The New Sultai Control

Magic Origins Standard has shaped up nicely so far, and both #SCGCHI and #SCGRICH are bound to leave their impression on #PTOrigins. Check out all the latest tech that has caught The Innovator’s eye and test it out for #SCGRegionals this weekend!

With the Pro Tour just days away, Magic Origins continues to impress. Last weekend in Chicago, G/R Devotion was the big winner, with Abzan Control the biggest deck on Day Two. Hangarback Walker appeared in a variety of different decks, Jace and Nissa were huge, Bant Heroic was the surprise spoiler in the Top Eight, and Five-Color Rally was the hottest deck on the weekend (or possibly Jeff Hoogland U/W Thopter Control deck).

This week, the next evolution of Rally decks took the title. GerryT’s discussion on the deck can be found here. U/W Thopter Control proved it was more than just a flash in the pan, and now there are even variations with black instead of white. While Devotion was still the second most popular strategy on Day Two (behind Abzan Control), it predictably suffered a decline in success. Interestingly, Heroic actually gained. Atarka, World Render (yeah, the other Atarka) made her glorious entrance into the spotlight.

And Jace and Nissa are still huge.

Jace had been largely appearing in Jeskai and Rally Combo decks, but this week brought us a number of new players, including a new breed of Sultai Control decks built around Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. The highest-finishing Sultai Control on the weekend was Robert Vaughan’s fifth-place list:

This was a really big week for control, largely in response to Green Devotion’s success last weekend. Over 20% of the Day Two field was blue-based control decks, and Sultai Control was actually the most popular form, equal to U/W Control and U/B Control put together.

Robert’s list is basically a U/B Control deck that kills with two big planeswalkers (Garruk, Apex Predator and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon). The green splash gives us access to a lot more cheap plays that still have utility going long.

Satyr Wayfinder ensures we have more early plays against red, but is really here for the turbo-Dig Through Time action. Haven of the Spirit Dragon means we don’t have to worry about milling our Ugin (since we eventually Wayfinder into or draw the Haven and can get it back). It’d be nice to be able to Nissa, but basic Forest is just too brutal when you’re trying to support Bile Blights and Dissolves, I guess; but I know that’s what my first experiment with the archetype would be. At least Satyr Wayfinder’s extra lands are put to extra good use because of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy when it’s Looting away.

Jace is a much stronger threat than I initially gave him credit for. Merfolk Looter isn’t that far off, and growing up into a Snapcaster Mage is a big game. Getting to Dig again can be game-winning, and sometimes you didn’t even draw the Dig, just flipped it off of a Wayfinder. It’s also great to be able to Thoughtseize or Hero’s Downfall at just the right time.

If your opponent doesn’t kill Jace immediately, he provides some selection and threatens to be a two-for-one that they still need to kill since, if ignored, he will eventually Snapcaster Mage again. As if this wasn’t scary enough, Jace costs just two mana, which means a lot of top-choice removal spells will require more mana to kill him than he costs. He also ducks a few cards, such as Abzan Charm and Valorous Stance, though is quite vulnerable to burn.

Green also gives us Den Protector, which adds more card advantage and a form of inevitability going long as well as early plays when we need then. If you have no other two-drops against a red aggro deck, it’s totally reasonable to just run the Den Protector out there unmorphed. Obviously we still prefer Wayfinder on two, and in fact Satyr Wayfinder provides some selection, giving us more options on what we want to get back with those Den Protectors besides just the cards we’ve drawn this game.

Languish had already made a major impact in Abzan given how well it works with Siege Rhino. Not surprisingly it’s also seeing play here in Sultai, giving the deck an even better plan against red aggro. It’s particularly sweet that Jace gets out of the way of Languish, leaving you with less collateral damage.

Jace’s ability to get out of the way reliably and at instant speed is an important tactical maneuver to keep in mind. Remember, if your opponent targets him with a Hero’s Downfall, you can actually flip him in response. Even though he ends up a planeswalker, the Downfall’s target is not there since Jace got exiled during the transform ability’s resolution. Downfall being an instant usually means it can catch Jace, however, but he is quite good at dodging sorcery-speed removal.

Another trick he can pull is “chump blocking” a big attacker, then flipping. Not only has he prevented an attack for the turn, it’s too late for the creature to attack Jace, Telepath Unbound.

Here’s another take on Sultai Control, this time with more maindeck planeswalkers:

The maindeck Silumgar, the Drifting Death is very clever, preying on Elspeth decks that have moved towards Languish instead of End Hostilities or Crux of Fate. I just wish this list had a Haven of the Spirit Dragon too, as Silumgar is an excellent target going long (since sometimes you don’t find your Ugin).

While Saty Wayfinder and Den Protector do give us two-mana plays that can interact early, I think I would still like some amount of Bile Blight action (like in Robert’s build). Ultimate Price would be appealing, but we’ve already got Sultai Charm, so we don’t want to further increase our vulnerability to multi-color creatures.

