There has been some consternation in the Magic community as the spoilers for Dissension have slowly been revealed to the public. The majority of the set is getting good reviews, with the Rakdos mentality of self-destructive aggro represented by Hellbent, and the scientific mutations of the Simic embodied in Graft. The Azorius Senate has faced constant scrutiny since the first spoilers turned up. As the U/W guild of the block, it had pretty high pedigree, with U/W control decks being one of the famous archetypes of Magic. Things seemed perfectly set for a return to classic U/W control.
However, as the spoiler was filled out, people quickly realized that the Azorius were getting few control cards. Instead they were gettting undercosted fliers. The Azorius Senate seemed to be a (GASP!) aggro guild, with cheap flyers and an ability that appeared to be made to defeat control. Looks can be deceiving, however. I firmly believe that U/W control will be a force to be reckoned with in the new Standard.
Let’s look at a list of the playable U/W Control cards pre-Guildpact . . .
For board control we have Wrath of God, Devouring Light, and Faith’s Fetters. Wrath is the iconic mass removal spell, Devouring Light is the perfect answer for Kamigawa’s dragons, and Faith’s Fetters is a catch all answer.
For counterspells we have Hinder, Mana Leak, and Remand. Hinder is a hard counter for 3, Mana Leak is an effective counter spell in the early and midgame, and Remand can act as a neo-Time Walk against many decks.
Don't let all that extra text fool you.
Don't let all that extra text fool you.
For finishers we have Keiga, Yosei, and Meloku. I shouldn’t have to tell you why these are good. If they hit the board, you should win the game.
For sideboard cards we have Ivory Mask, Sacred Ground, and Tempest of Light. Ivory Mask hoses heartbeat, Sacred Ground hoses Wildfire, Tempest of Light hoses Eternal Domain, and you also have access to White’s disenchant effects if you need them.
And for card draw we have Tidings and Jushi Apprentice. Tidings is a four-for-one, which is amazing even at sorcery speed, and Jushi is an amazing card drawing engine by itself.
Along with all the bounce and delay in the format (Boomerang, Repeal, Eye of Nowhere, Gigadrowse), we have the makings of a fairly good deck. Unfortunately, pre-Dissension, this deck was missing a few key things to make it into a competitive deck. It had no mana fixing other than the painlands, and it was extremely vulnerable when going second against aggro. The Kird Ape followed by Watchwolf play of Zoo ripped a U/W control deck to shreds.
Now all that has changed. Let me show you the three best Azorius cards in Dissension:
We’ve known Hallowed Fountain ever since the release of Ravnica, but it alone would not have made U/W control playable. It’s the early-game control with Condemn and Spell Snare that vault U/W control into a playable archetype. It’s no coincidence that Spell Snare has a Watchwolf in its art. If I’m on the draw against Zoo I would need to find a very good reason to keep a hand that didn’t have Spell Snare in it. Countering an aggro deck’s 2-drop is something that can win the game for a control deck, as after that point they can easily survive until a Wrath of God clears the board. The amount of 2-cc cards that play integral roles in Standard decks is staggering. The only top deck that doesn’t have a 2-cc card as an important part of its game plan is Heartbeat Combo, and against that deck you can use Spell Snare to counter their counterspells! When you Remand their killer Maga, and they respond by playing Muddle the Mixture, you’ll have the answer in the form of a Spell Snare.
Condemn, meanwhile, is an answer to any creature threat, for a measly one mana. It’s an answer for every creature from the Dragon Legends on down. The only card in recent memory that was as good as this card is at thwarting aggro was Wing Shards, and that couldn’t typically be cast until turn three.
These three cards are not all U/W control has received in Dissension. Grand Arbiter Augustin IV is a potent card against other control decks, keeping your spells cheaper while making your opponent's spells more expensive. Dovescape will spawn a whole archetype of control decks by itself that use cards like Shining Shoal, Overrule, Repeal and Boseiju to abuse Dovescape’s symmetrical effect. Windreaver (Wonder Woman?) may be the best finisher since Superman himself. The Azorius Guildmage can control the entire board on its own. Its tapping ability can keep enemy threats in line, and its ability to counter activated abilities is a godsend against Greater Good and Miren. Every time I end a counter war using Swift Silence, I know a smile will come to my face. Psychic Possession utterly hoses Owl due to one little word: "may draw a card." Rather than getting more cards than you can ever use, you simply get as many as you need. The Signet and Karoo both give a bit more mana fixing if you need it. What more control cards do you need?
The fact that Wizards didn’t print some killer U/W Wrath, Absorb, or Counterspell variant does not mean that they made the Azorius into a skies aggro guild. It simply means that we already had a pretty nice suite of U/W control cards, and we only needed a few more to push them over the top into an effective and competitive deck.
An example of what a competitive U/W control deck could look like follows:
|DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards|
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Adarkar Wastes
1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
1 Eiganjo Castle
1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge
4 Spell Snare
4 Mana Leak
4 Wrath of God
3 Telling Time
4 Compulsive Research
2 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror
4 Psychic Possession
3 Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
4 Azorius Guildmage
This deck is made to be anti-aggro but still have game versus other important decks in Standard. Wrath, Spell Snare, and Condemn are very effective against Zoo and Heezy Street, as well as almost all other aggro decks. Its starting counter suite is also very effective against decks like Greater Good, Ideal, or Heartbeat that depend on a few certain cards to win the game. B/W control can be a difficult matchup, but effective use of counters can win the game fairly easily. Ghost Husk can be dangerous, but if you can keep the Husk off the field and a Condemn in your hand for back up you should be able to prevent the huge explosions of damage that that deck can be capable of.
Testing showed that the two worst matchups for the deck were Heartbeat (they had counters to force Maga through) and Owling Mine. Most of the other matchups in standard are at least even, if not favourable. Because of this, the sideboard is geared towards beating those two decks.
Heartbeat can beat any deck in Standard out of nowhere. Also the uncounterable tutors mean they will always have the pieces for their combo. However Blue control has the best chance to prevent their kill spells from going off. Azorius Guildmage out of the Sideboard improves the matchup hugely. The ability to keep Heartbeat from assembling they're combo can win the game all by itself. Remand is in the sideboard for the Heartbeat matchup too. Against Heartbeat a remand on their kill spell is as good as a Hinder. It gives you a few more counters maindeck in case Heartbeat goes off in spite of the Guildmage.
Owling Mine is just a really annoying deck for control to beat. Psychic Posession, as I said before, hoses Owling Mine. It keeps Howling Mine and Kami of the Crescent Moon from overfilling your hand. This will keep you from taking damage from the Owl, so as long as you save your counters for Sudden Impact, you should be safe against Owl.
The final card in the sideboard is Augustin. This guy is what the mirror match is all about. Whoever resolves Augustin in the mirror wins the game. He is also a bomb versus any control deck. He isn’t in the main deck because he isn't effective against aggro, and doesn't work well with Wrath of God.
So maybe the new U/W control deck isn't the lockdown deck you thought it would be. There isn't any neo-Stasis, you can't build a deck made up of nothing but a token generator, counters, instant-speed card draw, and Wraths. But that doesn't mean that an effective and powerful U/W deck can't be made. It isn't your father’s U/W control, but it’s still dominating . . . and annoying to be on the recieving end of. And isn't that what every control player wants?