The Control Top 10

Shaheen Soorani isn’t looking forward to facing a flood of Ramunap Red if a key Energy card gets banned, but the Standard Control cause carries on! Today he shares his Top 10 cards from Rivals of Ixalan!

Usually when a new set is revealed, my Top 10 list of potential control
cards in Standard is closer to a Top 20. The reason why Standard
historically has been the best format in Magic is its ever-changing nature:
out with the old and in with the new. Sadly for fans of the format, that
hasn’t been the case recently. Temur Energy has been unyielding,
embarrassing new strategies whenever a brave brewer presents them.

Rivals of Ixalan
has been dampened by the shadow of this Standard menace, with the
excitement siphoned out of writers, players, stores, tournament organizers,
and all those in-between. Luckily for us, the problem likely will be
rectified. Wizards of the Coast staff have flirted with the idea of a
banning on social media and articles on their website and there is little
doubt in my mind that Attune with Aether is receiving the king’s justice on
January 15th. This joke I made on Twitter had serious undertones to it as

Attune with Aether has a similar design flaw to Phyrexian mana. Cards that
have standard effects, such as paying one mana to add a land to the hand,
should add nothing else in addition to that. Traverse the Ulvenwald
followed that rule because it did not provide any additional perks on the
first turn for the price of one green mana. Getting delirium wasn’t easy,
nor was it quick, so having an additional mode on the card was perfect

We don’t gain anything by beating this thoroughly dead horse any longer,
but it is important to note for future card development.

Banning Attune with Aether probably will not be enough to land a death blow
on Temur Energy, so I expect they’ll attack an additional piece. I’m
praying that they don’t remove Harnessed Lightning, because that ultimately
eliminates red-based control.

Today’s article features the Top 10 cards from Rivals of Ixalan
with the banning of Temur Energy in mind, but removing Harnessed Lightning
would be the death knell to the best shot control has against Ramunap Red
when the dust settles. Harnessed Lightning, Magma Spray, Chandra’s Defeat,
and Whirler Virtuoso would all fade from control’s existence for the worse.
I hope that Rogue Refiner joins Attune with Aether to help push Standard to
a healthier point.

And for the record, this isn’t good for the Expensive Sorcery Master,
removing Temur Energy from the format.

Control will have to go under a full makeover when Ramunap Red takes the
throne in the initial stages. But do not fret, my friends! I will be with
you every step of the way, battling the forces of evil with the unlikely
help of The Scarab God! Let’s get to Rivals of Ixalan and what can
help propel control above the aggro menace.

Control’s Top Ten

10. Nezahal, Primal Tide

We have ourselves a zinger against control! This is terrible news, because
this mammoth of a creature doesn’t help us in any other matchup. To
increase the angst level, we are forced to play one of these in the
sideboard from here on out. You don’t want to end up at the gun fight with
a butter knife. I think the design is sweet, as it feels like Pearl Lake
Ancient in many ways, and it’s high on the flavor scale, so we might as
well enjoy it!

9. Mastermind’s Acquisition

While we’re on the subject of big, blue Dinosaurs, we should have a way to
cast them Game 1. This is an incredibly well-designed card that offers
choice to control mages, which is always a strong incentive for inclusion.
The tutor ability allows for a follow-up The Scarab God for pressure or
even an Hour of Devastation for cleanup. It fits neatly as a one-of in the
Grixis Control deck that I have heavily endorsed.

The reason why it has a low rating on this list is due to its converted
mana cost. Four mana is a steep price to pay for any tutor. The beauty of
Dark Petition was the three-mana kickback you got for an additional spell
that turn. Mastermind’s Acquisition is much less creative, but the
opportunity to grab one of my Multiform Wonders against Ramunap Red is too
attractive to ignore.

8. Vona’s Hunger

Vona’s Hunger brings back an instant-speed Diabolic Edict effect to
Standard, which is never a terrible thing, but the reason a card that has a
strong ability attached to a fair mana cost is not worth celebrating over
is Doomfall. Doomfall is a sorcery, but it has that popular modality
attached. Having the ability to destroy an opponent’s hand prior to casting
a haymaker, as well as having the answer to their potential haymaker, is
too good to ignore.

I don’t know if Vona’s Hunger will see much play over Doomfall, but I would
be shocked not to see at least one copy in each black-based control deck.
Hazoret the Fervent can be dispatched before any damage is dealt if the
battlefield was kept squeaky clean or The Scarab God can meet a timely
demise at the end of turn. Those scenarios keep this card in the removal
suite discussion.

7. Dire Fleet Daredevil

This is another sideboard doozy for control players dipping into the
forbidden color of red. How many Snapcaster Mages are too many? Brilliant
people have studied this philosophical quandary for years without finding
the answer. I tend to push that boundary when the costs are low, and Dire
Fleet Daredevil matches Snapcaster Mage in that regard.

The huge drawback is that the card only works with your opponent’s spells,
so this firecracker will have to occupy sideboard slots for the foreseeable
future. I hope that other decks beside red-based aggro rise to the top
after Temur’s predicted demise…and that those decks are full of spells for
us to cast!

6. Timestream Navigator

The pictures above indicate why this fragile critter landed in sixth place
for this veteran mage. I’m not a fan of Timestream Navigator as a card, but
we have a combo back in Standard.

