Since the release of Dissension, a lot of players suspect that a new Blue-White control deck will emerge in Standard. In this article I will discuss the possible build for such a deck. I will also compare this Azorius deck to an updated version of Blue-Red control (originally played by Guillaume Wafo-Tapa at PT: Honolulu), and to a new Firemane Angel list (this is the deck I designed for PT: Honolulu, in which Kamiel piloted it to a Top 16 finish).
To start this article, I will list all the cards that can be useful for a counterspell-based control deck. This will include cards that could be assigned to a Blue-White deck, to a Blue-Red deck and to a deck that is focused around Firemane Angel.
Obviously, to keep up with all the aggro-decks in the current Standard format (such as Zoo), a control player cannot quite afford to play expensive counterspells. Even though Overrule can give you a solid life boost in the late game, it is still a counterspell that will cost you four, five, or even more mana most of the time. Syncopate never was a staple in Constructed, and since Overrule is even more expensive, I do not think we will be including this Power Sink to our Standard decks any time soon.
Swift Silence is also quite bad when you play versus a deck that contains spells that cost no more than three mana in general. Paying 2UUW to say no to a Watchwolf is not effective. Even in counterspell mirror matches I do not think this card is what we are looking for. Of course, if this is the final spell that is put on a stack that consists of Tidings, Hinder, Hinder for example, then you get to counter the spell you want to counter (Tidings) and draw three cards in the process. This dream scenario will not occur that often though, as big counterwars are quite rare in this format. The Tidings player should think twice about tapping eight lands in his own turn. If you regard Swift Silence as a cantrip counterspell, which is what I think Swift Silence is in most situations, then it is still worse than Rewind due to the tough mana cost.
As I wrote in my previous article, I think that Spell Snare will be an excellent card in Standard. The most vital function of a counterspell right now is preventing your opponent from applying so much pressure early on that there is no way you can ever recover. As Snell Snare can be played as early as on turn 1, this is exactly what one should be looking for. To combat counterspells, it is an often-used strategy to play multiple threats in one turn, so that the control player will be unable to counter every spell that was cast. With Spell Snare though, you will be able to put up a fight for every spell that is played, as long as there are enough spells with converted mana cost two around.
The spells you can counter with Spell Snare include: Watchwolf; Selesnya Guildmage; Lightning Helix; Scab-Clan Mauler; Volcanic Hammer (Zoo and Gruul); Dark Confidant; Kami of the Ancient Law; Castigate (Orzhov); Signets; Remand; Boomerang; Eye of Nowhere; Howling Mine (control decks, UR Magnivore and Owling Mine); Sakura-Tribe Elder; Farseek; and Muddle the Mixture (Greater Gifts and Heartbeat). These are just the important spells you get to stop with Spell Snare; there are many other two-mana spells in this format. I do not think that Spell Snare will be a bad card – or even a dead card – in a specific matchup, and therefore I think it will be an excellent inclusion in the maindeck of a control deck we are trying to build.
The existing counterspells (Remand, Mana Leak, Hinder, and Rewind) were used frequently before Dissension came out, and I am sure they will remain to see play in the new format. Finding the correct mix of counters is deck dependant, since every counterspell has a different purpose. Mana Leak is only good in the early turns, Remand is a great tempo card, and can become a hard counter later on in combination with another real counterspell. Hinder and Rewind are solid spells, but especially Rewind may be too expensive for some decks.
Research / Development
Of all the Dissension cards, only Court Hussar and Research / Development fit in this category. A lot of people think that this card is awesome. Not only do you get to search the top three cards of your library for a card that you are looking for, you will also get a 1/3 body in the process! Let me tell you something: in Constructed, a 1/3 creature is not very relevant. I do not think that there is a creature in the format that is completely shut down by Court Hussar, except for Savannah Lions. Sure, Court Hussar is better than Telling Time, but that is also a card I would never ever play in a Constructed deck (or a Limited deck, even).
The second half of the split card Research / Development might be useful in Blue-Red decks, but I am not sure it is all that impressive. There will be situations in which your opponent does not care about you having three 3/1 creatures, or about you drawing a few cards. In these situations Development is bad, since your opponent can choose how this spell is going to resolve. It has some potential in control matchups I think, making it more a sideboard cards than anything else.
The other cards are all rather different. Compulsive Research is cheap, and is a great combo with Firemane Angel. Tidings is very expensive, but when there is a Niv-Mizzet on the table you don’t tap out just to draw cards. Gifts Ungiven is also rather slow, but becomes powerful as soon as you have cards that work well from the graveyard. Jushi Apprentice is vulnerable, as all the sudden cards like Electrolyze and Last Gasp become effective against you. On the other hand, it is one of the few ways to draw extra cards at instant speed.
