Starting With Control In Core Set 2019

Shaheen is hard at work on using these new cards to take down Goblin Chainwhirler and all his friends! Which of these cards do you think will be the most successful?

I never get too excited when Core Set season is upon us, because the spells
in these print cycles are usually underwhelming. It’s a time for Wizards of
the Coast to get a Divination, Disperse, Cancel, and Murder reprint and
create a few problematic creatures for control decks. This has been the
historic trend of these summer sets for as long as I’ve been playing, but
things are a bit different this time around. Core Set 2019 has the
aforementioned junk reprints that will likely see zero play but has added
onto the mountain of control finishers that exist in today’s Standard.
Rotation is on the horizon, so I’m not going to complain that we have some
go-to win conditions when my bestie Torrential Gearhulk joins the Modern
family. The spells getting weaker and weaker does sting this old control
mage, but I do believe that control has been a viable option for the last
year and this set will do nothing to change that.

The fear that keeps me up at night is the lack of card draw that will
consume blue mages once Kaladesh rotates. Glimmer of Genius is
leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the competition, and I was hoping
there would be a Foresee reprint in Core Set 2019 to assist in our
transition. The best spell we gained from Core Set 2019 is Nexus
of Fate and that card may be unplayable in a competitive setting. The lack
of spell creativity wouldn’t have a negative impact on Team Control if the
other side received nothing, but that isn’t the case.

The name says it all here. The bane of control’s existence is a threat that
can’t be answered, and this spell embodies that trait. Banefire is a card
that plagued control decks many years ago and that was a time before
creatures ruled the world. Not many red aggressive decks will adopt this

spell due to its pricy mana cost, but midrange decks will gladly enlist in
the trump card that defeats any blue mage. Core Set 2019 is going
to open the doors to a Zombie revival, blue-based artifact shenanigans, and
a R/G/x Dragon midrange deck that now will have the upper hand against the
U/W and U/B folks. Commit//Memory is the only card that helps mitigate this
nightmare, but it’s a one-of, sometimes temporary, answer to a threat that
will see play.

Surrendering isn’t in my DNA, so let’s discuss a few solutions. The first
is to be much more proactive. I don’t think the U/W Control, four Teferi,
Hero of Dominaria approach is correct for the upcoming Standard. I wrote
about the weaknesses of U/W Control
last month
, and how the black removal was too good to pass up. This opinion panned
out as we saw U/B and Esper take over as the control option in recent
events. Mike Sigrist, who brilliantly piloted U/W Control at GP Pittsburgh
last weekend, stated several times that he would take a random sixty card
deck over his choice for his elimination rounds in the top 8.

Outside of this fantastic player piloting a mediocre deck to a strong
finish, Vraska’s Contempt runs the control show in Standard. Luckily for
us, U/B Control can naturally be proactive. The Scarab God is an aggressive
win condition that can quickly end a game and we have seen it do just that
from midrange, or control players, alike. Torrential Gearhulk is another
finisher that has large numbers in the power and toughness boxes, that
pairs well with the spells deployed earlier for survival.

These win conditions are a known entity and can be predictable for deck
builders to hate out. This leads us to the new kids on the block from Core Set 2019 that have provided a necessary distraction from the
continuous crippling of spell’s power level. My favorite of these new win
conditions is Chromium, the Mutable. Don’t let the mana cost of this
creature fool you my friends; this is lights out, seven damage from left
field that cannot be dealt with outside of mass removal. The “can’t be
countered” clause makes it a control breaker, but the rest of the text
makes it great against all other decks of the format that don’t kill you by
turn five. Flying gives additional insurance that this will deal massive,
game-ending damage without the need to discard a card to take down an
opponent’s life total by one. Prognostic Sphinx was always one of my
favorite win conditions of Standard and this Elder Dragon is significantly

The icing on the cake is the ability for Chromium to become hexproof at
will. Hexproof is an ability that control players get beat by, but rarely
use to their advantage. Aetherling had that feel and this feels even safer
as having ample cards in hand is a problem that we rarely encounter. The
Esper manabase has improved enough to survive rotation and I see myself
sleeving up an Esper strategy soon because of that. It’s still tough to get
away from The Scarab God/Torrential Gearhulk duo, but if you’re currently
battling with the power of Esper, toss one of these monsters right in the
maindeck with confidence.

