Four-Color Control, with Travis Perlee

Posted in Event Coverage on August 28, 2016

By Marc Calderaro

“I like to call it Four-Color Flash, but literally no one else does,” Travis Perlee said of his unique take on the classic Jeskai Control deck. Adding a fourth color to the already-slowest deck in Modern is certainly gutsy (no, Lantern Control doesn't count). But Perlee and his deck-building compatriots saw the benefit long ago, and have been tweaking it over and over, and killing Burn opponents with 1/1 Spirit tokens ever since. And oh yeah, the deck also has Mystical Teachings.

Perlee hails from New Jersey and cut his teeth at Dragon's Lair in Newton. At his first FNM ever he won, and quickly earned the nickname “Giant Killer” from Kyle Shane for beating all the local standouts. That nom de plume is still reflected in his Magic Online handle, “giantkiller4.” “'Giant Killer was taken.” Perlee frowned.

Travis Perlee sat 9-1 just before I caught up with him to talk about the audacity of playing a deck that goes to time in Modern, and how people should approach this tricky deck.

“We've been working on this for years,” he said. “Matt Brown was the one who thought to put Lingering Souls into Jeskai.” At the time, Lingering Souls was so important, they saw the value of jamming in the flyer-making Sorcery despite the extra color. “Having a way to deal with [Liliana of the Veil] was super important,” Perlee emphasized.

Once that changed happened, and they were already jamming Black into a Jeskai shell they were off to the races. And not long after, the deck saw its first success. “Jonathan Sukenik made Top 4 with this four-color deck at an SCG Open in Balitmore.” He continued, “We were up ‘til 1 a.m. the night before working on the manabase.” He laughed and shook his head thinking about it.

And that manabase issue still percolates today. There's a delicate subtlety to getting all the mana you need (and not paying too much life to do it—I'm looking at you, Watery Grave), and the tweaking hasn't subsided, though they've been playing the deck since Khans of Tarkir.

“I always say to my opponents [on the first turn], ‘My manabase is the hardest part of my deck. Give me a second.” Perlee laughed, but it was very true. Perlee discussed the ways to reliably cast Shadow of Doubt or Lightning Helix on the second turn. It gets tricky.

As the deck's been tweaked Perlee himself has been finding success. He finished in the Top 64 of Grand Prix Charlotte 2015, then had similar results again the next year. He sighed. “I went 11-4 ... again.”

These results from a control deck—and such a complex one at that—are promising, but also underline a frustration in Modern. Though control decks can do well, it's difficult to do well consistently, in the face of such a diversity of proactive decks.

But with four-colors'-worth of answers, this deck can get there. Part of the trick for him was adding slightly more threats, and that king of durdles, Mystical Teachings.

“We just needed more threats,” Perlee said. Even after they added Restoration Angel, he said, “two Lingering Souls and one Restoration Angel just wasn't enough.” This brought in a third Lingering Souls, and also added to the value of the next step in the evolution, that Mystical Teachings.

“I was very much against the Teachings originally. It's just so durdley. But we were at two Sphinx's Revelation...” So really the deck already had some durdle to it. The team figured out that a one-one split was likely best. “What are the chances of needing to cast that first ‘Rev' immediately when you draw it? Why not have the Teachings and you can find the ‘Rev'?”

And with the added benefit of also finding virtually any of the non-land cards in the deck—including the Restoration Angel—the deck now had a way to get card draw, counterspells, or a finisher all at the end of the opponent's turn. “The whole is flash. Having a threat off Mystical Teachings is super relevant,” Perlee said.

Offhandedly Perlee bemoaned the fact that Kolaghan's Command actually costs black mana. Which, though it's searchable from the Teachings, does add to the deck's mana problems. The black splash is still light compared to the other color commitments—just a Kolaghan's Command, and the flashback on Mystical Teachings and Lingering Souls—but it's still enough to add to the diversity and strategy of the deck, and is more than worth it overall.

“We can play a Jeskai game, or we can play a Mardu game.” Perlee gave an example. “One game I cast Path to Exile, Lightning Helix and Lingering Souls. My opponent cast Spreading Seas—which was great, because I didn't have a blue source. Then I cast Mystical Teachings.” Needless to say, that caused the opponent some serious confusion. “I've even cast a Cryptic Command off three Sea's Claims.”

This flexibility works very well when you need pressure cards like Nahiri, the Harbinger. “On the play, Lingering Souls against Nahiri is great. They can't really do anything to advance. They just sit at parity.”

“Don't worry about the pace of the clock; just worry about your control of the game.”

Though some people will want to throw in something like Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Perlee advises against it—at least, in the current metagame. “You don't want too many cards that are too archetype specific ... [Tasigur] really can't push through too many things, and it takes up too much your resources. You have Logic Knot, Snapcaster Mage, and Lingering Souls that all want the graveyard.”

As far as Eldritch Moon goes, Perlee couldn't sing the praises of Blessed Alliance enough. “That card does dirty things,” he said. “My Merfolk opponent had two Lords and I had to kill both of them during his attack. I hit one with Izzet Staticaster, cast Alliance for all the modes, made him sacrifice one, then untapped the Staticaster and killed the other.” Filthy.

“It's pretty good,” he smiled and shrug a pretty smug shrug.

Though Four-Color Control takes a while to learn, to tweak, and to win with, Perlee loves the deck and thinks it's more than worth the time investment.

As he left, he said, “I just hope I won't go 11-4 again."

Travis Perlee's Four-Color Control – GP Indianapolis 2016

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