Time Spiraling Out of Control: Five Theoretical Standard Decks

I present to you, dear reader, five U/x control decks, and I ask you to consider them and perhaps comment on them in the forums. I know that they’re not all Tier 1, but each of them has a different intent and focuses on a different area of Blue-style control. Take a look, see what you think, and get to work controlling your games!

Holy shift. Time Spiral is awesome, isn’t it? I’m blown away by the number of options available to players now. The October 20th Standard environment will have only about seventy fewer cards than pre-Coldsnap Standard, and this is with only the first installment of a three-expansion set. I wrote prior to Coldsnap’s release, “The incredible deck variety alone makes the field extremely interesting, and the cards available are simply fun to play.” This statement is only going to become more true with the huge pool of cards that Time Spiral brings to an already-extensive and well-developed table.

So the question lies before the players: Where are we going to begin? As Mark Rosewater repeatedly asserts, there is a significant variety of players who know what they like and drift toward particular cards. Moreover, the ancient aggro/combo/control trinity that has defined the standards of deck design for years remains a convenient means of classifying oneself. Once a player undergoes some introspection, he or she can sit down and figure out what deck he or she wants to build.

Plenty of discussion has already taken place on the Net, and we need look no further than Mike Flores, who has alone addressed aggro, combo, and control decks in the new Standard. As usual, Mike provides us with some solid material to build on and to build with – now it’s up to us to start designing decks we can take to FNM and State Championships.

Personally, I’m a control player. Always have been. I’m very pleased to see that Time Spiral has not only given significant support to control but it’s also given virility back to Blue, who’s been the object of serious hate over the past couple of years (at least from the perspective of old-school draw-go players like myself). Cards like Psionic Blast and Whispers of the Muse have me drooling, and I almost (almost) forgot to let out a resigned sigh at the printing of Cancel. So as you can imagine, I’m chomping at the bit to get my hands on some Islands (Snow-Covered or otherwise) and go to town!

Of course, I haven’t had any opportunity to playtest yet, and this is where the Internet becomes an invaluable resource. I present to you, the reader, five U/x control decks, and I ask you to consider them and perhaps comment on them in the forums. I know that they’re not all Tier 1, but each of them has a different intent and focuses on a different area of Blue-style control. Take a look, see what you think, and get to work controlling your games (as well as your opponents’!).

We’ll start with an old standard.

Here’s the classic mono-Blue control revisited. The method of permission decks like this is to stop everything the opponent tries to do on a one-for-one basis, replenishing your supplies with card draw and winning with a late-game threat. Let’s see how this build attempts to achieve that goal.

Card Drawing

As the title of the deck indicates, our permission deck here is run by snow lands. This makes Scrying Sheets a card-drawing engine, as one out of every three activations will yield a card. Not great, I know, but the only cards with more than a single U in the casting cost are Cancel, Teferi, and Thieving Magpie. Thus, the thirteen (Snow-Covered) Islands should be sufficient as you should almost always have at least one in your opening hand. The rest of the card draw should find you whatever else you need.

Those draw spells include Remand and Repeal (almost staples in today’s Blue decks) as well as Whispers of the Muse and Thieving Magpie (old school favorites that have me looking around for my Forbid). None of these are Accumulated Knowledge or Fact or Fiction, but they do have the added benefit of … well, added benefits. For example, Whispers and Magpie are both reusable and can net several cards apiece, while Remand and Repeal provide tempo advantage while replacing themselves. Though they don’t stop anything permanently on their own, they help deal with cards that slip through the cracks long enough for a Rune Snag or Remove Soul to take care of them.


Most of the answers in this deck are counters. In addition to the aforementioned Remands, we’re sporting four each of Cancel, Rune Snag, Spell Snare, and Remove Soul. I’m not sure if this is the most optimal build, but here’s my thought process. Cancel is an auto-include – it’s simply a Counterspell that feels less broken. Simple enough. As I’ve mentioned, I feel that Rune Snag is better than Mana Leak in a long-term deck like this, and I’m very excited to start using it in my control decks. Spell Snare is an excellent card and gives me an easy way not to lose to early aggro when drawing first. Although there are no more Jittes floating around, there are still plenty of two-mana goodies to say no to, and I’m sure that this spell will come in handy. These options all look fairly standard – that brings us to my last choice.

