Taking Control

The Innovator has more control lists for new Standard than you could possibly handle! Will SCG Atlanta be taken down by a few of Torrential Gearhulk’s best friends? Will one of these powerful blue-based decks dominate Amonkhet Standard?

With the full Amonkhet spoiler up, it’s time to get down to business…

The Control Business.

Unlike some of us, control decks have been doing all right lately, largely led by this character here:

Amonkhet has definitely brought no small number of cards potentially damaging to Torrential Gearhulk. For starters, being too reliant on the card may leave us vulnerable to cards like Gideon’s Intervention or Dispossess.

There are a variety of backup plans we can put into our Torrential Gearhulk decks without bending over backwards. It’s probably just important to keep in mind the increased need when we’re building. It’s not just the possibility of having to win without Gearhulk, however. There is also an increased quantity of interaction that will give a lot of decks a substantially increased level of interaction for what has typically been a pretty big body.

Nevertheless, Torrential Gearhulk has gained a fair number of appealing new tools. I’m not just talking about “all the instants in the set.” Even if a card can’t be specifically flashed back by Torrential Gearhulk, it can still be a tremendous boon to Gearhulk decks if it does something they need done. Additionally, Torrential Gearhulk’s interaction with situational cycling cards is particularly interesting.

By the end of the last format, most Temur Dynavolt decks were playing at least a couple of copies of Natural Obsolescence. Dissenter’s Deliverance is basically the same card, except, instead of permanently dealing with Scrapheap Scrounger, you can cycle it for just a single mana. While it is important to be able to deal with a Scrapheap Scrounger, Natural Obsolescence can get stuck in your hand, particularly if you draw multiples. Dissenter’s Deliverance has very little of this risk, as spending a single mana to cash it in is really not that hard.

However, part of what makes Dissenter’s Deliverance so attractive is that even if you cycle it early, when it doesn’t have a target, you can still flash it back later with your Torrential Gearhulk. You see, it’s not just that cycling can help you hit your land drops or find the answer you need later. It also increases the range of options your Torrential Gearhulks can get you.

Here’s an update to Temur Dynavolt, taking advantage of Dissenter’s Deliverance and lots of other Amonkhet cards:

To start with, Magma Spray is a welcome addition. These decks tended to play Incendiary Flow as a necessary evil to combat Scrapheap Scrounger, but Magma Spray is more efficient for this purpose, even being an option to Flashback with Torrential Gearhulk.

One advantage we’re losing from converting Flows to Sprays is an increase in burn that deals two rather than three. Dynavolt Tower already sets us up well against two-toughness creatures, but fortunately, the addition of Sweltering Suns makes up some much-needed ground.

Kozilek’s Return was always fairly awkward, being relatively dead against a fair number of decks. It was nice to be able to flash it back, of course, but Sweltering Suns has two gigantic advantages:

  • It cleans up all of the three-toughness problems in one fell swoop.
  • Even with a cycling cost of three, the card is much, much better against control decks and combo decks than Kozilek’s Return would have been.

I suspect Commit//Memory may prove to be one of the most impactful cards in Amonkhet, which is kind of funny, given how much people have typically overvalued Timetwisters. Of course, in this case, it’s not really the Timetwister part that is so interesting to me.

Commit is a deceptively strong effect when you stop to think about all it does. For starters, imagine an instant that costs 3U and exiles a nonland permanent. That would be extremely impressive. An instant-speed answer to tons of difficult-to-hit permanent types (even indestructible ones), that can basically always be cashed in, not to mention flashed back by Torrential Gearhulk? Awesome.

Now, it is true that Commit doesn’t actually exile the target. However, putting it second from the top gives us time to untap and set up our defenses. If we Commit on our opponent’s end step, we can actually Pull from Tomorrow before they even get a chance to recast whatever we hit.

Pull from Tomorrow isn’t exactly smooth with Torrential Gearhulk; however, it is the closest thing we’ve seen to a Sphinx’s Revelation. There’s a surprisingly high amount of good card draw in Standard right now, but I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot of this one.

As for Commit, putting their threat second from the top isn’t quite exile, but it does still interact profitably against Scrapheap Scrounger and the like, and it isn’t card disadvantage or anything. If this was where the card stopped, I think it would still see play…but wait, there’s more!

In addition to being able to exile permanents, Commit can effectively exile spells, too, even uncounterable ones! Putting a spell second from the top is better than Memory Lapsing it, and a supercharged Memory Lapse that also doubles as a Cast Out is the epitome of flexibility.