Even though the Esper Dragon beckons my heart, there’s another Elder Dragon
that lures me to the mountainside. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is the exact
card that would make me regress back to my Grixis Control period. Another
bargain, four-costed win condition that has an enters the battlefield
ability typically wouldn’t excite me or anyone that reads my work, but the
back of the card reveals the true power of the most notorious villain in
Magic’s history. The abilities of Nicol Bolas, the Arisen are all
ridiculously powerful and help take over the game instantly.

It goes to nine loyalty right off the bat, drawing two cards, and becoming
quite difficult to kill. The downside is the mana investment required to do
so and it must be done at sorcery speed. These drawbacks must exist for how
game-ending the abilities are. If Grixis Control becomes my weapon of
choice in a few weeks, it will be short-lived. Once Harnessed Lightning
rotates, my loyalty to red removal goes with it as I still believe that
it’s the best removal spell for control, but can’t be the reason for adding

Abrade, Magma Spray, and Hour of Devastation all gain stock in the Core Set 2019 Standard. With the resurgence of God Pharaoh’s Gift
piloted by Jack Kiefer at GP Pittsburgh to a Top 4 finish, Abrade is a card
that control players would kill for when facing down this powerful
strategy. Abrade has other uses as well against Vehicles and three-drop (or
less) creatures. Magma Spray is another option that handles problematic,
reoccurring creatures from God Pharaoh’s Gift, R/B Aggro, and Mono-Red
Aggro very well. Both cards are criminally underplayed and are shied away
from because the three-color mana base is still not perfect. Playing three
colors is as easy as it’s ever been, but it’s tough to justify when the
two-color variants are equally powerful. U/B Control is still king of the
hill and has a decent matchup against all the Goblin Chainwhirler variants,
so my dedication to these new Core Set 2019 win conditions may be

It all depends on the impact of Banefire and the power of Zombies with Core Set 2019’s release. If I’m wrong and midrange red decks do
not take advantage of the free win fireball, then we can continue to slowly
nickel and dime our way to victory with U/B Control. The onus is on our
opponent to pressure us to win faster and decks, outside of Mono-Red Aggro,
have trouble doing so. Banefire eliminates control’s inevitability and may
force us to adapt with bigger, faster win conditions.

Zombies is an archetype that I thought was eliminated for good last year
from competitive play. That notion was eliminated after seeing an
additional lord, a fantastic two-drop, and a planeswalker that serves as a
crippling removal spell all in the same set. This wave of Zombie love will
ultimately resurrect the deck and make it immediately competitive. Zombies
has never been a deck that scared control players, but it does make us
build slightly differently.

Spot removal is great when creatures pop up one at a time, but when a horde
appears, battlefield sweepers are required. U/B Control isn’t known for it
s mass removal, so an adaptation may have to occur to keep the Zombie army
at bay. This may mean maindeck copies of Yahenni’s Expertise or a switch to
a third color option. Hour of Devastation would be my go to, because I
still believe the white removal is very easy to defeat. Zombies may not be
able to play around Fumigate/Settle the Wreckage, but the other top decks
most certainly have that capability.

If the format is shaken up enough where Vraska’s Contempt is no longer
required, white removal is effective enough, and I get to play Chromium,
the Mutable, so be it! This set is pushing interesting win conditions,
tribal power, blue artifact synergies, and a Resplendent Angel that forced
me to look up every card in Standard that gains life. Although Core Set 2019 doesn’t excite me, I’m always pumped to solve the
metagame puzzle of a new format.

Once I hit the lab with these Dragons, decklists will follow!