Branding in Magic is a controversial subject, tossed around by those trying to label certain content creators. Others have accused me of perpetuating a brand, from the dedication I have shown to playing control over the last twenty years to my personalized license plate (it’s Esper, by the way).
It is partially true that I have turned control into a gaming lifestyle, picking apart aggro players since the turn of the century with various sweepers. Wrath of God is an addictive card, especially how clean it was to sweep all creatures with that single card. Creatures did not have busted enters- (or leaves-) the-battlefield abilities back in the day, so control players had little difficulty taking care of business in competitive play. The raw strength of control cards then, combined with the weakness of creature-based strategies, created the perfect storm for new players to get addicted to control.
Brand or Lifestyle?
I reject the term “branding” when applied to my work over the years, since I fully embrace the lifestyle. That description fits more for folks that force the issue, embrace a certain theme to monetize, and create an empire off it. The elements of a control deck hooked me when I was just starting, and I am still in love with them. Drawing a bunch of cards, killing all the creatures, and surviving to land the epic haymaker are aspects of Magic that I seek to recreate every time I sit across from an opponent.
At 38 years old, that has not changed, and it fuels my passion to create content for the game. I have been writing for Star City Games since 2006, spreading the control gospel without any ulterior motives. Getting people pumped to play control decks is my only mission, which is why I am still writing today. Each article I write exudes the excitement that these control elements bring me. With preview season, that excitement is amplified as I get to try to construct, or improve, control creations for you all to enjoy.
Many of these new releases have directly impacted the older formats. Modern, Pioneer, Alchemy, and Historic have all seen an influx of control cards first printed in the last few years. That is astonishing on its own, since formats like Modern and Pioneer have high barriers of entry for new cards. These formats are fueled by some of the most broken spells that the game has ever seen; however, new spell design is trending in favor of control. This continues to hold true, as Streets of New Capenna has unleashed additional trilands and new Charms for many control archetypes to immediately incorporate.
It does not end there, as this beauty landed on my desk this week.
I have been on an Azorius Control tear recently, with another SCG CON Top 8 this past weekend in Dallas. Without a ton of time to test, it is my security blanket in Modern, fueled by the powerful removal of recent sets.
With Raffine’s Tower, Obscura Charm, and now Void Rend joining the Esper arsenal, it will be difficult to continue with the Azorius Control status quo. I was a full-on Esper Control fanatic prior to the release of Prismatic Ending. Having Kaya’s Guile, Fatal Push, and better sideboard cards made the splash worth it. Having access to Raffine’s Tower in Modern will open the door for Azorius Control to add a few black cards, especially those used in the mid- to late-game. I have eyed Fire // Ice as a possible inclusion due to the free access that trilands provide. Even with this access, I did not want to gamble on having mediocre red cards in my consistent control deck. Having red options is nothing like having black ones, opening the floodgates for control deck designers when Streets of New Capenna becomes legal.
A Destroy Effect in Esper?
Void Rend is a card that I would not have expected to join the greatest shard that has ever existed. The design itself feels a bit odd, since the Esper shard does not do much destroying these days. With access to white and black in its mana cost, most removal spells in the modern era of Magic send permanents to exile with regularity. I was shocked to see a destroy effect, based on the recent trend of control staples in this shard.
Still, I’m not complaining. While Void Rend does not fit the typical mold of similar spells in its class, it does present a viable removal staple for most levels of competitive play. It being used in Modern depends on Esper Control’s viability and matchup strength compared to that of Azorius Control. In the other formats, Void Rend will see competitive play as the manabase of Esper Control continues to improve. Without fetchlands in Pioneer, Historic, Alchemy, and Standard, three-color manabases for control decks were tough to justify. Azorius Control was played out of mana necessity, which is slowly being redefined as new sets assist the land pool. I am officially off Azorius Control in Standard when the new set releases, due to Void Rend and the better mana I described.
Void Rend and Vanishing Verse
Void Rend is going to be a stud in Standard, acting as the missing piece that Esper Control was missing. Having only Vanishing Verse has been a tease, since it does not hit an array of problematic permanents. There are plenty of mono-colored planeswalkers, creatures, enchantments, and artifacts; however, control cannot pay the bills with killing “most” things in a format. The viability of control in Standard depends on its ability to remove all levels of threats, which Void Rend accomplishes.
Void Rend and Vanishing Verse complement each other as the perfect removal duo. One of them can be deployed the turn before the other, providing control a clean play pattern in the early-game. Topping off this removal chain with a Doomskar or Farewell will be a game-changer. Let us hope that enough Magic players can forgive and forget the sins of Standard so that we can play these matches in-person again. MTG Arena and Magic Online (MTGO) are great, but I am a boomer who only knows paper Magic. The strength of Esper Control in Standard is enough for me to assist Wizards of the Coast (WotC) in a PR campaign to restore the image of the formerly greatest format.
Void Rend in Pioneer
Azorius Control has led Pioneer for many years. It has been the best control option for anyone playing competitive, and it is about time for that to change. The main reason boils down to the mana struggles of these formats without fetchlands, but I am confident that restriction will be lifted soon.
I played Esper Control in Pioneer, with Dig Through Time, Thoughtseize, Torrential Gearhulk, Fatal Push, and other usual control suspects, with only a few mediocre lands to tap for both colors. With Raffine’s Tower, I am abandoning Azorius Control and getting back to my roots. Void Rend will immediately get a roster spot, as a solid removal for any type of threat that is produced in Pioneer. With the assistance of Fatal Push, Vanishing Verse, and Drown in the Loch, Esper Control is in a prime position to compete for the control throne there.
Void Rend in Historic and Alchemy
Historic and Alchemy are in as state of control flux. The infancy of Alchemy and the banning of Memory Lapse in Historic have created hostile environments for control. There few effective counterspells at the two-mana slot in either format, making control’s success land squarely on removal instead. It is easier to sit back and prevent spells from existing with powerful blue interaction, but with that off the table, the removal must be very effective.
Without dipping into black, I do not see a traditional control deck leading the way in either of these formats. In Historic, the strength of Lightning Helix and Memory Lapse kept Jeskai Control afloat, but now one of those elements have left the building. Having Void Rend as an answer-all, reviving Vanishing Verse as the two-mana interaction spell, and improving the mana with Raffine’s Tower gives Esper Control a fighting chance to be the lead control archetype in these formats.
Void Rend in Legacy
The reach of Void Rend is extensive in each competitive format. I settled on Vindicate in Legacy for years, gladly tapping three mana to rid myself of any problem. That slot then changed to Council’s Judgment, another sorcery-speed removal spell to manage problematic permanents. Although Void Rend does not exile, it hits at instant speed, making it more powerful than the iconic removal of old. Not only are instants much better than sorceries, they are also the only removal spells that see play in most cases. If a removal spell falls into the sorcery column, it had better be the greatest thing since sliced bread to see the light of day in competitive play.
The strength of Void Rend does not stop with instant speed. It also cannot be countered, a clause that makes it stronger in the older formats. This may not come up much in Standard, Alchemy, or Historic, but it will in Pioneer and Modern. Destroying a nonland permanent in the control mirror, like a planeswalker, is difficult without that line of text. A popular line in the control mirror is to land a planeswalker with two mana open to protect it. Void Rend slashes through that protection, easily taking out a threat that would have ended the game otherwise.
Void will see extensive play by control fans for many years. Most of that action will be in the newer formats, where the Azorius Control competition is less fierce. I cannot wait to queue up for my first Standard tournament upon this set’s release and display the power of Esper Control, power that has remained hidden for too long.