Finally, as if all that weren’t enough, the icing on the cake is the Aftermath mode, Memory. Six mana for a Timetwister isn’t rocking anyone’s world these days, since our opponents typically get to use the cards first (unless we just have tons of mana). However, this is really a cantrip Timetwister, since we didn’t have to spend a card to get it.

Besides, depending on what the threat is that we shuffled away, sometimes giving our opponent a new hand is less dangerous than the certain death that was coming next turn. Conveniently, Commit on our opponent’s fourth turn means we have the option to Memory before they draw whatever it was we wanted to stop.

Another nice bonus is that Memory gives us a way to not run out of cards. If things go well, it’ll be nice to Pull from Tomorrow super-hard without fear of running out of cards. Shuffling everything back might not be Plan A, but knowing we’ve got that as a fallback option can let us be a lot more aggressive and less fearful of our Gearhulks getting beaten by Dispossess or whatever. We won’t get to shuffle the Gearhulks back or anything, but we can get extra looks at whatever planeswalkers, creature-lands, or cycling threats we’ve got as a backup plan.

While Essence Scatter over Horribly Awry does increase our vulnerability to Scrapheap Scrounger, it more than makes up for it with increased interaction for Archangel Avacyn; Verdurous Gearhulk; Ishkanah, Grafwidow; and opposing Torrential Gearhulks.

I do like Hieroglyphic Illumination, but I don’t love it. It’s definitely a great option for Drake Haven decks, but despite the prospect of cycling it early and making Torrential Gearhulk better, I’m not sure there’s room. It is much worse than Glimmer of Genius when you cast it, and I don’t frequently find myself wanting to cycle Glimmer of Genius. That said, you could definitely play more than four between them, but you’ve also got to compete with Pull from Tomorrow, planeswalkers, and just spending your mana cycling other cards.

While this Temur Dynavolt build isn’t overly reliant on tapped lands, I do have some concerns about the manabase. Having Attune with Aether and lots of tapped lands is more costly than it used to be, given our newfound access to efficient cycling cards like Dissenter’s Deliverance. Additionally, building our strategy around Dynavolt Tower seems a lot riskier now that there are likely to be Manglehorns all over the place.

Here’s another possible direction we could go:

With so much more untapped mana, we can take advantage of one of my favorite cards in the set from a gameplay perspective: Censor.

Censor is so, so much better than Revolutionary Rebuff, it’s not even funny. It’s not quite Miscalculation, but it is still quite decent. As with Force Spike, whenever you can counter a spell with it, you’re already rocking. However, Force Spike is an extremely situational card, which makes it particularly well-suited to cycling. Early, you can protect yourself against whatever they might be curving out with. Then, when they’ve got the mana to pay, you can cycle it, barely slowing down.

In a three-color deck, Censor is probably generally not a good idea, depending on your manabase. If you play a second tapped land on turn 2, you are missing out on one of the best opportunities to Censor something. Additionally, spending a mana to cycle it is more likely to get you into trouble on turn 4 or 5.

Deem Worthy might just be a bad Brutal Expulsion or Commit//Memory, but there are a couple of things I like about it. For starters, dealing seven to a creature is pretty close to Terminate, an effect U/R decks are sometimes short on. While five mana isn’t a good deal, Deem Worthy is an instant, which means that, even if we cycle it, Torrential Gearhulk can get us our money later.

When we do cycle it, we also get to hit something for two. It’s not quite Electrolyze, but it’s not that far off. A little card advantage can go a long way, and it’s even mostly uncounterable!

While this is certainly not a dedicated Kefnet the Mindful deck, that is a great one-of, giving us a source of card advantage that can dominate the game and then eventually serve as an extremely reliable victory condition. After all, it’s basically an indestructible Treasure Trove for a mana less that can eventually attack for pretty big chunks.

The ability to bounce our lands is also not trivial. Here, we can attack with a Wandering Fumarole and then blink it back to our hand while drawing a card against an opponent with a Harnessed Lightning. In decks with cycling duals, obviously, we can potentially cash them in later,if we’re flooded. Sometimes blinking Aether Hub can make the difference about whether we have the colors of mana we need, or the amount of energy. Hell, you could potentially just want to ensure you’re hitting landfall, or even just bounce lands with enters-the-battlefield abilities.

It sounds funny, but I’m not sure it’s a joke.

Here’s an even more extreme approach to blue control:

The printing of Commit//Memory could potentially have some strange implications. After all, it is much better permanent removal than blue typically has access to. We’ve also got Engulf the Shore as a sweeper!