I like the maindeck Crux of Fate, which helps cover most of the gaps caused by our reliance on Languish. We’ve got a lot of ways to find it, and if we ever cast it against Green Devotion we’ve got much better chances than we otherwise would have had.

Gaea’s Revenge is quite the control spoiler; though it is interesting that if Sultai Control becomes the control deck of choice, Gaea’s Revenge loses a lot in utility. Sultai Charm can actually kill it (since its green), and green control decks are quite good at producing chump blockers.

Of course, not everyone playing control opted for the green splash. Jim Davis finished tenth with an U/B twist on Jeff Hoogland U/W Control deck built around Hangarback Walker and Thopter Spy Network:

This list doesn’t really go anywhere too unusual (once you are familiar with Hoogland’s build, which is discussed at length here), but the addition of black does give you access to Thoughtseize, Hero’s Downfall, and cheaper sweepers.

Abzan Rally may have won the event, and Abzan Control continues to be the deck to beat, but another form of Abzan also made Top Eight, one built around the Constellation mechanic.

This deck is a thing of beauty!

Herald of the Pantheon is more than just mana accelerator number five through eight or lifegain source number five through eight. It can make multiple enchantments cheaper in the same turn, which can be very explosive with Eidolon of Blossoms or Kruphix’s Insight since they are known to flood our hand with more cards than we can play quickly.

Nyx Weaver is a solid enchantment creature on its own, but the consistency it brings to our “self-mill” game means Starfield of Nyx isn’t just a victory condition and anti-removal card but actually a proactive source of card advantage. Kruphix’s Insight also helps fill our graveyard, even if most of the enchantments it reveals will probably end up in our hand.

I like the split between Starfields and Sigils. Both are powerful, but drawing two of either one can be really slow and have serious diminishing returns. Sigil adds a few nice elements, such as a flying defense and a way to make some Angels the same turn you play the Sigil as opposed to Starfield, which needs a turn to get ahead of enchantment removal you may suspect your opponent of having access to when they untap.

One of Abzan Constellation’s biggest strength is its card draw, so it does find its Banishing Lights and Doomwake Giants a lot, but with so few options for removal it’s going to have some serious blind spots (for example: Stormbreath Dragon).

In fact, Stormbreath Dragon is one of the most influential cards in helping shape Taylor’s transformational sideboard. Concerned about enchantment removal, he transforms into more of an Abzan Control deck, with five big planeswalkers, three copies of Arbor Colossus and a bunch of Hero’s Downfalls. He’s even got Extinguish All Hope for the patented Abzan sweeper action, but his sweepers dodge his Coursers, Eidolons, and Doomwake Giants!

While Jace has been showing up in Jeskai, Rally, and Sultai, and Nissa has been showing up in Abzan, G/R Devotion, and some graveyard decks, this week actually had a marked increase in the number of copies of Liliana, Heretical Healer seeing play.

It’s not just the Abzan Rally deck (which made great use of tactics like Collected Company for Fleshbag Marauder and Liliana, Heretical Healer during combat) or Abzan Aggro decks with Liliana and Collected Company. She’s also been appearing lots of interesting places, such as Jon Sharp’s Chromantiflayer deck:

Sharp’s build is more than a mere update to Zvi’s Chromantiflayer deck from Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir. While many have been excited at the prospect of adding Gather the Pack to self-mill decks, Sharp actually added an enchantment worth finding with Commune!

Evolutionary Leap gives us a fast, easy, and reliable way to flip Liliana. Then, her Zombie gives us another body to sacrifice. Finally, her reanimation ability lets us keep going even against an opponent that draws removal. Besides, it’s just nice to have more ways to access Soulflayer since this list moves us away from Den Protector.

Satyr Wayfinder and Flamewake Phoenix are also excellent sacrifices to Evolutionary Leap, building our card advantage and helping find Chromanticore and Soulflayer. I also like that Flamewake Phoenix gives our Soulflayer haste, a dimension the Pro Tour Dragon of Tarkir version lacked.

Butcher of the Horde may not grant haste or lifelink or vigilance to Chromanticore, but it is another sacrifice outlet for our Lilianas, and it fits in perfect with our brutal mid-speed fatty beatdown plan alongside Tasigur, Soulflayer, and Chronanticore. It’s also a super hawt combo with Flamewake Phoenix, letting you use one or more of the Butcher’s abilities every turn!

Anti-Ashiok technology! Torrent Elemental is also just an important part of the sideboard plan going long, since we can reliably find it and use it to tap down every would-be blocker. That we are so good at exiling our own graveyard (Soulflayer and Tasigur, and even the sideboard Corpseweft) also means Torrent Elemental card be a solid source of card advantage if we are trying to grind out some mid-speed control decks.

Okay, somehow I’m in Canada, so I gotta get back to testing…

The view.

Any tech for beating Rally, Sultai, Abzan, Devotion, Red, or Control…? You know where to share it!