The Control Player’s Bible, Book I (The Fundamentals of 5-color control)
Table of Contents for Book I
The Control Player’s Bible, Book II (“The Deck” v. Aggro)
Current Index of Book II
Phu Tran, a.k.a. Durran from San Diego, gave me my Magic laugh this week when he hit me up for some games with his Mask build. (You know… featuring the ever-annoying Illusionary Mask/Phyrexian Dreadnought combo?)
Basically, three dead Dreadnoughts later, I had one more Morphling on the board and seven more cards in hand, which is game.
He topdecked Demonic Consultation. With five counters and a Swords to Plowshares in hand, I let it go, expecting him to go for a last-ditch Necropotence before conceding. To my surprise, he named Phyrexian Negator. He removed the last Dreadnought from the game before he found one of the two remaining Negators. Illusionary Mask made it uncounterable, and it faced off against my Morphling.
I was wondering what kind of bluff he was running, but he simply attacked the following turn.
Did he simply forget that Morphling untapped, like a few people actually do?
I counted my mana again, pumped Morphling to 5/1, then said assign damage.
He had me at one life, and I could see him fall off his chair right after typing,”I assign four trample damage to you.”
Of course we had an even bigger mutual laugh when I showed him the Dromar’s Charm in my hand and replied,”Gain five life. Cheese you back.”
The trick backfired and he had to sac everything but one land before conceding.
Rules lawyer versus real lawyer? No contest!
(I’m kidding… I hope he doesn’t have me kicked the next time he drops by #bdchat on EFNet!)
The New Tutor On The Block
I hope people appreciated the discussion of whether or not to use Vampiric Tutor in control, especially in the face of newer deck types like German Tools ‘n’ Tubbies (TnT). The simple question is more complex than it looks, and your answer has to be your own, based on your deck and metagame. Swen Weinhold, for example, e-mailed to remind me that his fellow Germans get more use out of Vampiric Tutor against all aggro decks because they maindeck the Power Artifact/Grim Monolith infinite mana combo.
Thus, you have to know the arguments and matchups, and can’t simply netdeck.
The choice isn’t really mutually exclusive, especially after the removal of green suddenly gave people a couple of slots to tinker with. That’s good news because Cunning Wish has cemented its place in control, and you have to make room. Vampiric Tutor is an excellent point of comparison, though.
It’s a story to trace – because when I wrote my initial Wish review last May amidst a lot of hype for Type I, the only (realistic) optimistic commentary I was hearing came from JP”Polluted” Meyer. I even remember Darren Di Battista saying something like,”The best place for Cunning Wish is in your trade binder.” Half a year later, Eric Wilkinson from Neutral Ground is happily listing his decklist with three Wishes on the Paragons mailing list.
Where Were Wishes Six Months Ago?
Half a year ago, I wrote that using the Wishes as tutors for restricted cards is pointless because you actually don’t achieve much. For example, using four Living Wishes to get Tolarian Academy isn’t a big improvement over having Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Crop Rotation, and the actual Academy (or four ways to get Academy) in your deck.
Next, I wrote that using the Wishes to get silver bullets didn’t work, either. Living Wish fetches creatures like Masticore and Dwarven Miner – but that’s for Game 1 where your opponents still have their creature removal. After Game 1, you side out Wishes anyway, but keep whatever mana base problems you had to put up with to use a green Wish and red bombs.
As for the rest, Death Wish and Golden Wish fetch the sturdier bombs, but they’re also unplayable. I also wrote that Burning Wish and Cunning Wish can’t fetch permanents, and thus have no silver bullets to fetch.
So I ended by writing that your best bet was to try Cunning Wish for flexibility but not brokenness. It still served as a placeholder for your sideboard cards like Swords to Plowshares and Red Elemental Blast, plus a couple of goodies you could slip in like Brian Weissman’s classic Mana Short. I wasn’t sold, though, and quoted Star City’s David Bruce:”It’s like what I always wanted Spite / Malice to be… But Spite/Malice was too expensive.”
