“If you don’t control your mind, someone else will.”
Last month, I unveiled the latest deck I’ve been working on, and my submission to mtgTheSource’s “Create a New Good Deck” contest, The EPIC Control (TEC). The response to the decklist was about what I had expected, which was a few people, mostly those who had seen the deck in action, praising the work we’ve done on it, and a whole lot more people calling every card choice into question. As this isn’t the first time I’ve written an article on a deck that throws convention out the window, I’m used to it at this point. However, the dissenters did make a specific, and very valid, point. In the original decklist, the four Standstills seemed extremely out of place, as there was no real way to break the symmetry of the card. You were dropping it on top of a threat, which in most cases seemed win-more. With the recommendations of Dave Gearhart (the man responsible for Solidarity, aka Reset High Tide), I tested out Meditate in that slot, along with the third Vedalken Shackles, and came to this list:
The addition of Meditate wasn’t something I jumped right into. I first tested Thirst for Knowledge, as it seemed to have all the benefits of Standstill, without exposing you to a Time Walk for your opponent. Thirst was very good, but I don’t feel like I play enough artifacts in the deck to properly support the card. Even with the extra Shackles, it felt like I was too often discarding relevant spells, rather than extra artifacts. So I bit the bullet, and I tried out Meditate. The card surprised me, to say the least.
Most people will be skeptics, just as I was. However, this deck can support the draw spell better than any non-combo deck I’ve played. Very rarely has a situation come up where I couldn’t walk my opponent into wasting a turn into Meditate, or at worst taking a few damage from a creature. That it fully powers up a Hoofprints Elemental is a bonus, but by no means the primary driver. Between free counters, board sweepers, Counterbalance, and your own blockers, there are a lot of ways to break the apparent drawback to Meditate.
Most often, I’ve seen Meditate compared to Fact or Fiction, in that they both have approximately the same net card advantage. Meditate gets you +2 cards (Draw 4, -1 for the spell, -1 for the extra draw step your opponent gets), while Fact will generally get you between +1 and +2 (generally, you’ll see piles of 2 and 3, unless one is an absolute BOMB, in which case you’ve already won). The tradeoff comes in the drawbacks of the individual cards. Fact’s drawback is the additional mana investment required to case it, as well as the telegraphing of the cards you choose to draw. In this specific deck, this is extremely important. TEC is not Landstill. It does not run nearly the same amount of land. It doesn’t run Counterspell or Crucible of Worlds. It runs Counterbalance, which means your mana curve is decidedly important. If your opponent wants to make sure you don’t get one of the cards in the Fact, they can (with the exception of artifacts + Academy Ruins), because once it hits the yard, it stays there. These combine to make FoF less appealing to me for the card advantage slot in this deck. Meditate, on the other hand, always gets you four more cards. It costs three, which makes your curve smoother for Counterbalance. It may cost you a turn, but the decks in the Legacy metagame often aren’t prepared to fully utilize the surprise extra turn, and even those who are often find themselves piloted by a player who can’t capitalize. When you have the ability to set it up, an extra turn can be devastating. When it hits you out of the blue, say on turn 3 after dropping a 2/3 Tarmogoyf, your most likely play is to get in for 2, cantrip, play a land, then pass the turn. That’s a trade I’ll make every game.
Granted, the card isn’t perfect. Sometimes, you know that an extra turn will put you far, far behind, or that even four extra cards won’t put you back into a game. In those situations, Meditate can be a blank card in your hand. However, with the exception of the lost cause, Meditate does a fine job of vaulting you ahead in a close game, jumping over your opponent when you’re marginally behind, or sealing the deal if you’re in a favorable position. It’s much, much better at all of these than Standstill was in its stead.
As I promised last article, I’d like to go over some matchup analysis based on the current configuration I’ve arrived at for the sideboard. It’s been in flux lately, as I’ve listed upwards of 25 different cards I’d love to fit into the meager 15 we’re allotted. Since we have to make due with so few, here’s where I’ve ended up:
3 Krosan Grip
3 Extirpate/Yixlid Jailer
4 Blue Elemental Blast
3 Engineered Plague
Now, some of those seem to be right in line with what I’d expect you’d imagine but a few slots have been under some rigorous competition. Specifically, the addition of Moat, the potential addition of Yixlid Jailer, and the return of BEB seem odd at first glance, at least to me.
