You CAN Play Type I #35: The Control Player’s Bible Part XVI – Why Control Sucks

Good Lord – after sixteen articles on The Deck and how to play it and what the sideboard is and the mana base and yadda yadda, NOW he tells us it sucks? Hey, thanks, pal.

By now, you’ve probably gone through several test runs with”The Deck” and have nodded in silent approval at its mix of power and flexibility. You’ve probably tried to personalize your own version, too, at least for casual Apprentice play, or maybe a toned down version from what you have just for your playgroup. And you probably loved it, as the very first generation of sadistic control players always have.

My next job is to pour a pail of cold water over your head.

One of the favorite pastimes of beginning Type I forum players who lurk in forums is ranting about why”The Deck” isn’t the best deck in Type I. For example, one Steve Menendian, a.k.a. Smmenen, posted a long essay on Beyond Dominia on why”the failure of white” and the disuse of Mirror Universe and Disrupting Scepter greatly weakened the archtype.

While most of these are dismissed as frustrated, uninformed ramblings, many readers see veteran control players as”elitist” for shooting down the criticism – then say Type I is stupid because only people with Moxen can play. Forum discussion then becomes clouded and degenerate, and the people who genuinely want to learn how to beat”The Deck” don’t learn a thing.

Which is sad.

See, even though the people who raise the issue are usually – not always, but usually – the most unintelligent, uncreative segments of forum communities, there really are chinks in the armor of”The Deck.” Aggro players have to master these to deal intelligently with a key leg of the metagame. All the more, control players have to know how to cover their weak spots.

Oh… and as for Steve, well, I cautioned you guys not to equate”The Deck” with its 1995 builds…

What Makes”The Deck” One Of The Most Loved Archetypes Today?

To better understand the weaknesses of”The Deck,” we first have to look at its strengths:

1) Sheer firepower-A sixty-card deck that packs the most powerful cards from the various colors and from the thousands of Magic cards ever printed can only be described as broken as hell. If a silver bullet won’t win right there, give”The Deck” a little time and a little mana, and it will dominate.

2) Extreme flexibility – Matt D’Avanzo once told me that when”The Deck” is Tier I, it’s a sign that the environment is healthy and balanced. It’s a deck with no hopeless matchups. You can take it against a broad field and expect a fair game against every opponent. (Maybe 40% at the very worst, but a deck that can sideboard in any card ever printed easily evens the odds after Game 1.)

3) Extremely personalizable – “The Deck” can run just about any card ever printed, and one-card changes make a bigger impact on it than in any other possible deck. If you know what the good cards are, it’s probably even more personalizable than RecSur and its diverse creature cast. You can argue about running Teferi’s Response for your environment, and you can stick a Legacy Weapon in for FNM. Heck, Neutral Ground’s Steven Sadin stuck in a Goblin Trenches as a 61st card and he cleaned house at a $250 tourney.

4) Matches the player’s skill – “The Deck” attracts some of the best Type I players precisely because it’s so flexible and there’s usually an option in every situation. While a Sligh deck just hammers away, a control player has the opportunities to call the plays.

Putting all this together, you get the impression that you get the most powerful and most enjoyable deck in the format.

Read on, though.

Weakness #1:”There are no wrong threats”

I opened”The Control Player’s Bible” with a few lines from [author name="Kai Budde"]Kai Budde[/author], and how he said he didn’t like cards like Moat.

He probably meant that no matter how powerful these cards are, they’re simply wasted draws in some situations.

See, Dave Price once said that while there are wrong solutions, there are never wrong threats. What does that mean?

Going back to the”Disenchant problem” before Invasion, you couldn’t run a lot of Disenchants. They were just dead weight in many matchups, but you’d wish you packed three or four when you needed them. Today, Abyss is the best example, since you never want to see it against combo or control.

Against combo, in fact, you play Game 1 with an Abyss and three spot removal spells, while all his spells try to kill you. The disadvantage disappears in Game 2, but you start wondering if he’s going to side in creatures like Phyrexian Negator…. Because your strategy is to pack in a solution for everything and have multiple plans, you have a built-in disadvantage against a number of decks.

Every control deck in history needed some way to grease the problem of”wrong solutions.””The Deck” has its tutors and early card drawing, Extended decks have Impulse and Brainstorm, and the rest had things from Opt to Sleight of Hand.

