The Control Player’s Bible, Book I (The Fundamentals of 5-color control)
Table of Contents for Book I: (http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/expandnews.php?Article=2725)
First of all, my apologies for the inadvertent postponement of last week’s column. It wasn’t anyone’s fault; it just happened to lose itself along the way from my mailbox to The Ferrett. Although I’m in the middle of my final exams, it’s a work ethic thing not to miss an installment, and I haven’t since the regular column started.
Again, illness, schoolwork, girls, typhoons, bomb threats, and severe Manila flooding haven’t stopped a column yet – so give me some credit here.
Also, although the spoiler leaks have been so bad that you can actually practice for the Prerelease now, I refrain from doing my reviews until the actual release. There’s a small chance (exams, remember?) that I might be able to catch the local prerelease, and it helps to see the new cards in action in their native environment. But thanks to the people who’ve emailed their thoughts and inquiries.
Anyway, congratulations to Mark Young for winning last weekend’s German DÃ¼lmen tournament with a less common red/blue Stacker 2 build. After Oliver Daems, webmaster of www.morphling.de, took the last one with an equally unconventional SquirrelCraft with a heavy counter complement, the German tournament abruptly shifted to a heavy combo presence. Mark Young, it seemed, even tried to meta-metagame by maindecking four Defense Grids for control, and was fortunate enough to run into at least five of his intended targets in seven rounds. Oliver tried to pull the same metagame trick with TurboNevyn (Type I Turboland), but placed just second this time around.
Don’t cry, Oliver. We still love you.
This should be funny for the non-Germans who’ve stereotyped the tournament as aggro-dominated. The familiar German TnT decks gave way to combo, so maybe the next one will give way to control and then back again.
We spent the last two columns with a painstaking, comprehensive analysis of the structural changes”The Deck” and various aggro decks make against each other.”The Deck” strips the more inefficient, later-game cards and stocks up on removal. Aggro decks add more threats to speed up, add control elements to slow the control deck’s development, or add no-brainer hate cards from Blood Moon to Price of Progress.
These are the familiar, conventional strategies, however. They’re not the only ones available.
(Of course, they’re familiar and conventional because they work. A lot of immature forum denizens mistake veterans’ skepticism towards suddenly replacing a tested strategy with a new chase card or novel twist for an unreasonable hostility towards new ideas; it’s not. It’s just a reasonable hostility towards new ideas that stink. Today’s column is about new, novel or recycled ideas… But don’t think you’ll be rewriting your existing playbooks just yet.)
An honest control player will admit that relying on removal against a well-built aggro deck isn’t the best option. Though you’ve had control decks like Extended Oath well-stocked with removal that treated weenie decks like byes, they still have the inherent”wrong solutions” problem: That is, drawing a Swords to Plowshares stinks when you need to counter, and drawing a counter stinks when you need a Disenchant.
If you really want to break an aggro metagame, you don’t triple the removal in your control deck. Like Oliver and other like-minded rascals, you sell your soul and break out dirty, dirty combo decks (okay, it’s actually,”You sell your soul and break out dirty, dirty mono blue, but that’s way out of context).
A combo is the surest way to beat aggro. These decks single-mindedly rush on the board and try to hit the life total to the exclusion of most other game areas, especially the stack and the hand. Everyone knows, of course, that nothing hits the life total (or the library) faster than a consistent Type I combo.
If a person could credibly claim a 90% win ratio in a matchup, it’d be a good combo deck against a credible aggro deck.
So what does this have to do with control?
Well, if you can find a combo compact enough, you can conceivably side in or even maindeck it as a surprise silver machine gun (not just a bullet) against aggro.
At this point, let me caution that I labeled the column”sleazy” – but really, I mean”advanced and unconventional.” Remember that when you go rogue, you do it because you know what you’re doing, and not because you’re an idiot netdecking whatever looks flashy at the moment.
A sideboard that radically alters your deck’s strategy is called a”transformational sideboard.” The most common example is a creatureless control or combo deck that suddenly boards in Phyrexian Negators or Calls of the Herd. This is unconventional because it can have extreme benefits and drawbacks, especially if your opponent is wise to what should be a surprise.
Again, a word of caution that you had better thoroughly understand the philosophy of this last piece of highly advanced strategy: If you don’t, I’m not doing my job here.
Oath of Druids as a combo card
One way of looking for your compact combo is to look for a single card that can set up the entire combo, never mind how many actual components you need. Though it’s one of the most familiar Extended control cards, Oath of Druids is actually one of these combo pieces.
