19 Oct 2012

Blog Standard: In search of Control

Return to Ravnica has seen Standard play at recent FNMs at Kid's Dreams. With the format full of Aggro decks I decided to play Control. I'm a Control player at heart. I believe playing Control makes the game more interesting than just churning out creatures every turn. Control gives you options and adds variance to a game.

So having bought a box of boosters I went home to see what I could construct. About an hour before the tournament I decided to throw together a W/U/R control deck. My reasons for this were simple: Zombies would be present as would G/W aggro/populate decks. I knew I'd need Terminus for both of these decks along with other support cards and a traditional control deck finisher which ended up being Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius.  

It's hard to Mizzet
I went 2-1 against Darren and a W/U mid-range deck comprising St.Traft, Tamiyo and the new Detention Sphere. Then I went 1-0 against Robert's Reanimator deck managing to scrape a win off a miracled Bonfire of the Damned while being on two life. The second game went to extra turns and despite sending Tamiyo ultimate, I couldn't provide the finishing blow.
Next was Michael Pikel and B/R Vampires in which I went 2-0. Mike was unlucky in the first game in that he didn't get the second black mana source he needed to get his Nighthawks into play and conceded when I played Tamiyo and tapped down his only black source. The second game was won mainly through a double board wipe of Terminus and Bonfire of the Damned. Hypersonic Dragon  allowed me cast Devil's Play at the end of Mike's turn which I then flashbacked on my turn for the win.
Then was Michael Moore and U/B Zombies. A timely Terminus removed the Zombies without any damage from Blood Artist followed by a turn five Tamiyo, the Moon Sage which ticked up to eight loyalty and led Michael to concede. Michael resurrected his Zombies in game two with an aggressive start forcing me to cast Supreme Verdict which still led to me losing 10 life due to Blood Artist plus another two when Geralf's Messenger returned to the board with Undying. Game three was decided by a Terminus followed by Michael conceding after drawing lands for straight turns.    
It was nice to win an FNM after an absence but the following week was the complete opposite. I had modified the deck to try and provide smoother draws by removing the counter spells from the week before - I wish I hadn't. The problem with counters at the moment is a Creature heavy format backed up with Cavern of Souls. Decks I played running Cavern made my Counter Spells dead in my hand so I decided to swap them out.
Going from first to 19th in an FNM was a bit disheartening but I've learnt from it. I still want to play control but I'm not sure what form to play: Bant, Esper or Grixis?       
Control also gives you access to an array of powerful Planeswalkers.

I'm yet to construct an opinion 
Jace's +1 is nice as it helps stem the tide of damage in a format dominated by Tokens and Zombies but for four mana, I'd rather just Supreme Verdict and be done with it - provided it's W/U control.
His -2 ability is probably his best; a mini Fact or Fiction which digs through your library and lets your opponent think they have some power. Ultimately you get to decide what you need based on what you already have. His ultimate is obviously a game ender; enough said. *

Tamiyo on the other hand is an incredible control Planeswalker and the two copies I have will remain in whatever deck I decide to play. As well as my three copies of Snapcaster Mage.

Bant Control 


Bant Control provides a traditional W/U control with the ramp capability of Green. A turn two Farseek leads to a turn three Jace or Supreme Verdict and a turn four Tamiyo. It also helps cast Terminus a turn earlier if you end up with one you can't miracle. Farseek can also search for the Return to Ravnica Shocklands as they contain basic land types. Ramping makes an Entreat the Angels in your hand easier to cast and provides more Angels if you miracle it.
Green also offers Thragtusk which helps keep you in the game with the five lifegain. Even if you wipe the board you still end up with a 3/3 Beast.
Both Standard Garruks could make an appearance in this deck. Relentless can act as spot removal or produce a steady stream of blockers. If he transforms he can still churn out deathly wolves which can then be sacrificed to his -1 ability to search for the decks finisher. Primal Hunter, on the other hand, produces stronger blockers and builds towards an ultimate which can benefit a control deck. As you want to draw the game out you'll have more lands which in turn equals more Wurms. His -3 ability puts cards in your hand - something a control deck is always grateful for.        

Esper Control


Both Bant and Esper offer Azorius Charm  - a card I'm beginning to appreciate.