Thing is, not even the best players can grease the problem every single game. You can open nicely, only to topdeck Force of Will against a Jackal Pup on the table, Swords to Plowshares against Library of Alexandria, Wasteland against Morphling, and Diabolic Edict against Back to Basics. Or you can simply get manaflooded with the twenty-eight mana sources you need to power your big spells.

If you’ve ever mulliganed an opening hand with Yawgmoth’s Will, two Morphlings, and Braingeyser as the spells, I’m sure you understand.

The best gun is useless if it’s not locked and loaded and in your hand. In the meantime, your more redundant opponents don’t care what kind of threat they get. A creature always attacks and a Bolt always deals damage, and dealing twenty always kills a player.

I said that given time and given mana,”The Deck” and its vastly more powerful spells will dominate. But what if you stumble and the opponent wastes no time kicking you while you’re down?

Weakness #1 – Application

Imagine a deck that can play cheap threats, then slow you down with a couple of disruption spells – just enough to make you stumble till the beatdown clock runs out.

It exists, and it’s called aggro control.

When Brian Weissman tried to create a deck to beat”The Deck” around 1997, he came up with the funny-looking Roc deck, which did exactly what I described.

More recent incarnations include the Merfolk deck Nicolas Labarre used to break Extended Academy at PT Rome, Zvi’s”The Solution” for Invasion Block Constructed, CounterSliver from older Extended – and, yes, Miracle Grow.

And if you think counters are the only disruption, Suicide Black’s discard + Negators fits the disruption + fast beatdown formula.

Weakness #2: Fragile mana base

Okay, a clarification.

Some players like MTGNews moderator Shade2k1 bitch and gripe about the mana base of”The Deck.” Don’t believe any of it, because the mana base isn’t unstable. Every deck gets mana screwed or flooded, and”The Deck” does get color screwed, but that doesn’t mean anything is unstable and you’re better off playing two colors.

But the mana base is fragile.

So many expansions have added so many cards to Type I that mono-color decks only get stronger with time. They’ll always be the most consistent decks, right down to the mana… And they have built-in protection against all the nonbasic hate.

“The Deck” gains its flexibility by using the most complicated mana base in all of Magic. The flexibility means there’s no way to hose all the spells with any single strategy… But it also means it’s much easier to hose the mana base.

If you run through the cards usually sideboarded against”The Deck,” the most terrifying are all aimed at the mana base: Dwarven Miner, Blood Moon, Back to Basics, and Price of Progress (heck, even Winter Orb). Certainly, there are others that hurt like Hymn to Tourach – but nothing compares to cheap random losses to mana hosers.

And even the complete vulnerablity to Wasteland should be factored in.

Weakness #2 – Application

Last year, some guy named Edward Paltzik, a.k.a.”The man, the myth, the Legend” bragged of a number of wins in Neutral Ground with a suboptimal Britney’s Spears Boobs build he dubbed”Legend Blue.” Now, it’s known to Type I players around the globe that there are quite a number of fully-powered”The Deck” players in that store. So what Ed actually did was scout thirteen-man tournaments and bring out a deck with four Back to Basics maindecked and no defense at all against aggro except blocking Morphlings.

Now, if you read his tourney reports (where he also bragged about beating draft decks entered into Type I events), it seemed like every other match read,”I play a first-turn Back to Basics, Force his Force, and win.”

With Fact or Fiction unrestricted, mono blue could approach the draw power of”The Deck” and make up for some of the difference with double the counters. The strategy was hardly invincible, but”The Deck” couldn’t always deal with a lucky first- or second-turn Back to Basics backed by a pitch counter, not even with Red Elemental Blast.

Incidentally, right before Fact or Fiction was restricted, Ed switched to four maindeck Dwarven Miners so he could strengthen his hate strategy with sideboarded Elemental Blasts. That was short-lived, though, after a tournament where Steven Sadin, Mikey Pustilnik and Matt D’Avanzo creamed him soundly and thrashed his anti-“The Deck” deck with… guess what?

(Ed was last seen posting a Type I Trix deck with an Accumulated Knowledge engine. Kai Budde saw the Beyond Dominia post and, fresh from his Extended Trix successes, told me,”Type 1 Trix with AK? Where do those people live? It must be a lot farther away from the real world than Antarctica.”)

