Valuable Lessons – Controlling the New Standard

Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir is in full swing as I’m writing this. The new Standard environment is a great place for aggressive and midrange strategies, but control decks have become more and more of an oddity as we’ve gotten deeper into the format. Luckily, we have a Pro Tour to look at, and the best control players in the world wouldn’t be caught dead with Monastery Swiftspear or Voyaging Satyr in their deck. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the new face of control in post-Khans of Tarkir Standard.

Ivan Floch won Pro Tour Magic 2015 with a Blue/White Control deck, and just put up another Top 8 at this Pro Tour. He’s a master of controlling the board and grinding out card advantage. Let’s talk about Floch’s latest take on control in the new Standard.

The first tool that needs to be established when building a control deck is the means by which we’ll achieve card advantage. We may have lost access to Sphinx’s Revelation, but Dig Through Time seems like it has the potential to be one of the most powerful card selection/advantage tools we’ve had in the modern age. This seems like the perfect card to build our control deck around. One nice thing about playing four copies of Dig Through Time is that we can overload on instants that cost three or less mana and often fire them off in tandem with the big spell. If our opponent casts a particularly threatening planeswalker, then we can use Dig Through Time, leaving three mana open, and we can find Dissolve, Disdainful Stroke, or even Hero’s Downfall to stay in the mix. It’s important to chain Dig Through Time with additional copies of Dig Through Time whenever possible. Don’t die to accomplish this, but it’s usually wise to keep the chain going if we’re looking to work our way to inevitability.

Once we’ve established our card advantage engine, we need to identify what threats we’ll have to deal with. Magic is a game of questions and answers. Control decks aim to efficiently answer the questions of the opponent. A lot of people like to say that there are no wrong questions, only wrong answers. That may be true to an extent, but when a single answer sufficiently dispatches of three questions, then the questions don’t seem right to me.

In this format, we won’t be getting a lot of on-board card advantage. The format seems to have gone in two directions that we need to contain: Goblin Rabblemaster decks and Courser of Kruphix decks. Both of these deck styles seem to put themselves into gear around the third turn, though Elvish Mystic sometimes pushes the green decks a turn ahead. Unfortunately, we’ll be playing against a lot of varied card types, so we can’t just make our deck into a pile of creature removal.

There’s a lot of burn going around right now, but all the decks that are playing any burn have four copies of Stoke the Flames. This means a few different things: First, we can’t sacrifice our life total to play Ulcerate. It may be good against Mantis Rider, but we need to preserve our life total. Second, we can’t play the full four copies of Thoughtseize in our main deck, we could end up drawing three against a red deck, ripping their hand to shreds, and then just die to four spells being drawn off the top of their deck, which seems pretty abysmal. Lastly, we can play a lot of Disdainful Stroke, which is clearly the hottest new hotness. Stroke a Stoke, Stroke a planeswalker, Dig Through Time on the same turn, it’s really just exactly the way we would like to use our mana efficiently.

Dissolve is the most versatile countermagic available. It’s important that we’re able to find the right cards at the right time when playing a control deck. Dissolve when the board is empty helps us get closer to additional copies of Prognostic Sphinx and Dig Through Time while Dissolve when we’re losing helps us find the right answer to whatever is beating us down from the other side of the table.

Despise may not be Thoughtseize, but that’s actually a pretty good thing in this new Standard. Creatures and planeswalkers tend to be the major problems from opposing decks and this card deals with something early without any investment from either end. It’s a good card to have in our opening hand and it’s a miserable topdeck, but the presence of this in our deck severely limits the amount of cuteness our opponents will try to get away with.

Hero’s Downfall is still one of the most incredibly efficient cards in Standard. There aren’t many decks where this won’t be regularly killing things that cost four or five mana. We want versatile answers and this fits the bill perfectly.

Bile Blight is cheap, it’s a good way to deal with Rabblemaster when we’re on the draw and don’t have Drown in Sorrow.

Drown in Sorrow is a necessary evil in a world of Goblin Rabblemaster.

Silence the Believers is a great top-end answer that can get us out of most bad situations when we’re mana flooded. We’re definitely playing a lot of land in this deck, and having a few copies of Silence the Believers lets us get extra value.

The last thing we need for our control deck is a win condition. We don’t have Aetherling, but Prognostic Sphinx is a very hard threat to answer and the scrying ability makes it very good at locking us games by chaining together countermagic.

Here’s a look at Floch’s deck list:

Ivan Floch’s Blue/Black Control

Sideboarding with this deck is usually very straightforward. We’re looking to align our answers with their questions. Are they a deck that’s trying to play Mantis Rider and Goblin Rabblemaster? Then we likely want extra Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow, but Thoughtseize and Disdainful Stroke become worse. Against other control decks we won’t want bottom-end removal like Bile Blight or Drown in Sorrow, but high impact spells like Negate, Pearl Lake Ancient, Thoughtseize, and Clever Impersonator set us up well to combat the planeswalker war. This deck is surprisingly maleable and it should usually have much better game twos and threes than game ones against non-transformative decks.

One thing that surprised me about this list is the complete lack of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. I expected Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver to be one of the more exciting cards in the new Standard. Unfortunately, hasty guys like Mantis Rider put a lot of pressure on the newest three-mana planeswalker and seem to have pushed it out of the Standard environment for the time being. The thing about building the right control deck is that we need to be playing the right answers for a particular week. As long as aggressive Jeskai decks are doing well in Standard, we won’t be seeing much of a reason to play with Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.

Ivan Floch’s latest take on control in Standard looks to be one of the best strategies for the new Standard. The answers in the deck are malleable, and can be changed as the format shifts in one direction or another. It’s now clear that Prognostic Sphinx and Dig Through Time are the new base ingredients for control strategies in the new Standard. Next week, we’ll take a look at how the Standard format has shaken out in the wake of the Pro Tour. Until then, have fun brewing control decks for the new Standard.

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