A laundry list of bannings has upended the Core Set 2021 Standard, Historic, and Modern metagames. I was comfortable in these formats, hitting opponents with countless Teferi, Time Raveler activations and living my best life, until the unthinkable happened. Admittedly, banning Teferi, Time Raveler in Standard was likely a good move for these final months, as without Growth Spiral and Wilderness Reclamation, I doubt there would be any deck that could content with Azorius Control.
Azorius Control had all the makings for being the best deck in the twilight years of Standard. It was obvious that Teferi, Time Raveler would be a dominant force, helping me understand the banning; however, I do not agree with it. There will always be a best card or deck, like Sultai Ramp is showing now. Allowing a solid control card to claim that spot for a couple of months is apparently heresy to most participants, so removing it for popularity’s sake is what I meant by “a good move.” We are not playing live Magic anytime soon and I support keeping formats fresh for online play if we possibly can. This will keep the interest high enough for the eventual return to normalcy. Control taking this giant hit, removing the best card at its disposal, will appease the masses and the game will be better for it.
Digesting the banning of Teferi, Time Raveler in Standard took me a few hours, but I’m still not over its removal in Historic. For the sake of consistency, suspending and banning are nearly identical. They can unban as easily as remove from suspension, which is the action that is needed for Teferi, Time Raveler. In a format that has a Goblin kill on Turn 4, my pet project Temur Song killing as early as Turn 3, and oppressive ramp strategies that make any control mage’s stomach turn, Teferi, Time Raveler is about as fair as it gets. The banning in Historic is borderline ridiculous and a blow big enough to remove control from permanent contention.
The amount of card advantage and speed generated by aggro decks in Historic is crushing, leaving control in an awkward spot for competitive success. Having some of the best early planeswalkers to stem the bleeding while retrieving them later with Elspeth Conquers Death was the formula for control success in Standard, Historic, and Pioneer. Without Teferi, Time Raveler, the strength of Elspeth Conquers Death has diminished and I am not confident that the same model can be executed without it.
I made a few jokes on social media about the impact Teferi, Time Raveler has had on Historic. Looking at the data and the top finishes, it is easy to see how little impact a card like that has had in this supercharged format. My hope is that management sees the clear gap in metagame health, and instead of trying to ban every quick strategy, they empower control once again. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is there and ready to take on the mission for the home team, but that early element is missing in each Azorius Control strategy I whip up. If I were a quitter, I would give in to my combo instincts until WotC came to their senses, but we all know I’m not.
When the format is looking grim, Esper Control is there to uplift the spirit. Two-color control depended on Teferi, Time Raveler for early interaction, but Esper Control has that department covered. With the help of Thought Erasure, this control deck can take the fight to the opponent early and help set up some devastating plays in the mid- and late-game. Knowledge is power and hand disruption provides that window into the opponent’s gameplan. Azorius Control could skip over the step before in Standard and Historic because Teferi, Time Raveler was that powerful. It stopped instant-speed interaction, provided sweepers with flash, made the controller’s spells untouchable, and temporarily removed problematic permanents with card advantage attached. There truly is no replacement for this type of effect in one card, so the control army must march elsewhere for now.
The mana in Esper Control is the same as it was back in old Standard and that’s perfectly fine. Hands with a shockland or a basic land are easy keeps, allowing the rest of the lands to arrive untapped. I have always been a fan of this type of manabase and not having it in the current Standard is one of the big reasons Esper Control has not been viable.
This list is close to a Dimir Control deck, with the obvious inclusion of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Absorb, Oath of Kaya, and Elspeth Conquers Death join forces with the powerful Dimir elements but can be modified at some point during Esper Control’s evolution. The only reason to splash white is Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and the manabase must accommodate the Turn 5 arrival. Due to the mana requirement, we might as well pepper in a few powerful white spells to strengthen some areas of weakness that control typically has in Historic.
Absorb is still the best three-mana counterspell we have access to. I wish that weren’t the case; however, it still feels great to nab a red spell when the life total is quickly diminishing. Hard counterspells are important in Historic and, due to the domination of Goblins, Dovin’s Veto cannot be used in the maindeck. That leaves us with Essence Scatter, Absorb, and Drown in the Loch as our instant-speed disruption to prevent spells from resolving.
The removal spell package was tough to craft and will change frequently as the metagame changes. With the addition of Heartless Act and Eliminate to the format, the strong options are plentiful. The early removal is split between those two, while Oath of Kaya still saves the day against Mono-Red Aggro, a heavily played alternative to Goblins. Both aggressive decks are obnoxious to play against and require a strong amount of early disruption with a sweeper on Turn 4 to wipe the slate clean. Shatter the Sky was the best option in the format for a while, until a blast from the past returned.
