The Eight Most Powerful Control Cards To Build Around In Ikoria Standard

Shaheen Soorani lays out the top control cards in Ikoria Standard and uses them to find the format’s most powerful archetype!

Inspired Ultimatum
Inspired Ultimatum, illustrated by Tyler Jacobson

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With all the headaches companions bring, the substance of Ikoria Standard remains strong. The options that we must choose from are plentiful and making a competitive control deck is not difficult. We have a four-mana sweeper that has little drawback and wipes out most threats. That alone is a feat, considering the promise from Wizards of the Coast (WotC) that five mana is the new norm. Shatter the Sky has given me hope that a brighter horizon is in control’s future and the support spells that follow also illuminate that path.

I love deckbuilding. The art and process behind it is fascinating, and when the product is coming together, there’s a unique associated rush. The feeling is not much different than what most players get when they pick up a new deck or read about it for the first time. Learning the ins and outs, casting new spells, and observing fresh card synergies is what the game is all about. This stretches from competitive play to a well-crafted Commander deck, providing another layer to the excitement that Magic brings us all.

I have brought you all Magic content for almost fifteen years now and the motivation to do so stems from my love of deckbuilding. Previous articles I have written on my thought processes paint the picture of the old expensive sorcery master, dwelling in a poorly lit basement, trying to piece together the best disruption, card draw, and win condition to rule each competitive format.

It is no different here, in the format of Ikoria Standard that is in complete disarray. I refuse to accept that the best control decks can’t shine through the darkness of companions, so I continue to hit the lab, attempting to put together a coalition of control cards to take down the tyrants. In the weeks before or after a new format, there’s mass experimentation with all kinds of card combinations. Once a format is settled, like the current one we’re in with Ikoria, there are clear front-runners on power level that I choose from.

Regardless of how much I like a card — Lochmere Serpent for example — I will not build around it unless it matches or exceeds the power level of its competitors. I included one copy of the Dimir Flash monstrosity in my early Dimir Control deck, but the metagame has pushed that sweet win condition back to the sideline.

These are truths we have to accept, and it does not mean copying a made deck and moving on. This hurdle simply forces us to examine the format, rank the power level of cards, or card combinations, and build around the best of them. The shifting metagame may change the order of strength. If Lurrus Rakdos Sacrifice and Obosh Mono-Red Aggro saturate the format instead of Yorion Jeskai Fires, then an aggro-defeating strategy should be chosen. This occurs, even if the power level is considerably weaker.

This list, as of this article’s date, contains the best control cards to build a deck around.

8. Ikoria’s Black Removal

Extinction Event Heartless Act

There is no doubt in my mind that the best removal to hit Standard in years came from Ikoria. I could write dozens of sonnets, praising Heartless Act as the revolutionary return of Doom Blade, but I think you all have heard enough of my love for this removal spell. There are very few creatures it does not dispatch, and the mana cost is perfect.

Unfortunately for Play Design’s hatred of control, their design space for black removal is very limited. Since Murder is three mana at common and kills everything, eventually a two-mana option had to arrive. I was surprised that the powers that be did not tack on a double-black cost, to at least have me consider steering clear. At the mana cost and the minor draw-back, Heartless Act is a great choice to build around under normal circumstances. In a world with each competitive deck containing a free eighth card in their hand, one that cannot be disrupted until cast, answers suffer.

Extinction Event is in a league of its own, providing opportunities for card advantage with an exile bonus. The moment this card was previewed I knew it would be an all-star, but the obvious drawback looms over it and Heartless Act. They are both black spells. The win conditions and companion-based strength of black in Ikoria Standard is low for control, making it tough to justify building around them. Using these black removal spells in a splash works; however, the mana is also restrictive. Understanding that blue is a requisite color of control, that leaves us only a few options:

  • Yorion Sultai Control
  • Yorion Dimir Control
  • Yorion Esper Control (with bad mana)

Many of you have seen my initial Dimir and Sultai Control lists, with a hope to make the black removal of Ikoria work. Both options are still relevant, but the metagame of Ikoria Standard is not the friendliest to them. The existence of Yorion, Sky Nomad makes us have to re-evaluate the power level of our control options in Ikoria Standard. The seemingly simple spot removal on threats as they come does not cut it. With a banning announcement looming, I still have my black removal on the list of hopefuls to return to us. In the meantime, we must fight fire with fire, power with power.

