Control FREAK: All the Time in the World
By David Hitchcock on October 5th, 2006 · Filed in Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now
Introduction: (Also, Non Sequitur)
I apologize in advance. I am truly and deeply sorry for all of you wonderful people out there who play aggressive decks. It appears that your first FNM after Time Spiral rotates in will quite likely be extremely painful and frustrating. Not only will you be staring down the most powerful set of control cards since Onslaught’s Blue and White, but several of those same cards will be returning to the format. Now, not all is lost, as we shall see in the upcoming weeks; you do have access to several powerful new effects and undercosted fat like Serra Avenger. But all digression aside, we need to look at the possibilities for Control players in Time Spiral, and do what we do every set: try to break the cards. Narf!
Welcome Home; Planeswalker.
We have returned to Dominaria, perhaps the best designed and certainly the most widely known realm in Magic: the Gathering. In Time Spiral, we find a wonderful interplay of many parts of Dominaria’s history, and the return of several beloved heroes from old story arcs. As a history major, the feel of this entire set makes me warm and fuzzy on the inside. As a control player, this set makes me giggle like a school girl. Not only can I cast eight broken wrath effects in the same format again, but I can play all of my creatures whenever I want, draw three cards for one mana, and play an angel for two mana with counter backup. Oh, also, black lotus effects and Akroma! Thanks Wizards!
Perhaps the most gratifying element of this whole set is the flavour and mechanic synergy. Time Spiral already makes me feel more like a mighty Planeswalker challenging the cosmos than any other set I have ever used. The set is powerful, no doubt, but the actual feel of the cards is even more than I could have hoped for. Much like Chronicles, Time Spiral has brought back many famous and powerful cards from Magic’s past, but it has changed them in fundamental ways that do no disservice to the originals.
Gather Your Strength, Wanderer.
If I am a Planeswalker who has just shifted to Dominaria, I would gather my forces from the Plains and the Seas of the world. Devoted, noble and brilliant would they be, a veritable host of heavenly vengeance who had finally found their God. I would seek out the best and the brightest, lost among the temporal eddies of a ruined existence, and I would create order, structure, society! I will doubtless be assailed, so let us look at my arsenal:
Akroma: Fist of Feminism
Slow Down! Oh, Wait…
This deck is so speculative and so early, I’ll probably get a game loss at some future tournament for writing about it now. It is also totally un-tuned and barely tested (I love proxies and bored friends at times like these), making it absolutely perfect for a serious article on a respected Magic website! But the point is in the pudding: there will be a Blue and White control deck in standard now, and it will be competitive. Board in your boils. That deck will abuse the following fundamental concepts, regardless of cards used:
1. Suspend: I pay barely any mana for this now, and reap a disgusting benefit later. Suddenly gaining a Black Lotus on turn 4 and an Ancestral Recall on turn 5 is very bad for your opponent.
2. City of Solitude, also, play your dudes as instants. Three blue mana be damned, Teferi is broken. Magus of the Jar is not meant to be played as an instant! He also pretty much destroys all suspend effects for your opponent. Fantastic!
3. Eight Wrath Effects. And good ones too! Magus of the Disk is only slow if he is played at sorcery speed, which will not necessarily be the case. Even if he is, you usually draw three cards and get three mana (perfect for cancel) on the same turn.
4. Akroma. Nothing says: “The game is over, and stop staring at my chest!” like the angel of wrath.
"I am Going to Show You Something. Be Not Afraid..."
In the basic stages of constructing this article, several players offered some insights about Control that I feel need to be offered here. We all remember "Vanilla-Tron" and its slightly bluer counterpart don't we? I know I do, because I played it before latching on to the Firemane bandwagon before Regionals. V-Tron essentially lacked stuff to power out, and got wrecked by the annex build of wildfires, so it faded away. But what about now? I call it "The Urza Complex", since I am weird like that.
She Whispers Madness
The sideboard will inevitably include Teferi's Moat and various other hosers like Ivory Mask or perhaps Draining Whelk against slower decks. Shouts go out to morgan_coke on the basic ‘tron list and Lunar for suggesting a way to get even more owned by Blood Moon (Flagstones, whee!). One of the first anti-control cards I would consider for this deck (in a control heavy metagame) is Weathered Wayfarer. With the Flagstones triggered abilities on the stack and a floating from one of them, you generally have no problems searching for that Urza piece you need. Another card that could make it is overrule, but that is an intensive card that may be a bit "win-more" for our tastes. The deck has minimal countermagic, much like the old Onslaught U/W Lists, and relies on the same combination of insane draw power and board advantage to win. Note that Rune Snag is in over Mana Leak, this is not just personal taste, as with a draw and discard suite of any kind Rune Snag is simply better, since you can discard it to power up the future ones if you have already passed the first few "tap-out" turns. The draw suite can certainly be adjusted to your needs for speed. Faster would mean a fourth Compulsive Research, and one less Ancestral Vision, methinks. Tidings is slow, but powerful, and two has always seemed like the magic number for Tron lists, but it's all relative.