Languish is a sweeper that’s near and dear to my heart, saving my life against countless waves of red aggression years ago. It has returned in Amonkhet Remastered to perform the same task, massacring all creatures that arrived in the early-game with ease. Although it does not hit creatures with five toughness like Shatter the Sky, the mana cost is more conducive to this build of Esper Control. Having double white on Turn 4 is no easy task and has always been an issue for Esper Control. Since the archetype has historically been more Dimir-focused, cards like Kaya’s Wrath and Shatter the Sky always applied tremendous pressure to the manabase. A card like Languish is crucial to Esper Control, giving it a consistent way to wipe all creatures on Turn 4.
The drawback on Languish is the toughness clause, missing creatures with five or more. That is something that does not occur often in Historic, and when it does, the other support spells come in and clean up. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is a four-of for that very reason, hitting the battlefield to remove a large threat, even if it means certain death for the hero. Languish, or any sweeper in the current Historic, must provide survival in the early-game, and anything outside of that requirement is a bonus.
The planeswalker package may look familiar to many of you. Narset, Parter of Veils is now the best early-game planeswalker that is legal in the format. It’s the source of card advantage, as well as preventative abilities against similar decks. Teferi, Master of Time is the much weaker replacement to its Azorius version but has proven to be a decent one-of in control. It’s still too weak to lean on in any format; however, I am confident that having a single outlet for flooding is a net-positive for control decks.
Playing early planeswalkers that die is beneficial for Elspeth Conquers Death, which thrives when the graveyard has options to return. Search for Azcanta and Thought Erasure have helped that cause, providing options for Elspeth Conquers Death while assisting with land drops. I wish I could fit Frantic Inventory in here as well, but dense early disruption is required to stay alive in this lightning-fast format. When they ban something out of Goblins to take that deck down a notch, I will shave a few removal spells to make room for Frantic Inventory, but we will have to wait for that event to occur first.
The sideboard includes a freebie companion, Kaheera, the Orphanguard, due to the lack of creatures Esper Control plays in older formats. It is possible that Dream Trawler could shift to Historic, or that a fifteenth sideboard card is more important than a generic 3/2 creature, but I wanted to give it a shot before knocking it down. I have played this deck without Kaheera for a few days now and will embark on this companion adventure starting tonight. The rest of the sideboard is split between stopping very fast creatures and ramp/control strategies. The desperately needed counterspells are format regulars and the removal is proven to handle any wave of early aggression.
Esper Control wins in Historic as it won in the past, through brutal attrition and forced concession by the opponent. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria brings this about most of the time, after the opponent sees themselves decking after a dozen more excruciating turns. Shark Typhoon is the alternative win condition to this and has become a staple across the competitive formats as predicted. It’s tough to see myself playing a control deck without the assistance of this blue Decree of Justice, even in Historic when it is at its weakest point.
Once the format is repaired, as I alluded to earlier, decks like Esper Control will receive a huge boost in power level. Having the ability to play additional counterspells with a little less removal will open the floodgates for a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria takeover. Drawing a card upon the planeswalker’s arrival, untapping two lands, and having Dovin’s Veto at the ready is a simple series that gets my heart racing. I cannot wait for that to occur with higher frequency and it’s coming sooner rather than later.
Teferi, Time Raveler should never have left Historic and that mistake should be corrected. As I discussed earlier, its removal from Standard makes sense when thinking about public pressure. Teferi, Time Raveler is a heavily unpopular planeswalker, maybe one of the least popular of all time, as it nullifies blue disruption while keeping the battlefield in check. Without it, Azorius Control is weaker, but not dead in Standard.
I did not want to leave you all hanging without control in Standard, so this is what I have been cooking with in the last week. Not much has changed from its previous version, outside of desperately looking for replacements for the banned Teferi, Time Raveler. I had to get more targets for Elspeth Conquers Death in the maindeck, which prompted me to increase my Teferi, Master of Time and Dream Trawler count to two, as well as tossing a Solemn Simulacrum into the mix. I have really liked all these additions, even though the overall strength of the deck dropped a few notches after the banning.
Azorius Control has its work cut out for it in Standard with Sultai Ramp, but this version has been performing very well against it. Having four Elspeth Conquers Death in the maindeck for their heavy hitters, as well as four Narset, Parter of Veils, is a recipe for success against the leading Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath deck out there. Six protective counterspells, not counting Essence Scatter, prevent an untimely Casualties of War, or any other trick they attempt to use to clear Narset, Parter of Veils off the battlefield. When that sticks, Sultai Ramp has a very hard time getting anything going on their side of the battlefield.
This dynamic, combined with an inherent strength against aggro decks, may be enough to keep Azorius Control competitive until the big rotation in a few months.