7. Narset of the Ancient Way and Inspired Ultimatum

Narset of the Ancient Way Inspired Ultimatum

The two Jeskai bombs out of Ikoria have really impressed me. Although they follow the traditional design of a decent four-mana planeswalker and a killer seven-mana sorcery, it has been a while since either were in Standard. Cruel Ultimatum of the past was devastatingly powerful, ending the game on the spot in most cases. Although Inspired Ultimatum is not near that on the power-level spectrum, it has had a similar effect.

Inspired Ultimatum is close to a seven-for-one, gaining a giant chunk of life, killing a large target, and drawing five cards. This type of production from one card puts it in immediate contention as the flagbearer for Ikoria Standard control decks. I have discussed the difficult mana requirement in the past, but luckily it has not been as difficult as I initially thought. The Triomes have been a perfect solution for complex mana woes, allowing cards like this to seamlessly enter its on-color, control home. With mana not being an issue, the effect is an absolute slam dunk.

Narset of the Ancient Way has also outperformed in competitive play, carrying the torch for the Turn 4 play of control decks. It’s not always necessary to Shatter the Sky on curve in this metagame, making Narset of the Ancient Way a perfect alternative. Instead of facing many creatures, the one threat is removed easily by the planeswalker, or an open battlefield leaves it uncontested. The reason why this pair is low on the list is that they can only lead to the following decks:

  • Yorion Jeskai Control
  • Yorion Jeskai Fires

If you aren’t in love with the surrounding cast of the Jeskai family, this restrictive pair is not for you. The power level of each of these cards is substantial, even in a format where companions rule. I’m still happily running this Jeskai Control deck, that effectively harnesses the power of these two powerful spells.

6. Dream Trawler

Dream Trawler

Dream Trawler is in a league of its own as a card to build around. It’s on the decline currently due to the broken synergies that Fires of Invention causes, but it’s temporary. Dream Trawler is still in decks that can support the mana, arriving as a must-answer in the late-game. This win condition joins the elite company of Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath as the carriers of aggro destruction, making these blitz strategies a thing of Tier 2.

Currently, the slower decks mop the floor with their aggressive enemies. I try not to let my bias hide the fact that Standard is a bit broken currently and that it’s important that aggro, midrange, and control decks can tango for that top spot. With a win condition like Dream Trawler, I feel safe against any aggro wave upon the horizon, companion-ridden or otherwise.

The typical two-color restriction comes with Dream Trawler, but the options are wide open. This is due to the strength of Azorius Control without a third color needed. Building around this win condition could lead you to:

  • Yorion Azorius Control
  • Yorion Jeskai Control
  • Yorion Bant Ramp
  • Yorion Bant Control

All these decks are competitive and utilize the power of this win condition. The lifegain, card advantage, resiliency, and evasion of Dream Trawler are unmatched in Ikoria Standard, making it a centerpiece of deck construction moving forward.

5. Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

Simic has been an issue in Standard for the last year. The cards are too powerful and not in a generic evaluative way. There’s no excuse for the terror green brought us at the hands of Veil of Summer and Oko, Thief of Crowns. Although Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is not bannable, it is a card that cancels whole archetypes by its very existence.

The oppressive nature of Uro comes from its cheap mana cost. By producing advantage at three mana and being permanent at four, most aggro opponents beg for Dream Trawler over Uro. In the late-game, it has the same attributes that attract us to Dream Trawler, as well as the simplicity required to add it to one of the following decks:

  • Yorion Bant Ramp
  • Yorion Bant Control
  • Yorion Sultai Control

It takes a giant push in power level to get me to sleeve up a Forest and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath has me do it with excitement.