Oath of Druids
At the beginning of each player’s upkeep, if that player controls fewer creatures than any of his or her opponents, the player may reveal cards from the top of his or her library until he or she reveals a creature card. The player puts that card into play and all other cards revealed this way into his or her graveyard.
Target player shuffles up to three target cards from his or her graveyard into his or her library. Draw a card. When Gaea’s Blessing is put into your graveyard from your library, shuffle your graveyard into your library.
I remember one visit to my local store owner, Edsel Alvarez, a few years ago, when he described a funny, new (at the time) Urza combo. See, Oath of Druids as a control card is associated with Gaea’s Blessing, but the two weren’t always together in Type II. When the Mirage Block and Blessing left, how could you still use Oath?
The funny answer Edsel gave me was the now Deck Parfait”combo” card Planar Birth, and here’s what I put together in my head on the way home (sorry, I don’t know who first put it together outside Manila since it was that long ago):
Put target card from your graveyard on top of your library.
Urza’s Saga rare
Return all basic lands from all graveyards to play under their owners’ control, tapped.
Rain of Filth
Urza’s Saga uncommon
Until end of turn, lands you control gain”Sacrifice this land: Add B to your mana pool.”
The basic idea is for Oath of Druids to dump your entire library into your graveyard during upkeep. Now since you still have to draw, you cast Reclaim. Then you get enough mana off Planar Birth and Rain of Filth to do some damage.
Pretty straightforward, right?
The only problem aside from assembling the combo pieces, of course, was that you needed your opponent to play a creature in order to trigger Oath.
Hmmm… Urza’s Saga… The combo-mania set?
But hey, it was a fun combo, and it’s the sort of rogue-ness you file away for a more appropriate time. And it’s not like people haven’t tried Blessing-less Oath in Extended, right?
Oath of Druids combos, 2002
Oath-combos are thus conditional, and obviously aren’t very good against combo and control. Powerful but conditional… Sounds like a sideboard candidate, right? Indeed, Oath in control decks with the green has been a sideboard (if not maindeck) option for some players, though for more conventional Oathed creature options..
According to German forum moderator Benjamin Rott, a.k.a. Teletubby, however, someone recently found an even more streamlined Oath combo, one compact enough to consider for a transformational sideboard. This is the”KrOathan” combo, a piece of tech from German Pro Roland Bode, who doesn’t really play Type I but Top 8’ed in the European Championships. It uses the new Judgment card I dismissed as inferior to Gaea’s Blessing:
Flashback 1G. Target player shuffles up to two target cards from his or her graveyard into his or her library.
The key here is that it doesn’t reshuffle your graveyard into your library. Instead, you get the flashback which lets you selectively put back a card during your upkeep for you to draw and cast during your main phase. It’s perfect for the Oath combo because it’s a new Reclaim that’s set up by Oath, too; you don’t have to find it and keep it in hand.
(Hint, hint… Ideas for Extended?)
And if Oath sets up a full graveyard, what can you Reclaim to continue the combo? Any Type I player should answer…
Urza’s Saga rare
Until end of turn, you may play cards in your graveyard as though they were in your hand. If a card would be put into your graveyard this turn, remove that card from the game instead. (Restricted in October 1999)
Even more powerful than its expansion-mate Planar Birth, this does the same thing and lets you replay Black Lotus, five Moxen, Sol Ring and one land (like Tolarian Academy), which should be enough to set up the kill:
Urza’s Legacy rare
Grim Monolith doesn’t untap during your untap step. Tap: Add three colorless mana to your mana pool. 4: Untap Grim Monolith. (Restricted in October 1999)
Enchanted artifact’s activated abilities cost up to 2 less to play. If this would make an ability cost 0 or less mana to play, it costs 1, plus any nonmana costs.
Stroke of Genius
Urza’s Saga rare
Target player draws X cards. (Restricted in January 1999)
You should be familiar with this combo, since Type I players have been tinkering with it since Urza Block, with Pat Chapin being only the most recent. Power Artifact lets Grim Monolith tap for three mana and untap for two, which soon adds up. You make a million mana and Stroke your opponent’s library away.
Yes, it’s another Urza-based combo.
In terms of card slots, you need four Oaths, two Reclamations and Yawgmoth’s Will and the three kill cards, for a total of ten. (Bennie was the one who explained it all to me, and notes that you need a second Reclamation in case you don’t have the mana to Reclaim and Will in one turn – in which case you can go for Black Lotus.)
