People are giving on up Standard again.
It would be intellectually dishonest to say the state of the format is healthy, seeing the same deck continue to dominate. Since rotation occurred a few months ago, it has been the Izzet Epiphany show, with very few breaks between. It was no surprise that the deck with Time Warp was going to continue to be a dominant force, but I join the masses in hoping it wasn’t to this extent. There were so many tools removed from the sets that left, exciting new options to build around from Innistrad: Crimson Vow, yet we are stuck in this unescapable void of expensive blue nonsense. I love the expensive sorceries, more than most; however, this is getting out of hand.
I wrote an opinion piece a while back, discussing the banning of Alrund’s Epiphany. My opinion has not changed since, as I am against fundamentally against the banning based on power level, but confident it will get removed on gameplay grounds. Opponents taking extra turns is not fun for new or veteran players, especially in Standard. Each time a strong variation of that effect comes out, the format seems to implode. Alrund’s Epiphany has created a powerful synergy with the blue and red cards of Standard, making all player types want to pull their hair out when they play against it. It will be banned, though I am not sure when the deed will be done. If WotC cares about Standard, a format that wore the “Most Popular” crown for over a decade, then this decision should be made immediately. In typical fumbling fashion, I expect it to come too late, and for Alchemy to become the format of choice for the digital community.
This control mage does not give up on Standard, regardless of how bad it gets. Even when armed with Cancel, the format has gameplay that I yearn to experience on a regular basis. Modern is currently my favorite format (outside of some blue-based Commander), but I will continue to work on Standard for those still listening. The SCG Invitational Top 8 was not that long ago for me, where I narrowly lost in the Top 4. That Dimir Control deck had some issues that needed fixing then and I have done my best to update it to be competitive in the current metagame. I shifted most of the numbers, to give a good shot against Izzet Epiphany, while handling the ever-present aggro decks. It has been strong, but the outlandish success of Izzet Epiphany is forcing all control players to become one dimensional.
The days of planeswalkers defended by sweepers are over. Sorin the Mirthless is one of the best designed planeswalkers in recent memory and will see very little play in the current metagame. Outside of the Izzet Epiphany matches, Sorin has been a breath of fresh air, having wide application in most situations. It produces a life-gaining creature with evasion, gains card advantage, enters the battlefield with high loyalty, and has a devastating ultimate, all for four-mana. Once they ban Alrund’s Epiphany, you will see all black-based decks incorporating Sorin. In the meantime, it was a necessary act to cut him, along with the sweepers I had in the maindeck.
Shadows’ Verdict is another powerful effect that prevents you from being overrun by aggressive decks. The downside is that it has barely any text against a deck that represents 60-80% of each Top 8 in the competitive world. I was convinced that three maindeck sweepers were the right call in a normal world with a diverse metagame, but that’s not the current reality. The only sweeper that remains is The Meathook Massacre, which puts in work against each competitive deck out there. Not only does it clean up against aggro decks, but it can also remove Lier, Disciple of the Drowned, where Shadows’ Verdict falls short. The Meathook Massacre also provides an outlet for lifegain in Dimir Control, filling a void that was left when Sorin and The Celestus where removed. It’s hard to find weapons that can be used against the obvious best deck of the format, while saving your life against a swarm of cheap creatures. I was originally hesitant on including it in this style deck since the core depends on instants and sorceries. It turns out that Lier and Hullbreak Horror do not need much help to be great, so The Meathook Massacre is an auto-include from here on out.
The maindeck went through a few other touchups that have made a huge difference in defeating Izzet Epiphany. The first addition was including Port of Karfell, to give Dimir Control a rebuy for one of its game-ending creatures. Both Lier and Hullbreak Horror are unbeatable if left alone for a short amount of time, but both come with a high mana cost. My original Dimir Control lists had five of these combined creatures and that number was too high. The initial thought process was having enough threat density to run them onto the battlefield with confidence; however, the gameplay proved to be different. These creatures cost too much and require an even larger investment, if you plan on keeping them alive the turn they hit the battlefield. Port of Karfell gives an out in the late-game, allowing more aggressive lines in the mid-game.
I have flip-flopped on the amount of discard in Dimir Control. Duress and Go Blank are not the strongest cards against fast decks, but are necessary to defeat Izzet Epiphany. I was down to one copy of Go Blank in the maindeck, upped it to two in my previous Dimir Control breakdown, and now it’s back up to three. With the number of Izzet Epiphany decks dominating the top tables, it’s likely that the number will eventually go back to four. For those battling on MTG Arena, there are still enough decks to warrant the number you see on the decklist. Everyone loves a good Mind Rot, but it can be an embarrassing card to hold when the opponent has cast nothing by one-drops.
