Control in Standard

Posted in Perilous Research on December 4, 2014

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome back to Perilous Research,'s exclusive Magic Online column. Today, we'll be taking another look at the current state of the Standard metagame. Over the last couple of weeks, control decks have experienced a lot of success. The metagame has begun to be established enough for wise control players to build their decks in such a way that it attacks the most common strategies from opponents. Today, we'll be taking a look at Standard's newest overlords; discussing why control decks are good in Standard right now, and attempting to identify the best ways to beat the control decks.

It makes sense, it was only a matter of time before control strategies rose to the top in a Standard format with Dig Through Time. Dig Through Time is proving itself to be one of the best draw spells ever printed and its power is giving these decks the tools and card advantage they need to stand up to all resistance. Abzan and Mardu decks continue to do well on Magic Online, but these decks are both midrange-y enough that players can design their control decks to be well-suited for both battled.

Let's take a look at the control decks that are quickly establishing themselves as tier-one entities alongside Mardu and Abzan:

Kadowfatch's Esper Control (4–0 Magic Online Standard Daily)

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Esper Control is the newest control deck in Standard. Unlike the other blue-black control decks, Esper Control has the ability to apply real pressure on the opponent outside of sheer card advantage. The deck controls the game by picking apart the opponent's hand with a huge discard suite before cleaning up the board with spot removal and End Hostilities. When the board is clear, the deck can apply pressure with Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Elspeth, Sun's Champion, allowing it to win games in a reasonable time frame.

Soysauce44's Blue-Black Control (4–0 Magic Online Standard Daily)

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Blue-Black Control is likely the "best" control deck right now. Versions of this deck have been championed by Adrian Sullivan and others since the beginning of this Standard format. The deck has a good matchup against Abzan, Mardu, and Jeskai, which puts it in a pretty tremendous position in general. The deck isn't trying to win the game, but rather, the deck aims to keep the board empty while it overwhelms the opponent with the most powerful card advantage available in the format. Perilous Vault gives the blue-black deck access to a board sweeping effect that would otherwise be lacking in the color combination. The deck can cast Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver into a relatively empty board for a lot of value. Ashiok can apply pressure by getting good reveals or simply force the opponent to overextend into Drown in Sorrow in the right matchups. I would recommend the fourth Ashiok before the first Liliana Vess, but I'm not opposed to playing both, especially given the new state of Standard.

VonUber's Blue-Black Control (4–0 Magic Online Standard Daily)

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VonUber's blue-black deck eschews Ashiok in the main deck in favor of more cards that can interact with the opponent's existing boardstate. This version of the deck is the most dedicated control deck of the bunch and will more frequently be able to control the early turns of the game. Closing the game can take a while with this one, though. Pearl Lake Ancient does end games, but it can take a while and it's possible the opponent has an opportunity to squeak their way to victory with burn spells off the top.

Vileda's Jeskai Control (4–0 Magic Online Standard Daily)

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Much like the Esper Control deck, the Jeskai Control deck controls the early game and pressures the opponent with big permanents like Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and Keranos, God of Storms. The Jeskai Control deck has access to Anger of the Gods and End Hostilities, the best board sweepers available in Standard. Anger of the Gods makes the deck match up well against the Sidisi, Brood Tyrant decks that traditionally punish control strategies. This deck's mana can be iffy, but from a sheer power perspective this seems like a great choice for the current Standard metagame.

Now that we've examined the control decks that are becoming such a big part of Standard, it seems like it would be useful to discuss some of the decks that are best positioned against those decks.

CalebD's Sidisi Whip

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Caleb Durward is one of the most talented deck builders around. This version of Sidisi Whip is particularly well-suited for the control matchups in the current Standard. Anger of the Gods can be very good against the deck, but that card isn't seeing a ton of play right now. Four copies of Treasure Cruise team up with Whip of Erebos to give the deck longevity that's hard for the control decks to contend with.

BlueDevill's Temur (4–0 Magic Online Standard Daily)

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Temur, especially the versions of the deck that play one Temur Ascendancy and Stubborn Denial, is great against the new control decks. It's easy to play the deck like an aggro control strategy and not give up many cards while still applying a lot of pressure. We can expect Temur to do very well if the format oscillates to a play where Abzan and control decks are the new hotness. Stormbreath Dragon punishes the Abzan decks while the overarching strategy of the deck punishes the more controlling opponents.

Standard continues to evolve with each passing week. What are your plans for battling the new control contingent in Standard? What version of control do you feel has the best potential to cement itself as a tier-one strategy? We'll continue exploring these questions as we further dissect Khans of Tarkir Standard in the coming weeks.

Knowledge is power!

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