Reimagining Control

Lots of change is happening near the top of Standard’s ranks, but it’s apparent you can’t play yesterday’s control game in today’s world. Who better to show us the way of the future than Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin?

The StarCityGames.com Regional Championships, February 6!

Last week was not a great weekend for the old guard among control decks. This weekend’s #SCGCOL cemented things. There’s no question; you can’t just play a control deck from the last format and expect to have a prayer.

It’s time to make a new control deck.

Let’s start by taking a look at the Day 2 metagame in Columbus:


Day 2 Metagame

Four-Color Rally


Mardu Green


R/B Dragons


G/x Eldrazi Ramp


Jeskai Black


Abzan Blue


Abzan Aggro


Collected Company*


B/W Control


Atarka Red






*Collected Company = 2 Abzan CoCo, 1 Bant CoCo, 1 Temur CoCo

**Misc = B/x Eldrazi Aggro, U/R Prowess, Abzan Control, Esper Dragons, Temur Black, Naya Prowess, 4c Control

● Four-Color Rally continues to be the most popular archetype; but this time, it took the whole thing down in the hands of Jacob Baugh and put another in the Top 8. Without question, this is the deck to beat.

● Mardu Green continues to be very popular and continues to underperform, including zero in the Top 8. I would recommend not playing this strategy unless you’re planning on changing it up a little, because this formula has not been working.

● R/B Dragons was a great rogue deck last weekend. This weekend, it was one of the most popular decks and was still great, including a Top 4 and a Top 16.

● Green Eldrazi Ramp decks continued to be popular but nosedived in success compared to last week. That was the deck to beat, and everyone gunned for them this week.

● Jeskai Black is basically average in popularity and average in success.

● Abzan Blue has surpassed Abzan Aggro as the default Abzan deck, and with good reason. A Top 4 and a Top 16 help round out a lot of solid finishes by Abzan Blue, which was the most successful form of Abzan last week. Meanwhile, Abzan Aggro had less than a quarter of the pilots compared to last week and continued to underperform.

● The four Collected Company decks in Day 2 of Columbus included three color combinations (Abzan, Bant, and Temur). Of these, it was Bant that made it all the way to the finals. It’s probably too early to consider this a major archetype yet.

● B/W Control has been slowly gaining traction and actually put someone in the Top 8 this week. This is what passes for control these days?

● Atarka Red has dipped in popularity and isn’t holding up particularly well, which makes sense, since its two best matchups were Abzan Aggro and Esper Control.

● Mardu Tokens has basically been obsoleted by Rakdos Dragons.

A quick look at the top tables:

Top 8

1st – Four-Color Rally

2nd – Bant Company

3rd – Abzan Blue

4th – R/B Dragons

5th – Four-Color Rally

6th – B/W Control

7th – Jeskai Black

8th – Mardu Tokens

Top 16

2 Abzan Blue, Four-Color Rally, R/B Dragons, Mardu Green, Abzan Aggro, Jeskai Black, Atarka Red

If we’re going to build a control deck for the new world, we should take a look at the only thing resembling a control deck to have put up a good finish. Raja Sulaiman piloted an innovative Jeff Hoogland-style B/W Midrange deck to a Top 8 finish, with just enough new technology to turn some heads.

At its core this is obviously a planeswalker deck, and the mix of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; Sorin, Solemn Visitor; and Ob Nixilis Reignited is not surprising. Leading things off with Seeker of the Way is also the classic move for decks like this when they don’t play blue mana. Matter Reshaper at three, however, is a new twist.

It says a lot about Matter Reshaper that Raja is willing to splash so much colorless mana to support it as his only maindeck colorless mana requirement (beyond a single Spatial Contortion, which could have just been a Grasp of Darkness had he stayed “two colors”). Beyond just being a 3/2 that draws a card when it dies, Matter Reshaper is a bit of a mondo-combo with Silkwraps and Stasis Snares. Since they are permanents, you get a two- or three-mana bonus each time you flip one, compared to other removal spells.

I’m not sure I could get away from maindecking Thought-Knot Seer once I’ve already got the colorless mana for it. It’s not like we have an unacceptable number of fours or anything. I particularly like it in a Rally the Ancestors-driven world, and of course, we appreciate the edge against Eldrazi Ramp decks.

Read the Bones helps, but Sea Gate Wreckage is an invaluable tool for non-blue control decks trying to draw enough cards to get by without Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time. Painful Truths is also a fine option, but once you have to tap a Llanowar Wastes to get your third color, we’re starting to get to a spot where the truth is a little too painful and keeping it real goes wrong.

Of course, all that said, I do think eleven sources (plus four Read the Bones) is probably a little light on colorless sources. It’s not the end of the world if we don’t get there, but it wouldn’t cost us that much to get another one in there.

While I appreciate the use of Hallowed Moonlight, the graveyard hate I really want to use is this little guy right here:

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is underrated at the moment, presumably because of being “overshadowed” by Siege Rhino, Gideon, and Thought-Knot Seer. I am not so sure he should be down a tier. A 3/4 lifelink for four is a great set of stats on an ability black sorely needs. The exile ability is amazing disruption against Four-Color Rally, while the token-making ability can give us a powerful way to take over the game against most opponents. That Kalitas can sacrifice the zombies to get big is surprisingly relevant, particularly against Roast.

