Valuable Lessons – Controlling Standard

Welcome back to Valuable Lessons. Today, we’ll be looking at control strategies in post-Theros Standard. At this point, I’ve played about 200 games of the new Standard format and I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on what beats what. I’d like us to start by discussing specific cards and their place in (or against) the new control strategies. We can then use that information to create a powerful deck list.

The majority of my testing has involved extremely aggressive decks. I like to use the most aggressive decks as hurdles for archetypes in new formats. It’s good to know you can stand in the kitchen and take the heat before you try to cook up something delicious and awesome. That being said, there are a few cards that dismantle aggressive decks particularly well.

[draft]soldier of the pantheon[/draft]

[card]Soldier of the Pantheon[/card] is the latest and greatest tool against the most aggressive decks. For a single white mana we’re given a 2-power creature that interacts favorably against [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card], [card]Fleecemane Lion[/card], [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card], [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card], [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card], and many other cards that will assuredly find their way into the most aggressive strategies, it even forces opponents to over-commit with their [card]Lotleth Troll[/card] in a lot of spots, significantly increasing the value of cards like [card]Azorius Charm[/card].

Not only can we block all day with Soldier of the Pantheon, but we’ll also be gaining life as our opponent advances their board state. Soldier of the Pantheon may seem like a card for aggressive white strategies, but it’s a great tool for staving off the most aggressive decks too. I would strongly recommend trying three to four copies in the sideboard of your control decks that don’t play [card]Anger of the Gods[/card]. I wouldn’t be opposed to playing four copies of this in the main if we’re planning on facing off against a mostly aggressive field.

[draft]anger of the gods[/draft]

Anger of the Gods is incredible against aggressive decks. Unfortunately, it is most at home in a three-color deck that can often stumble and struggle to cast it. I’ve tried playing just blue/red, but the aggressive decks always seem to untap and cast [card]Polukranos, World Eater[/card] or some other out-of-burn-range fatty when I’m forced to Anger of the Gods and not leave open countermagic. [card]Quicken[/card] helps solve this problem to some degree, but the more I played with these types of blue/red decks, the more I knew I needed a third color. It’s rough to be on a deck that struggles to beat [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card] without 2-for-1’ing itself.

[draft]supreme verdict[/draft]

[card]Supreme Verdict[/card] has likely increased in power with [card]Thragtusk[/card], [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card], and [card]Geralf’s Messenger[/card] leaving Standard. However, [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] is a lot more powerful in this new world, and cards like [card]Boon Satyr[/card] and [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card] are sure to cause some issues for decks that lean too hard on their Supreme Verdicts.

[draft]master of waves[/draft]

[card]Master of Waves[/card] is the best anti-[card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] card available in the decks that can cast it. Protection from red means that it’s just about untouchable. Even if you’re making just one or two guys it still causes some serious Huntmaster-like problems for the red decks.

[draft]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/draft]

Control decks need a way to deal with, or positively interact with [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card]. Players may assume they can rely on countermagic to deal with Big Daddy, but a lot of the decks playing him are going to be designed to force cards like Supreme Verdict the turn before the hauntings begin. [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] is a reasonable anti-Obzedat card, but it doesn’t address the potentially game-ending power that [card]Whip of Erebos[/card] presents against control decks. [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] is the best option available against Obzedat, Ghost Council, but it’s hard to play a card like that in most control decks. In testing, [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] has proven to be the best card against Obzedat, Ghost Council by a large margin.

[draft]sphinx’s revelation[/draft]

[card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] is weird. We can’t [card]Farseek[/card] anymore, and it’s hard to play the long con without [card]Augur of Bolas[/card] and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] in the mix. Sphinx’s Revelation starts being a reasonable spell at six mana, and only improves from there, but it’s often difficult as one of the newer control strategies to stay alive without that extra relevant card in the early turns. In short, we need the right spells, enough land, and Sphinx’s Revelation to make the card good. That being said, it’s the best thing ever when it’s good. I’m not a huge fan of [card]Nykthos, Shrine to Nix[/card]. I keep putting it in decks and only getting bonus mana when it seems like I’m already winning. That being said, getting bonus mana and dumping it into a massive Sphinx’s Revelation is probably the most powerful thing the land can do. To make this worthwhile, we’d need a lot of permanents that interact like [card]Chained to the Rocks[/card] and [card]Detention Sphere[/card].

A lot of people seem to be working on Grixis, Esper, UWR, and Azorius Control strategies at the moment. These decks, though the card numbers and choices are complicated, are obvious. I’d like to build a Bant control strategy that takes full advantage of the tools offered by those colors.

