The Verdict Is In!

Posted in Top Decks on October 31, 2013

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 competitive Magic Online column. This week, we'll be taking a look at the newest craze in Standard, control decks. Control strategies have been some of the most successful decks throughout Magic's history. Recently, decks like Esper Control have been creeping up the ranks and it's beginning to look like control is the real deal in the new Standard.

Supreme Verdict | Art by Sam Burley

The rise of Supreme Verdict strategies has made Blue Devotion strategies significantly weaker. Green Devotion strategies have begun playing a lot of Planeswalkers with the intention of grinding out their control opponents in a question/answer game. Black Devotion strategies are naturally well-equipped for the control matchup and have been rewarded with a lot of Daily and Premier Event victories.

Today, we'll be taking a look at the many faces of control in the new Standard. Most players are familiar with the Esper decks that play one or two Ætherlings as win conditions, but the lesser-known control strategies are enjoying a lot of success under the radar. Let's check out some decklists!

Butakov's Esper Control

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The traditional Esper Control deck is all over the place on Magic Online. This version, piloted by Magic Online Champion, Butakov, looks tuned to perfection. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is very strong in a Standard environment that has slowed down significantly. Like most current Esper lists, the deck pushes the permanent angle hard. Cards like the underplayed Vraska the Unseen are an absolute beating against the stock versions of Esper. Main-deck Ratchet Bomb goes a long way in the Black Devotion matchup. Sphinx's Revelation allows an Esper player to catch up in life total and cards very quickly. The first or second draw from Underworld Connections is never the real problem; it's the fifth, sixth, and seventh draw that really start to push the Esper player underneath the table. There's no good answer to Thoughtseize, but this deck has enough topdeck potential to beat any opponent.

Ratchet Bomb
Sphinx's Revelation

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver isn't just for control mirrors. The midrange creature strategies like Black Devotion, Black-White Midrange, and Gruul Devotion are all very soft to Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver in conjunction with cheap removal spells. It's especially nice when we hit Burning-Tree Emissary with our first mill and cast Elspeth, Sun's Champion on the fourth turn with the extra mana we get from Burning-Tree Emissary. One copy of Ætherling remains here. A lot of Esper masters, including Christian Calcano, hate drawing their Ætherling. That being said, it's one of the very best cards at beating Black Devotion and other control decks. I don't mind having a single copy, but I could see it being cut in favor of more controlling fare.

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

sfida's Green-Blue-Black Control

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Here we venture into the Magic Online freak show. Green-Blue-Black Control has been brushed aside by most in favor of color combinations that include Supreme Verdict, Anger of the Gods, or Sphinx's Revelation. This version of the control deck has an interesting route to victory. As it turns out, decking your opponent isn't outside the realm of possibility in the current Standard format. The combination of Psychic Strike and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver in a hard control deck can make things very awkward for opponents who are certainly casting huge spells. This deck preys on control mirrors that can't pressure its Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. The deck has no creatures in the main, and we can expect our opponents to sideboard out all of their removal for Game 2. If our opponent happens to be playing a Gray Merchant of Asphodel strategy, we can cast Progenitor Mimic to copy it in the second or third game; we didn't play any creatures in the first game, so our opponent will likely have no removal and the Progenitor Mimic can take over the game by steadily draining our opponent to death.

Psychic Strike
Progenitor Mimic

Inglish's Azorius Devotion

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Blue Devotion decks are very weak to Supreme Verdict. How can we solve this issue and continue mastering waves technology? We can play a control deck that abuses the Blue Devotion strategy's most powerful cards. Thassa, God of the Sea and Master of Waves are far and away the best cards from the Mono-Blue Devotion deck that dominated Pro Tour Theros.