I’m not sure what it looks like yet, but I want to figure out what the best Kalitas deck is, and for the record, I don’t think it’s just some “normal” deck with Kalitas in the sideboard for Four-Color Rally and Atarka Red. I feel like Kalitas might just be great, in general.

Kalitas is a fine sideboard card, don’t get me wrong, but this is not nearly enough of a new take on Esper Dragons to reignite the archetype. I do love Duress, though, and Grasp of Darkness is a great removal spell.

I know everyone is scared off of Ultimate Price, but I’m not sure it’s really “unplayable.” People are playing stuff like Sylvan Advocate, to say nothing of Jace, Soulfire Grand Master, and Warden of the First Tree. The real question is, what does Ultimate Price kill that Grasp of Darkness doesn’t also kill? The answer, of course, largely depends on how frequently you have two mana, but only one black…

I wonder if Dragonlord Silumgar might be amazing right now. I would totally steal someone’s Ulamog. Just saying…

It might be time to bring Mind Rot back. It seems like it might be an effective way to help stunt an Eldrazi Ramp deck’s development. Early, you just try to reduce their total number of resources. Later, you can knock the last two cards out of their hand the turn before they Ulamog you. It’s not at its best against Kozilek’s Return, sadly. It is, however, a decent way to wear down someone with a lot of removal when we’re playing a deck with a lot of “must-kill” creatures.

Maybe it’s just a fantasy, but I kind of wonder about Mind Rot plus Reflector Mage

It’s kind of funny, but bouncing their creature and making them unable to recast it basically guarantees us the ability to hit something with our Mind Rot, even late. This is a really loose sketch, but just spitballing:

Remember that even though Flaying Tendrils exiles, you can choose to have Kalitas’s exile replacement take precedence.

Outside of letting your Kalitas and Reflector Mage live (which is more than Languish can say), Flaying Tendrils also serves as additional graveyard hate for Rally the Ancestors. That said, it does make me nervous relying on -2/-2 sweepers in this new world of Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim; Sylvan Advocate; and opposing Reflector Mages. What we really want is a sweeper that deals three to take full advantage of Kalitas’s stats.

Now we’re talking!

Kalitas seems like he’d be a natural fit alongside Soulfire Grand Master. It’s not just the Radiant Flames combo but the whole “must-kill” thing. Besides, Mardu is fantastic at killing things, and Kalitas is into that kind of stuff.

It may not Flashback Radiant Flames or Painful Truths, but Goblin Dark-Dwellers is the sickness with Mind Rot! Okay, sure, the main combos are Crackling Doom and Kolaghan’s Command. That’s fine. I get it. I’m just still thinking we can get busy-busy with something a bit more on the top side of super-sweet.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers is easy to use incorrectly. After all, just look at all the Mardu Green decklists. Nevertheless, it is a 4/4 Bloodbraid Snapcaster with menace. We should be on the lookout for any and all possible homes for it.

Red also gives us Chandra, Flamecaller:

Chandra’s great, as discussed over the past couple of weeks. She’s another natural sweeper for three (so you don’t lose her), which gives you a big freaking army of zombies for Kalitas. She’s also a potent planeswalker for taking over midrange and control matchups. There’s a limit to how much big stuff you can play, but I think Chandra is one of the better top-end threats you can play.

Of course, as much as I do believe you, that you’re going to just show up with Mardu Midrange and pretend like nothing’s wrong, that your life isn’t falling apart, your final days near, I also wouldn’t mind just getting on with the Grixis list we all know is coming.

Aggressive. Okay, well, here ya go:

We’re not quite at Goblin Dark-Dwellers maindeck, but maybe sideboarding into a grind-fest isn’t the worst. That said, we could always just make room for that whole package maindeck. I just think Mind Rot gets a lot better after sideboarding when they don’t have any bad cards left in their deck.

Wandering Fumarole plus Grasp of Darkness isn’t the best combo in the world, but with such color-requirements, I was kind of hoping to sneak the Wandering Fumarole into play on turn 3 or 4 instead of needing to play it on turn 1.

It’s still a little hard for me to wrap my head around Treasure Cruise over Dig Through Time, here, so feel free to go back. I just think the Chandra, Flamecaller combo is at least worth exploring. It does seem like this is more of a quantity, not quality, sort of deck.

Can people just do that in Standard? It does seem sweet…

Look, I know you can just play a Kalitas or two in your Abzan deck. I really do. I just think we should step way outside the framework we’ve been operating i, for so long. Kalitas reminds me of Grave Titan in a few ways, and Grave Titan was another creature that revolutionized how we build decks, once people figured out how to use it.

The Pro Tour returns to Atlanta this weekend, the city well-known for being the most skill-intensive in all of Magic history. This is the sort of city where only the most attractive player could possibly win, and even then, only if they worked very hard. I’m looking forward to Modern, as the banning of Twin and Bloom make it a totally new format. That’s always an exciting feeling in a format as large as Modern. It would be nice, however, if Modern could just stay a GP format for a year, maybe let things go a bit without any bans. You know? Just get a little crazy…

The StarCityGames.com Regional Championships, February 6!