Is this big?
Once upon a time, Serra Angel was about the tippy top of what players ran in Constructed deck. Control innovator Brian Weissman figured out that the Alpha classic just checked off enough boxes. She was beefier on the backside than a Lightning Bolt could burn unassisted. Big enough to walk away (or fly away!) from a tussle with a Serendib Efreet. Irrelevant for our discussion of size but still pertinent: With Vigilance, Serra Angel could play both offense and defense simultaneously; and because she was a creature rather than some kind of artifact or sorcery kill, running her would prevent opponents from being able to side out every copy of Terror, Swords to Plowshares, or The Abyss when trying to puzzle through The Deck in Game 2.
But is Serra Angel big compared to this?
Today - in 2022 I spit you not - there is an actual tension between these five and six casting cost flyers in Old School!
Back in 1997, when I made my first concerted push to travel to every available PTQ, I was packing all the copies of Serra Angel that I could. She swatted down plenty of Red players and scared off more Hypnotic Specters... But damn if I didn't lose a crucial win-and-in to an Izzet player with an unexpected Fat Moti out of his sideboard!
What about "Control"? What constitutes a Controlling deck?
If you've read "Who's the Beatdown?" you probably know that there isn't an absolute bar for who is "the" Control; and trying to set that in stone will frustrate your likelihood of winning more than it fosters it.
In early 1998, Andrew Cuneo advocated a new "Draw-Go" strategy that packed as many as 14 Counterspells (including Power Sink). This was considered a barrel full of permission at the time, and would put Andrew's deck into the Control seat more often than not. Remember that a couple of years earlier, Mike "Loco" Loconto won the inaugural Pro Tour with only 4 Counterspells and 1 Deflection for permission.
Control decks in the mid-1990s leaned into White removal like Swords to Plowshares, Disenchant, Wrath of God, and even Balance to contain creatures; and Loconto ran Ivory Tower, Zuran Orb, and even Fountain of Youth to combat direct damage. While mileage is going to vary on some of those cards, it should be easy to see how efficient the White spells might be at controlling creatures specifically... But how dismal they'd all be against a real Control player like Andrew. What was he going to care about Wrath of God?
Like the concept of "big", the concept of "Control" exists on a continuum.
A couple of weeks ago we established that the present Standard with Dominaria United was - is really - defined at a baseline by the color Black, and specifically its controlling elements. Liliana of the Veil was the early standout (a potential source of both card advantage and creature removal)... And the biggest creature, more or less, was Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. Sheoldred - a 4/ 5 Legendary Phyrexian Praetor - probably makes Jamie Wakefield's minimum bar for fat. And to be fair, if she's planning to duel primarily with 3/2 boxers or 3/3 or even 4/4 (flipped) werewolves as she did on her inaugural week... I suppose Sheoldred can pretend she's 2022 Standard's answer to Mahamoti Djinn.
The problem is that the vanilla Mono-Black "Control" deck seems to have shifted toward the center. Remember: "Control" is relative! If everyone is a Black deck with Liliana of the Veil you have to start iterating against that baseline, not some imaginary First Principles. You might just find out that you and your 4/5 are no longer the biggest show in town.
While some players (presumably devotees of one-third of the principles of Barbarian Class) are trying to get faster; it seems like the more prevalent (and dare I say more consistent) strategy seems to get bigger. Bigger than Sheoldred.
Why is getting bigger such a compelling strategy?
First of all, if the format is - if not defined by, but at least - centered on Black control and removal... The one thing you can count on is time. This is a format where the opponent might get a positional advantage; might make your life feel miserable if you stumble early; but where you're unlikely to actually die in the first four turns.
Some players have built with certain assumptions in mind. Your opponent is going to play Liliana of the Veil. Unless you've got them (or at least Lilly) under some kind of pressure, the likelihood is that you're going to be asked to discard a card. What might you want to discard?
Might as well start with one of the biggest plausible decks, right?
Jund Reanimator | DMU Standard | twinlesstwin, 8th Place MTGO Standard Challenge 9/4/2022
- Creatures (17)
- 2 Voldaren Epicure
- 3 Workshop Warchief
- 4 Bloodtithe Harvester
- 4 Soul of Windgrace
- 4 Titan of Industry
- Sorceries (3)
- 3 Diregraf Rebirth
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki
- Lands (26)
- 1 Mountain
- 1 Swamp
- 1 Boseiju, Who Endures
- 1 Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
- 2 Sulfurous Springs
- 4 Deathcap Glade
- 4 Haunted Ridge
- 4 Karplusan Forest
- 4 Rockfall Vale
- 4 Ziatora's Proving Ground
At present, I'd put twinlesstwin's deck on the far end of "big" for Standard. We'll look at multiple decks that have large threats, and large threats that can play around the Standard baseline, but this is a true reanimator.
Titan of Industry isn't just big on the body... It can make multiple bodies, or defend them. twinlesstwin can also discard Diregraf Rebirth for a future flashback, or a land, thanks to this very ("very?") big Dominaria United addition:
Soul of Windgrace lets you recoup lands from the graveyard in a decidedly titanic fashion. Not only does that make for some great resistance to Liliana of the Veil, but the pseudo-cycling Red ability makes for a kind of draw engine. This card is not only durable but can provide a legitimate Ramp-like angle of advancement. As a longtime backer of basic Mountain, I have to say I'm not a fan of that Green activated ability.
