A new Standard is upon us and my excitement level is a clean nine out of ten. For many years, it was maxed out, but it falls just short this time. The final obstacle in deck building is Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and management is sitting back, arms crossed, refusing to act, until the player base proves it cannot compete with it. This type of inaction is harmful, and I hope we get a surprise announcement on Monday before players waste time and money on preparing a deck for a format that will soon not exist.
This Tweet gained some traction the other day, due to most of the players being on the same page. Uro is another egregious error in development but has lived through bannings in hope of players finding a way to combat it on their own. The rotating format has proven that impossible, as Sultai Ramp ran the streets without breaking a sweat. Wizards of the Coast (WotC) is again going to roll the dice to protect their flagship mythic, leaning on the professionals to take a crack at this unsolvable riddle. The power built into Uro transcends formats, new or old, invalidating archetypes that try to win on the creature front with ease.
Notice my sidebar under the main Tweet, where I attempted to clear the air on my biases. Uro is not the deadliest card against control; however, my war to achieve format health is never self-serving. I was on the forefront of getting Arcum’s Astrolabe banned recently, a card that I had in every deck where it was legal. Uro is not a card that is preventing control from flourishing, but it is a card that has crushed the dreams of midrange and aggro decks for far too long. Once again, we will have a wave of enthusiasm moving into Zendikar Rising Standard, only to force fans of the game to settle for a Simic-based strategy after a month. This is unacceptable and let us all hope that an unannounced banning occurs sooner rather than later.
I will never let a single card ruin my excitement for a new Standard, especially while control is viable. The tap-out power of Azorius Control cards remains mighty, with only a few pieces rotating out. Elspeth Conquers Death and Shatter the Sky are at an all-time premium in a world filled with midrange creatures, but there is one big catch. The manabase of Azorius Control has been slammed by the loss of Hallowed Fountain, with no modal double-faced card (DFC) to take its place.
The manabase is everything for control players, which is why I have not entertained the idea for Esper Control in a very long time. If the mana is not there, I will defer to the safer option. It is always a crapshoot for control to operate smoothly as is, requiring a land drop every turn and the matching disruption to the opponent’s threats in addition. Back in my day, Wrath of God was great against everything and the games were much more consistent, but that is not the world we live in. In 2020, drawing the wrong side of your deck does not make it difficult to win – much closer to impossible. That strict caveat and the mana risks have led me to an alternative control launch that I’m very excited about.
I am very confident with this style of deck in Zendikar Rising Standard. It is a little more on the reactive side than I am used to battling with in Standard, but it has access to the black removal spells that I have missed dearly. I raved about all of these black removal spells as they were previewed and was unable to recruit them to my decks due to the strength of Azorius Control. We will make up for lost time by dropping the white completely until mana fixing is available, operating with mostly instant-speed removal once again.
It’s tough to say whether Heartless Act or Eliminate will be the better call in the new Standard. My gut is telling me Heartless Act because players do not recognize the power of Jace, Mirror Mage just yet. Putting him aside, there are not many other playable three-mana planeswalkers out there. If the threat of cheap planeswalkers is gone, then Heartless Act will replace Eliminate as the best removal spell in the two-mana slot.
Heartless Act has the feel of Doom Blade moving forward in Zendikar Rising Standard. Creatures with counters are not prevalent, making it a clean answer to nearly every creature in the format. There will always be some exceptions, such as Uro that returns to the battlefield after being removed, but they are far and few between. I look forward to handling the early onslaught of creatures with both removal spells at first, but I see myself slowly moving toward a full complement of Heartless Act soon.
The reactive gameplan of the deck does not stop at instant-speed removal. We have been spoiled by the power of Elspeth Conquers Death, allowing us to confidently tap out to decimate the opponent with removal, additional cost to their spells, and a more powerful returned threat. Without Elspeth Conquers Death, we must have a bit more early-game interaction and more multi-spell turns than we are used to.
Essence Scatter and Brazen Borrower are vital pieces to the victory puzzle for Dimir Control. The early-game cannot be won by limited interaction and the eventual Shatter the Sky crutch many have become accustomed to. Extinction Event is a great alternative to the white sweeper; however, it requires a little legwork to make it universal. Targeted specific creatures, to create a battlefield of all even or odd threats, is part of the fun that black-based control decks get to have.
Against the most aggressive decks, handling a two-drop creature with a bounce/counter/removal spell leaves the enemy with a one-drop and a three-drop if their curve is as crisp as ours. This happens often, especially with Mono-Green and Mono-Red Aggro decks. The strength of Extinction Event can exceed that of Shatter the Sky when the stars line up perfectly, or when a creature requires being exiled. I was high on this card when it was previewed and it will increase in popularity as players scramble to remove Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath from the battlefield.
