In many ways, control decks have it rough in Standard. Mardu Vehicles and the B/G decks are capable of unloading damage at rates we rarely ever see in Standard. Threats come at you as creatures, Vehicles, planeswalkers, lands, and sometimes even come back from the graveyard. The Saheeli Rai plus Felidar Guardian combo puts a limit on what you can do in the midgame, and punishes you for spending your mana. All of this is not even to mention fringe strategies like Aetherworks Marvel. Control players have their work cut out for them.
But it’s not all bad news. Control decks tend to perform better in more clearly defined metagames since you can gear your reactive cards against the threats you’re likely to face. Today’s Standard is about as clearly defined as it gets—beat B/G and Mardu and you’re almost there!
With that in mind, I put together an experimental W/B Control deck and played it to a Top 32 finish in last weekend’s SCG Standard Classic. (That’s a 5-2-1 record, for those wondering.)
This deck shouldn’t be completely unfamiliar since it’s modeled after the W/B Control decks that were successful last Standard season. I was also inspired to try it after losing to William Pulliam and his take on W/B in the Standard portion of Pro Tour Aether Revolt.
In essence, this is a “superfriends”-style planeswalker deck. The planeswalkers in black and white are among the strongest cards in Standard, and getting to untap with any of them typically means that you’re on track to winning the game. Oath of Liliana generates a lot of value in a deck with 11 planeswalkers, and pairs well with board sweepers and an overabundance of other spot removal.
While W/B is a big underdog against the blue-based control decks, it also has some big advantages when compared with them. One is a ton of excellent life gain. I love having access to Anguished Unmaking in a format of Vehicles and planeswalkers, and I feel no problem playing 3 copies and 2 Ob Nixilis, Reignited because I know that I can recoup the life-loss in other places. Fumigate and Sorin, Grim Nemesis help you play catch-up and take you out of danger once you stabilize the board. Blessed Alliance was a surprising over-performer, and lifelink creatures out of the sideboard just make things better.
And of course, there’s the life gain from Shambling Vent, which brings me to another big advantage—the mana base. Despite demanding colored mana requirements, W/B has very smooth mana, gets to play Standard’s best creatureland, and the underappreciated Blighted Fen. Without the pressure to hold up mana for permission, you’re free to fire up your Vents and attack at any good opportunity. You can even pair them with a Gideon emblem or Ruinous Path awaken to nice effect.
W/B is tailor-made to beat creature-based B/G decks. It’s no secret that Fumigate is an excellent weapon against these decks. Additionally, having a bunch of hard removal spells and pulling ahead with a planeswalker is a very simple recipe for beating them. After sideboard, some well-prepared opponents will have Tireless Tracker and their own planeswalkers, so you’ll have to play tight and grind out every advantage, but this is definitely a matchup you’re hoping to play.
Mardu Vehicles is also a favorable matchup, but there’s the added risk that you can get unlucky and draw the wrong removal against the wrong threats. (Sorcery-speed removal against the Vehicles, for example, or Oath of Liliana and Blessed Alliance when they draw too many Thraben Inspectors.)
You’ll do fine against other creature-based midrange decks, including 4-color Saheeli. But the matchups you really don’t want to face are the Torrential Gearhulk control decks (although I did manage to win one match against Jeskai Control), and Aetherworks Marvel. Your clock is slow and the non-blue disruption available in Standard simply doesn’t get the job done.
The surprising over-performers for me were Midnight Oil and Gonti, Lord of Luxury. Midnight Oil might strike a chord with anyone who played with Outpost Siege. Long-term card advantage is exactly what this deck needs, and having to play your spells immediately isn’t a big disadvantage for a deck without permission. The only thing holding me back from maindecking Midnight Oil is the fact that a 0-card maximum hand size leaves you so vulnerable to the Copycat combo.
Similarly, Gonti, Lord of Luxury is a great value card that can give you access to tools even outside of the W/B color combination. Getting to recur Gonti, Lord of Luxury with Liliana, the Last Hope is very appealing, and I could easily see playing more copies of this card.
Transgress the Mind was disappointing. You need it after sideboarding if you want a fighting chance against control decks. But when it’s bad it can be a real liability. I suspect that it’s best to gear the main deck 100% against aggro and the sideboard 100% for slower matchups.
I played 27 lands, but that was too many. Unfortunately, 26 isn’t quite enough for a deck that wants to hit its first 4 or 5 lands drops and lacks ways to smooth its draws. The risk of flooding out is too great now that Read the Bones has left us. Cards like Succumb to Temptation and Live Fast are simply too bad for Standard, and playing off-color lands for Painful Truths comes with its own problems. One solution I’ve considered is playing with Thraben Inspector as a way to protect your planeswalkers and generate value off of Liliana’s -2 ability. But spending mana to cantrip is never particularly exciting.
Here’s what I’d try next:
It’s not clear whether W/B Control can be a well-balanced enough deck to stand the test of time. But in a world where beating B/G and Mardu Vehicles is what’s important, I believe that it can be a strong choice.