Thassa, God of the Sea
Master of Waves

This version of Azorius Control can play the Supreme Verdict/Sphinx's Revelation game with the best of them, but it gets to use some of the format's most powerful cards to interact on the board. Nightveil Specter can be difficult to cast here, but it's a very good card because it forces our opponent to deal with it if he or she doesn't want an active Thassa, God of the Sea, a huge Master of Waves, or a steady stream of card advantage staring down from the other side of the table. Claustrophobia may seem odd, but a spot-removal spell that provides two devotion is very strong in this deck. I wouldn't be opposed to playing one or two Domestication in this, main deck. I feel this is one of the most powerful control strategies because of the way that it completely dismantles the most aggressive decks. It's very difficult to be run over with this type of control deck and the control mirror is still more about hitting our land drops consistently than it is about what cards are in our deck.


GoleadoR9's Esper Control

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Blood Baron Esper had a reasonable amount of success at Pro Tour Theros, but the deck was sidelined by most in favor of more Planeswalker-heavy versions. Blood Baron of Vizkopa makes this version of Esper much better than its counterpart against Black Devotion, the boogieman of the format. This version of the deck plays very little in the way of cheap spot removal; it leans very hard on its Supreme Verdict and may find itself getting run over by aggressive decks.

Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Supreme Verdict

That being said, this deck gets a lot of free wins from the Black-White Midrange strategies that continue to do well. I would like to see these versions of Esper playing more in the way of cheap spot removal, and I'm not sure a full four copies of Sphinx's Revelation are necessary when all of our spells are so expensive. I really like Blood Baron in this day and age, though, there's a lot of Black Devotion, White Weenie, and Black-White Midrange in the recent Daily Events, and this deck aims to shut them down in the first game.

Sphinx's Revelation

Katsushika's White-Blue-red Control

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I discussed White-Blue-red Control strategies at length with Gerry Thompson prior to Pro Tour Theros, but we couldn't find an iteration of the deck that felt strong going into an unknown field. That being said, having access to Anger of the Gods is very good for the Supreme Verdict decks and Assemble the Legion is still a house in the control mirror, even with all the Jace, Architect of Thoughts flying around.

Anger of the Gods
Assemble the Legion

Many players have begun playing Naya strategies with all multicolor creatures in an effort to dodge opposing Ultimate Price decks, this version of the control deck can ignore the hurdles those players have jumped through in deck construction and easily cruise to victory. This is a tried and tested strategy, and it's always worth looking at a control deck with a lot of tools to fight the most aggressive decks.

Ultimate Price

MR_Thompson's Esper

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Creatureless Esper—it's what all the cool kids are doing these days. Here's the thing—drawing our Ætherling when we're not already solidly in control of the game is usually pretty rough. It sounds crazy, but we can minimize our chances of drawing Ætherling in the early game by not playing any copies of Ætherling. Again, this deck is leaning very hard on its Supreme Verdict in an environment where the most aggressive decks are trying to durdle with the devotion mechanic instead of getting their opponent dead. This deck is very weak to the most aggressive Red strategies, but the Red decks we've been seeing recently are light on one-drops and soft to Supreme Verdict, especially when we're on the play.

Supreme Verdict

BGrindborg's Naya Control

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My favorite control deck from the recent Magic Online Dailies isn't playing blue cards at all. Instead, BGrindborg chose to play a Naya deck that's well equipped to destroy control decks and aggressive decks. The deck can be weak to the more traditional Gruul Devotion and Blue Devotion lists, but those decks are waning in popularity as Supreme Verdict increases in popularity. Also, Anger of the Gods can be very good against Blue Devotion or Gruul Devotion depending on the type of draw they have. We can think of this deck as Naya Super Friends. It plays a ton of Planeswalkers and can often set up a Voltron where it feels as if we're ganging up on our opponent in a multiplayer game.

Chandra, Pyromaster
Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Selesnya Charm gives this deck a solid out to Thassa, God of the Sea and prevents it from being randomly 5ed until dead where some of the other control decks can be soft to that plan, especially the versions that have cut down on their Azorius Charms. Bramblecrush may seem like a strange sideboard option, but destroying a land with Underworld Connections on it is about the best thing we can do in the matchups where we want to be doing that.

Selesnya Charm

Let's not be caught off guard by our control opponents! With the knowledge we've gained in this article, we should have a solid understanding of the state of control decks in the current Standard environment. Whether we're looking to build a standard control deck or looking to beat one, hopefully we've learned something worthwhile.

Knowledge is power!

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