Wrath of God
Seal of Fire
Of course, if you play UW Control, you will play Wrath of God. This card alone is a good reason why Azorius control is better than Izzet control. Condemn is cheap, and can deal with any creature, which is another reason to start building Blue-White decks. Demonfire is the new card for Izzet; it can be used as a creature removal spell, or as an uncounterable win condition later in the game.
Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Keiga, the Tide Star
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
Windreaver is an interesting card. It looks a little bit like Morphling. However, where Morphling has three power, Windreaver is just a 1/3 for five. Returning the creature to your hand is not as effective as making it untargetable for the same mana cost, of course. Once Windreaver is in play, and you can plenty of mana on the table, then it can have a serious impact, but the same holds for Meloku. I do not think Windreaver is a necessary addition to the creature base of a control deck, since Windreaver seems more vulnerable than Meloku (at least you will have some tokens when Meloku dies, you will have to bounce and replay Windreaver), and more mana intensive than Keiga and Niv-Mizzet.
Let me make a few decklists for these archetypes now, starting with Blue-Red control.
- 4 Hinder
- 4 Tidings
- 3 Rewind
- 2 Boomerang
- 4 Remand
- 4 Electrolyze
- 4 Repeal
- 3 Demonfire
- 4 Spell Snare
- 4 Hinder
- 4 Wrath of God
- 4 Tidings
- 3 Rewind
- 4 Remand
- 4 Repeal
- 4 Condemn
- 4 Spell Snare
The first two decklists are very similar to each other; the third one is somewhat different. As the Firemane Angel deck has three colors, Spell Snare is less useful in this deck. You don’t really want to pay two life for your Steam Vents on turn 1 only to say go afterwards. Since there are less real counterspells and more reset buttons and lifegain spells, I favor Mana Leak over Remand here. Condemn can replace Faith’s Fetters – you remove a creature for one mana instead of four, and there is plenty of lifegain in this deck to justify cutting the Fetters (or putting them in the sideboard).
The Blue-Red deck and the White-Blue deck are more consistent than the Angel deck. I also think that they are easier to play (Zur’s Weirding, especially, can be a complicated card). For Regionals, I would definitely suggest playing Blue-Red or playing Blue-White if you plan on bringing a true control deck to the tournament.
Let’s now compare the differences between these decks. Niv-Mizzet is better than Keiga. If he survives, you will most likely be able to either kill most opposing creatures, or be sure that your opponent will soon surrender to the created card advantage. Electrolyze is also better than Condemn versus most decks, since it has the potential to kill two creatures. You can also cycle it when you want counterspells instead. Condemn deals with all creatures though, and is especially good versus Keiga, Yosei, and Kokusho, so I don’t think Condemn is much worse than Electrolyze. The crucial difference between Red and White is that the White deck gets to use Wrath of God, while the Red deck has Demonfire instead. Versus creature decks, this difference is huge, and can truly turn a bad matchup into a good one. Against control decks, Wrath and Demonfire are comparable. You deal with a problem creature for 2WW or for 4R or 5R; killing your opponent with Demonfire seems unlikely without access to Urzalands.
I think that Blue-White control is better than Blue-Red control in this environment. Wrath of God is an amazing card versus all Orzhov variants, and it is obviously great against Zoo and Gruul. In Condemn you get the new Swords to Plowshares, while Spell Snare makes to deck start at turn 1 instead of turn 2 with Remand and Mana Leak in the original decklist.
The sideboard I would suggest for Blue-White would be something along these lines:
4 Faith’s Fetters
4 Jushi Apprentice
3 Pithing Needle
2 Threads of Disloyalty
2 Azorius Guildmage
The Faith’s Fetters and Threads of Disloyalty come in versus Zoo and Gruul; you can easily board out expensive counters such as Rewind. Some copies of Tidings can be cut, too.
Jushi Apprentice is great in control mirrors. You can enough counters to protect them, and any unanswered Jushi will win a lot of games. The Guildmages and Needles are especially good versus Heartbeat combo, where you want to board out most copies of Condemn and Wrath of God (beware of Vinelasher Kudzus, though).
All in all, I think that the Blue-White deck in this article is really competitive in the new Standard format. It has all the tools to fight beatdown decks, to stop combo decks from comboing, and to win the long game versus other control decks.
Good luck at Regionals!