Mike Long was the first person seen sporting more than one Wish as a playtest slot. His sideboard followed this utility and flexibility angle, but with things like Spelljack in the side, it failed to inspire:
The Keeper, Michael Long, July 2002
2 Gorilla Shaman
Library of Alexandria
1 Strip Mine
2 City of Brass
4 Volcanic Island
4 Underground Sea
(Incidentally, note the absence of Balance.)
A Recap Of Type I Wish Philosophy
Obviously, I was wrong somewhere.
My Wish article was almost completely correct. Emphasis on almost. One crucial assumption was quickly debunked: There are no instant silver bullets.
The obvious oversight was Buyback, the fun ability of Tempest block. For you people who consider Tempest an old set, let’s take a segue into the Comprehensive Rules:
502.16a Buyback is a static ability of some instants and sorceries that functions while the card is on the stack (that is, while it’s a spell). The phrase”Buyback [cost]” means”You may pay an additional [cost] as you play this spell. If you do, put this card into your hand instead of into your graveyard as the spell resolves.”
The defining and most memorable Buyback cards went into blue (Capsize, Forbid, and Whispers of the Muse), making Sapphire Medallion the most useful of its cycle. Most of us probably subconsciously forgot about the other colors.
The other push from TnT was the need for some kind of Game 1 graveyard removal for Squee, Goblin Nabob and Incarnations like Anger. Sure, you could maindeck something easily cycled like Phyrexian Furnace or Rapid Decay, but it looked like too much of a dilution. Somewhere in the Paragon e-mails, Matt D’Avanzo floated Ebony Charm, giving Cunning Wish an anti-graveyard bullet.
The idea that Cunning Wish could also fetch hate cards was pushed by Joshua Reynolds, a.k.a. Sliverking – Darren’s playtest partner in Virginia. Last September, Darren e-mailed,”Okay, Josh has sold me on Cunning Wish as a viable maindeck card. Unlike the rest of you, Josh went with the school of thought of ‘rampant piracy’ over ‘intelligent utility.'”
Josh also came up with the third and last piece of the puzzle: Like Mike Long above, I was eyeing the Stroke of Genius slot for my first Cunning Wish test. Josh kept Stroke but boarded Skeletal Scrying, that draw spell a lot of us liked post-Fact or Fiction but never justified using.
If you use Vampiric Tutor as a benchmark, you’ll note that Vampiric fetches early Ancestral Recall, Balance, The Abyss, Morphling, Yawgmoth’s Will, Mind Twist, and Braingeyser. Cunning Wish doesn’t fetch the first four, but it fetches the anti-artifact and the anti-graveyard bullets you need for the most dangerous aggro matchup, TnT. If you count Yawgmoth’s Will and Mind Twist as analogous to card drawing, Skeletal Scrying parallels the last three. (Vampiric also fetches Gorilla Shaman, but Shattering Pulse can mimic it somewhat later in the game.)
Then, you’ll note that Cunning Wish generates no card disadvantage (unlike -1 Vampiric Tutor, -1 next card draw, +1 draw tutored card, for a net card loss of 1), so when it has nothing more explosive to fetch, it still justifiably fetches a 1-for-1 card like a counter or removal spell.
So, suddenly, you no longer have a Spite/Malice to consider. You have a placeholder for three bombs that turns into Spite/Malice when you have nothing better to do.
If you’re not dying for your traditional anti-weenie aggro and anti-Suicide Black plays (note that early Ancestral Recall is a weaker play against control with the advent of Misdirection), you have something better than Vampiric Tutor.
And, Spite/Malice pitches to Force of Will.
Josh’s more tuned Cunning Wish arsenal found its way into Paragon sideboards in time for the Virginia States Type I tournament (both Virginia and New York contingents), giving”The Deck” an excellent showing in a large non-German tournament where TnT was a big factor.
How Many Wishes?
If you’re still staring at your pre-Judgment control deck, you’ll probably be hard-pressed to find room for Wishes. I know I was.