I think that U/R Control can manage without the black splash for The Scarab
God if this pair is included. The combo is expensive, requiring eleven mana
to go off from an empty battlefield, but it costs only eight to win with
Saheeli Rai already on the battlefield.

Four-Color Saheeli decks from before the banning were able to keep the
planeswalker alive and ticking for multiple turns, so it isn’t an
unrealistic expectation for a control deck to do the same. There are
obvious situations where this avenue would be a stretch, like against
Ramunap Red, so the deck would have to be built much more defensively.

I have no idea if this deck will have the tools to win after some of the
energy components are removed, especially if Whirler Virtuoso gets whacked.
We’ll have to wait and see if combo re-emerges as a top-tier deck.

5. Moment of Craving

It’s a time to strategize, not complain, so I won’t write 500 words about
neglecting to add a strong, cheap, instant-speed removal spell from black
to Standard. We have Moment of Craving and that will have to do.

If Longtusk Cub and Whirler Virtuoso are back in the bulk commons/uncommons
of people’s collections, this card has true potential to join Fatal Push as
the early removal answers to Ramunap Red. The sad news is there are eleven
creatures in their maindeck that can’t be killed by this card, and three of
them happen to be a two drop. Kari Zev, Skyship Raider laughs in our face
as we arrogantly play lifegain-attached removal in our maindeck, killing
her pet Monkey to salvage some life points. This is the best we have to
back up Fatal Push, so for those who plan on using The Scarab God to defeat
your enemies, God speed.

4. Elenda, the Dusk Rose

This is my second-favorite card in Rivals of Ixalan. It isn’t the
second-best card on my list, but the ceiling on it is very high. Having
lifelink is enough to grab my attention with the red flood approaching, as
well as a second mention of that wonderful keyword at the bottom. Elenda,
the Dusk Rose takes a bit of work to get rolling, but it has the upside of
creating a formidable force of lifelink tokens that would put any
aggressive player to rest.

Another great perk attached to Elenda is you’re rewarded with at least one
creature if she’s killed immediately. Usually aggro decks are the ones with
annoying triggered abilities in the early-game, but this card has control
written all over it. Elenda rewards players for keeping her alive with a
future life boost, and that’s good enough for me to work on an Esper
Control build right after the upcoming Pro Tour.

3. Ravenous Chupacabra

The new Flametongue Kavu lands at number three, which may cause some to
question my judgment. Ravenous Chupacabra is the strongest incarnation of
its kind, removing any opposing creature without condition.

I have long dreamed of a card like this for Standard, but I’m not ready to
throw four in every black-based control deck yet. Cards like Vraska’s
Contempt and Glimmer of Genius compete with the new removal creature at the
four-mana slot, making this even more difficult to evaluate. On one hand,
Ravenous Chupacabra works wonders with The Scarab God, killing and then
blocking a creature, and is a hard removal spell. On the other, it’s
sorcery-speed, doesn’t hit planeswalkers, and is very weak against decks
that don’t care if you kill creatures. Such decks include God-Pharaoh’s
Gift, U/W Approach, Token variants, and fast aggressive decks that contain
indestructible creatures.

I think Ravenous Chupacabra will be a major player in Standard, but I don’t
think it’ll warp the metagame as some fear.

2. Azor, the Lawbringer

Azor, the Lawbringer has the look of a card I would have created had I won
a Wizards of the Coast Invitational back in the day. The days of winning
with a beautiful Sphinx’s Revelation seem like ages ago, and I know that
I’m not the only one who misses the feeling. This legendary control weapon
provides us that nostalgia and epic win condition that could replace
Approach of the Second Sun for some Azorius fans.

The first thing that came to mind for me was a debilitating fear of my
opponent killing it with a Harnessed Lightning and then activating The
Scarab God to end the game immediately. With great power comes great
responsibility, and Azor, the Lawbringer is a shining example of that. This
card must be played with patience against decks that can take it from you,
counter it, or kill it before it is utilized. Another responsibility we all
have is in deck construction. It shares a slot with Torrential Gearhulk and
I don’t think it’s better in most scenarios. I’m glad it’s in the format
and I know it’ll see control play, but six-drops that don’t gain life
immediately or kill anything may be a liability in a field of red.

1. Baffling End

“Baffling” may be a great description for this top card for control out of Rivals of Ixalan. The best control cards are not the flashiest,
but the ones that keep us alive.

The lack of good removal in Standard keeps me awake at night, so a card
like Baffling End fills a gap in desperate white-based control decks.
Approach of the Second Sun decks were caught with Unsummon at the end of
the last season because of the removal neglect from the development team in
Seattle. Control is an important part of the metagame health in Standard,
which is why cards like Harnessed Lightning shouldn’t be banned, Grasp of
Darkness should have a comparable successor, and Baffling End was printed.

This is easily the top card for the control team and gives hope to those
who wish to explore white-based control outside of Approach of the Second
Sun. Esper Control is on the table now, having Fatal Push and now a
two-mana follow-up. Even straight U/W Control received a powerful win
condition and removal from Rivals of Ixalan to become a contender.


My initial tweets about the set were negative, not because control is
doomed but because Temur Energy has caused Standard organized play to
plummet and the set provides no relief to this issue. I feel revitalized
now, with the assumption that Wizards of the Coast will do what must be
done in a few days. I hate bannings in Standard as much as the next person,
but I’m stricken with sadness when you all hate the very format that has
brought me years of happiness.

Let’s get Standard back to the top!