There are a few matchups that I’m concerned about. One of the most effective strategies out there against control decks lies in the hands of the Ichorid player. This deck, while different in overall play, is similar enough in practice to Landstill that the matchup with Ichorid ranges somewhere from abysmal to horrendous. It’s just a straight beating. Even if you manage to Extirpate them, most of the time they can live through it and go for the long game against you. It really takes a few Extirpates to make the win a guarantee, and you don’t always have time to pull that off. I’ve found that even though people are aware he exists, many Ichorid players are ignoring Jailer, because he simply isn’t played in a wide enough margin for them to be concerned. At the same time, my experience with Cephalid Breakfast has taught me that most of the time, the presence of a Jailer forces them into the bad beatdown deck mode, which is exactly where you want them to be. Even their out for him, Crippling Fatigue, needs to be drawn in order to work correctly. By then, you should be able to protect your Jailer, or play another. For these reasons, Jailer is the hate of choice for the grave-based decks if you’re likely to see a large amount in a given metagame.
Goblins still scares me. Maybe it’s a misconception due to testing with particularly capable Goblins players, but the matchup just is NOT a guarantee, by any means. With the release of Morningtide, expect the new hotness of Warren’s Weirding to make its way into basically every Goblin deck, and with it, say goodbye to your plan of turn 2 Tarmogoyf to stop the Lackey. It’s no longer a viable option. Some Goblin players have even adopted Shriekmaw as another possible way to clear the path, as his terror with a body holds no prejudice when it comes to the size of a creature’s back end. This is pretty scary for a control player, as the power of the little green horde hasn’t really gone anywhere, and the cards keep getting better. For this reason, I feel it’s now necessary to add the four extra “Swords to Plowshares” for the Goblin match. The fact that those same cards counter relevant spells against decks like TES and Dragon Stompy is icing on the cake, because their primary role is to destroy a Goblin Lackey. The extra protection, paired with Plague and Moat, turns the overall matchup greatly in your favor.
Speaking of Moat, I’m in love. The first event I tested it in, I realize that it basically bought you infinite turns against decks like Survival and Goblins, and made Jace a legitimate threat against those type of decks. Jace has a tendency to sit behind a Moat and laugh at an opponent while they draw irrelevant cards until he drops 20 of their library on their head. The same is true of Hoofprints. Aside from Tarmogoyf, most of your win conditions have a lot of synergy with Moat. I’ve considered moving it to the main, but it’s not worth the conflict between Goyf and Moat for three games. It’s better suited for the sideboard. I was running Humility last month, which was excellent, but I think the near invulnerability of Jace behind it, and the lack of effect on the Hoofprint tokens combines to make the Moats the better of the four mana enchantments in this deck.
The last sideboard deal I want to address is Krosan Grip. This weekend, the Hatfield brothers unveiled their newest Threshold build onto the tournament scene, which features maindecked Blood Moons. While in general, you can play around the enchantment if you draw the fetchland hands, if you draw a few duals as your mana sources, the game can go pretty bad. Unfortunately, between this Thresh deck and Dragon Stompy, plus Survival decks packing Magus of the Moon, the combination of Moon effects paired with a swift clock is becoming more and more prevalent. Because of this, I’ve been looking into options that deal with Blood Moon inside our primary colors (read: the ones we play basics of). So far, it looks like the best option is Dismantling Blow. It has a few advantages over similar options like your basic Disenchant, in that it can potentially be a draw spell, and it plays around Counterbalance better. The lack of split second is an issue, but I’m not positive that we need to be overly concerned with that. If you’re worried about Blood Moon and Counterbalance together, then you couldn’t cast the Krosan Grip anyway. I don’t see a reason why we couldn’t split two and two in the sideboard, although dedicating that much space to removing problematic Enchantments and Artifacts may be overkill. This is one of the things I intend to continue testing as the deck progresses.
