Dominaria United is now on full display. With knowledge comes power, and it is time to draft decklists with Standard rotation in mind. I am as confident as ever that Standard will return to a portion of its former glory, so this new format is especially important to me.
The archetypes that give control a difficult time are taking big losses with this rotation. I would expect control to have equal punishment; however, that is not the case. With some rotating staples, we are receiving new upgrades, and that gives me great optimism for the upcoming Standard.
The biggest losses for control come from white. Doomskar and Portable Hole have seen a resurgence in play, a trend that we would observe with rejuvenated interest in Standard. These two removal spells have seen play in older formats, since they are very powerful cards by design. This traditional dependence on white as the stock partner of blue for control will see an end with the rotation of these format staples. Replacements appear in Dominaria United, though not in that color scheme.
There are other powerful elements leaving Standard, but their impact evenly hits all archetypes. The manabases of Standard decks will lose their abundance of utility and creature-lands, creating a mundane atmosphere for topdeck mode. The only excitement comes from cards like Otawara, Soaring City, which has limitations on the number a deck can sustain. The legendary rule makes it difficult to maximize their efficiency, so prepare to play very boring lands in your upcoming Standard deck. I have become accustomed to using my lands to get me out of late-game problems, but I do not necessarily think this will be a net negative for control.
Painlands must fill the mana-fixing gap coming this September. The modal double-faced lands were amazing, and I will miss them; however, that is another aspect of rotation that all archetypes feel equally. I normally would not fret over this occurrence, except we do not have Underground River in this set. This objection comes from a place of bias, since it would not exist if I thought Azorius Control was the next step in our evolution. With all signs pointing to Dimir Control being the next big thing, I have some reservations from the upcoming difficult manabase. The white control cards being produced by Dominaria United are not up to par with the requisite power level needed to be competitive, so makeshift mana is where we are.
What’s Still Here
With Memory Deluge; Lier, Disciple of the Drowned; Duress; and The Meathook Massacre sticking around, that checks off many of the control staple boxes. These cards require medium support to succeed in a control shell, even though help is on the way. My Top 5 cards from Dominaria United can fill out a deck around these existing monsters. First, though, I wanted to give a nod to some sleepers that may still see competitive play.
Honorable Mentions: Red
The red team is bringing the heat with some cards that could make a big splash in the control world. Jaya, Fiery Negotiator; The Elder Dragon War; Temporal Firestorm; and Fires of Victory all have what it takes to help form a budding control deck in a new Standard format. The crew is led by a do-it-all planeswalker in Jaya, with heavy backup in the sweeper department. The assistance red provides control lies almost entirely with Dominaria United, and few cards that survive rotation give it any support. If Expressive Iteration were sticking around, we would be having a much different conversation.
Honorable Mentions: Blue
Some blue cards made it into my Top 5, but a few of them were a ways off. One of the most notable is Aether Channeler, which has the perfect modes to see play in Cubes everywhere for an eternity. In Standard, it is also versatile enough to possibly see competitive play. In the Lier brews I began, I have struggled to find room for other creatures. I want each spell to work with my main win condition by providing early-game assistance and late-game value when recast. There will be some exceptions; however, those must play a certain role. As good as Aether Channeler is, I do not think I will be using it in the early days of the new Standard.
The other interesting blue cards are Academy Loremaster and Ertai’s Scorn. Academy Loremaster is not great on face value, but I find it to be the most interesting card by design. Control players would love for the opponent to take their early-game turns off by drawing a card and not casting anything, while reaping the benefits on their own turns. This is great in theory, but I can imagine this card backfiring on certain off turns and being very bad in the late-game as a draw. It is still a sweet design and I hope they make something similar, but a tad more powerful.
Ertai’s Scorn is the next rendition of Cancel, and I can see it being an effective replacement for Saw It Coming. Since I am in the Lier business, I will not be using it in my initial builds of Dimir Control. It is still a decent enough card that has late-game applications when opponents are trying to get past you with multiple spells.