Now let’s discuss what this deck needs to worry about. First and foremost, anyone playing this deck is going to despise a well timed Smallpox in the early game, and lurch over the table to beat up the opponent if they cast Curse of the Cabal a few times. Yes you can let one resolve off of suspend and just counter it, but the card itself is so harmful to the deck that one resolving is almost game-over. Tron needs its permanents. Cards with split-second like Wipe Away will also give you fits, since you do not have that many win conditions, and re-casting them is a real pain, even with Tron out. Ghost Quarter is particularly nasty for this build in particular, but you can adjust your land base quite a bit and still be playing Tron at three each if you are worried about the quarter in your meta. The new Firemane Burn deck will also be extremely hard to win against game one, since with Psionic Blast now in the format, this deck has even more reach than before, and several cards like Cranial Extraction and Ebony Owl Netsuke that kept in check are leaving the format. Even with challenges like these, I'd argue for U/W Tron as a big contender for king control deck of the format. It will take some aggressive anti-Firemane sideboarding like 3 Ivory Mask, 4 Tormod's Crypt, 4 Disenchant, but those cards hit a ton of other decks anyways, so we need not be too worried.
But Wait! There's More!
I am sure that a good 50% of the people who read this far (and didn't click 'back' while muttering death threats) desperately want to know what I would do with Resurrection. Well! Let me tells yah, it aint purrtee. Yeehaw!
Yes, yes, looks like Solar Flare, blah blah. I can't help that the Japanese are a helluva lot smarter than I am. (Does anyone else feel like every deck they design is divinely inspired for about three quarters of a season?) No, reanimator will NOT suck in the new Standard, Tormod's Crypt nonwithstanding. Yes you should play it. No I am not telling you that to metagame against you. What you will need to do if you play re-animator is to adapt to the crypt. That card can and will wreck you if you don’t have answers to it. Ivory Mask out of the board is the ideal answer (we are seeing a lot of that card today aren't we?), and you simply wait to either cast the mask, or discard your fat and reanimate it on the same turn. The crypt slows down your play-style, so consider a sideboard filled up with anti-agro cards like Condemn or Faith's Fetters, and just board in what you need as necessary. Perhaps even have Lotus Blooms in the board and simply power out your draw and re-animate moves as fast as your can.
Sideboard Options (and Staples) for U/W Control in a New Standard:
1. Tormod's Crypt: This card single-handedly wrecks entire archetypes once it hits. It's free, it's powerful, and it was reprinted enough times to make it easy to get your hands on them. Play four in every sideboard until all graveyard tricks are hated out of the format (never).
2. Disenchant: Having this effect outside of green and aggressively costed once more (sorry seed spark!) is a huge boon to W/x decks of all kinds. This is a simple and reliable answer to many stressful problems like Debtor's Knell, or a tempo shifting play when hitting an early signet at EOT.
3. Spell Snare: Two is still a magical number, especially on opposing countermagic or weenie advantage like Bob.
4. Ivory Mask: This card stops so many effects cold that I sometimes wonder at its cost. Discard? Nope. Crypt my yard? Not anymore! Burn me? Sorry! The list is truly amazing.
5. Azorius Guildmage: Yet another card which acts as a silver bullet for a huge list of troublesome permanents. She slaps Vitu-Ghazi and Akroma, Angel of Wrath around like crazy. Neutralizing huge fatties or annoying activation effects all on one card, very nice, solid choice for our board.
I Felt a Storm Brewing Tomorrow.
Standard is going to be helluva crazy format in 25 days or so. Between Ravnica block and Time Spiral, we will probably have more viable archetypes accessible to us than we have ever had before! All the tools do design multi-coloured decks are still here, but now we have mono-coloured cards from previous sets to play with! Also, the synergy of dredge with flashback and threshold is absolutely frightening! Time Spiral is going to change the way our turns go, it will mess with math and mechanics in a way that no set has ever done, and I think it will make so many players giddy about playing magic that I am getting a bit hot and bothered myself! I am going to go get a raspberry gelato and planeswalk to the swimming pool planet to cool off… see you cats later.
By David Hitchcock on October 5th, 2006 · Filed in Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now
About David Hitchcock
David hails from Ottawa city in Ontario, the capital of Canada, where he is completing a Master's Degree in History. He currently spends way too much time thinking about Magic, and not nearly enough time playing it. David loves beer and books.