4. The Azorius Crew

Teferi, Time Raveler Narset, Parter of Veils Elspeth Conquers Death

It should concern you that the most powerful motley crew of control friends is this far down the power level tree. This could only mean that they have moved to a support role, to bolster the control cards higher up on the list. Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils have proven themselves irreplaceable, but not dominate on their own. In a vacuum, these three emanate power like no others. In the current Ikoria Standard, they serve to embolden cards that the developers may regret ever printing.

To take full advantage of control’s power level in Ikoria Standard, it’s tough for me to play a deck that doesn’t have these three cards. Elspeth Conquers Death is the newest of the crew, reliably removing the biggest offenders of the format on Turn 5. The reason why the three-mana planeswalkers join it are from the final stage of the enchantment’s life. Bringing back a threat from the graveyard makes Elspeth Conquers Death as great as it is and requires us to play the best early-game planeswalkers at our disposal. Luckily for us, there are no better than Teferi and Narset. This package leads us to the same decks as Dream Trawler does, with an added Fires of Invention bonus:

  • Yorion Jeskai Lukka
  • Yorion Azorius Control
  • Yorion Jeskai Control
  • Yorion Bant Ramp
  • Yorion Bant Control

3. New Friends

Agent of Treachery Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast

Agent of Treachery jumped about 50 spots with the assistance of Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast. This is a classic puzzle in which we need to guess which card broke which. Without Agent of Treachery, Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast would be currently worthless. The keyword there is currently because this planeswalker is going to be with us for a long time. By the time Agent of Treachery rotates, there may be some other expensive haymaker ready to ruin your day on Turn 4.

Agent of Treachery and Lukka create our new combo deck of Ikoria Standard. Although it does not win the game on the spot, it does make it very difficult for any opponent to overcome losing their land that early in the game. In combination with Yorion, that disadvantage compounds, making the power level of this duo through the roof. The deck design space for this pair is small, leaving you with these options:

  • Yorion Jeskai Lukka
  • Yorion Jeskai Control

2. Yorion, Sky Nomad

Yorion, Sky Nomad

You may have noticed that every deck that I am currently playing has Yorion in it. That is the world we live in and I cannot ignore the power level of a free, synergy-driven eighth card in my opening hand. The cost of adding twenty more cards to a control deck is minimal, compared to other decks attempting the same.

There are many cantrips and early-game card draw spells that were previously excluded, but now give us the necessary dig to hit required control pieces in an 80-card deck. Everyone who has played Ikoria Standard in the last few weeks on Magic Arena know Yorion well, as it’s all over the current metagame. There isn’t a control deck out there that has not added permanents that greatly benefit from its enter the battlefield effect, making it the ultimate threat starting on Turn 5. It’s another piece that has made Agent of Treachery intolerable for opponents that face it and I find it difficult to describe its power level without calling for its ban. I love Yorion, but for the good of the format, I do not see how it can remain with us.

1. Fires of Invention

Fires of Invention

The straw that broke the camel’s back is Fires of Invention. It took a while for this card to enter the realm of problematic. All it took was a guaranteed companion, one that cannot be interacted with while out of the game, to push this enchantment to the top of the power level meter. It saddens me to see Magic, Standard specifically, devolve into this tap-out, broken combo nightmare. Fires of Invention is the vessel of this mayhem, even more so than the companions that many players are rallying against.

Free spells are bad for Magic and the amount of times they have caused formats to fail is concerning. At first, the Cavaliers were the most broken things that could be summoned the turn after Fires of Invention resolved. Now with Ikoria, multiple lands can be stolen with fierce consistency, or a battlefield state that cannot be overcome by opposing fair-power-level forces. The talk of the town will still be companions, but I think it’s fair to say that the cat is out of the bag here. In terms of power level, I will likely play the following deck to take full advantage of what Ikoria Standard has to offer:

  • Yorion Jeskai Lukka

I hope this Top 8 list of the most powerful control cards to build around in Ikoria Standard is as useful to you all as it has been for me. Companions may be gone soon, and this list allows me to examine the most powerful cards and interactions that a control player can utilize to be successful. As it currently stands, Yorion and Fires of Invention stand on top, but you can see there are other options as the format changes.

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