Logically, you’ll start with one dedicated Wish slot. You’ll adjust your sideboard as conservatively as possible. You’ll have Red Elemental Blast and Swords to Plowshares in place, and you’ll probably add little more than the bare anti-TnT essentials: Shattering Pulse and Ebony Charm.
The only person I know who stayed at one Wish is #bdchat op Chris Flaaten from Norway. Chris’s build uses green over red for Oath of Druids, and relies on Woodripper to beat TnT instead of our Pulse and Charm. (And besides, Chris was the biggest Brainstorm fan on Beyond Dominia, and currently uses three Brainstorms and just one Cunning Wish.)
Anyway, having Shattering Pulse gives you two Disenchant effects, Cunning Wish and the actual Dismantling Blow. You realize, though, that if you replace the Dismantling Blow with a second Cunning Wish (and add Allay, which also hedges against TnT’s Survival of the Fittest somewhat), you maintain the same number of Disenchant effects but also have two placeholders for those matchups where Dismantling Blow is mediocre or dead.
You’ll hate this whenever you need to kill a first- or second-turn artifact or enchantment. Game 2 of the TnT Feature showed an early Survival of the Fittest, for example. Also, as I wrote this section, Lonnie Kim, a.k.a. Apuleius from Korea, gave me another wonderful example: He played Sligh and answered my Turn 1 Library of Alexandria with Turn 1 Black Vise, Turn 2 Wasteland, Turn 3 Wasteland, Turn 4 Strip Mine. I got a Mox and Sol Ring out and drew into Vampiric Tutor, but had no quick Dismantling Blow to play before the Vise dealt too much damage. Nevertheless, the Wish makes up in a lot more situations, such as when you’re holding a Dismantling Blow and watching a Jackal Pup beat down.
(Yes, the preceding paragraph can be summarized as,”Matt D’Avanzo was right.”)
Now, having two Wishes makes more tricks worthwhile. You can throw in that Allay as another option, plus Skeletal Scrying. Another trick the Paragons mailing list members tried at Virginia States was Alter Reality, with maindeck Circle of Protection: Red substituting for Zuran Orb.
As mentioned, Eric put in a third Wish, using the last slot cleared by Sylvan Library that the other Paragon members now fill with Brainstorm. He has even more Game 1 tricks, even replacing Pyroclasm with Fire / Ice and adding a Diabolic Edict. His reasoning was,”I came to the conclusion that the third Wish was never bad and without shuffling available at the time it’s cast, Brainstorm was too weak.”
Last month, he also e-mailed,”Matt hates the idea, but a month ago he hated the idea of any more than one Wish maindeck, too.”
The caveat about going crazy with Wish, though, is that you have to look beyond Game 1. Every trick you slip in is another actual sideboard slot lost. You get a dirty feeling, for example, when you see both Allay and Aura Fracture in your sideboard. Of course, the narrower and less random your metagame, the easier it is to slip in Wish tricks – something you have to remember when looking at another person’s list. Me, I’ve had to give up some anti-aggro cards to fit in the new Wish-based cards, and losing Moat feels almost like losing Mirror Universe.
One thing I don’t recommend you try is attempt a control deck with a sideboard purely for Wishing. Last week’s article used twenty other Type I archetypes in a metagame survey. Though it already included some third-rate decks, the list wasn’t even complete. Unless you build all the decks in your store, one doubts if you can remove all your general non-instant sideboard cards and not be caught with your pants down.
The Cunning Wish Targets, One By One
To wrap up, I’ll just list the possible Cunning Wish targets for Type I, along with potentially interesting effects for future reference. Never forget that Cunning Wish also fetches blue instants removed from the game by Force of Will, Yawgmoth’s Will and Skeletal Scrying. This means a Wish topdecked late in the game might turn into a Mana Drain or even an Ancestral Recall.
This is primarily an anti-Morphling spell for use with Wish, but you may not have the room. It overlaps with Swords, but there are situations where you need the efficiency of the real Swords. Some players in some environments, though, consider foregoing maindeck Chainer’s Edict and relying solely on Wish to fetch Edict if a Morphling slips past.