Twinlesstwin's deck is elegant and layered as well as powerful. It does not need an opposing Planeswalker to get the Diregraf Rebirth party going. Blood tokens from Voldaren Epicure and Bloodtithe Harvester can offer filtering early; and Fable of the Mirror Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki continues to impress as one of Standard's strongest spells - whether in combo or playing fair.
And as to the theme this week, there are just a ton of cards that can go toe-to-toe with Black's preeminent Erhnam Djinn. Soul of Windgrace as a 5/4 can trade with Sheoldred; and Workshop Warchief can trample over her in particularly humiliating fashion.
Bant "Control" | DMU Standard | hogpog_98, 4th Place MTGO Standard Challenge 9/18/2022
- Creatures (12)
- 1 Ao, the Dawn Sky
- 2 Dennick, Pious Apprentice // Dennick, Pious Apparition
- 2 Katilda, Dawnhart Prime
- 3 Rootcoil Creeper
- 4 Welcoming Vampire
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Storm the Festival
- Enchantments (12)
- 4 Grafted Identity
- 4 Teachings of the Kirin // Kirin-Touched Orochi
- 4 Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity
- Lands (26)
- 1 Island
- 2 Forest
- 2 Plains
- 1 Boseiju, Who Endures
- 1 Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire
- 2 Deserted Beach
- 3 Adarkar Wastes
- 3 Overgrown Farmland
- 3 Yavimaya Coast
- 4 Dreamroot Cascade
- 4 Spara's Headquarters
What if you're not satisfied just with being big; but you have to take Control of the opponent's size?
That's a dilemma that hogpog_98 might just put you in.
The Wandering Emperor doesn't really care how big a creature is, or how many Shield counters it is wearing, for that matter. Wrenn and Seven can make a Treefolk so big that Titan of Industry stays home.
But that's not everything that is going on here.
Storm the Festival is really big. Or can be, at least.
In this deck, it can't really miss. There is no Titan of Industry here to form a non-bo with Storm.
Instead hogpog_98 brings to bear many of the format's best mid-range control cards. Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity being the best of the non-Fable of the Mirror Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki ones!
Between Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity and Teachings of the Kirin // Kirin-Touched Orochi, this deck has a ton of fodder for Grafted Identity - a card at four mana that is potentially the biggest in the format.
Of course, stealing a Black-based opponent's Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is kinda sorta "the end of the world" for them anyway.
Mono-White Reanimator | DMU Standard | HinaHara, 26th Place MTGO Standard Challenge 9/4/2022
- Creatures (20)
- 4 Guardian of New Benalia
- 4 Raffine's Informant
- 4 Sanctuary Warden
- 4 Sigardian Savior
- 4 Spirited Companion
- Planeswalkers (4)
- 4 The Wandering Emperor
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Invoke Justice
- Enchantments (5)
- 1 Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity
- 4 The Restoration of Eiganjo // Architect of Restoration
This deck brings together a lot of the strategies we've talked about today - and over the course of the first three weeks of Dominaria United Standard - but in a completely different way.
Sanctuary Warden isn't purely as big as Titan of Industry (except when Invoke Justice makes it even bigger) but has other things going for it. When we're talking about anywhere in the neighborhood of seven mana, a discount of even one pip is meaningful. But the big Angel is no slouch, anyway! She can not only kick Sheoldred down the stairs, but she's as likely to out-card a Titan of Industry as not. Remember, Sanctuary Warden might play fair; draw some extra; and then just come back even bigger a turn or two later.
HinaHara has a lot of early game drops to play a flexible game; in fact twelve 2-drops with a variety of specialties. Spirited Companion is pure Elvish Visionary, bridging HinaHara's life total against attackers. Both Guardian of New Banalia and Raffine's Informant are potential attackers that enable Invoke Justice. Did you draft a lot of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt? I did. Mythic Top 100 three times, maybe 4! You probably have a couple of Sigardian Saviors lying around. A 3/3 for five is nothing to write home about... But when you draw the equivalent of four cards along the way? Trading starts to look spicy.
The two-mana creatures give HinaHara's deck a nice potential angle, but what I'm ultimately more interested in are the three-mana enchantments and artifacts.
If you're reading (or listening to) this, then the potential of The Restoration of Eiganjo // Architect of Restoration as a reanimation engine is probably not news to you. But what about The Celestus? I AM IN LOVE WITH THE CELESTUS HERE! I think HinaHara should play more copies! Or at least one more copy? This is a card that ramps the deck from three to five (potentially for Invoke Justice) but also enables reanimation while gaining life. The Celestus is a layered tool that blunts opposing offense while driving this deck forward on multiple axes. Finally - and maybe most obviously - the card is an artifact.
I've been waiting for a deck - most likely a mono-colored mid-range or controlling deck - to explore the Roadside Reliquary for months. I would have gambled that the color with The Meathook Massacre would have gotten there first, but The Celestus with Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity and The Restoration of Eiganjo // Architect of Restoration ain't bad. I especially love how a late copy of The Restoration of Eiganjo // Architect of Restoration itself can buy back the Roadside Reliquary for super double triple card advantages.
The creatures and synergies may or may not go over the top of other anti-Black Ramp and reanimation decks. But when Invoke Justice is the last big swing? Look for Mono-White Control, very often, to end up bigger than Sheoldred.