

Against Goblins? 50%. Festering Goblin is rarely a two-for-one, and more often he just kills Piledriver, if you are lucky. Ravenous Baloth is fantastic here, as he always has been against the quick aggro decks. Out of the board, you can bring in Bottle Gnomes, and possibly stuff like Phyrexian Arena or the Stone. I think this matchup can be improved, and probably fairly easily. For the States metagame, Ravenous Rats could probably be maindeck Bottle Gnomes, and there are a few other minor tweaks that could be made. Wirewood Herald really needs some more targets in this matchup to warrant its inclusion.

Against R/W Control? Better than 50%. Their board sweepers are usually ineffective, since you can bring things back with Cemetery or by playing conservatively. However, R/W Control shouldn’t be overestimated. If R/W isn’t destroyed by G/W decks (which I personally think it is) then maindeck Elvish Lyrists may be a consideration. The problem here is that The Rock begins to show its need for Type 2 utility. In order for B/G to be Tier One, it needs a lot more options than it has right now.

Against MBC, I have two statistics: The first is 30%, the second is 60%. I’ll talk about why I have two statistics – MBC can play with stuff like Terror, Dark Banishing, and Barter in Blood; or it can play Infest, Decree of Pain, Smother, and Oblivion Stone. If MBC has the second set, The Rock is very hard-pressed to succeed if it can’t race with Baloths, Plaguelords, Nekrataals, and Husks. Against an MBC armed with Decree of Pain, Smother, Oblivion Stone, Nekrataal, and Barter in Blood, I posted around 30%.

So finally, I happily have a deck that MBC can beat. But most MBC decks floating around the internet are not running Smother or Nekrataal. And remember that black creature hate hates to see black creatures. With the MBC deck I’ve been doing most of the testing with, B/G is about 60% ahead.

Mono-Red Control:

I’m going to share my favorite new deck, which is the relatively unique and mostly successful mono-red control.

Wait, did he just say mono-red control? Isn’t that Burning Bridges?

3 Rorix Bladewing

4 Pyrite Spellbomb

4 Oblivion Stone

3 Hammer of Bogardan

4 Shock

4 Volcanic Hammer

4 Molten Rain

4 Stone Rain

4 Starstorm

3 Decree of Annihilation

3 Temple of the False God

17 Mountain

3 Forgotten Cave


Who knows? Again, I could say something about putting in a few Shatters, maybe some more creatures as a transition board, or I could mention actually using Ensnaring Bridge itself.

Let’s talk about the deck, though. What is mono-red control? Is it a burn deck with bad cards? What do I do with my burn? Do I kill my opponent-or his or her creatures?

Mono-red control (more or less Ponza) is a deck whose function is to deny many decks their win condition (creatures) and by preventing many control decks from ramping up enough mana to be effective (through the eight land destruction spells). Combo decks can be stopped by killing creature-based combos, or stopping an opponent from reaching an optimal number of land. Ideally, the sideboard could also be made to handle combo.

I find this deck (and its archetype) fascinating. Starstorm gives red a realistic answer to the new aggro decks. (Again, I want to talk more about these decks later, but a quick peek is to say that Fish, Stompy, SuiBlack, Goblins, and White Weenie are all back in business, and that Fish and WW both benefit excessively from Equipment.) Shatter and Detonate can help against artifact builds, and the Decree can help Rorix play an Erhnam-and-Burn-em kind of role.

Against Goblins, unless they have the Skirk Fire Marshal tech, you should dominate. Nothing they play should ever stay on the board for more than a turn. And you can lay out an Oblivion Stone to make sure they never get a huge Patriarch’s Bidding or some other weird techiness. Your LD gets sided out, and you can board in more threats – stuff like Viashino Sandstalker. My results put the percentage at about 65%. Yes. I really am claiming a 65% chance against Goblins this time. All of your burn kills all of their creatures, and your mana curve pairs up to theirs.

Of course, I will say it one time more: sometimes Goblins just wins. They drop something crazy like Prospector, Prospector, Warchief, Piledriver, Piledriver, Piledriver, and smash for twenty-four. If you can’t stop it, don’t worry about it. Someone I know once said that Onslaught Block made him a better player for teaching him that.

Against R/W Control, again, this is sick. 60% of the time you should win, if not more. Your LD stops their high curve development, and your burn keeps sniping away at their life total or their creatures, until finally you blow up the world and drop Rorix. If you can’t use Rorix because of the super-Astral Slide draw, you have recurring Hammer of Bogardans to throw at their face.

Against MBC, I am confused. MBC seems to handle this deck. Mind Sludge hurts if you can’t draw a Hammer of Bogardan. Your Oblivion Stone can come in handy if they get out their favorite kind of board. Rorix dies to almost all of their removal, which is odd (I’m used to Odyssey-era MBC, where all of black’s removal was sorcery-speed). Ultimately, you need to ramp up your mana and stunt their growth. Sideboarded Shatters are important, and you might need more answers than that. According to my results the statistic is between 45 and 55 percent, which is actually a very large range and not as satisfying as I would like to report.

When I was gathering data and thinking about the States metagame, I was having a hard time deciding whether or not to write a series of articles that could get totally vetoed because I would sacrifice playtesting data for depth of card analysis and ubiquity, or to focus on one of each kind of deck as I am used to.

Ultimately, I decided to go this route, as I figure I have plenty of time to preview my idea of how States may shakedown, and then emphasize my favorite decks (Mono-Red for control, TurboFace for combo, and either Fish or WW for aggro) in the following weeks.

If you are reading this, it worked out. And I’d like to thank everyone who helped me develop the decklists. That’s it for control (although there are probably more builds and even different decks entirely lurking out there) next week will be aggro.

If you have comments or questions, email me at [email protected].