The Dominaria Control Top 10!

Shaheen scored a big win, but he doesn’t have time to gloat! He’s got a slew of control cards that need a proper review, and he’s the only one who can pull it off! SCG Atlanta is coming up fast!

Winning the RPTQ last weekend felt wonderful, my friends. I completed over
50 Sealed leagues in preparation, and I felt as prepared as humanly
possible. I’ve always fancied Limited tournaments, so it wasn’t as
painstaking as it sounded. With that format on its way out, it’s time to
look toward the future. I have the next two Pro Tours to prepare for, one
being Standard and the other being Team Constructed.

I know this is a shock
to you all, but I requested to be the Standard representative for that
competition. Modern is starting to grow on me with my love for Jace, the
Mind Sculptor shenanigans, but I’m much more talented in the new cards
department. With Dominaria releasing soon, I’ve studied the
previews and started writing my favorite style of article!

I receive an elevated level of enjoyment from analyzing new cards from the
control perspective and giving you all my best predictions of the impact
they will have on control decks soon. Dominaria has quite a few
cards with competitive potential, but I enjoy the challenge of narrowing
the list down to a Top 10. This helps me weed out cards that have more
fringe prospects than actual tournament impact. I want Oath of Teferi to be
an immediate force in competitive play, but I know it will not take new
Standard by storm. There are a few cards, such as the Oath, that land in
the honorable mention pool, however.

Honorable Mentions

Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering has the feel of Dark Intimations but can be used
in more decks. Cards like these have a role in the control mirror or
against a slower midrange foe to swing a losing game with one misstep from
the opponent. When I was playing Grixis, Dark Intimations came in against
Temur Energy and the control mirror, punishing opponents that tapped out
for a planeswalke or robust creature late in the game. Yawgmoth’s Vile
Offering brings back a fallen threat and then clears an opposing one for a
reasonable mana cost. The mana isn’t the issue with a card like this
though. Legendary sorceries have a role in the new format, but this falls a
bit short in practical theory. If you have a legendary creature or
planeswalker on the battlefield, a card like Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering isn’t
probably needed to pull ahead. Dark Intimations allowed you to go from rags
to riches, whereas Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering requires some wealth to get

Counterspells are in a good spot these days. The reprint of Essence
Scatter, a good Cancel in Disallow, Negate’s timeless existence, and the
champion we know as Censor have allowed control mages to build a strong
permission package. Normally a reprint like Syncopate would have me jump
for joy, but sadly I don’t think it’s better than the counterspells
previously listed. It’s close to Disallow in many ways, but it can’t even
interact positively with Torrential Gearhulk, making it a very risky

There has been a running joke for a while between the historians of the
game that is centered around my love for the spell Rewind. It may be my old
age, but I don’t recall ever championing that counterspell, but these
gentlemen are sure that I’m the number one Rewind fan and caster of all
time. This legacy prompted a quick tag when Unwind was previewed. I heavily
disagree with Evan Erwin and think this card may have been good in a world
where Negate didn’t exist. Negate effects are typically used in the control
mirror, where untapping lands is less important than resolving the blue
spells in the counter war. Unwind costs one more than Negate and that
negative is enough to put this card right in the trade binder and out of my
Standard control decks.

The Top 10!

10. Divination

Not the most exciting way to bring in the top ten, but here we are!
Divination brings a smile to faces worldwide that had the opportunity to
enjoy a little U/W Control of the past and enjoy the associated nostalgia.
Three mana for two cards isn’t exactly a bargain, but it does hit the
minimum efficiency required for playability. Read the Bones has been the
best of that category in recent history, but Divination does avoid life
loss. I expect Divination to see some play at the beginning and much more
when Glimmer of Genius exits Standard later this year.

9. Josu Vess, Lich Knight

Josu Vess, Lich Knight is my pet card of the set that I can’t wait to throw
in my black-based control decks. I’ve had great tournament success with
spicy one-ofs that win the game soon after–Rude Awakening comes to mind as
it always ended the game in one crashing attack after resolution. Josu
Vess, Lich Knight gives me that similar win condition, floating around in
the deck until utilized in the late game, creating an army of Zombies to
attack for lethal the following turn. Unlike Rude Awakening, however, this
can be used in the early game to apply pressure if drawn instead of rotting
in your hand as an expensive dud. I don’t think it’s better than Rude
Awakening as a win condition, but it does have a lot of appeal for those
looking to apply a control knockout punch in Standard.

8. Dark Bargain

This is one sweet draw spell! After reading it, I was positive that it
would be a sorcery, but I was pleasantly surprised. This has all the
workings of Read the Bones with a slight rise in cost in exchange for
instant speed. That’s a trade I’m willing to make most of the time and is
why Vraska’s Contempt/Hero’s Downfall are much better than their sorcery
speed equivalents. Glimmer of Genius is still a better card draw spell, but
not everyone is in the blue-based control camp. B/W Control, or some new
black-based midrange deck, can now draw cards with the best of them.

7. Isolated Chapel

Isolated Chapel’s return opens new opportunities for Esper Control decks.
The mana for Esper Control has been suspect at best, but it’s about to
receive a blessing with this reprint. The rest of the cycle doesn’t help
control mages out much, except with Sulfur Falls. The reason I didn’t
include Sulfur Falls in the title is because I don’t think that red control
decks are going to be viable moving forward. Harnessed Lightning, Abrade,
and Hour of Devastation are great cards, but black has been able to support
blue for months without the assistance from these spells. Black is about to
get even more powered up with Dominaria, so Sulfur Falls will have
to warm the bench for the time being.

