A Brave New World (Grixis control standard)by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
Well, the summer Pro-Tour has come and gone and we have seen the full evolution of Standard. The match play was terrific with some hugely entertaining matches both at Draft and at Standard. Congratulations must go out to all the players, and especially Ivan Floch for his display of prowess and winning the Pro-Tour with his Blue/White control deck. It is no small feat and he had to play some tremendously high caliber matches to win the title.
As cool as the pro-tour was to watch, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that it was Blue/White control that was the winning deck. I have no problem with the strategy and can clearly see that it is effective, but there were a number of really interesting decks running around that were much fresher and newer. I would have loved to see one of these newer decks win the day simply for the novelty, but at least it wasn’t Mono-Black Devotion. There was plenty of variety in the Top 8 decks, which was nice, but still, to see an archetype that has been as consistent from last Fall to now still prevail is a little bit…I don’t know…I guess boring. However, the days of Blue/White control in Standard seem to be coming to a close, so get your fill now folks because I suspect we may not see it for a while.
This first portion of my article today is strictly a prediction. I have no inside source at WoTC or anywhere inside the Magic community. However, based on a few observations I can pretty safely declare that Blue/White control or U/W/x control will be taking a back seat. We will be watching as Return to Ravnica rotates out of Standard in about 7 weeks leaving two HUGE holes in the U/W control strategy. The first gap is Sphinx’s Revelation. Sphinx’s Revelation is a major key to the strategy because it just allows for massive card advantage and life gain allowing the control player to reload their hand with answers and gain valuable life. I would be shocked if something comparable was printed in Khans for the simple reason that it is such a powerful card. Notice I say “powerful”, not “broken” because I fundamentally feel that Sphinx’s Revelation is a fair card and a player who casts it can still be beaten, but it is a very powerful card that can turn the tide of the game very quickly. I would expect some measure of mass card draw, or life gain, but NOT both together the way that Sphinx’s Revelation does it. No, the days of easy living on Sphinx’s Revelation will be drawing to close at Standard for a while.
The other piece is a little trickier, and that’s Supreme Verdict. For ages now we have just come to accept that there will be a 4 mana sweeper in white. Please see exhibit A- Wrath of God. Exhibit B- Day of Judgement. However, when they printed Supreme Verdict they raised the bar a touch. 4 mana sweeper…and can’t be countered. Well, that’s a big upgrade and pretty much makes Verdict the Cat’s Ass of wrath effects. However, since Supreme Verdict was released there has been steady trend. Removal has got progressively more expensive. Think about it…in Theros we were given a large number of removal spells, all of them quite pricey (thank you Sip of Hemlock). Inexpensive removal consists of things like Hero’s Downfall…which is still a 3 mana removal spell. Sure, it hits Planeswalkers too, but in most situations it is used to wipe out a creature. Bile Blight is a thing, but it is also conditional because if the creature is too large, Bile Blight just shrinks it (and you hope to heavens you can block the creature profitably). Ulcerate is 1 mana…but costs you 15% of your life total just for casting it. Fated Retribution, Planar Cleansing and Mass Calcify are other removal type spells…and cost 6 or 7 respectively. Even Red has not been spared. Apart from Lightning Strike, Red has started to see burn spells creep up in cost as well. Bottom line, the price of removal is getting a tad higher. So, combine the fact that Wizards has already given us the Cat’s Ass of mass removal, and that removal is getting more expensive, I would honestly be surprised to see a 4 mana sweeper once Khans of Tarkir is released. There will be mass removal of some sort, but I would expect to see the coverted mana cost climb to 5 , or if it is staying at 4, would require all three colours from the respective wedge. In either scenario, the requirement to cast the spell has just increased. This slight increase, coupled with the loss of Sphinx’s Revelation might be enough to knock U/W control down from a top tier deck to being a reliable but somewhat lacking tier 1.5 deck that just won’t command the same level of respect at any given event during the Standard season.
So, U/W may be taking a back seat for the next while, but there will absolutely be a control strategy of some sort that will come around. It’s a bit tricky to try and pick up on what exactly that strategy will look like, but I am prepared to take a look at some new options, and one in particular, that you might be interested in keeping an eye on as Khans of Tarkir starts to be spoiled in the next couple of weeks. For many a season now we have seen U/W/x be the dominant control strategy but what if we removed the White from that mix and instead replaced it with Black? We would move away from the Esper or Jeskai (did you notice the new wedge name?) and move towards Grixis as a potential control strategy. Let’s explore this strategy a tad.
