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.
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
As with any Blue and White based control strategy we find a stock shell with this deck sporting a trio of Jace, Architect of Thought for draw and protection from creature swarms, a set of Sphinx’s Revelation to restock your hand with options and incidental lifegain to boot, a set of Supreme Verdict to deal with Aggro creature swarms, and a set of Detention Sphere which is able to answer most every other problem the deck may face. The meat of the deck comes from its planeswalkers, where we find the duo of the light and darkness alongside a pair of Jace options. First looking at the light we have Elspeth, Sun’s Champion as a primary win condition spitting out soldiers three at a time, while also able to sweep the board of all creatures with power greater then four and should she go ultimate will pump those soldiers of hers into veritable jet planes. Next plunging into darkness we find Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver who is especially powerful against creature decks to steal away their threats by milling away the top of the library and given enough support then dropping them into play. Then we have the two Jace, Architect of Thought integral to the deck surviving creature rush Aggro and grinding out card advantage, but also a singleton Memory Adept to work against Control strategies and mill them down to no library while you sit back playing a defensive role. The potatos of the deck come from a variety of Control staples of permission, removal and draw. The permission package is two-fold using the potent Thoughtseize to strip away their threats before they can play them while also providing you with very valuable information about what their plan is, and also a pair of Dissolve as the deck only real denial with a bonus Scry tacked on to help dig through your deck for more answers. As for removal this deck is chock full of including Supreme Verdict and Detention Sphere already mentioned, but also some spot removal with a trio of Devour Flesh to abolish that huge threat when the enemy doesn’t have a swarm present and a Doom Blade able to destroy anything in RG Monsters in a pinch. As for draw power the main tool lies in Revelation and Architect, but the deck also leans heavily on the eleven Temples for Scry to help filter draws into what is absolutely needed. We wrap up with the utility player Azorius Charm which can gain a few points of life with Soldiers if desperate, filters itself into a new draw when needed, and even bounces an attacking or blocking creature to the top of its owners library to set them back and save some life.
While it’s true we are on the verge of a new Standard format in a few weeks it is certain that UW Control will be a strategy to continue going forward. Normally I would also say that with the summer here and Magic in its dog days that it isn’t important what to play, but remember that the World Magic Cup Qualifers are coming up. If you like oppressive Control strategies then I would definitely recommend this deck for you but be sure to clue into the current meta as this is always a deck that needs to be tweeked and tuned for what’s current. And good luck chasing down that glory.
We had on one side of the Theros Block coin the RG Elspeth deck and other White based decks like Patrick Chapin’s winning Junk Midrange running the powerful planeswalker Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. But the flip side of that coin has the decks which were able to figure out its natural enemy was Prognostic Sphinx. That second pillar which emerged in the format was BUG Control which used the Sphinx to attack into Elspeth through her natural defense, ramp up quickly with the staple Green creatures and dipped into Black for efficient removal. This is definitely going to be a player at Grand Prix Manchester.
It is no surprise to see that as a Green deck the creature package starts with both staples of the format in Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix there to help ramp quickly into an early Sphinx or getting multiple planeswalkers out. The only other creature is Prognostic Sphinx who’s main goal is to fly over defenders to beatdown Elspeth and conveniently skirts her destroy ability, not to mention is already able to protect itself well with its Hexproof granting ability. Moving into planeswalkers there is first Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver that while there is a low threat density in the deck from creatures can often steal one of the opponents fatties to bring down the beats upon them. The other is Kiora, the Crashing Wave who plus is able to lockdown the biggest threat on the other side of the board, can do a fantastic impersonation of Explore, and realistically will be able to create an emblem to ‘Free the Kraken’ if you can offer he a bit of protection. The title is a bit misleading as it does not play a big permission role as a Control deck but more of a board control through removal which is why there is only the misers copy of Dissolve in the main deck. As far as removal though there’s a full set of Hero’s Downfall to smash either creatures or planeswalkers, the pseudo-sweeper Silence the Believers to banish at times two or three nuisance creatures, Bile Blight which is an excellent way to rid the board of an overwhelming amount of Soldier Tokens or any other creature they have out in multiples, and also Unravel the Æther which will save you from enchantment or artifact alike especially an Indestructible god that’s ruining your day. It wouldn’t be right for a Control deck running Black to not include some discard and for that we have a full set of Thoughtseize to not only strip away the opponents most relevant threat but also to provide you with some extremely valuable information about their game plan.
It’s going to be very interesting to see what configuration of this powerful deck emerges as the most dominant. I’m sure we will see some tweaks shake out to mold to the expected meta. As three different copies were able to make the top 8 at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx I would be surprised if it doesn’t show itself in Manchester. Definitely going forward into the next Standard season this is well positioned to be a powerplayer there as well.
Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and gifts of love have been exchanged.
But not all creatures are loved equally, and if there is any card that has been so utterly left unloved from the Theros set I would have to say that it is Spellheart Chimera. If you ever see your opponent play this card in draft you are pretty much guaranteed to win. If you see it in constructed you will probably be asking yourself what your opponent was thinking? Let’s take a closer look at it, shall we?