Will and Stroke are already maindecked in control decks, so you’re only really using eight slots. (Note that without Blessings, maindecking a couple of Oaths for Morphling is a risky proposition.) The Germans ended up maindecking the kill cards, and boarding in the full combo. That’s six sideboard slots, which is about how much room your normal anti-aggro cards occupy anyway. Plus, Grim Monolith can pass for a mana source slot, so you don’t cramp your main deck, either.
That’s practically a lethal yet free anti-aggro upgrade if you can find green mana, right?
German player Swen Weinhold took a control deck sporting such a strategy to a third place DÃ¼lmen finish last August 25, and a fourth place finish last weekend.. Good times against TnT while remaining good against the German combo shift, wouldn’t you think?
KrOathan, Swen Weinhold, Fourth Place, September 22, 2002 DÃ¼lmen
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Stroke of Genius
4 Force of Will
4 Mana Drain
1 Power Artifact
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Mind Twist
1 Diabolic Edict
1 Skeletal Scrying
1 Sylvan Library
1 Holistic Wisdom
1 Dismantling Blow
1 Zuran Orb
1 Grim Monolith
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Sol Ring
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Strip Mine
1 Dust Bowl
1 Tolarian Academy
4 City of Brass
1 Undiscovered Paradise
4 Underground Sea
4 Tropical Island
4 Oath of Druids
2 Krosan Reclamation
1 Scrying Glass
3 Call of the Herd
1 Enlightened Tutor
1 Aura Fracture
The sheer beauty of KrOathan is that you only need to play Oath of Druids, aside from mana, to set up your combo.
Not so fast…
At this point, you might expect me to burst your bubble and tell you that it’s all hype and why it stinks.
I won’t. Simply put, it’s one of the strongest transformational sideboard strategies seen in years.
What I have to tell you, though, is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
The most obvious objection is adding green to”The Deck.” The old objection, though was that you’d be forced to replace white and lose your anti-aggro cards or lose red and lose your anti-control cards. Since you’re adding a powerful anti-aggro silver machine gun, you can cut the white and just have to worry about whether you keep Aura Fracture. In any case, the rumored Onslaught fetchlands make color fixing easier anyway:
Tap, Pay 1 life, Sacrifice Polluted Delta: Search your library for an island or swamp card and put it into play. Then shuffle your library.
Arguably the most important objection is that a transformational sideboard can be likened to an unexpected but reckless stroke. It probably works once… But remember, one tournament is all it takes to turn a rogue strategy into a Netdeck. It’s a lot easier to pick out the weak spots in a deck that just ends up awkwardly grafting part of another onto itself after boarding.
The transformation gets weaker as the surprise gets weaker, in short.
Remember that post-Judgment, everyone has been wary enough to think about graveyard removal. Any deck can, for example, add Tormod’s Crypt or Phyrexian Furnace without further tweaks. I saw German control decklists adding black for things like Planar Void and more Edicts. Your anti-aggro transformation can easily catch the anti-Judgment aggro hate.
The Dark uncommon
Tap, Sacrifice Tormod’s Crypt: Remove target player’s graveyard from the game.
Tap: Remove the bottom card of target player’s graveyard from the game. 1, Sacrifice Phyrexian Furance: Remove target card in a graveyard from the game and draw a card.
Urza’s Saga uncommon
Whenever a card is put into a graveyard, remove that card from the game.
Now, you might say that he shouldn’t know about the combo and will have to scramble for his anti-graveyard options in Game 3, which may be too late. Never assume that your opponent is as clueless as a Type I forum poseur, however. If he smells the lack of white and the uncommon presence of green mana sources, alarm bells ringing”Oath” should go off in his head. Even if he doesn’t know about KrOathan – and if he reads Star City just like you, he does now – he should know that the most powerful reasons to go green use the graveyard anyway.
Aside from Oath, you have Holistic Wisdom, for example. The possibility of a mana base with Onslaught fetchlands and a single Tropical Island might throw him off. Maybe when he thoroughly dominates Game 1 and you end up going to Game 3 anyway.
And there are still a lot of other cards that affect your more powerful but shakier post-sideboard configuration. Although the setup card is nonblue and dodges Red Elemental Blasts, Oath is vulnerable to the anti-enchantment cards that would’ve been gunning for your Abyss. If Kai Budde could play a bad Type I combo deck and lose to an aggro deck that fished out an Elvish Lyrist, then so can you.
And just imagine how amusing Null Rod suddenly becomes against your KrOathan transformation.
