Last week, good buddy and stream supporter Superfritz sent me a deck to pilot as a deck donation. The deck in question was Control: a deck I wouldn't have thought to have a great time before the bannings took place. Before the bannings, with cards like Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Omnath, Locus of Creation (why do these broken cards have such long names!?), Standard was a format where every broken card was a two-or-more-for-one, with every haymaker card providing two or three cards worth of value. A deck like Control has traditionally been a deck that is known for one-for-one interaction, while periodically refilling their hand or gaining advantage through a sweeper.
This was typically not enough when every card was a two-for-one, unfortunately. This was true when things like Oko, Thief of Crowns, Nissa, Who Shakes the World, and the other aforementioned creatures were in the format. There was simply too much advantage being attained, and it was hard to keep up. Cards like Murderous Rider and Heartless Act simply aren't that impressive against the threats that were being played, since you're just going to fall behind way too quickly when you're playing a one-for-one game against them.
The problem is that Control - and similarly Control - have been format staples since Magic was created. They are the default control decks that should be able to exist in a format, and now, thanks to a more balanced Standard format, and some really sweet options, they kind of do again. Exist, that is.
This was the final version of the deck we played, and as usual, you can find a video of the deck in action toward the bottom of the article.
U/B Control | ZNR Standard | Frank Lepore
- Instants (17)
- 2 Essence Scatter
- 2 Hagra Mauling
- 2 Jwari Disruption
- 2 Mystical Dispute
- 2 Thassa's Intervention
- 3 Heartless Act
- 4 Neutralize
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Shark Typhoon
- Artifacts (3)
- 3 Mazemind Tome
- Lands (23)
- 6 Swamp
- 7 Island
- 1 Castle Locthwain
- 1 Castle Vantress
- 2 Fabled Passage
- 2 Temple of Deceit
- 4 Clearwater Pathway
As I mentioned, Superfritz sent in the deck, but it really didn't need too much tweaking. One of the main changes we made was to add a couple more win conditions in the form of one Lochmere Serpent and one Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Superfritz mentioned that he was so concerned with Ugin being played against him, that he totally forgot that he himself could actually play Ugin. The beauty of control decks like this, historically, is that they're able to churn through so many cards in their deck that they can often get away with playing very few win conditions; we're talking like two or three here. For this reason, we only added a single Ugin; we also don't want multiple cards that cost six or more to be gumming up our opening hands at a time when we need diverse answers.
That being said, I am a fan of having a few more win conditions than normal in my control decks. Back in the day, control decks could actually get away with running, like, a single Elspeth, Sun's Champion in their list (or a single Rainbow Efreet if you're older) and that was it. They would win the game with the single planeswalker, casting it when they had 12 lands in play and were able to protect the planeswalker with two to three counterspells. I don't think this is the case anymore, considering that both creatures and removal for planeswalkers are so much better.
As a recursive threat, I happen to think Lochmere Serpent is actually fairly well-positioned right now. The fact is that the exiling portion of its ability is actually a feature and not a bug is just great. Truth be told, I've ambushed many a creature with this card, as no one ever expects it. While I don't often sacrifice Swamps for its ability, I do frequently sac excess Islands to close out games in three or so turns.
Speaking to the point of removal for a second, the reason that decks like Control are balanced in the context of Standard is that their forms of card advantage are solely that: just card advantage. You're paying three mana to draw two cards and add nothing to the board. Or you're paying five mana to draw three cards and add nothing to the board. This is a reasonable rate to "refill" on resources, as it were. The problem is when decks begin to have cards that draw you cards and provide a 4/4. And gain you life. And provide mana. And provide a 6/6. And let you play an extra land. If you want control decks to exist in the metagame, you have to stop allowing midrange decks to do control things better than control decks. There's a reason Mulldrifter was only a 2/2 and cost five mana. Thankfully, I think we may have found that point once again in Standard.
As for the card draw we're speaking of, Mazemind Tome is one of my favorite forms of card advantage that's been printed in some time. It's so well-balanced, unlike a card like Uro for example. If you have no mana up after casting it, you can always scry. If you do have mana up, you can draw a card the turn it comes into play. The four life you get after the final activation also speaks to the fact that this was almost surely designed for a control strategy that was trying to buy as much time as possible. Every time I've played with or against Mazemind Tome I've been impressed. I was tempted to find room for a fourth copy in the deck, but ultimately I'm not sure if it's needed.
Another change was removing the original two copies of Sublime Epiphany the deck was submitted with. I love Cryptic Command 3.0 as much as anyone (with Mystic Confluence being 2.0), and it was painful to remove them, but the truth is, one of the best modes on the card is copying a creature you control - that's where a lot of the value is - and with very few creatures in the deck, we were simply casting Cryptic Command Deluxe for six mana most of the time (countering a spell, bouncing a permanent, and drawing a card). For six mana, there were just better, more impactful things we could be doing. (Like Lochmere Serpent!)
We also upped the land count to 27 from the initially submitted 26. While this wasn't a huge change, whether it was MTG Arena's "algorithm" or what, for some reason we were having a bit of trouble hitting our land drops with 26 lands. This seemed extremely weird, but even people in the YouTube comments acknowledged it, and I could only assume that it had something to do with how Arena sees modal double-faced lands. I would love to see this "bug" taken a look at, but it seems extremely hard to prove or reproduce.
One thing I will say is that every two-color deck I've played so far could use check or shock lands; I know I would have killed for a Drowned Catacomb while playing, and I've had similar strong desires with other two-color decks I've piloted. This format seems to be prone to missing their second color (untapped, especially) on turn three or four when you have a card with double pips of the same color in the casting cost.
If you want to see the deck in action, you can find some successful matches here:
What do you guys think about Standard right now? From everything I've seen, it seems to be healthy; or at least healthier than it once was, which is a huge improvement. I've been playing a bunch of different decks, and I've seldom felt like I was just out of the game because of a specific card or strategy. I think that's a good place to be. But I'd love to hear your thoughts, as always! Let me know what you think and what you've been playing.
As for me, that's about it for this week. I hope you guys are staying safe, thank you so much for reading, and I'll catch you all next week!