First off, land. This colour combination could very well have the appropriate land base to make a go at it. There are Temple of Deceit (U/B) and Temple of Malice (R/B) and Temple of Epiphany (R/U) from Theros block to give you at least 12 on colour Temples to start your deck off. From M15 we also have Shivan Reef, meaning that you are pushed to 16 total on colour dual lands for your deck. Add in Mana Confluence and you could be as a 20 lands for your deck to cast your spells and have access to the right mana. So, the land looks good.
Next, you have your removal package which is still very strong. With access to Hero’s Downfall, Bile Blight, Ulcerate, and Silence the Believers you have a pretty robust suite of removal with which to handle most creatures that are on the table. I agree, this is all targeted removal and not a sweeper meaning Hexproof creatures or other creatures that are difficult to interact with could be a problem. The solution would appear to be, in the absence of a true sweeper, sacrifice effects. Devour Flesh may be rotating out, but there will undoubtedly be another sacrifice type effect that could at least be sided in if the need arises. I’m hesitant to include In Garruk’s Wake, the 9 mana sorcery that is an asymmetrical board wipe, but if you are playing a control deck you could get there in a long game and then drop this thing to just devastate an opponent. I’m skeptical myself, but it warrants some investigation. Red would also give you access to Lightning Strike, Anger of the Gods, and Magma Jet and Magma Spray meaning you would have a pretty beast set of removal spells to lock your aggressive opponents out of their creatures.
Lastly we have the permission package and M15 gave us a sweet option. Dissolve is a very solid 3 mana counter spell, but now with the addition of Dissipate we have as many as 8 hard counters to use. That could be pretty devastating to deny your opposition of a crucial spell or to protect some resource of your own.
I can think of very few creatures that you would be truly excited to play in this deck because control decks are usually pretty light in the creature department, but those that they cast can protect themselves. Aetherling played such a role perfectly for months after it arrived on the scene from Dragon’s Maze, but Prognostic Sphinx could play a similar role. The 3 power makes it JUST small enough to avoid getting killed by Elspeth, Pillar of light or other spells. The high toughness means it survives most burn spells. You can even grant it Hexproof to help protect it. And the best part is the Scry 3 whenever it attacks basically ensures you can draw exactly what you need. Other options could include Indulgent Tormentor because the triggered ability is useful in all three modes, or Chasm Skulker because the more cards you draw to bigger it gets…and when it dies it spits squid tokens everywhere making it a real pain to contend with.
The last consideration is Planeswalkers and the Grixis control standard colour combo could have some good ones. Chandra Pyromaster is the best Chandra yet printed and she could be extremely useful in this deck. Lilianna Vess is another viable option and her ability to tutor up an answer makes her invaluable. Jace, the Living Guildpact could also be a very solid control card and offer some very good versatility to filter your draw and bounce permanents. The last is Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver who might be an ideal Planeswalker in this sort of deck to give you a true win condition of milling out your opponent.
So, the pieces sort of fit and so I have put together a rough list of a deck that start down the Grixis control standard path for when Khans of Tarkir is released. It is not going to be perfect because it only includes cards that are from Theros and M15. Without knowing exactly what Khans could hold for this deck it’s tricky, but I figured I would give it a stab and see what i can put together as a framework for the deck and add when Khans is released.
Test Deck – Grixis Control Standard – Khans of Tarkir
There we have our shell for a Grixis control deck. Of course, this is not written is stone but is something that you might be willing to brew up and test out. I haven’t put together a sideboard yet either because you might have your own direction you want to take it in. The beauty of this time of year, as we prepare for the Brave New World post rotation, that anything is possible and lots of interesting new twists on decks could emerge.
Let me know what you think about the deck. What would add? What would you take out? Would you go another direction all together? Some of the beauty of playing Magic is that the possibilities are endless, so let me know what possibilities YOU see. Send me a tweet and let’s exchange some ideas.
Thanks for reading and until next time keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it casual.
by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter