The Control Deck Expert Is In

Posted in Event Coverage on August 27, 2016

By Tobi Henke

Do you like to play a proper old-fashioned control deck? Not one which deals with a few threats and then casts its own, not some midrange deck full of planeswalkers. But a true control deck which has an answer for every single thing the opponent does. A deck which takes full control and aims to keep it, indefinitely. A deck which only at the very end will deign to deal some actual damage.

If this is your preferred style of play, if this sounds like fun, well, then Modern really is a tough format for you. Some opponents will bring hyper aggressive beatdown, others will go for some combo which might be creature- or spell- or even graveyard-based. Some will attack your hand or your mana or your library, attack you of course or your life total directly. You'll face creatures and planeswalkers and enchantments and artifacts and even a few lands that need to be dealt with. In short: Modern allows for a crazy variety of possible strategies and it's quite impossible to defend against all of them.

But one can try. Especially if one is Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, famous for his love of, his expertise on, and his success with control decks. Wafo-Tapa had played a control deck when he won Pro Tour Yokohama in 2007, when he made the Top 8 of the 2010 World Championship and the Top 8 of Pro Tour Amsterdam that same year. In 2013, he finished in the Top 8 at Pro Tour Theros and was subsequently inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. His deck of choice then? Esper Control. His deck this weekend? Ditto.

Wafo-Tapa didn't really have to prove anything at this Grand Prix, but he wasn't playing Esper Control purely for fun either. He had done his preparation and had come up with a solid build. When I sat down to talk to him, he had just won his round-four match against Bant Eldrazi (convincingly so, in two surprisingly quick games of less than twenty minutes each) and was discussing sideboarding strategy with his opponent.

Still, the question had to be asked. Did he choose Esper Control because of its actual strength in the expected metagame, or was it personal preference? Wafo-Tapa smiled and admitted, "Both, I guess."

In fact, he was quick to point out one big weakness of the deck. "It cannot beat Dredge." Of course, he had considered overloading on sideboard hate like Rest in Peace, but: "It costs too much. It's not worth it."

Wafo-Tapa mentioned that burn was a tough matchup too. "In Modern you simply can't avoid having some bad matchups," he acknowledged.

He took a while to come up with any actual positive matchups. "The deck is okay against a lot of decks," he explained. "Good against Jund. Zoo is a good matchup too. As is Abzan Company. Jeskai Nahiri. There are so many decks in this format …"

When asked for the key cards of his deck, the first two that came to mind were Esper Charm and Cryptic Command, along with Path to Exile and Supreme Verdict. "These four and Serum Visions are the cards I'm playing four of."

Talking numbers, I also asked Wafo-Tapa about the single copy of Ancestral Vision, with no Tolaria West or other way to find it. He gave a sheepish grin; it was clear that he wasn't entirely satisfied with the reasoning behind this somewhat odd-looking choice.

"I've tried playing decks with four. The problem is, you can't afford to draw too many bad cards in the midgame. You can always win with one dead card. Which Vision basically is then. This way I can never draw two." He shrugged.

"It's also about the curve," he added. "I didn't want the fourth Think Twice because there's only so much time and mana you can spend on cards that don't really do anything. But I did want to have another card draw."

If you had told me this morning that I would be writing about Think Twice in Modern, my first response would likely have been disbelief. But if I myself had thought twice about it, I might've said: "Ah, so I guess Wafo-Tapa is in the house?"

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's Esper Control

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