In addition to Extinction Event, the cheap interaction provides ample opportunity for multiple spell use in the same turn. Landing a Jace, Mirror Mage, then having two mana open to interact, will be a powerful series in a format dominated by creatures. The goal to spot-remove multiple threats explains the eleven two-mana disruption spells that Dimir Control has. Even though Drown in the Loch is not a Turn 2 play, it easily is cast alongside another spell later in the game.
The card I am most excited about is one that I have not used much since it was released.
Brazen Borrower casts the largest net, bouncing any permanent, then applying ample pressure to the battlefield for a cheap investment. I’m excited to have the opportunity to use it, in conjunction with Shark Typhoon, to close out games more quickly than the control decks of old. Although the deck has eight planeswalkers that require the main phase, the win conditions are mostly arriving at the end of the opponent’s turn. I will miss the consistent power of Dream Trawler, but there is something special about the flash consolation package that comes with Dimir Control.
Ashiok, Nightmare Muse and Teferi, Master of Time join forces with Jace, Mirror Mage to create the dream team of Zendikar Rising Standard control planeswalkers. Losing Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils stings, but at least we have some strong options that survived. Ashiok, Nightmare Muse is one I look forward to playing again. Each mode is great and it’s finally in the control colors that we are moving into. It adds to the late-game disruption, as well as provides a steady flow of win conditions.
Teferi, Master of Time is the obvious inclusion, making a big splash in Standard prior to Zendikar Rising. All control decks, and most ramp decks, welcomed this planeswalker into their family, as it helped smooth out draws and keep a creature stuck in limbo.
Looting is one of the most undervalued aspects of the game unless you’re a control player at heart. The ability to play a bunch of removal that can be discarded for fresh cards is heavily advantageous, which is one of the biggest strengths of Teferi, Master of Time. This is the main reason I confidently play a few extra removal spells in the deck, knowing there will be high upside with little punishment.
On the topic of high upside, the manabase for Dimir Control comes front and center. The development of modal DFCs has changed the way Standard will be played for as long as they’re legal. We get to play fewer traditional lands and instead include these powerful cards. I have ranted and raved about Sea Gate Restoration like a lunatic over the last week or so, for good reason. You will notice three copies in the deck, and I cannot wait to get to work, using them to bury the opponent with card advantage, or dropping them as a land when needed. The damage downside is laughably low, making it a staple in control decks moving forward.
Sea Gate Restoration has the powerful spell reward, while Clearwater Pathway is our new mana fixer. It will not be as good as the shocklands were, but good enough to successfully operate a two-color deck. I played with the numbers to get the Castles to enter the battlefield untapped, adding seven basics, Zagoth Triome, and Fabled Passage. So far, the mana has worked fine, and with 27 lands, Sea Gate Restoration can be used to draw cards often.
The sideboard is full of Zendikar Rising cards. There are two copies of Shadows’ Verdict and four copies of Nighthawk Scavenger. Shadows’ Verdict is the perfect pair to Extinction Event when playing against a very aggressive deck, sweeping all cheap creatures and planeswalkers that are summoned. Having exile on all the Dimir Control sweepers will be a powerful trait moving forward, especially against the high number of creatures that die with a trigger or can return from the graveyard.
Nighthawk Scavenger is the sideboard card that I’m most excited to play in Dimir Control. I have always loved sneaking in a bunch of creatures in the sideboard games, taking advantage of the lack of removal left in by my opponents. This will be no different, producing a big threat against decks light on removal, except that is not its primary purpose.
Nighthawk Scavenger is a creature with lifelink, with minimal cost, that can run away with the game against aggro decks that are ill-prepared. The flexibility on this card is its biggest strength. It can block and kill anything, pressure with lifegain, or threaten decks with light removal. I’m not sure if Dimir Control is the best home for this powerful card, but I look forward to testing it out.
The rest of the sideboard contains some of the usual suspects from the past but does have a couple copies of Necromentia if Uro is around. It’s not the most exciting answer to the recursion; however, it gets the job done. Outside of being able to Duress a modal DFC out of someone’s hand, the other cards are the typical answers to control, with an Erebos’s Intervention to round out the aggro hate.
These numbers will be adjusted, and some card swaps will take place, as I run this through the gauntlet of Zendikar Rising Standard. Even with Uro not yet banned, control players will keep their chins up and continue to play the long game.