Engulf the Shore is a powerful card in mono-blue decks to begin with, and thanks to the cycling duals, we can actually play either white or black in the sideboard (or possibly even maindeck) without having to play any non-Island lands. What’s more, Engulf the Shore makes a great combo with Commit//Memory. If you fall behind, you can shuffle all their creatures away with an end-step Engulf the Shore, followed by a Memory on your turn. They might play a bunch of stuff on their turn, but maybe you can Engulf the Shore everything back again?

Baral, Chief of Compliance has gained a lot thanks to Essence Scatter, Censor, Commit//Memory, and Pull from Tomorrow. Additionally, Negate works super-well with him, and I suspect Negate’s stock will continue to rise. For instance, Void Shatter and Disallow have been pretty popular recently, but that’s partially because Gideon, Ally of Zendikar costs four. There’s a new Gideon on the block, and I think Gideon of the Trials is pretty good. At just three mana, there’s an increased need to be able to counter something with two mana, especially on the draw.

Gideon of the Trials is sort of like a 4/4 for three that’s invincible when attacking, doesn’t kill anything when it “blocks,” and is hard to kill with some removal spells. He can even contain some nontraditional threats, such as preventing damage Chandra, Torch of Defiance would deal.

His ultimate is mostly flavor text in Standard; most of the time people can kill you, they can also kill Gideon, and he doesn’t even keep your life total above zero when he’s keeping you alive. However, it will probably have a little more value in Modern or Legacy and will occasionally be able to keep you alive in Standard, or at least disrupt their attacks.

While I think Gideon of the Trials has some uses in creature decks, I am more excited about it in control, especially when it can be used alongside Fumigate. Gideon quickly and efficiently forces opponents to overcommit. Then Fumigate ends up getting more value for us.

While Forsake the Worldly isn’t as mana-efficient as Dissenter’s Deliverance, coming or going, it does have several things going for it.

  • It’s on-color. Not playing three colors in our control deck means a lot smoother mana, generally.
  • It exiles, which is especially useful against Scrapheap Scrounger, of course.
  • It can hit enchantments. Cast Out, Drake Haven, Faith of the Devoted, the Trials, and more mean a lot more enchantments that we’d potentially want to stop.

Of course, it’s hard to want to play too many when we’ve got access to Cast Out ourselves.

One of the most-hyped cards in Amonkhet, and with good reason, Cast Out is a versatile and flexible form of interaction that has one of the highest floors ever. Playing too many cycling cards can potentially get clunky, but in general, you’re going to be able to solve a problem with it or cash it in when you’re light on mana.

That said, it does have the weakness of being a potential target for opposing enchantment removal (or an opposing Cast Out). It also can’t be flashed back with Torrential Gearhulk, unlike Forsake the Worldly or Commit//Memory. Nevertheless, the flexibility and low opportunity cost is just too good to pass up.

I could see plenty of worlds where we’d want to snap off a full playset of Renewed Faiths, but I think it’s also very reasonable to play less. It is a major candidate for being potentially clunky, and since we’re typically going to want to cycle it, it’s kind of like an Anticipate that gains two life instead of letting us look two deeper.

That said, the option to gain a bunch of life with Torrential Gearhulk is kind of nice to have later. We can cycle it early and gain six when we’re under threat of being burned out.

Descend upon the Sinful has gained a lot from Amonkhet. Delirium is much easier for a control deck now, and without even trying.

Spell Queller’s role in the new world is definitely not clear, but it’s such an amazing card, it will no doubt find some homes. While I don’t think this next list is the most likely spot it lands on, I do think there are important lessons to be learned from the Cartouches and Trials.

The more I look at it, the more Cartouche of Solidarity looks really exciting.

For just a single mana, we’re getting 2/2 worth of stats, with half of it having “haste” and first strike. That it’s spread out across two bodies even helps mitigate the typical drawback of Auras, where we’re risking getting a two-for-one by removal. On top of those stats (for one mana), it also bounces any Trials we might be playing back to our hand.

These aren’t my favorite Trials (Trial of Ambition is my early favorite), but they are useful effects. Trial of Knowledge might just be enough better, between the two of them, to slant towards it despite the potential clunkiness of drawing multiples. Yes, you can discard one to another, but you’d also like to just discard whatever is the worst card in your hand (to say nothing of potential graveyard synergies).

