27 Jan 2011

Gaining Control

Hello and welcome to the second installation of my Magic the Gathering deck type articles.

Last time, I looked at ‘aggro’ decks and how they seek to win the game as quickly as possible by utilizing cheap and efficient creatures supported by direct damage spells.

Today I’m going to discuss control decks, which have a different approach to winning than aggressive decks.

A control deck seeks to draw the game out by denying your opponent their intended strategy. This is normally done through the use of counter spells or creature removal spells such as Condemn or Doom Blade. Control decks can struggle in the early stages of a game but normally stabilize by using cards such as Day of Judgement to wipe the board of all creatures, thus buying the control player more time.

The important concept to remember when playing a control deck is what to allow your opponent to play. Allowing True Conviction, for example, to resolve is fine provided your opponent has no creatures which will benefit from its effect. This style of play is known as a ‘permission’ deck.

Due to the nature of control, blue is the colour most suited for this style of play. Blue offers card drawing and counter spells along with numerous ‘instants’ that can be played on your opponents turn to disrupt their plans.

Although blue is fundamental in the construction of a control deck it normally doesn’t provide enough power by itself to finish off your opponent.

Recently, a debate has arisen as to which colour blue should be paired with in standard; white or black.

White offers more defensive spells that stall your opponent along with cards that gain you life thus providing more time for you to establish control. Wall of Omens, for example, provides a cheap early blocker that also draws you a card.

White can also clear the battlefield with Day of Judgment or just lock down individual creatures with cards such as Oust and Pacifism.

Black, on the other hand, isn’t as passive as White. Whereas White is more defensive and reactive, Black can use discard spells to forcefully rip spells from your opponents’ hand. Cards like Duress and Inquisition of Kozilek can disrupt the early game which, once again, should buy the control player enough time to dominate the game.

Black also has more creature removal than White, with Doom Blade and Consuming Vapours being notable examples.

This doesn’t mean to say that a control deck should be multi-coloured. Magic has such a vast amount of cards that any combination can be constructed.

Having spoken about the early to mid-game I should mention how a control deck wins. There are three main ways to win with a control deck:

1) Break your opponents will to continue. By countering their powerful spells or destroying all of their creatures, your opponent may concede as their strategy has been disrupted.

2) Use of a ‘finisher’. Once the control player has stabilized and gained the initiative, they can cast spells that will put their opponent on the back foot. A good example of ‘finishers’ are the current series of Titans from 2011.

3) Milling. This type of deck seeks to win by emptying your opponent’s library of cards. If your opponent can’t draw a card from their library they lose. Notable milling cards are Hedron Crab, Tome Scour and Traumatize.

Whatever style of control deck you opt for always remember to plan ahead and anticipate what your opponent can do. Control decks are reactive in the opening stages of a game so it’s very much a war of attrition. Only once your slower but more powerful spells gain you the initiative will you also gain victory on the battlefield.

John of Team Gambit

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