Amonkhet is providing control mages lots of hope in the new Standard. The community has demanded the powerful spell Essence Scatter be freed from its Modern prison, and the wish was granted.
Welcome back to Standard, buddy.
I never thought there would be a day where Remove Soul is the blue spell that makes or breaks control’s chances, but that is the world we live in. I do understand the presence of threatening Vehicles may deter some from using conditional countermagic, but having this spell at our disposal still adds a great deal of depth during the deckbuilding process. When Negate and Essence Scatter both exist in the format, control can follow the metagame to determine the optimal amount to use of each spell. Most of the time, Essence Scatter will be a better card in multiples to maindeck.
Cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and Heart of Kiran are the main threats to control’s success in the new upcoming Standard. These cards, as well as the existence of the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo, throw a wrench into all builds of midrange, and control.
I was a huge advocate for a banning that would cripple Mardu Vehicles and destroy the “Copy Cat” combo a month ago. We are now approaching a banning cycle where the decision not to ban will be revisited. The explanation given by Wizards was almost laughable last time around due to the clearly outdated examples they used. Having both Standard decks still at full strength at the launch of Amonkhet would be an absolute disaster for not only the players competing in Standard events but for the company that creates it as well.
If nothing is done in terms of banning, the Top 8 at Pro Tour Amonkhet could easily be six Mardu Vehicles and two Four-Color Saheeli decks. This would syphon the excitement out of a great new set, deter people from staying in or entering the format, hurt sales, and be an overall hit to the brand. I am not advocating for specific bans this time around, nor am I lightning up the Twitter world with doom-and-gloom predictions. I am just confident that Wizards will remove the cancerous cards from their most-promoted format and clear the way for Amonkhet excitement.
Speaking of Amonkhet excitement, let’s talk control cards! Let’s go through the top ten preview cards released so far for control brewers out there.
Ten Control Cards From Amonkhet
Anyone who’s been in the game long enough perked up after seeing this card previewed early on. One of my favorite cards of all time, Renewed Faith has kept me alive against the most aggressive foes in Magic’s history. I played it in my first successful tournament, making the Top 8 of Mid-Atlantic Regionals back in 2003. My love for gaining six life at instant speed didn’t stop there, as I jammed multiple copies in each of my Extended control lists until the format was put to rest.
Renewed Faith barely makes it on this list today, even though I have so many fond memories of it. The creatures these days are too good for this card to have a substantial impact, and it’s not like the old days where enough of these effects lead an opponent blindly into a four-mana sweeper. This issue is compounded with a manabase that suffers greatly from “lands enter the battlefield tapped” syndrome, which continues to drag down the power level of this wonderful old spell.
This creature can be a powerhouse in control decks if bannings occur as I expect. The ranks of each of the spells are given with that intended future in mind. Putting seven power on the battlefield for only five mana is good, but giving four of that power lifelink makes it control-ready. Control thrives on card advantage, which this creature gives. Even if the opponent kills the lord, the lifelink Cats carry us further to that promised late-game land. This is a card to keep an eye on moving forward.
Drake Haven may be my favorite card in the set. I have begun brewing heavily with it, creating powerful interactions with discard outlets, and getting close to something great (I hope). The reason why it’s so low on the list is because of how difficult it is to build a control deck around it. The cycling cards previewed so far are sweet; however, they are not powerful enough to make a deck dedicated to making an army of drakes.
Oath of Jace has been the best friend of Drake Haven in control decks, so if you are dedicated making this card work in a control shell and opposed to working with linear discard strategies, I’d start with that. There may be a powerful control source of cycle/discard that hasn’t been previewed yet, but at this point Drake Haven is still one of the more powerful cards in Amonkhet.
With Essence Scatter reprinted, I thought we wouldn’t see another two-mana counterspell. I was wrong! Censor has the potential for a big splash on the early Amonkhet metagame. Force Spike effects lose momentum as the format evolves, but at the beginning I think this card can be effective in most control builds. It handles the early-game as Silumgar’s Scorn did without a Dragon, but instead of relying on it as a hard counter in the late-game, it can be tossed aside for a fresh card.
This would be included in any control deck using a Drake Haven strategy and will be useful in builds that have no cycling synergy. Control must hit land drops, and having this card on turn 2 as an option can make opponents wait a turn to cast their important creature, allowing us to cycle for land as planned. I really like this card, and if I can manage a two-color control deck that has two mana untapped consistently, there will be multiple copies in the maindeck.