A mass weenie removal analog that’s hard to pull off without telegraphing. A diligent search of mass removal instants isn’t inspiring. You have Sandstorm and Hail Storm, but they’re narrow and even less inspiring than Starstorm.
Red Elemental Blast
The classic anti-control sideboard card. It’s the Spite part and is another basic.
Blue Elemental Blast
It’s something you might want against pesky maindeck Blood Moons. However, it’s almost impossible to make room, since its function against red decks overlaps somewhat with Swords.
This is an Elemental Blast alternate that can trade for two Elemental Blasts with its Flashback, and was recently teched up by the Paragons with a maindeck Circle of Protection: Red replacing Zuran Orb. (Eric doesn’t mind using it against Neutral Ground Sligh players who run Anarchy, either.)
The drawback, though, is that it can’t hit permanents, something you’ll curse when you hold it instead of REB against a random Back to Basics.
Carsten Kotter, a.k.a. Mon, Goblin Chief from Germany, also noted that a lot of control decks there run green over red to use Roland Bode’s KrOathan sideboard, meaning they sideboard things like Duress instead of the classic REBs. Mono-blue and the German versions that splash black for fat removal don’t present Alter targets, either.
I’m not a believer in siding in extra blue counterspells in the deck that should be able to sideboard more flexibly than any other. Besides, you can later Wish for counters you happened to pitch to Force of Will. You might argue that you can side in Misdirection after Game 1 against decks like Suicide Black, but you should have more efficient options, not being mono blue.
Shattering Pulse and Allay
The rediscovered Buyback silver bullets. Shattering Pulse is presently the most widely-used anti-artifact creature silver bullet. Allay looks great against things like Deck Parfait, but it also hedges against Survival of the Fittest against TnT and a few other decks with multiple enchantments.. If used early, keep their buyback cost in mind when you plan your Yawgmoth’s Will turn.
An interesting mirror sideboard German TnT players used against each other before Judgment. It’s weaker than Shattering Pulse, though, and a control deck is less able to capitalize on the tempo shift created by the 1/1s.
Ray of Revelation
I suggested this to the Paragons as a cheaper alternative to Allay, saying you can take control with two early uses and that should make up for the lack of buyback. However, the point is moot if you’ve cut green from your deck like I did.
This is the cheapest alternative to Allay, but you trade power for a one-mana cost reduction you won’t need often, and a chance to dodge recursion like Argivian Find and Replenish – which the buyback helps against as well… In other words, don’t.
Disenchant and Naturalize
If you have the room and want more cheap, flexible removal, you can use the originals. In a throwback to classic times, Eric and Matt both stocked a couple of Disenchants for TnT, and I guess they can because don’t play a lot of aggro other than Sligh and TnT in New York
Josh, though, argues that Disenchant (or Naturalize) should be there instead of Allay. He argues that unless a TnT player gets two Survivals on the board (which is far from common, unless, in his words,”you suck”), Disenchant is as good and happens to kill Juggernauts. He continues that unless Deck Parfait is big in your area, your far more important concern after Game 1 is the”kills Juggernaut” part.
Allay is fine by me, though, for my casual play because of the undeniable popularity of Parfait among people looking to play something different online. Since it can be built with hardly any power, it can randomly pop up in real-life tournaments as well.
I only saw this in mono blue decks that use Wish for a little more flexibility. Decks without both green and white for enchantments may fall back on some bounce effect, and Recoil is also popular.
You can try to maindeck Phyrexian Furnace or Rapid Decay, but with Cunning Wish this is more versatile. Its main use is to strip Squee, Goblin Nabob and Anger from TnT early, hitting another Incarnation or Memory Jar if you catch them. Note that it also works against graveyard-based combos such as Dragon (Worldgorger Dragon and Aerial Caravan), Reap-Lace (Black Lotus and power) and Pande-Burst (Saproling Burst)-even as an anti-Yawgmoth’s Will or Replenish card – and even against random Reanimator decks.. Also be aware of the other uses in case you run into a rare situation where they win games, such as killing a Parfait player with Worship and one life or breaking a Morphling stalemate when the opponent is at five life.
