Playing Control Decks In New Standard

Before you understand how to control a format, you have to understand the tools you have to work with! Platinum Pro Andrew Brown throws the control kids a bone for #SCGINDY!

#SCGINDY October 1-2!

Kaladesh Standard is right around the corner. Like many other control mages, I am trying to craft the optimal control deck. While there are tons of new tools for control, there are also more problems to answer. Finding how to line up your answers with your opponents’ threats is the best avenue to victory.

I have always been a traditional “lockout” control player. My favorite decks are very reactive and normally try and win with large, resilient end-game threats like Pearl Lake Ancient or Aetherling.

Times have change, and over the last few Standard formats, that style of control deck has all but disappeared. As control players, we have to adapt to the new environment that Wizards has crafted for us. There are not as many catch-all answers, spell-based card advantage is weak, and the threats hit harder and faster.

Good control deckbuilding is about stopping your opponent from winning and understanding how to do that most effectively. Today I’m going to analyze the new threats, their eventual answers, and the new role players in Kaladesh.


The newest threats on the block are the newest card subtype in Magic: Vehicles. Vehicles pose a difficult problem for any control deck. They invalidate all sorcery-speed removal and essentially give all of your opponents’ creatures haste. This makes it much more difficult to establish a lock on the game, making most of their late-game draws live. If Vehicles are dominant in the format, it should skew most removal packages to be instant-based.

The two best vehicles in the format are Smuggler’s Copter and Fleetwheel Cruiser. Both of these cards offer unique angles to attack control decks. Smuggler’s Copter allows your opponent to filter through most of their ineffective cards and fly over any potential ground blockers. Fleetwheel Cruiser hits you hard and fast. Inexpensive Crew costs make them easy to activate even after a battlefield wipe.

It is most unfortunate that these two threats are extremely hostile to planeswalkers. In the absence of good card draw spells, we have had to rely on planeswalkers to establish reliable card advantage. Planeswalkers normally defend themselves by making a blocker or somehow removing or disabling an opposing creature. The two Vehicles can either fly or trample over blockers, and since planeswalkers can only be activated at sorcery speed, the Vehicles can’t be targeted by planeswalker abilities that would target creatures.

With these factors in mind, skewing your deck to have more instant-speed removal can put a wrench in your opponent’s Vehicle strategy. It is important for the instant-speed removal to cost two so you can answer Smuggler’s Copter immediately and trade up on mana with Fleetwheel Cruiser. The best options available are Immolating Glare, Grasp of Darkness, Aether Meltdown, and Harnessed Lightning.

In the last Standard format, aggressive decks were not common and one-drops in particular did not really exist. With Dromoka’s Command and Collected Company rotating and with Kaladesh ushering in a wealth of powerful one-drops, aggressive decks will return. The Boros aggressive artifact decks have access to Inventor’s Apprentice, Toolcraft Exemplar, and Thraben Inspector. Having access to twelve one-drops makes their early battlefield presence much more reliable. It is now possible for aggressive decks to go under you before you are able to cast Fumigate.

The final looming threats on the horizon are Aetherworks Marvel and Aetherflux Reservoir. It has been a long time in Standard since we have seen a dedicated combo deck, but these cards present that possibility. Aetherworks Marvel can put in Emrakul, the Promised End or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and Aetherflux Reservoir can storm off and deal 50 damage. The more removal you put in your deck, the weaker it becomes to these strategies. Traditionally the best answers for these kinds of cards are counterspells, but since Kaladesh has so many new artifacts, I would advocate potentially going as far as to play maindeck Fragmentize.

The Answers

With Languish rotating, the future of battlefield sweepers looked very bleak. Planar Outburst and Descend upon the Sinful are fine but uninspiring. When Fumigate was spoiled, I was flush with new ideas and possibilities. The life buffer that this card provides can easily put you out of range of your opponent’s reach spells.

Most aggressive decks will rely on Smuggler’s Copter and Fiery Temper to finish the game. However, Fumigate allows you to sweep up the Pia Nalaars, Thraben Inspectors, and Inventor’s Apprentices while simultaneously building a life buffer. I expect Fumigate to be the go-to sweeper for majority of the Kaladesh Standard format.

The counterspells in the previous format were not exactly all-stars, but Revolutionary Rebuff has the potential to be a role-player moving forward. While this is not exactly on the power level of Mana Leak, costing only two mana is the biggest draw to this card. It is completely context-dependent, but if the metagame shifts towards having fewer artifacts, then it can be an excellent call. In the opening weeks of Kaladesh Standard, Revolutionary Rebuff can prey on the decks that survived rotation and are not utilizing many artifacts.