Charmed I'm sure
Azorius Charm has saved me on many occasions. The third ability has seen a great deal of play and for good reason; it slows your opponent down and forces them to reinvest in the same card. To some extent Aggro decks rely more on their draw step than Control decks as they have to maintain momentum. Azorius Charm slows the assault and removes pesky tokens. It also acts as a Cantrip when you need one - especially in a miracle deck. The Lifelink ability doesn't see a lot of play in a Control build but I've used it a couple of times once I've established a board presence with Entreat the Angels.      
Esper and Bant also grant access to Detention Sphere but Esper adds the benefit of Lingering Souls to produce a steady stream of Flying blockers which can be Flashbacked after a board wipe to start pecking away at an opponents life total. Black offers some good spot removal. Tragic Slip and Ultimate Price can stem the tide when mass removal doesn't show up.    
In terms of Planeswalkers Esper offers Sorin Lord of Innistrad. I've talked about Sorin's role in Control before so I may need to test him again in the new format.
I think Esper control has its perks but I'll hold back until Dimir and Orzhov are revealed.  

Grixis Control  


I used to play Grixis control when Dark Ascension entered Standard. Forbidden Alchemy and Snapcaster Mage provided lots of advantage. This was before Tamiyo was available and when Black Sun's Zenith was still around.
Black and Red provide a lot of spot removal but at the moment I don't feel there is a good board sweeper for Grixis like there is for Bant and Esper. Mutilate is based on the number of Swamps you control which doesn't bode well in a three colour deck. Arguments can be made for the Shocklands as Blood Crypt is a Swamp and a Mountain but I still feel it's unreliable. Similarly you need to get to six mana to Overload Mizzium Mortars and seven to Overload Cyclonic Rift. Bonfire of the Damned is still viable as it's a one sided board wipe which also deals damage to your opponent. The problem with Bonfire is that you need a board presence to make the most of it - something a Control deck won't have. Grixis does have Dreadbore and Rakdos's Return at it's disposal to ruin plans and act as a Fireball in the late game.
Another problem for Grixis is Zombies. Red does provide Pillar of Flame to exile the undead menace but it isn't enough to stop a horde. The closest Grixis gets is Sever the Bloodline which is brilliant against tokens and if they have all four copies of Gravecrawler out. I suppose Slaughter Games could come out of the Sideboard.

You can't spell Slaughter without Laughter
In terms of Creatures Grixis has access to Vampire Nighthawk, Desecration Demon, Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius and Olivia Voldaren. I had a lot of fun with Olivia when I previously played Grixis - stealing Primeval Titans never gets old.   

I mentioned before that Control gives options. Here are some options open to a Control player right now in Standard. I hope it's provided some insight into this ever-changing format. Feel free to leave any thoughts, suggestions or comments as usual.

John, Architect of Thought   


* The strange thing with Jace 4.0 is his price fluctuation. When Return to Ravnica previewed on Magic Madhouse Vraska the Unseen was selling for £30. Jace was around £20-£25. Then came the first set of Standard tournaments after RtR's release. A W/U/R Miracle deck which played three copies of Jace won in Cincinnati and this set about a trend of net decking. Now Jace is retailing for £34.99 and Vraska at £19.99. I've always wondered what determines the value of a card in Standard. Is it speculation, speciality or stupidity?
Take Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. At one point he was retailing for £40 (talk about Sorin demand) now he's £12.99. Does this make the card any better/worse? The same can be said of Falkenrath Aristocrat originally under a fiver now £17.49. Why? Because people have been winning with them. Sorin dropped because B/W tokens won a few tournaments and then dropped out of the top decks so no-one really plays him anymore. Aristocrat has increased because Zombies is now one of the dominant decks in the format so people net deck which forces retailers to exploit peoples lack of creativity.
As I've said before players like to win but there's more to winning than being able to afford a 'good' card. As much as I enjoy playing Standard I understand that it only offers a minimal card pool to construct decks with and sometimes an experimental deck will need a highly priced card to make it perform better. Standard is also constantly changing based on tournament results. A deck wins, people copy it, so others build a deck to beat the good deck which leads people to copy it etc etc.        
I suppose what I'm asking is for players to assess the cost of victory; both in terms of bank balance and a weighed opinion of the type of games they'd like to play.   

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