Although, I’ve never played with Remove Soul before, I’ve always felt like it might be a good idea. Here are some reasons why I’ve finally committed four deck slots to it. First, it costs 1U, which, in a deck with only thirteen sources of Blue, could be crucial. More importantly, though, I feel that this is a metagame choice. How can I say this if there’s no metagame yet? My totally unauthorized opinion is that many players subscribe to the philosophy of “When in doubt, go aggro.” And they’re not necessarily wrong in thinking this. I think it’s reasonably safe to say that, for at least the early tournaments of Time Spiral’s legality, creatures will be everywhere. I think in general, Wizards has done a good job of making creatures more prevalent, so this spell can really shine. No more Kokushos to counter, but you do not want your opponent resolving a Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir against you.


Speaking of Teferi, he’s a great way to clench the win. With a fist full of counters, you should be able to stop everything your opponent tries to throw at you one spell at a time. Plus, he’s got a fairly sizable body and can come in for the win. Psionic Blast, in addition to being excellent removal, can speed up your victory as 1 Psionic Blast = 4 Thieving Magpie attacks in terms of damage. I foresee many opponents worn down by Magpie pecks taken out during a helpless end step by a Blast or two to the dome. Against particularly worrisome or control-oriented decks, we have a couple very long-term win conditions: Urza’s Factory and Dark Depths. Dark Depths probably isn’t that great, but I wanted to include it “just in case.” Unlike the UG deck you’ll see below, this deck doesn’t have recursion, so the Depths could be an important last ditch effort over the long-game. Plus, with Teferi in play, you’re free to really accelerate Marit Lage’s arrival during your opponent’s end step.

Put ’em together and what do you get?

All together, the deck functions like you’d expect Blue permission to function. Counter everything. That which you don’t counter, bounce or shoot (a new option). Reload and repeat. Over the long run, wear down your opponent with Magpies and finish him off with a couple hits of Teferi, Psionic Blast, or even the monstrous Marit Lage token that spawns out of the Depths. But be ready for a long game, because this strategy isn’t for the impatient.

If you’re looking for a slightly more interactive control deck, turn your attention now to my old favorite, U/W control.

Using the mono-Blue permission deck above as a standard, we can ask ourselves what this U/W version has to offer that’s different (and possibly superior). The obvious answer is board control. Anything that slips through the above deck’s grasps is going to be minor trouble – and Draw-Snow can pack its bags in the face of Simic Sky Swallower. This version of the deck is much more able to handle threats that get through. Our single-shot answers include Psionic Blast and Faith’s Fetters (which doubles as important life-gain). General solutions include Wrath of God and the more permanent if less reliable Teferi’s Moat.

But the key factor here is the new version of Nevinyrral’s Disk: Magus of the Disk. I love this card. I think that it has potential to be even better than the original, and its biggest weakness (being an easy-to-remove creature) is also one of its biggest strengths. As a 2/4, the Magus can serve for a couple points of damage, but more importantly can fulfill the role of Big Wall of Blossoms. In terms of Mind Tricks, both the original Disk and its new Magus discourage the opponent from playing out too many threats while it’s on the board. While holding back most of his army, an opponent can send in a single creature to try to walk around Nevy’s Disk. However, it’ll take at least two creatures to get past Magus of the Disk, and they’ll have to be relatively beefy to make it safely out of a tussle with the mage. So, while Magus of the Disk blocks Watchwolf and Kird Ape all day long, your opponent will have to bring out more threats to break through, and you’ll be able to destroy at least two creatures with power three or higher with your Magus. By forcing your opponent to get past the huge backside of the Magus, you also set yourself up for significant card advantage, making the new Disk on the block perhaps even superior (within White, at least) to its colorless counterpart.

So, our deck has a significant amount of creature control as well as a healthy amount of counters. What doesn’t it have? A lot of card-drawing, especially compared to the mono-Blue version above. Instead, we have the reasonably powerful Think Twice and, more importantly, Mystical Teachings. The adaptability of Teachings gives it a leg up in a deck like this without a large number of draw spells, and with the inclusion of Watery Grave and Godless Shrine, being able to flash it back shouldn’t be impossible. The Teachings allows you to go straight for you Teferi and to follow up with Akroma (or Magus of the Disk if absolutely necessary). Of course, it can also be used to fetch backup counters if needed. However, the deck doesn’t have too many instants, so I wonder if Teachings is the best spell to include here. It’s worth keeping in and trying out (especially as tutors have been proven to be quite powerful), but if one cards needs to get cut, it’s probably this one.

So, what do we have? Thirteen counters, eight spot removal spells, a ton of mass board control, some spot card drawing, and an Akroma-tic win condition. A lot of Blue/White decks recently have been focused on creatures like Azorius Guildmage and his friends, but I think that a build like this is perfectly viable in the upcoming Standard environment.

