Esper Hero may be the primary deck on my radar in Theros Beyond Death Standard, but a new competitor is quickly arising. The icy-cold control blood that runs through my veins creates a predisposition toward decks with minimal creatures. As you all know, Esper Hero is centered around a wonderful two-drop, and in a perfect world, it would be just another piece of removal or counterspell. This aspect of a control mage’s DNA can be viewed as a hindrance or an advantage, depending on the situation. From a historical perspective, the control decks that ran minimal win conditions and were heavy on the disruption had the most success.
In recent years, the Standard format has rewarded the creatures at the expense of the spells. There are a few cards printed periodically that give us hope, such as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. This planeswalker was the total package, with all three abilities powerful enough to be the universal answer, card advantage engine, and win condition all in one. Even with the power of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, we still need powerful spells to clear the battlefield and protect the life total before its arrival.
With the new previews from Theros Beyond Death rapidly arriving, future Standard has my full attention. The current Standard isn’t the best, with Food-based decks running rampant and their competitors being sub-par. There is much more play to it than there was with Oko, Thief of Crowns running the show, but I am ready for a big shakeup that will hopefully come from the new set. So far, this control deck builder is missing a key win condition outside of Bolas’s Citadel and Command the Dreadhorde.
Bolas’s Citadel and Command the Dreadhorde are both powerful end-game cards for control decks but require a little help before execution. I’ve written about Bolas’s Citadel in my last article and how it is the backbone of the new Esper Hero decks moving forward. It is a bit weaker in control decks due to the loss of life and the inability to continue the chain without the creatures that block early and replenish life total late. There are true control builds that could get away with running just Gray Merchant of Asphodel as the only creature in the list. Murderous Rider would be a free inclusion, as it primarily serves as a disruption spell and the perk of having two black mana symbols in its cost is fantastic. It may singlehandedly create a control archetype, Dimir or Esper, that can create punishing lines of play against the field.
Teferi, Time Raveler and Tyrant’s Scorn will work together to keep the life draining rolling in the new Standard. I woke up in a cold sweat just dreaming about returning Gray Merchant of Asphodel back to my hand using one of these early options. I have been returning Oath of Kaya to the grip for months now, but this is a much different outcome. Three damage can quickly become six, or eleven, depending on the game state. Tyrant’s Scorn can be a disappointing spell with all the Fires of Inventions and Witch’s Ovens running around, but now we can create more lifegain opportunities with what was a dead card. Teferi, Time Raveler will be the best piece of this puzzle, but I have not made the determination that a third color is necessary for the next true control deck. With Dimir getting all the love and the manabase in Standard being weak, we will need more than one of the greatest planeswalkers to make that commitment.
Command the Dreadhorde falls in the same category as a possible control finisher, as it depends on the destruction of the opponent’s win conditions and padding the life total. I had one copy of Command the Dreadhorde in various Esper Control iterations and it ended up catching on toward the end of the season. Esper, or any black-based control deck, fills the opponent’s graveyard naturally through the disruption and removal that occurs nearly every turn. This naturally makes Command the Dreadhorde effective, but a low life total can derail this entire plan. Even if the life total is around ten, Bolas’s Citadel is usable and can provide a comeback. At this point in preview season, I am leaning toward using the legendary artifact.
The thing that excites me the most about the Bolas’s Citadel route in a true control deck is the clean battlefield that comes with it. When there aren’t any creatures to tap out for early, those turns can be used to destroy and disrupt. Although counterspells are at an all-time low, there are plenty of workable spells that fit in that slot. Cards like Thought Erasure and Tyrant’s Scorn have really stepped up, providing a solid Turn 2 play against most decks of recent months. If the win condition is going to be Bolas’s Citadel or Command the Dreadhorde in a devotion-based control deck, we will need additional help on top of the two options just listed. Luckily, there are a few spells just previewed that continue to increase the success chance of control in the upcoming Standard.
Erebos’s Intervention is one of the most exciting removal spells I have seen in a very long time. It’s hard to remember, but there was a time where Doom Blade killed every creature in the format for control users. Since that time is long gone, any spell that has universal usage makes me very excited. Erebos’s Intervention is a card that can kill nearly every creature, including the new wave of Gods that have been previewed from Theros Beyond Death. With the historic popularity of this indestructible creature type, giving a creature negative toughness is the way to go.
I had to re-read the card a couple of times to allow the life clause to truly set in. Cards in the past, like Battle at the Bridge, have been used to nuke aggressive decks, and this does it so much better. Not only is it life gain, but it is an instant, which makes it exponentially better than prior versions. I never take instant-speed removal for granted. Even though I love expensive sorceries, I will always take the lean instant if given the option.
The last mode on Erebos’s Intervention is a piece of graveyard hate, in case a “gain life, kill everything” card isn’t required. This mode will be used rarely, but it is always nice to add versatility to an already powerful spell. In a control deck that will rely on a high life total to win, there is very little chance I run less than three copies of this card to kill a Gilded Goose early, or a Cavalier of Flame late. This, along with the spells already at Dimir’s disposal, is making the strong case for a Devotion Control deck right out of the gates.
The format may not be conducive for a six-mana, life-loss win condition when the dust settles. For an alternative control strategy to be successful, a new win condition must arrive. Ashiok, Nightmare Muse isn’t enough on its own to carry true control across the finish line. The missing piece really is the removal ability, which doesn’t get the job done as well as similar planeswalkers have. It is a start, but I am hopeful there will soon be a stronger option for players that miss Teferi, Hero of Dominaria as much as I do. For those gathering cards for this eventual strategy, there is a new removal spell that fits perfectly in the mold.
Eat to Extinction is the competitor to Murderous Rider and wins in a draw-go control deck. Murderous Rider has a bit of a drawback, as it takes away two life and the creature bonus is typically not worth tapping mana for during the main phase. I was very high on Murderous Rider before, and still think it’s good in most control decks, but some would prefer a slightly more powerful effect. Eat to Extinction delivers that option with flying colors.
Exiling is going to be huge in Theros Beyond Death Standard due to the Gods that cannot be slain by “destroy” effects. Most removal spells in the last few sets have not been great and that is why control has suffered. Eat to Extinction provides users the ability to exile a planeswalker or creature, as an instant, without losing life. It does cost an additional mana, but the power level of the new Gods will make that investment well worth it.
The additional perk of essentially surveil 1 is a sight for sore eyes. I have a soft spot in my heart for any disruption that assists in hitting land drops added on. This is the reason why Thought Erasure is one of my favorite cards printed in recent years. Having power over the next draw after answering a powerful threat is a strong series. There is a chance that a card that wants to be in the graveyard finds its way with help from this ability.
If there is a control deck without devotion, Eat to Extinction will be my go-to removal spell over Murderous Rider. The double-black cost of Murderous Rider makes it a must in devotion-based control decks, but the power of the new Gods may force our hands with this choice. There is a decent chance that Eat to Extinction must be the removal spell of choice in every deck to complement Erebos’s Intervention in order to hit Gods or a planeswalker.
The one thing I am happy about is having the choice, which we have not had these last few months.