Weakness #3: Everyone is gunning for you

Unless the environment really goes crazy (for example, the combo mania in 1999-2000), you can always tinker with”The Deck” and tweak it for the metagame. Unlike your Type II deck, you can use it forever and keep playing without picking up another deck.

Since the control cards are so broken, though, there are only so many slots you have to toy with, so your opponent still attacks the deck in the same ways. And with intelligent players fearing”The Deck,” everyone has something ready.

Remember how Trix was simply hated out of contention in the last Extended season? Well, it happens in Beyond Dominia’s Tournament of Champions and it even happens elsewhere like the MTGOnline league.

You expect it – but you can’t stop the random aggro player from sideboarding a whole lot or even pre-sideboarding a whole lot, handing you a loss, then dropping after losing to two other aggro decks. You might even remember”Invincible Counter Troll,” a terrible deck that nevertheless had fifteen sideboard cards against”The Deck.”

Simply put, no deck in the history of Magic has regularly attracted the disproportionate sideboard space.

Weakness #3 – Application

David Kaplan, Neutral Ground’s most active Sligh player, packs four Gorilla Shamans and four Prices of Progress main, plus eight Red Elemental Blasts/Pyroblasts and three Dwarven Miners in the board.

Veteran players may scoff at Sligh… But the sideboard slots show you the respect they give it. My generic sideboard can put together seven or eight slots against random red hate if I have to (two Circle of Protection: Red, two Powder Kegs, Pyroclasm, two Blue Elemental Blasts, and Aura Fracture). Robb Williams, a Neutral Ground player who currently holds an 1899 Type I rating, can bring in 2 CoP: Reds, Enlightened Tutors, Powder Keg, Swords to Plowshares, Aura Fracture, a second Teferi’s Response (for Miners), and even a Caltrops with”Dave Kaplan” written on it.

And, I run the BEBs because Sligh hate can take on so many forms. No other sideboard card can handle Red Elemental/Pyroblast (instant), Gorilla Shaman (creature), Dwarven Miner (creature), Price of Progress (instant), Blood Moon (enchantment), Scald (enchantment) and even Anarchy (sorcery). Note that I’m not sideboarding seven or eight cards just for Sligh, though. I can justify Blue Elemental Blast since I can use one against red hate in control, for example.

Weakness #4: More opportunities to screw yourself

If there’s one deck with near-unlimited comeback power, it has to be”The Deck” in the hands of a master. But, while Sligh won’t give Alex Shvartsman material for”Play of the Week,” it also won’t give you room to outsmart yourself.

“The Deck” is only as good as the player, see? There is just so much room for mistakes: Tapping the wrong mana, not leaving that colored source or Wasteland untapped, tutoring for the wrong spell, countering the wrong spell, winning the wrong counter war, and so on.

Eric“Danger” Taylor once e-mailed that”The Deck” sometimes looks like a mess of Rosewater puzzles. Frankly, they’re fun, but very few people have a 100% record with those.

One mistake can cost a game, one game can cost a match, and one match can force you to drop. Guess why so many beginners around the world picked up control only when they could play four Fact or Fictions, four Back to Basics, four Morphlings and sixteen counters?

Weakness #4 – Application

Consider that a”The Deck” player has to know every possible deck aside from his own. Often, he has to set up his strategy as soon as he sees the first land the opponent plays.

Now, if he sees a Forest, he’ll prepare for a Stompy assault, since the only other possibilities are a slower mono-green deck, a slower red/green deck, or SquirrelCraft – all of which”The Deck” can dispatch with ease due to their inherent limitations in Type I.

But if he sees a Plains, his opponent could be playing Deck Parfait or White Weenie. Those are two very different decks, but he’ll soon find out which is which.

But, what if he sees a Swamp? He could be facing Suicide Black, NetherVoid, Pox or even some random Hatred deck – all different decks with a number of common cards.

What if he sees an Island? He could be facing Forbiddian, mono blue aggro control, a weaker Draw-Go, Old School Expulsion, blue/black, blue/red or blue/white. If he sees a Tropical Island, he could be facing Miracle Gro or some other blue/green aggro control, or he could be facing Oath or”The Deck” with green.

If our fearless control player guesses wrong – or guesses at the wrong time and makes his call too early – he’s toast.

(You might identify if you’ve ever had to play Meddling Mage in Type II without knowing your local metagame.)

Weakness #5: Sometimes you just need one option

This isn’t a weakness per se, but sometimes, you just don’t want the infinite possibilities of”The Deck.” If you want to tailor a deck against a metagame, it’s just not the deck to use.