Before I even begin considering specific cards, I can already be sure that Voice of Resurgence is going to present the biggest problem for a deck like this. To combat the power of Voice of Resurgence, I’ll need my sideboard to be well-equipped.

I’ve been really impressed with counterspells in this format. I’ve spent a lot of time working on aggressive decks and the more I think about it, the more I feel these fast decks suffer from a lot of weaknesses. Anger of the Gods is devastating, even with [card]Brave the Elements[/card], and [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] can’t be overcome with undying [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]s anymore. The more I think about it, the more likely I feel players will be armed with midrange or control decks in the coming weeks.

Why Bant? I’ve tried a UR and UWR deck that’s packed with countermagic and, while it seemed very strong on paper, I found myself losing to silly things like [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card] when I had a fist rife with [card]Dissolve[/card]s and [card]Essence Scatter[/card]s. These cards would force me to tap out for [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] or [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] and my opponent would untap and cast Polukranos, World Eater or a similarly beefy monster, sometimes it would be Obzedat, Ghost Council, and I’d lose the game right on the spot.

[draft]advent of the wurm
horizon chimera[/draft]

Playing Bant gives us access to [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card] and [card]Horizon Chimera[/card], which should allow us to apply pressure and defend very well. Advent of the Wurm shines particularly here. It’s like playing [card]Restoration Angel[/card] in a UW Flash deck, only it beats Loxodon Smiter in a fight.

Horizon Chimera is beastly at racing opponents, especially when you have Sphinx’s Revelation. It won’t be rare to have more than one Chimera in play before you cast a medium-sized Revelation. There’s a big difference between gaining 12 and 4, especially if you already gained life from some draw steps. We can just let Loxodon Smiter smack us until we’re able to trump it with Advent of the Wurm, or outrace it with Horizon Chimera.

Playing Advent of the Wurm and Horizon Chimera allows us to play a Draw-Go-style control deck. We can counter whatever our opponents play, and punish them for skipping a beat with a 5/5 trample or 3/2 flying.

[draft]selesnya charm[/draft]

[card]Selesnya Charm[/card] makes us one of the few control decks that can actually deal with a resolved Obzedat, Ghost Council. It’s very good at picking off anything that beats your Wurm tokens and the ability to make a 2/2 on your opponent’s end step will often be brutal against control opponents. [card]Azorius Charm[/card] offers three very playable modes. Remember that cantripping Azorius Charm can be worth some life thanks to Horizon Chimera.

I’m playing Horizon Chimera, and I feel this deck can get away with four copies of Sphinx’s Revelation without breaking a sweat. Sphinx’s Revelation drastically increases in power when all my cards do one of two things. It also combos nicely with Horizon Chimera, and combo’ing with Sphinx’s Revelation in a deck with a lot of land seems like quite the deal.

[draft]detention sphere[/draft]

I’ll finish the deck with a pair of Detention Sphere as an out to Voice of Resurgence. The card is very difficult to beat in game one when we lose the roll, but our chances against the deck drastically increase as time goes on.

Here’s what the final list looks like:

Bant Draw-Go

[deck]Main Deck
4 Azorius Charm
4 Selesnya Charm
4 Dissolve
4 Syncopate
4 Essence Scatter
4 Advent of the Wurm
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Detention Sphere
4 Horizon Chimera
4 Temple of Mastery
4 Breeding Pool
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Temple Garden
1 Azorius Guildgate
1 Simic Guildgate
4 Island
1 Forest
3 Plains
4 Glare of Heresy
4 Voice of Resurgence
3 Dispel
1 Detention Sphere
3 Supreme Verdict[/deck]

It’s not the most intuitive deck, but it makes sense when we think about it. There are creatures out there that particularly trump traditional Draw-Go decks. To beat these creatures, we play bigger or better creatures of our own. Coincidentally, we get to play creatures with flash that tend to be as good or better than creatures that would normally have a similar casting cost. Selesnya Charm gives this control deck a strong out to Obzedat, operating solely on the opponent’s turn will make it extremely difficult for control or midrange decks to get on the board. Try letting some stuff resolve based on your hand. You’ll be surprised how well the deck closes in a race.

Again, this deck suffers against Voice of Resurgence, but the sideboard helps that problem significantly. Red decks will present another hurdle for a deck like this. Yes, it’s going to be weak to those types of strategies, but I feel the format is headed in a midrange-y and controlling direction for the upcoming Pro Tour and the other Standard events that come with it. This deck will completely dominate those types of strategies so long as they don’t have Voice of Resurgence.

This has been a great discussion of control in post-Theros Standard. We examined the most aggressive strategies in last week’s column. Next week, I’ll be taking a look at what’s in the middle of the road and discussing the results of last weekend’s Standard events.

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