Now, if counterspells are really your thing, feast your eyes on:

Usually, when one hears “Green” and “counters” together, one doesn’t think “permission deck.” However, as far as I can tell, U/G actually has the largest pool of viable “hard counters” in the new Standard environment: Mystic Snake and Voidslime join Cancel sporting the classic “counter target spell” wording. In terms of removal, our U/G deck has access to Repeal and Psionic Blast, but has to fall back on Desert since direct damage is hard to come by in both of these colors. In the card-drawing category, we have Repeal, Whispers, Think Twice, and, most impressively, Gaea’s Blessing.

It’s this last card that makes our U/G Counter-Control deck viable over the long-term. Basically, our deck functions like the mono-Blue version above but has the added benefits of being able to get back the hard counters it uses with the Blessing and being able to drop out a Simic Sky Swallower as an excellent win condition. Personally, I feel that this U/G build is strictly superior to Draw-Snow since the counters are stronger and more support is available.

Of course, one of the difficulties of U/G is that its manabase is harder to support, especially with GUU appearing in some of our most important spells and our need to lean on Desert as deterrence/removal. In order to make sure we have enough colored mana, I’ve suggested Gemstone Mine, especially as I’ll be running Simic Growth Chamber over a non-existent U/G tapland from Coldsnap. Furthermore, I’m intrigued by Gemstone Caverns and would like to find out if it can “work.” It seems like a decent idea, but I’m afraid of including too many legendary lands that simply tap for one colorless. If you have any thoughts about Gemstone Caverns, feel free to post them in the forums.

In summary, the U/G Counter-Control deck is mostly full of recyclable hard counters that set up for a Sky Swallower win. The next deck offers a totally different approach.

As is quite evident, “Draw, Go Away” couples a large number of draw spells with dangerous burn as the cards you’re drawing into. I actually think that this deck looks like a lot of fun and might be worth looking at for competitive purposes as well! Let’s take a look.

We begin with some very straightforward burn: Psionic Blast, Char, Lightning Axe, and Rift Bolt are the regular guns that make the deck go. Generally, the strategy would be to ignore most of what the opponent does and aim burn spells to the head. It seems fairly straightforward to point and shoot about five spells for the win. Simple, right?

It gets better. Compulsive Research, Electrolyze, and Cerebral Vortex can all be used to refill your hand. Moreover, Lightning Axe, Compulsive Research, and Jaya all combo excellently with Fiery Temper or extra Gemstone Caverns and Jayas. The card I think I like most in the deck is Browbeat, simply because of its psychological value. Most of the time, taking five damage is an easy choice in the face of a three-card swing, but 25% of your starting life is a higher price to pay in the face of this deck than in the face of most decks. And I’d love to see my opponent’s reaction when he doesn’t pay the five life, I let him draw the three and then smack him with a particularly huge Cerebral Vortex (for the win, of course).

Of the five decks I present, I think “Draw, Go Away” looks like the most sheer fun to play, even if it’s not the soundest strategy. But, if Goblins works, right? 😉

However, perhaps the most interesting of the five builds is this stab at U/B Control:

I’ve never been a big fan of Voidmage Prodigy, but if there’s a venue in which he can shine, I think it’s next to his good friend Jon Finkel. The goal of this deck is to use Shadowmage Infiltrator, Dark Confidant, and Hypnotic Specter to achieve resounding card advantage which can be capitalized on by Voidmage Prodigy, perhaps even to the tune of a soft lock, especially with Teferi out. As your wizards dive to stop your opponent’s creatures, Avatar of Woe comes closer to being a monstrous BB Win Condition. Blackmail and Orzhov Signet round out your earlier turns and facilitate your doing, well, whatever you want for the rest of the game. Although you’ll probably win with Avatar of Woe, it’s also conceivable that the wizards will get aggressive and take the game all their own. You can never be too sure what a group of angry wizards is going to do when provoked.

That rounds out the five control decks I promised. With each color combination, I tried to approach control from a slightly different angle. Mono-Blue was all about card advantage and counters, as was U/B, though the latter accomplished card advantage and counterspells with wizards rather than instants. U/G sports the most hard counters and uses Gaea’s Blessing for recursion and card advantage, and U/W focuses on controlling the board while holding back counterspells for stuff it doesn’t want to deal with in play. Finally, U/R capitalizes on Blue’s card drawing capacity and Red’s ability to make every single card count to create a situation in which your opponent can find himself very dead very quickly.

That each of these five decks seems viable is a strong testament to the health of the upcoming Standard environment – and these represent only one version of each of less than half of the conceivable control builds, let alone aggro and combo decks. I always get excited by diverse environments, and I hope you’ll share your own ideas and interests in the forum as we all gear up for our new format. Meanwhile, no matter what control build I decide to put together, I’m sure that States will be a (Psionic) blast!

Daniel Crane

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