Players can’t play artifacts’ activated abilities.
Just imagine your sure bye against aggro get paired against Stompy’s Turn 1 Elvish Lyrist, Turn 2 Null Rod. That would be some game against the most inflexible aggro deck in the format, right?
And remember, not only does your bad combo deck lack the conventional spot removal to fall back on, you don’t even have Morphlings to win with if you can’t go infinite.
The Holistic Picture
The bottom line is that a transformational strategy tends to weaken other areas to stuff a lot of eggs in one basket. The most obvious weakness is having to stuff two dead cards main deck. Against aggro, the Power Artifact/Grim Monolith combo is just Force food and an erratic mana source before they combo, and before you can tutor up Stroke or Braingeyser. Against control and combo, they’re dead weight till you’re winning anyway.
The rest of KrOathan looks like it doesn’t eat up sideboard space because they just replace existing anti-aggro cards. A problem comes, however, when you look for the missing spot removal against aggro/control.
Now you have to ask yourself how effective your half-baked combo deck is against Fish or Miracle Gro, which are lethal against the real combo decks. Plus, how effective is your half-baked combo search engine is against something like Suicide Black, which can Duress the first Oath and destroy colored mana even if Oath drops.
And Null Rod could make an appearance here, too.
Sure, you still have the Red Elemental Blasts you kept handy against control and you might have space for a couple of Composts… But you’re still pitting an awkward deck structure against decks that aren’t bad at all against the tight versions. (And to clarify, you don’t mind playing an awkward combo deck in Game 2 because the whole idea is that combo inherently owns aggro and you don’t mind the rough edges.) And again, you don’t have your Plows and Powder Kegs to slow their beatdown the old-fashioned, straightforward way.
The lesson here isn’t to make a judgment on whether this very advanced sideboarding trick from Roland Bode is the best option or not:”Best” is always relative to what you need at the moment, and this Bible has been all about options you can choose to pack in the most flexible, most fun, and most personalizable deck in Type I. A solid transformation is simply a good option, and whether it’s the best at the moment is up to you.
And again, keep the entire philosophy behind sleazy sideboarding in mind, not just the specifics of using Oath. There are a lot of other tricks out there, and more will probably get printed.
For example, Matt D’Avanzo laughs when Power Artifact gets Misdirected and Grim Monolith gets Monkeyed. So, he e-mailed the Paragons mailing list about boarding Doomsday instead.
Search your library and graveyard for five cards and remove the rest from the game. Put the chosen cards on top of your library in any order. You lose half your life, rounded up. (Restricted in October 1999)
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Sacrifice Lion’s Eye Diamond, Discard your hand: Add three mana of any one color to your mana pool. Play this ability only any time you could play an instant.
Each player shuffles his or her hand and graveyard into his or her library and then draws seven cards. (Then put Timetwister into its owner’s graveyard.) (Restricted in January 1994)
The Doomsday combo was thought up sometime after Weatherlight, and your five cards are Black Lotus, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Timetwister, Regrowth, and either Braingeyser or Stroke of Genius. You form an infinite mana loop by casting Timetwister using Black Lotus, then taking green mana from Lion’s Eye Diamond in response. You then replay the two artifacts and Regrow Timetwister, gaining one mana every iteration.
Now you’re down to only three sideboard slots, and the setup card is in your secondary (and not off) color. Plus, Timetwister is a passable”The Deck” card anyway.
This strategy brings its own problems, of course: First of all, your setup card is restricted and you have to find it. That in itself isn’t a tough call, but that brings us to the second problem, which is finding three black mana sources to go with it. Again, the Onslaught fetchlands might help and you at least have space for a couple of Swords in the meantime, but you’re still not sure how fast you can put all that together. Finally, you still have to set up Doomsday with a specific hand size, or your Timetwister loop falls apart.
But like I said… Keep the idea in mind, since you might be able to use or further tweak it someday.
In the meantime, respect the boundless flexibility of”The Deck.”
rakso on #BDChat on EFNet
Forum Administrator, Star City Games (http://www.starcitygames.com/cgi-bin/dcforum/dcboard.cgi)
Featured writer, Star City Games (http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/archive.php?Article=Oscar Tan)
Author of the Control Player’s Bible (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bdominia/files/ControlBible.zip)
Type I, Extended and Casual Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (http://www.starcitygames.com/cgi-bin/dcforum/dcboard.cgi?az=list&forum=DCForumID89&conf=DCConfID19)
Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance (http://www.casualplayers.org)