Removed From Game – The Twelve Decks of Christmas #3: Cruel Control

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Wednesday, December 30th – Put on your party hat, pull a cracker, and join Rich on a festive tour of a dozen decks in Standard. A great place for newer players to learn about the main components of Magic’s most popular Constructed format, with a deck a day for the next two weeks.

Yesterday, our only decision with mana was when to crack our fetchlands. Today, that’s not the case, as we need to be careful to use the right land for the right mana at the right time, leaving the right combination open to either cast, or even represent, our spells on the opposing turn. Here’s the list for today:

In classic terms, decks are made out of a combination of Threats and Answers. Some cards are versatile enough to act as both, and the simple act of attacking (Threat) and blocking (Answer) makes creatures work like that. However, philosophically they’re mostly designed to do one or the other. In our deck yesterday, Goblin Guide could block, but it’s almost always a disaster if it has to, meaning you’re clinging desperately to life in the hope of finding a way to kill them via a late-game Earthquake or such.

Control decks don’t have room for many Threats, since they have to absolutely pack themselves silly with Answers, and ways to get them. This is especially problematic, since we don’t know what angles the Threats are coming from, meaning we need to try and cover every eventuality. How do we do this? Our first line of defence is countermagic. Since Cancel is the industry standard for saying ‘no’ to pretty much anything, if we want cheaper we have to lose versatility. We have Essence Scatter for creatures, Negate for spells, and Flashfreeze for Red or Green spells of any type.

You might think Flashfreeze is more of a sideboard option, but the reality is that the card design of Alara block makes these colors appear everywhere you look. Turn 2 Woolly Thoctar? Flashfreeze. Jund is both Red and Green. Flashfreeze is great against mono-Red. It works against Green-Red Ramp/Valakut decks, it works against Elves, it works against Bant…in other words, the Metagame dictates that Flashfreeze is worth a place in the maindeck, despite the fact that you could be facing a deck where it’s a dead card.

Thankfully, you’re going to be drawing more cards than your opponent, via Divination and Courier’s Capsule. Although it costs more and can often take two turns to make happen, Courier’s Capsule is good news, because it allows us to use the two spare mana at a point of our choosing, rather than potentially leaving ourselves vulnerable via Divination. What do we do if things get past our wall of counterspells?

Simple. We kill them, using the same super-efficient spells we’ve already seen in the first two days of our Twelve Decks exercise, Lightning Bolt and Terminate. Cheap, and instant, meaning we leave ourselves open for the shortest amount of time possible. Plus, if we’re facing a rush deck, we have the chance to create some card advantage with a boardsweeper like Earthquake.

Ultimately, we only have four actual Threats, in the shape of Sorin Markov and Sphinx Of Jwar Isle. When you run very few Threats, you really want them to stick around. The Sphinx is awesome because it has Shroud, meaning they have to actually put five power of flying onto the table to get anywhere. As for Sorin, your countermagic should be able to protect him.

Of course, we also have Cruel Ultimatum, and if you’ve never experienced the power of playing with this card, now’s the time. Six things for seven mana, and the best bits are almost always about them losing cards and you gaining them. It’s widely believed that casting this almost always results in victory, so in that sense it can be considered a Threat, but the reality is that this is what paves the way for your four actual Threats to win the game in peace.

Enjoy playing the big daddy of control spells, take care of your mana, and remember that just because you can counter something, doesn’t mean you necessarily should counter it.

Until tomorrow, when we turn things Blue, as ever, thanks for reading.