Just Missed It
A few cards are right outside my Top 5. The painlands are at the top of that list, as they will see immediate play across multiple archetypes. It is always awkward when a portion of the mana-fixing comes out, but others are left to fend for themselves. Although Dimir Control gets no love, many other options do.
With blue and black spells in Dominaria United, there were a handful that I will likely play, but did not make the Tier 1 list. Shadow Prophecy and Rona’s Vortex may make the initial Dimir Control deck, but are slightly weaker than those on the list.
Shadow Prophecy is a Painful Truths at instant speed, an important upgrade for Standard players. In addition to it being an instant, there are scenarios where players draw three cards while losing only two life. This is a big deal, and I foresee this card getting significant play in three-color decks.
Rona’s Vortex is another great card that I highlighted in my last article. It is an Unsummon with a removal clause, an effect I have searched long and hard for. Its biggest issue is that it cannot save Lier, which Fading Hope can do. I do not know which card will see immediate play in Dimir Control because of that drawback. A split may occur, giving some outs for Lier while having access to a great bounce/removal spell.
The Top 5
The following Top 5 will see play in my control decks, as well as those planning on jumping aboard the Lier train.
#5: The Cruelty of Gix
This enchantment is the embodiment of value, and I could not help myself. It starts with hand disruption, moves to a Grim Tutor, and ends with a Reanimate. I do not care that it is five mana, since it would serve as a back-breaking card in midrange and control matchups.
Even against decks where the initial hand disruption is not applicable, it can skip to the second mode with the read ahead ability. Going straight to a tutor is something I can get on board with. In a deck without many creatures like Dimir Control, the last ability would bring back a threat that you removed from the opponent. The card advantage that this card is capable of makes it land solidly on my Top 5 list.
Hello, old friend. I had Impulse in my inaugural control decks I played in the early 2000s, so this was a sight for sore eyes. It was refreshing to see a lack of competition in cheap card draw in Standard, since the power level has increased significantly since its last heyday. It fits the mold of a strong, early-game card draw spell, which can serve a small role before Memory Deluge arrives. I do not think this card will be revolutionary, especially after people had a taste of Expressive Iteration, but it will get the job done.
#3: Cut Down
I am still buying stock on this removal spell and think it will be the backbone of Dimir Control. The late-game spells available to us are bonkers, so I am banking on the new early-game tools to pull their weight. I acknowledged that this is not at a Fatal Push level; however, it should be able to perform good enough until the cavalry arrives. The restrictions make it shaky against creatures in the mid- and late-game. Cut Down is here to ensure we make it that far, and I think it will do just that.
#2: Drag to the Bottom
Goodbye Doomskar, hello Drag to the Bottom. This is a strong enough sweeper to give Dimir Control viability. Joined by The Meathook Massacre, I am looking forward to giving creatures -X/-X in a variety of ways. If the creatures running around begin to have five toughness or higher, Dimir Control can pack enough targeted removal to remain competitive. Sweepers have historically had drawbacks that require the other spells in the deck to back them up. Even Supreme Verdict misses indestructible creatures, while these black sweepers do not. The types of threats that the new Standard produces while define the efficacy of Drag to the Bottom. The initial format analysis leads me to believe we will be just fine.
#1: Liliana of the Veil
This was the clear winner from Dominaria United, and it was not very close. Usually, I am torn between a few great ones, but not here. Liliana is exactly what control needs and works perfectly with Lier, a creature that loves forcing everyone to discard cards. The initial builds of Dimir Control will have a heavy emphasis on maintaining a clean battlefield before her arrival. Even if a threat persists, Liliana enters and easily removes it.
Dimir Control will have a different feel from the typical control deck, with heavy creature and hand disruption as the foundation. It always feels wrong to play no counterspells, but neither Liliana nor Lier lines up well with blue disruption. The sacrifice will be worth it, and players will have a renewed respect for the power of this planeswalker. It may not see extensive play in older formats, but it will have a reign of terror while legal in Standard.