6. Blink of an Eye

I’m not sure why this isn’t called Into the Roil, but I’m glad it’s
Standard-legal again. Bounce spells have been mostly unplayable for control
decks throughout history. Mages cannot waste a resource to return a
permanent to its owner’s hand without a replacement, which Blink of an Eye
provides. Card draw is everything to people like us, so tacking that onto a
spell turns it from trash to treasure.

5. Phyrexian Scriptures

Damnation is back…kind of. Phyrexian Scriptures gives us mass removal the
turn after we cast it, making it slightly stronger than a five-mana
sweeper. Yahenni’s Expertise is the closest thing we’ve had to a powerful
sweeper until this gem was previewed early on. Bontu’s Last Reckoning has
seen some play, but I heavily dislike that card due to the fact I enjoy
untapping my lands. Phyrexian Scriptures has a unique and powerful design
that separates it from the current options we have in Standard. It’s
essentially a turn 5 sweeper that prevents your opponent from adding
additional threats the turn prior. The other abilities attached may have
minor impact as well. The first ability saves one of your giant control win
conditions from the destruction, and the third wipes potential graveyard
threats. This is especially effective against embalm creatures that are
seeing a great deal of recent tournament success.

4. Seal Away

This is the best white removal spell added to Standard in quite some time.
Seal Away is only two mana and deals with nearly every possible threat in
the format. I couldn’t believe it has flash and exiles, but it does and
it’s glorious. Enemy Gods, violent Dragons, and early threats stand no
chance against a two-mana removal spell that will revolutionize white-based
control decks moving forward. This takes me back to the Condemn days where
the criticism was “it’s easy to play around.” That ended up not being the
case and creatures were constantly put on the bottom of their owner’s
library. Seal Away will provide comparable results, exiling attackers left
and right. Aggressive decks have no choice but to attack, and the only
decks this will be ineffective against are control or slow midrange
options. Two mana removal isn’t going to be fantastic against those decks
anyway, so sleeve this with confidence.

3. Lyra Dawnbringer

Baneslayer Angel…is that you? She was one of the angelic soldiers that
hoisted me off to multiple Pro Tours back in the day, so Lyra Dawnbringer
has some real-estate in my heart. She has all the stats that make her just
as good as Baneslayer Angel but comes with the legend tag. There are
potential upsides to being a legend, but I’d much rather have an army of
Baneslayer Angels ravaging my opponent’s life total. Since one is Standard
legal and the other isn’t, I’ll have to make do with the newest incarnation
of the greatest Angel ever to grace the heavens. Lyra Dawnbringer is a
resilient win condition in the format, only dying to a few spells that are
commonly played. Against the most aggressive decks in the format, she’s
nearly indestructible. Five toughness allows her to completely avoid red’s
reach and that makes her a deadly option in a white-based control deck.
First strike allows her to dominate combat, flying gives the necessary
evasion, and lifelink ends the game upon contact against one of control’s
toughest matchups.

2. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

We finally have a playable planeswalker in control colors! Teferi, Hero of
Dominaria has the perfect mana cost, resolving after premier removal and/or
card draw. The first ability provides the required advantage for a control
planeswalker, drawing cards with the bonus of untapping lands. The two
untapped lands provide us instant access to removal or a counterspell for
the follow-up play of our opponent. It seems like a minor advantage, but it
can make the difference between playable or unplayable. The second ability
was even better than I thought it would be, putting a nonland permanent
third from the top, instead of in hand. Most of these planeswalkers
repelled a threat to the opponent’s hand, but Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
sends it packing to the library. Third from the top is a big deal, giving
us time to develop a battle plan for a severe problem. The ultimate needs
very little hype, because it will be nearly impossible to beat.
Planeswalkers with these types of ultimates increase their playability
significantly. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is new and exciting, giving U/W
Control a fresh look that may be significantly different from the Approach
of the Second Sun strategy. This planeswalker, along with better early
removal, is enough to build a traditional U/W Control deck that resembles
the current U/B Control shells. With some Isolated Chapels, The Scarab God
can make this Esper deck a control contender.

    1. Cast Down

The absence of Grasp of Darkness has been noticeable, but not devastating
for black-based control players. Fatal Push has been carrying the work load
for the last few months and could use some backup. Cast Down may be the
removal spell we have all been waiting for. There has been a lot of hate
for this card, which mirrors the sentiment of Ultimate Price/Go for the
Throat when they were released years ago. A removal spell that only kills
creatures of one color in a set with all these multicolor threats shouldn’t
have been good, but it was. I suspect Cast Down will have a similar debut.
I have faith in Wizard’s ability to create a removal spell like this and
have it play a vital role in Standard. I’m aware that there are a
significant amount of legends already being utilized at the moment, but
there are also many aggressive creatures that Fatal Push can’t keep down on
its own. Cast Down may not be a four-of, but it will help supplement the
removal suite required for control to remain competitive in the early game.


With the arrival of Dominaria, things are shaping up nicely for us
control mages. I can’t wait to get to work on finding the best control deck
for SCG Atlanta and PT Dominaria.