I’ve been looking for a great five-mana planeswalker in my Esper Control list for quite some time. Chris Fennell and I discussed the importance of a five-mana haymaker in control decks. This is because Glimmer of Genius attracts so much attention, and once it’s countered on turn 4, turn 5 is usually open. These draw-go decks have an issue taking advantage of an opponent who decides to counter a card draw spell, so Ob Nixilis Reignited was the way to punish them.
Now we have Liliana, Death’s Majesty as a juicy one-of that joins Ob Nixilis Reignited in that slot. All the modes are relevant, with the second one being the weakest in a true control deck. The reanimation of a Torrential Gearhulk is a devastating play, but it requires one to be in the graveyard. As Zombies are made, there are chances of turning a Torrential Gearhulk over, but it isn’t the most likely scenario. I am very excited about the third ability, which gives another battlefield sweeper without having to play more Fumigates. This planeswalker isn’t super powerful, but it good enough to earn a single spot in the maindeck of all black control decks.
The cycling duals are great for two-color control decks moving forward. I have tried setting up a manabase for Esper Control with these, but that is simply too many tapped lands for the already slow control deck. Cycling duals will benefit control players the most because we usually have a good portion of tapped lands in the list, there are no plays on turn 1 (outside of a rare Fatal Push), and the spells cycled into are usually higher-impact when flooded in the late-game. Aggressive decks will love to cycle away excess land, but they may be rewarded with a Toolcraft Exemplar where we receive a Torrential Gearhulk. It’s the benefit of having a higher average CMC in one’s deck.
Above, I discussed a few reasons why this two-mana counterspell is so important for deckbuilders moving forward. Control decks that had access to an easy-to-splash hard counter for creatures were more successful than those that didn’t. Having cards like Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness to answer Vehicles is great, and now add a counterspell that handles those that wish to crew them!
This card is better than Horribly Awry because there are still numerous players, even with the “two-deck format,” who decide to play Torrential Gearhulk decks in tournaments. Having a bunch of Fatal Push, Horribly Awry, and other disastrous spells that do nothing against these Temur Dynavolt decks will derail your tournament in a heartbeat.
Essence Scatter will never be a dead card in Standard, which is the sole reason why control decks want access to it. If the bannings go as I expect, this card will be found in each blue Torrential Gearhulk deck. If not, it may be some time until its full potential in Standard is seen and utilized.
Sphinx’s Revelation is back! Well, sort of. Pull from Tomorrow is a fantastic control card that embarrasses Transgress the Mind, unlike Glimmer of Genius. Many of matches were lost after my opponent ripped my card draw from my hand, but this spell ensures that cards will flow in the late-game. Each control deck I build after Amonkhet is released will have at least one copy of this card to join forces with Glimmer of Genius.
We still depend on Torrential Gearhulk as a win condition, which forces our hand in the amount of each card we play. I’d love to play multiple copies of Pull from Tomorrow and cut a few of Glimmer of Genius, but that would throw off the perfect harmony that exists on turn 6. Most of my builds have one copy of Pull from Tomorrow in the maindeck and one in the sideboard, but those numbers are likely to increase. This doesn’t have the inevitability built in like Sphinx’s Revelation, but it’s a much more effective spell to cast on turn 4. The control decks in this format needed another card advantage spell, and this filled that gap instantly.
Gideon of the Trials is the control planeswalker we have all been waiting for. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar isn’t long for this Standard world, I suspect, and this planeswalker has a great deal of hype to fill that gap in Mardu Vehicles.
Most people don’t realize how good this is in control decks compared to its role in aggro. The plus ability on Gideon of the Trials is what control mages have dreamed of. Being able to stop a Heart of Kiran or any two-drop cast by my opponent in the previous turn can put us in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the game. Opponents must commit more to the battlefield, typically creatures, making our sweepers that much more powerful. Even the play of Yaheeni’s Expertise into Gideon of the Trials, is powerful enough to build around.
A simple curve of Essence Scatter, Gideon of the Trials, Glimmer of Genius, Fumigate can be detrimental to any midrange or aggressive opponent. Gideon of the Trials has a lot of hype, but control mages are preparing to use it in a way that is more unexpected.
Beating one of the better control planeswalkers in recent history is no easy feat, but Cast Out did it handily. This is the best removal spell that control has had access to since Hero’s Downfall, and that is a pretty impressive achievement. It costs one more mana but deals with pesky enchantments and artifacts that Hero’s Downfall couldn’t handle, is easier to cast, and can be cycled when a land drop or better spell is required. This card will be played in multiple archetypes, and I suspect a rise in enchantment removal to counteract Cast Out.
Killing a planeswalker has become easy again, and white has solidified itself as the most essential control color in this upcoming Standard. UW Control is probably the optimal color combination, but we all know that Esper Control will be up to bat first in this house!