The main argument for using Coffin Purge over Ebony Charm is that it’s easy enough for TnT to just use two Squees, or to Survival out Genesis after you hit his Squee with Ebony Charm. Eric, further, has enough Wishes to Wish for a flashbacked Purge again…
The arguments against are the need for two black mana early to kill one less card and the fact that you can deal with the second Squee or secondary Incarnations some other way.
Honor the Fallen
Although this looks interesting in that it removes all TnT Goblin Welder targets except Memory Jar, you lose your graveyard removal against other decks and don’t do much more damage than Ebony Charm against a TnT deck that already forced Survival onto the table.
This adds another layer of versatility to Cunning Wish, and you can just bring it in when you need a small card boost or later in a matchup where you can afford to pay seven life or so. With classic tutors, you can fetch a card drawer instead of some bullet in a stalemate – and Scrying lets Wish do this, too.
Stroke of Genius
I don’t see any reason to board Stroke due to Wish – because in most situations you’d want Stroke, Josh’s cheaper and Misdirection-proof Skeletal Scrying would work better (say, midgame openings against control decks where you’re not taking damage anyway). However, it makes sense for combo decks to use maindeck Cunning Wishes to fish out their win condition, and fetch other things before they need Stroke.
However, never forget that you can Wish for a Stroke pitched early to Force of Will.
A classic anti-control trick you might find interesting, though you’d be hard-pressed to find room. In case you didn’t know, it starts counter wars in your opponent’s end-of-turn, leaving you free to untap and keep casting.
Another effect that works like Mana Short to force something through. It’s a possible alternative to Duress for decks without red sideboard cards. Darren also uses it as a cheap shot in response to a TnT Memory Jar, and less frequently as a cheap shot against Yawgmoth’s Broken Will.
This sounds like a worthy addition to your bag of tricks, but the key to Response is timing. It’s hard to time it without telegraphing it if you need to pay five mana, and it causes the greatest tempo shift in the early game, when you probably don’t have enough to pay for Wish yet.
You might justify it in the board if you have Mishra’s Factory or play against a lot of Suicide Black, but it’s harder to use off Wish than you might think.
The most efficient lifegain spell printed yet, and it’s an instant. Unfortunately, you can’t replace Zuran Orb with Cunning Wish and Heroes’ Reunion if you’ve cut green like most people.
This is new tech from Darren I’m testing. It’s the second-most efficient life gain instant, and you can maindeck it in place of Zuran Orb because it cycles, or maindeck another Cunning Wish.
Darren and Matt D’Avanzo are going to kill me, but I’ve actually been trying Dromar’s Charm in that slot, after fetchlands made its casting cost easier to deal with. So far, I’ve actually liked this Zuran Orb replacement a lot, and the mana problems have been less than might be expected.
I might regret this statement – but hey, it gave me a good intro story for this week.
I stuck this into my real-life deck when Invasion was new for kicks, and Josh had fun with it as an alternate game-ender via Wish (no, it’s not in the tourney decklist). If you have room or simply like it because you liked Fireball several years back, why not? Just remember that the unkickered version is a lot clunkier than the usual Swords to Plowshares, though Rage aimed at Ophidian is wonderful.
If you’re looking for something colorful for a less serious game, this and Elephant Ambush are the only instants that make big creatures. Of course, the heavy green makes using this early impossible, so it’d be a midgame win option – and only for decks with heavy green.
You might remember this from older Extended Stompy lists, but this is the best Fog effect you can fetch with Wish, compared to others like Constant Mists and Moment’s Peace. Control can’t really take advantage of the brief stall, though, so it’s a lot better for combo decks.
We’ve revisited and critiqued established deckbuilding rules for Type I control. Tune in next week when we, hopefully, will put it all together and examine potential decklists for”The Deck” 2003.
rakso on #BDChat on EFNet
University of the Philippines, College of Law
Forum Administrator, Star City Games
Featured Writer, Star City Games
Author of the Control Player’s Bible
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