There has not been any shortage of new sweepers in the last year. WotC crushed the dreams of control mages almost a decade ago, soft-banning the entrance of strong four-mana sweepers and two-mana removal spells. They announced caveats attached to the traditional four-cost spells that destroy all creatures on the battlefield, with a similar restriction added to targeted removal spells that cost two. Although Wrath of God and Doom Blade did not kill everything, both were very close to universal removal options in the era in which they were used.
With the new world order of control restrictions, sweepers and removal spells were lackluster for many years. There was a gem here and there; however, many of new spells printed in those categories were largely inefficient. They were still used, since control players persisted, and the options left the crew with no choice. The ship began to steer back our way when the developers released Kaya’s Wrath a couple years ago.
Kaya’s Wrath has a very restrictive mana cost, but it still added up to four in total. I did my best to play it in most Esper Control builds, even though the mana cost me wins on a regular basis. The challenge of casting Kaya’s Wrath did not deter my excitement for its existence, since the door was now open for additional sweepers to make it past the institutional barriers that were erected to nerf control long ago. After Kaya’s Wrath, Shatter the Sky fell into the lap of control players with a far less restrictive mana cost.
Shatter the Sky is about as close to a Wrath of God as it gets, with a small drawback of the opponent potentially drawing a card. This card wouldn’t see competitive play in older formats because of the superior alternatives of Supreme Verdict and Wrath of God; however, the envelope continued to get pushed close to the olden days of spell creation. The game changer was the next sweeper incarnation of Standard, that I believe receives a criminally-low number of play in competitive Magic.
Doomskar is a three-mana sweeper that should be played much more than it currently does. This isn’t just a review on a Standard-legal sweeper, but one that’s situationally stronger than Wrath of God in Historic, Pioneer, and even Modern. The additional cost on the mana base is a small price to pay to open a Turn 3 sweeper. There are reasons why I don’t play it in Modern control decks, but the main reason is the necessity of a strong blue-spell count for Force of Negation. If Supreme Verdict didn’t pitch to my Force of Will of the format, Doomskar would likely be my starter. As with Sea Gate Restoration, Doomskar is a power-level hill I’m willing to die on. The former is seeing more play with each passing tournament, even by players that called it a “seven-mana Opt”. I’m hoping that those same skeptics get onboard the Doomskar train while it’s legal in Standard, and while aggro is prominent in Historic and Pioneer. For Modern, there are superior options that cannot be swapped out at this point.
Supreme Verdict is the king of Modern sweepers. It’ll be tough to usurp it anytime soon, with the mythic Elemental Incarnation cycle being so powerful and control-leaning. Subtlety is a card that will have intense competition with Force of Negation, not for the similar effect, but for of stress it places on hand size. I would love to play all the free spells in the world without regard for of cards in hand I will have, but that’s not how competitive Magic works. Whether we are playing sixty or eighty-card decks, sacrifices will have to be made in the free-spell department. Subtlety will split time with Force of Negation, while every Azorius Control deck will run four copies of Solitude until the end of time. Anticipating these needs, Supreme Verdict is the best multicolor spell to pitch in most of scenarios. Sweepers are high risk, high reward in the maindeck of Modern control decks. They either annihilate the opponent or provide an expensive one-for-one at best in some matchups. Therefore, the number-played has decreased over the years, but it’s likely to skyrocket with the release of Modern Horizons 2.
Everything was shaping up to make Azorius Control take back the reigns from Esper Control after Modern Horizons 2 hits the shelves until a new sweeper was previewed. I’m a believer in Doomskar, but I know Supreme Verdict is where it’s at in Modern. I didn’t think it was possible that a sweeper would come out of this set to destroy the fabric of control deck building, but I was wrong.
A sweeper that puts the competition to shame.
There has not been a sweeper with a powerful mode like this in the history of the game, with the ability to switch to a removal spell in the early-game if needed. For the small price of double black, Damn takes out any target creature and it cannot be regenerated. There’s no caveat to this mode. It’s not restricted by the color, card type, or creature-type of the target, as it eradicates any problematic threat on Turn 2 with ease. Control decks in Modern have historically played a few supplemental two-mana removal spells with their full complement of Fatal Push, but those had drawbacks on what type of creatures could be destroyed. Damn ignores that history and hits any target, while giving the absurd upside of killing all creatures.
The drawback to the targeted removal mode of Damn is that it’s a sorcery. Sorcery-speed removal for one creature is something that we rarely use in Modern, unless there’s some big payoff opportunity. Damn has that mid and late-game mode that eliminates the aggro player for four mana. The same dilemma that plagues creature-based strategies happens here, where the opponent must decide if they play minimal threats that are susceptible to single-target spells or get knocked out by a sweeper on Turn 4. Damn handles business in both scenarios, taking out a single threat or heavily punishing opponents for playing multiple.
The mana cost for the sweeper mode of Damn is the same as Wrath of God, with an identical effect. All creatures on the battlefield are destroyed and cannot be regenerated, in case some hipster green players decide to resurrect Thrun, the Last Troll on us. The no regeneration clause rarely comes up, but when it does, despair overtakes the control player that falls short on clearing the battlefield. If it wasn’t Thrun, it was a Welding Jar — cards that do not see much play now but have the opportunity of returning if Supreme Verdict is the standard bearer. The four-cost of the overload on Damn makes it the perfect sweeper for Modern, with a solid home in Esper Control if the free-spell efficiency is not affected.
With enough copies of Esper Charm, Dovin’s Veto, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, the free spells can flow with relative ease in Esper Control. This build will allow Damn to take over all the sweeper responsibilities, even though Supreme Verdict has the best colors in its mana cost. It’s unlikely that Esper Control uses as many of the free spells as Azorius Control since it leans heavily on the power of Fatal Push. Solitude is one of the greatest spells control has access to in Modern’s history, but it has some competition with Fatal Push. It will be played in all control decks in some capacity; however, it will not be a four-of in Esper Control. Therefore, Damn is a slam-dunk for Modern control in the decks that can take advantage of casting it on Turn 2 and Turn 4.
Damn will change the control game dramatically. Before previews came out, Esper Control was the clear choice for control players in Modern. It had the best removal, disruption, and the life loss from the lands was mitigated by Kaya’s Guile. Those attributes will be challenged by the wave of broken control spells coming out in Modern Horizons 2, but I felt strongly about Esper Control’s chances. That feeling was solidified by Damn being previewed, but quickly dissipated after Solitude was previewed. The swings have been fierce and now there’s going to be a battle between Azorius and Esper Control for the throne.
Azorius Control will be a solid two-color deck with Supreme Verdict, Dovin’s Veto, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to pitch to either Force of Negation/Subtlety or Solitude. The deck will have four copies of Solitude and another four copies of that split the blue options. With the power of Path to Exile, Azorius Control will have a consistent removal package for the first time in its Modern history. The mana advantage of this two-color mana base is its ability to cast Counterspell on Turn 2 without unnecessary damage being taken. This is not the case with Esper Control, which will pay a price to have its lands untapped each turn.
Esper Control, with the mana base in mind, will have the more powerful disruption package. The general spells of Esper Control are better, with the icing on the cake being Damn. Having this sweeper is a game changer in Modern and the sacrifice from the mana base may be well worth the reward it provides. I’m not convinced that Esper Control is the best out of the two now, but I’m leaning slightly in its direction. I want to play all these Modern Horizons 2 cards in their full capacity; however, it depends on which control deck I start with. What I do know is the power of Damn and for those that doubt its merit, cracking jokes with my opponents taking it with an Inquisition of Kozilek, I present you this tweet that showcases its true power.