Remember that there really is no permanent”best deck” because metagames shift. That’s why it’s important to study Tier II decks, decks stacked against specific good decks but have other bad matchups.

If your metagame is mainly aggro, for example, you might actually be better off taking Pandeburst, which is a fast combo deck that isn’t based on blue (and therefore least affected by the eight REB/Pyroblast sideboard). If your metagame is mainly combo, you might be better off with Forbiddian. Heck, even White Weenie would be better at hosing Sligh decks than”The Deck” with a maindeck Circle of Protection: Red.

Weakness #5 – Application

In Worlds 2001, at the height of the”mono blue decks with unrestricted Fact or Fiction in the hands of bad players” menace, Matt D’Avanzo and his”Giver” found themselves in a sea of maindecked Back to Basics. He said he’d have broken open the metagame with a good build of Suicide Black or even Stompy.

But he asked me to add that he’d still play control because,”You won’t die like a chump playing Suicide Black who houses three mono-U decks and then dies to a ten-year-old with burn.” (Unfortunately, he got a second loss in Round 4 thanks to a French-speaking judge who didn’t know what Mana Drain mana was.)


So now, like Steve Menendian, you might be thinking of some radical way to change”The Deck” and address any of the above weaknesses.

There’s nothing wrong with”The Deck” in the present more balanced metagame, though, and you’d only end up diminishing its existing strengths.

Just be aware that your very strengths have their drawbacks and play accordingly. And, if you’re playing against it, know what weak spots you can exploit – either through your own card selection or your play tactics.

Don’t forget that a number of these concerns translate directly into playing control decks in other formats.

The”wrong solution” and”more opportunities to screw yourself” problems are hardwired into control, so you always deal with them, even in Limited.

The mana base caveat has cropped up from time to time, such as in the Donais or 5-color blue Type II decks of 1998.

“Everyone is gunning against you” might easily be felt by a Psychatog player going up against Frog in a Blender decks all suddenly packing Yavimaya Barbarian and other nasties.

Finally, there are some formats where control is inherently weak thanks to the card pool. For example, Urza-era Type II had a very restrictive counterspell selection, and”Accelerated Blue” didn’t quite play the same as the control decks that came before and after it.

So don’t think that Type I strategies are limited to Type I. It’s the same game and the same fundamental concepts, whether Type I or Sealed Deck.

Again, reviewing the long list of control decks presented in the history portion of this series, every Type II, Extended and block control deck traces its strategy to”The Deck.” Knowing how it works is just something that never goes out of style.

Oscar Tan

[email protected]

rakso on #BDChat on Newnet

Manila, Philippines

Type I, Extended and Casual Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (http://www.bdominia.com/discus/messages/9/9.shtml)

Featured writer, Star City Games (http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/archive.php?Article=Oscar Tan)

Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance (http://www.casualplayers.org)

P.S. -Thanks to Brian Weissman, John Ormerod, Darren di Battista a.k.a. Azhrei, JP”Polluted” Meyer, Matt D’Avanzo and Adam Duke a.k.a. Meridian for being tough critics of the drafts of this series.

P.P.S.-I think I had a few vague areas in my last article. I cleared up some of them in the compiled version, but the note on when to play a Library of Alexandria from the opening hand was very misleading. I actually play it first-turn a lot, even with a Mana Drain in hand, and made a mistake deciding what to introduce as the general rule and what to introduce as the exception. It’s hard to explain, but based on Beyond Dominia discussions as far back as 1999, I thought I was playing by the exceptions when I was actually still following the general rule.

After a marathon AIM debate with Matt D’Avanzo, I have to clarify that the general rule is to play Library first… Unless you have something in hand you might need right away like Red Elemental Blast or Swords to Plowshares. If you have both Mana Drain and Library in the opening hand, you might have to think about getting two blue mana on the table first.

You’ll need the Mana Drain ability against an opponent so fast the extra cards won’t make up for the one-turn delay in Mana Drain ability. Stompy fits this description, for example, though other aggro such as Sligh aren’t actually that fast. Combo deserves some thought. Matt developed the Neo-Academy deck and swears that first-turn Library kills it since it can no longer bleed away counters or take advantage of Draw 7s. Against others, though, I might consider threatening him with Mana Drain, especially if I don’t even have Force of Will.

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