Lightning Strike and Searing Spear have long left Standard, but now we have access to Harnessed Lightning. It fills a role similar to Grasp of Darkness but it has a much less restrictive mana cost. Since most of the format will be defined by Smuggler’s Copter, having an instant-speed removal spell on two is going to be a nearly mandatory deck-building cost. Harnessed Lightning is a clean answer to Smuggler’s Copter and offers some utility if you deck can effectively use Energy.

Essence Extraction is the next card I am excited to get my hands on. It is just a three-mana Lightning Helix, but three is going to be the magic number for toughness in the coming format. Smuggler’s Copter and Fleetwheel Cruiser both have three toughness and are easily removed by Essence Extraction. The tempo hit of gaining three life against the aggressively slanted decks is nearly backbreaking. It will often trade for two cards by removing a threat and negating the three damage from Incendiary Flow or Fiery Temper.

The most underrated new removal spell is Aether Meltdown. Blue classically has had access to power reduction, but Aether Meltdown is more than that. Aether Meltdown is another answer to Smuggler’s Copter at instant speed. The bonus of getting two Energy can’t be ignored either. It can fuel your Harnessed Lightning to shoot down a Gearhulk or provide crucial Energy to cast spells with Aether Hub.

The last removal spell I will touch on is Unlicensed Disintegration. While it is normally just a Murder, it is much easier to cast than Murder in most three-color control decks. Since the Battle for Zendikar and Shadows over Innistrad two-color lands are not reliable in the early-game, many decks will need to play four copies of Evolving Wilds. This makes it easier to cast Unlicensed Disintegration over Murder on turn 3. The most logical way to trigger the three-damage bonus is with Noxious Gearhulk or Prophetic Prism. It is important to note that the three damage can hit opposing planeswalkers.

The Role-Players

Chandra, Torch of Defiance is a difficult card to process, with four abilities that do unique things.

It is clear that she is powerful, and a shell that utilizes all of her abilities will be the best way for her to shine. Pairing her with Harnessed Lightning is an easy way to keep her ticking up to her ultimate while controlling the battlefield. I can also see Chandra being the breaker in many control mirrors. Since most of the good card advantage is planeswalker-based, getting card advantage while mitigating opposing loyalty counters is powerful. I don’t expect Chandra, Torch of Defiance to be strong Week 1, but she will be a force to be reckoned with once we learn how to play with her.

Dovin Baan reminds me a lot of Jace, Architect of Thought. Their base abilities are similar and pose problems for most aggressive strategies. However, Dovin Baan is better than Jace, Architect of Thought at dealing with aggressive decks. His -1 and +1 abilities can both be excellent buffers to resolve a crucial Fumigate. Shutting down activated abilities can hamper popular creatures such as Servant of the Conduit and Eldrazi Displacer. Dovin Baan is the best way to bridge into a turn 5 Fumigate.

While all of the non-green Gearhulks seem to be serviceable in most control shells, Noxious Gearhulk stands out over the rest. Since maintaining a steady flow of card advantage is difficult in a fast format, Noxious Gearhulk can act as an immediate three-for-one. I can’t stress how important the life you gain is against decks that are trying to burn you out. My favorite thing about this card is its powerful synergy with Liliana, the Last Hope. Having access to a steady stream of Noxious Gearhulks can lock out any midrange strategy.

Another card that interests me is Dynavolt Tower. Typically, most control decks are chock-full of instants and sorceries. Dynavolt Tower can fit perfectly in these decks as a means of controlling the battlefield or even as a win condition. There are also many incidental Energy cards that easily fit into these decks, such as Glimmer of Genius and Harnessed Lightning. Dynavolt Tower can also be an excellent sideboard card if your opponent’s deck is hostile to your main win condition.

The final card I want to highlight is Deadlock Trap. Many might have scrolled over this card after the full card image gallery came out; however, I see a lot of potential in the Energy-based control cards. It is easy to amass Energy and Deadlock Trap only costs one to activate. Being able to pour your resources into any card makes Energy an attractive mechanic for control decks. The longer the game goes on, the more you can appropriately allocate resources.

This weekend at #SCGINDY is sure to be the Wild West. So far, Kaladesh Standard has been one of the most fun and exciting formats to test and most of its secrets are still undiscovered. I look forward to seeing all the awesome decks that are sure to come out of #SCGINDY, and good luck to all my control mages!

#SCGINDY October 1-2!