With Guilds of Ravnica releasing on Magic Online soon, we’ll see the rubber meet the road for various brews. Currently the format looks aggressive, since the only card pushing a heavy control strategy is Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Nothing else from the full spoiler looks like a control build-around. Instead, it’ll be determined by how well the loose collection of tools plays out. Cards like Chemister’s Insight and Sinister Sabotage are solid replacements for cards we’re losing, but all that does is keep the power level roughly similar to what we had before.
Still, there are other control shells besides U/W, and other ways to take advantage of Teferi, so let’s look at some of the options at our disposal. The Eldest Reborn is one of the more potent 5-mana value cards left in Standard. If aggro is good early, then black midrange should, in theory, be a respectable choice to counter those archetypes.
Do I have a problem with trying to make Josu Vess work now that Circuitous Route got printed? Perhaps. But the cards that ended the game on turns 5 and 6 no longer exist, so perhaps now we finally have enough time to take advantage of it. If your opponent isn’t on control, the odds that they have any way to break through a kicked Josu Vess are low. The only relevant threats that come to mind are a handful of playable flyers, burn, or Ghalta.
There are a few ways to build the deck. I’ve gone for a heavier emphasis on spells, despite running The Eldest Reborn. Your ways to gain life have dropped off, which makes Vraska, Golgari Queen more interesting as recurring life gain and card draw if you can keep paying the upkeep on her plus ability. The same goes for making undergrowth into a real ability instead of a bonus. All the builds I’ve tried have been too clunky for real world play, but I’m sure that some inspired deck builder can make a more streamlined version.
You’ll notice the running theme here is that I run a lot of removal in my slower decks and that’s because even with Blossoming Defense gone, I fear Green Stompy. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t the most played week 1 deck, because the power level out of the gate looks quite high.
I still have good memories of playing Explosive Vegetation, and a strict upgrade in Circuitous Route is fun to see. While Magic may have changed a lot since that card last saw play, ramp is one of those strategies that remains extremely effective. We’ve already seen that with the refusal to reprint cards like Farseek and Rampant Growth, and how good Llanowar Elves has been despite Goblin Chainwhirler. Being able to grab Gates as well is a nice bonus that lets you go deeper on double costs without too much strain on your land configuration.
For example, here’s a rebuild based on one of my many Hour of Promise attempts:
Assassin’s Trophy is a great tool as a catch-all card and early creature kill alongside the usual suspects of Settle the Wreckage and Seal Away. The versatility justifies the black for this particular build even without having enough black to use some of the better sideboard options. Losing Search for Azcanta by not having room for early blue sources is a blow, but Treasure Map in a format without Abrade should do a respectable impression. Zacama, Primal Calamity may just be a fun win-more card, but we’ll need to see how the format shakes out. The usual end game threats have changed in a big way, which means that old choices are worth another try.
Outside of that, your deck is configured to be stronger against creature decks that ramp up with bigger threats instead of the haste and burn-heavy red decks of old. While you have enough removal to survive an early onslaught, you really benefit against decks that don’t start deploying heavy hitters until turn 3 and onward. Post-board you can swing it back around by slamming turn-4 Lyra in your best-case scenario, but game 1 is going to be a struggle.
Without Godless Shrine the mana gets really tricky if you still want to jam History of Benalia and Assassin’s Trophy, so it’s possible that shaving Trophy is worthwhile. Still, Unclaimed Territory gives you a nice way to smooth that over for your early drops and you aren’t in 8 checklands hell. This is the type of deck that’s typically too clunky or slow to exist, so how good it is will depend on how relevant the Knights themselves are. Lyra Dawnbringer tops the curve well and Knight of Autumn gives the deck some much needed utility, so you don’t rely entirely on Conclave Tribunal to deal with artifacts and enchantments. I’m listing it more as an example of how to try and create a mana base for this style of deck that isn’t just an 8-8-8 mix.
While this wasn’t my first choice for my control deck colors, I have to say that Deafening Clarion provided enough use to justify its inclusion. Being able to wipe Vine Mare and punish aggro for not swinging into Settle the Wreckage is relevant. Throw in being able to keep your Teferis (unlike Sultai) and having a nice Seal Away variant in Justice Strike to pick off early and late game creatures alike. Mana-wise, this deck makes me smile and really isn’t much worse than straight U/W. You lose Field of Ruin and otherwise only lose out when your opener is three shocklands.
Most lists I’ve seen skate too lmuch on removal and drop the number of Essence Scatter. Calm down and remember that week 1 is still going to be creature-heavy even if some grinders try to offset that by playing more powerful build-around strategies. One of the only major drawbacks to this style of deck is without knowing the composition of the format, it means that your removal and counterbase aren’t going to be optimized. Six 5-mana planeswalkers isn’t exactly a deckbuilding masterclass either, but frankly all of the other win conditions look terrible or cost 700 mana.
Bant Turbo Fog
Finally, there’s the most basic win condition if green decks dominate the early format—don’t them attack.
Losing a 2 mana Fog kind of sucks, but Circuitous Route gets you to the mana count you want quickly and can allow for turn-5 Teferi, untap, hold up Settle the Wreckage or Pause for Reflection. Chemister’s Insight has been interesting. Losing the scry is bad when you cast it on turn 4 or 5, but later in the game the jump-start is helpful. The main goal of the deck is still the same, though—get Teferi plus flipped Search for Azcanta going and lock your opponent from doing anything until you emblem and win.
You do need a better post-board plan since there are more playable Cranial Extraction effects and Assassin’s Trophy is a cheap way to take care of Teferi that can sneak through the tap out and untap window. Moving to the classic big creature plan seems appropriate considering this challenge, though I’m sure that there are plenty of other configurations.
This is my final article for the initial brewing phase. Next up is to wait for Magic Online results, to get some games in, and to see how the format starts to shape up!