Duress is weaker in some matchups than others, but it’s always usable. There aren’t many decks in the format that win without any noncreature spells, making Duress a maindeck staple. A deck like Mono-Green Aggro❄ may lead you to believe discard is worthless; however, the deck’s only scary threats are noncreature spells. I rarely sideboard out any copies of Duress and lean on it as one of the staples of black-based control. Lier depends on hand disruption to clear the way and make the battlefield a safe place to hang out, since counterspells cannot do the trick.
The biggest maindeck change was the shedding of removal for more copies of Consider. I haven’t been the biggest advocate of Consider in Standard, though I do appreciate it in older formats. In Standard, I felt that there were better outlets for card draw and a lack of urgency to do anything on Turn 1. Control decks in this format comfortable run 28 land, counting cards like Jwari Disruption as part of the mana team. With a land-count this large, it’s much more difficult to miss land drops, making cards like Consider a necessity of the past. That reality held true until the release of Hullbreak Horror, who changed the control game completely.
Hullbreak Horror depends on cheap spells to assert its dominance in the late-game. With cards like Consider, Hullbreak Horror is unstoppable the moment it enters the battlefield. Having the ability to protect it with a simple cantrip is great, but it gets much worse for the opponent. Izzet Epiphany cannot counter an opposing Hullbreak Horror and each spell that comes after has a free Divide by Zero attached. The game gets completely out of reach for any opponent, but Hullbreak Horror is designed to assist Dimir Control in defeating Izzet Epiphany with regularity.
The win condition combo of Lier and Hullbreak Horror, with a host of discard and card draw spells, even the playing field against Izzet Epiphany. It’s very difficult to forge a deck that defeats the current best deck with ease, without completely abandoning the aggro matchup. Dimir Control will always be strong against Mono-Green, a deck I went 4-0 against at the SCG Invitational, even with the anti-control modifications made. The maindeck is about as stacked as we can make it, leaving the sideboard to provide the edge we need to defeat Izzet Epiphany.
The days of Malevolent Hermit were over after the SCG Invitational for me, ushering in the Suspicious Stowaway show. Suspicious Stowaway is one of the best possible sideboard cards printed for the blue mirror in recent history, immediately taking over in the early-game if left alone. Since Izzet Epiphany and other blue mirrors cut removal, this scenario often plays out perfectly. My older versions of Dimir Control split between the different two-drops, but it’s time to max out the strongest answer we have access to. As Suspicious Stowaway becomes a four-of, Malevolent Hermit and Jacob Hauken, Inspector still make the team as one-ofs. That gives Dimir Control six two-drops, each of which have the capability of taking over the game against Izzet Epiphany. The difference between Suspicious Stowaway and its competition is it needs no backup spells to be successful, turning into a Shadowmage Infiltrator the turn after it enters the battlefield. The only spell to assist against Izzet Epiphany from the sideboard is the fourth copy of Go Blank. This sideboard package is strong enough to tilt the scale in our favor, against the top dog of the format.
The rest of the sideboard provides enough anti-aggro cards to stay competitive, especially with the resurgence of Mono-Black Zombies❄. That deck, along with the few Mono-White Aggro❄ players out there, depend on a wide-spread attack that can only be thwarted with sweepers. Two copies of Shadows’ Verdict, with a third copy of The Meathook Massacre, make the sideboard games swing wildly back to the control camp in those matchups. While the maindeck and the creatures in the sideboard are built to defeat Izzet Epiphany, the rest of the sideboard gives hope against the few brave aggro souls out there. Parasitic Grasp is still one of my favorite removal spells I wish I could play more of. Even with a dedicated aggro base, it’s hard to justify this type of removal spell with so few applicable targets. It’s strong enough to warrant one spot, to take down any creature of smaller stature. The flex removal spell in the sideboard is a copy of Hero’s Downfall. I’m playing a Soul Shatter in the maindeck, had a second copy in the sideboard, but I wanted some flexibility against certain matchups. Each card performs the same task with one targeting and the other prompting a sacrifice. The superior effect is dependent on the matchup, making the split the correct call.
Dimir Control can remain competitive until the ultimate banning of Alrund’s Epiphany occurs. After that, it will be a beautiful format, run by giant blue creatures and sweet spells, just as Richard Garfield intended.