It has Flying and Trample and a static three toughness. It’s power fluctuates depending upon the number of sorcery and instant cards in your graveyard. It’s also aggressively costed at only three mana, a colourless, a red, and a blue.
Now in Limited this card is near unplayable because creatures are the name of the game, not spells. Your typical draft, or sealed, deck is going to be made up of at most five to seven non-creature spells. Which means that this flying roadblock’s Trample ability will be almost irrelevant as it’s power will be too low for it to matter.
In constructed however I may have found a home for it, in Block. If you read my “That’s Bull!” article then you already know what Block Constructed is, if not here is a brief description. It’s like any constructed format with a minimum of sixty cards in the deck, but you are limited to only a Block of cards. In this case we are using Theros Block, for obvious reasons.
Now the Block Constructed deck I started out with was based on the Scry mechanic. Every card in the deck had some interaction with Scry or had the Scry ability. This was the core of the design concept for the deck. Being able to rig your draws to be able to keep on curve or be able to ‘dig’ for the answers you needed to stop your opponent. If you look up all the cards that have Scry in red and blue from Theros alone you total seventeen, Born of the Gods adds an additional 8, bringing our grand total to twenty five different cards that have or use Scry.
Before the Chimera came to mind I was playtesting the deck online with the Flamespeaker Adept as it’s champion creature, and for good reason. With combat tricks like Titan’s Strength to make boost it’s power from the simple two to nine, and Aqueous Form to make him unblockable, he can be quite the little beatstick. On top of that if you can get the Prognostic Sphinx joining him in the air it makes for a near game ending combo.
That combo was what fueled this concept in the first place after I went undefeated in a Theros Draft after getting the Sphinx with two Adept’s a a couple of Magma Jet’s and Voyage’s End. It made me wonder if it was viable as a deck concept and that is when I decided to try it in Block Constructed. Let’s take a look at the deck
It’s initial testing was against blue green Prophet of Kruphix deck and was favorable as the creatures were weak enough to succumb to the first striking adept and it didn’t have enough to stop it in the air with the Sphinx. Next up was blue white heroic, which was too easily defeated with Voyage’s End and Sea God’s Revenge. The biggest test was going to be against naya monsters, which featured ramping with Voyaging Satyr and Sylvan Caryatid into Polakranos, World Eater and Stormbreath Dragon and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and you get the point. Naya Monsters, at the time of this writing, makes up seventy-five percent of the online meta, which shows just how dominant it is.
Now the secret to beating naya monsters was to be patient and wait for them to cast their big creatures that they were relying on. They usually want to curve out and get their big threats in play as they expend all their mana, so cards like Dissolve and Stymied Hopes are great ways to combat them. Voyage’s End will buy you a turn, and the new Sudden Storm will buy you two turns, all while using Scry to set up your next big road block, or curve out, or threat.
And so after doing some testing with the original list I realized that Prescient Chimera wasn’t very beneficial and was way too expensive, but the deck couldn’t afford to lose anymore creatures. The deck was creature light already. And that’s where the Spellheart Chimera comes into play. The deck is using a lot of “counter/burn” to keep our opponent’s board in check, so why not have a cheap creature that can take advantage of all that. Spellheart Chimera is cheaper than the other chimera and grows larger as we cast more spells. What it doesn’t do is scry every time we play a spell, but that’s not bad because a lot of our spells already do that.
So let’s take a look at the new list.
It’s different, that is for sure and I can almost guarantee that nobody at your FNM is going to expect it and might even think you are crazy when you play out the Spellheart Chimera, but when you beat them with it you will make some people rethink what I though. Because, I never thought that the Spellheart Chimera would find a home, I thought it was absolute garbage. But, this redheaded bastard stepchild of the Theros set just might have found some love.
~ Gerald Knight
Extra Booty: Before you jump on me for that red-headed bastard comment, I was born a bastard, proud of it too, and I fathered a red-headed child who is now a step-child to my fiance. Don’t say that writers never talk about themselves!
I love the flavor of this card, an excellent ode to the Trojan horse.
This is definitely a weapon that control decks will be using. Scry is exactly what you want on a counterspell.
Could very easily find a way into Red Deck Wins style decks. Imagine Legion Loyalist into Ash Zealot into Boros Reckoner into Fanatic of Mogis kind of shenanigans.
Another one of those build around Heroic cards. Might find some kind of niche play.
Interesting cards these Bestow creatures. This one has a pretty useful ability.
Basically a Glorious Anthem with upside. This ability will definitely cause a few big creatures to think twice about attacking.
A pretty sweet one-drop for black, albeit not exactly in a well supported tribe for that color. Can gain you some incremental advantage if you can abuse it well. Definitely draftable if you are running a fair amount of combat tricks.
WOW !!! I love all of these Weapons of the Gods, but this is just sickeningly powerful. I have no doubt that this card is going to be used to astonishing effect. The Lifelink is just the icing on the cake.