Aside from Blood Moon cutting you off from your Grips and Goyfs, the Thresh matchup is otherwise particularly strong. Most of your threats are as big or bigger than theirs, or simply take theirs. Hoofprints has plenty of time to ramp up and pump out the 4/4 fliers, which are very good at dealing with Mongeese. If you’re looking at Volcanic Islands, you can rest assured that their removal does nothing to any of your threats, other than perhaps Jace. Post board, Moat tends to completely shut them down, aside from their own Grips, and their one or two fliers, which all die to Swords to Plowshares. Don’t let an army build up behind the Moat though, as you don’t want a sudden Grip to let them back in the game. Aside from those small quirks, go about your normal strategy of play. If you can protect Jace, then this is one of the matchups where his third ability is most devastating, as it can often shed enough of the Thresh deck’s threat base to allow you to trade 1 for 1 with their creatures and still outmatch them removal to threats.
Another specific match I’d like to highlight is the Storm Combo match. While you have all the tools to dominate this match, it can occasionally sneak up on you, and win from nowhere. Ideally, you’d love your hand to be Force, Blue Card, Counterbalance, Top, Engineered Explosives, Land, Land. However, as we know, that’s insanely unlikely to actually happen. Still, those are the most important cards in your deck. Having access to Force on turn zero is important enough to mulligan for it. If you can slow them down on turn one or two with your Force, then you generally have time to set up CounterTop, which is definitely your most important goal in the matchup. If you do, the game should be fairly simple. Even if they resolve a card like Orim’s Chant, the CounterTop engine shuts them down. However, be aware that in this scenario, Abeyance becomes your worst enemy. Don’t be afraid to throw a Meditate out there at the end of their turn if you’ve shut their combo down once already. A single card is generally not enough for them to be able to get back into the game immediately. The only issues I’ve really been having with the Storm combo decks are when you are caught blindside by an early Empty the Warrens, and its followed up by Orim’s Chant during your upkeep. This is quite difficult to fight through, but if it comes down to that, well, sometimes they get the nuts.
The final matchup I’d like to address is Eva Green, the newest Black-based aggro-control deck, which cut the Bolts, etc from Red Death, and replaced them with Tarmogoyf and Seal of Primordium. I’ve played a few matches in events with this deck, and I’m almost certain the matchup is as close to even as it gets. You have a lot of strong threats against them, and they have Hymn to Tourach and Tombstalker. Your strongest weapon in this match is Vedalken Shackles. Each of their threats is so powerful that turning the tables on them can be devastating. With no way to recoup card advantage, stealing a Hypnotic Specter can flat out win the game. Stealing a Tombstalker is a four turn clock. Most of the games I’ve won against Eva has been firmly on the back of Shackles.
In this match, Counterbalance serves a different role. Eva Green runs four guys that cost eight, and their removal (Snuff Out) dodges everything but Force of Will on the top of your library. They will be working toward dropping these cards around your Countertop. At the same time, their disruption costs mostly one or two, and as we know, that’s the butter zone for Counterbalance. Focus on keeping some relevant cards in your hand, and shut down their disruption if you can. If they drop a Seal of Primordium, make sure you force them to target something other than shackles, like Counterbalance or Hoofprints, so they can’t easily deal with your gank squad. Hoofprints is actually a pretty solid threat against them, as it blocks and kills everything but Goyf and Tombtalker. They usually try to kill it if you get threeish counters on it, so if you need to, ramp it up and let it be a Disenchant effect. The last thing I want to mention is to be wary of the Chokes from the sideboard. Choke is no less than a full-on beating. You simply cannot do anything about it other than try to fetch out basic Plains, and hopefully hit a Grip when you need it. This is another reason I’m considering something like Dismantling Blow in the board, as it falls in line better with your mana plan A versus disruption — get basics.
With that, I’m signing off for the day, I hope you’ve gotten a little more insight into how the deck is progressing. It’s come a long way in the last month, and I’m real happy with the way it performs. For those of you out there daring to play it around your locals, let me know what you’ve noticed about the deck. Drop a message in the forums. Until then, good luck, and remember — Keep your stick on the ice.