Cartouche of Knowledge doesn’t look half bad to me, either. Just compare it to Gryff’s Boon. For a mana more, you get +1/+1 instead of +1/+0, plus you get to draw a card now instead of having a four-mana Gryff’s Boon in your graveyard (and, of course, you also get to bounce your Trials).

Regal Caracal is at a really competitive spot in the curve, but it does bring some things to the table, especially in a deck with Trial of Knowledge to pump the team and Felidar Guardian to re-trigger the Caracal while getting pumped itself. An in-depth breakdown of the card can be found here.

Felidar Guardian blinking Trial of Knowledge or Trial of Solidarity is already sweet, but remember, it can also blink either Cartouche. Not only will you get to draw a card or make a 1/1 token with vigilance, you’ll also send all of your Trials back to your hand for the sick rebuys!

Is this a control card? Is this a combo card? The line gets pretty blurry. On Friday, GerryT discussed a potential Aetherworks Marvel approach to the card here. Maybe the card can also be used as a sort of control card, buying you a little time but then letting you sidestep interaction, going over the top of midrange decks with a fist full of removal.

I’m not sure how much I want to risk playing Hedron Archive on turn 4 in a world full of Manglehorns, but if we can get away with it, we can just cast Approach of the Second Sun on turn 5. If we’ve got a second one, we can just win turn 6. If not, we Glimmer of Genius and cycle something, or Pull from Tomorrow and try to win next turn.

With both Censor and Cast Out to cycle on turn 1, it’s actually super-easy to get Corrupted Grafstone online immediately. Again, the biggest risk here is exposure to artifact destruction.

In the event you’re looking for something more in the combo space, here’s a second approach:

This version is probably trying to do too much between the Saheeli combo, Aetherworks Marvel, and Approach of the Second Sun; however, at least it’s got a lot of good cards.

It’s important to remember that while Aetherworks Marvel casting Approach of the Second Sun won’t win the game for you, it has absolutely no problem cast the first one for you. Then, on your next upkeep, activate the Marvel again and you’ll draw Approach as your card for the turn!

Chandra is actually a fantastic way to ramp into Approach of the Second Sun, whether here or elsewhere.

…but okay, let’s get back to control.

While U/W Control got a bunch of awesome stuff, U/B didn’t fare too poorly, either.

Never//Return is a huge upgrade over Ruinous Path. Most of the time, you just played Ruinous Path as a sorcery-speed Hero’s Downfall. Now, you’re effectively getting the option to “buy” an extra card later for four mana. Four mana to make a 2/2 as a cantrip isn’t the worst, and it’s totally okay to just wait until you had nothing else to spend the mana on. Besides, it also has the upside of exiling a card from a graveyard, giving you extra answers to Scrapheap Scrounger.

It’s a lot harder to justify Anticipate now that we’ve got so many other ways to use our mana profitably. It’s not out of the question, but I’ve definitely been finding myself not wanting to use many.

A breakdown of Liliana can be found here. Suffice it to say, I think she’s decent here and will be great some other places.

But what about Drake Haven?!

Okay, okay. Yes, the card is great. Here’s a Drake Haven deck:

Okay, so to start with, we’ve actually got two enchantments to build advantages from cycling with.

While I think Drake Haven looks a little better, Faith of the Devoted looks good, too. The drains put a lot of pressure on people, especially if they’re taking Drake damage, and the lifegain can go a long way towards helping us survive long enough to cycle more.

Archfiend of Ifnir and Curator of Mysteries are discussed at length here. The short version is that both are respectable flying fatties that start to build a pretty nice advantage from all the cycling.

New Perspectives isn’t really a draw-three; it’s a draw-four, and the fourth card is Fluctuator (and that Fluctuator is even free!). This may seem excessive, but it costs a lot of mana to operate Drake Haven and Faith of the Devoted. Getting to save all of the mana we would have spent on cycling can make a huge difference. You don’t have to New Perspectives and then “go off” in order to generate a game-winning advantage. Just make tons of 2/2 fliers, sweep your opponent’s battlefield with -1/-1s, and drain them over and over.

I’m not sure how many off-color cycling duals we can play, but Grasp of Darkness means we should probably start with the black one instead of the white one. That said, we could also just play a third color (or more). I just really want to see if we’ve got enough power sticking to two colors so that our lands can be untapped more often.

There may be lots of cool new cards people will want to use that go big, but Toolcraft Exemplar, Scrapheap Scrounger, Heart of Kiran, Winding Constrictor, Verdurous Gearhulk, and Saheeli Rai are all still legal…