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No Counterspell Control???
The Avacyn Restored spoiler season has been incredibly exciting for constructed players as the set is bringing a number of powerful cards to the competitive tables soon. One card in particular has drawn a lot of talk from the top players in the game: Cavern of Souls. This card should see extensive play and will make waves across every competitive constructed format. As a control mage who plays mostly standard I am interested in examining how a control deck can fight back in the new standard season without using counterspells. First, I want to identify the top decks in the format and then pick out the cards that make up the core of those decks. Then we will put together a control deck that should fare well in the upcoming season.
The top decks in the format today are Delver, Esper Spirits, Esper Control, Green Red Midrange and Birthing Pod, Green Red Ramp, Humans, Token Decks, UB Control and Zombies. Wow, that’s quite a list, no wonder control is hard to play right now. Instead of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of decks in the format let’s try to hone in on the key cards they use to win the game. Once we have identified these we can decide what cards we can play that provide the most power and the most range/utility.
Delver: Delver of Secrets, Invisible Stalker, Geist of Saint Traft, Sword of War and Peace, Runechanter’s Pike, Moorland Haunt and Snapcaster Mage
Esper Spirits: Lingering Souls, Drogskol Captain, Dungeon Geists, Geist of Saint Traft, Sword of War and Peace
Esper Control: Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, Lingering Souls, Day of Judgment, Consecrated Sphinx, Batterskull, Gideon Jura, Liliana of the Veil, and Elesh Norn Grand Cenobite
Green/Red Aggro/Birthing Pod: Strangleroot Geist, Huntmaster of the Fells, Inferno Titan, Primeval Titan, Birthing Pod, Sword of War and Peace, Garruk Relentless, Garruk the Primal Hunter, and One Mana Accelerants
Humans: Champion of the Parish, Grand Abolisher, Thalia, Mirran Crusader, Hero of Bladehold, Honor of the Pure, Moorland Haunt, and Sword of War and Peace
Zombies: Geralf’s Messenger, Phantasmal Image, Liliana of the Veil, Diregraf Captain, and Phyrexian Obliterator
UB Control: Nephalia Drownyard, Grave Titan, Counterspells, and Snapcaster Mage
A lot of these cards can be solved with point and shoot removal spells and we will have some slots in our deck designated for that purpose; I am more interested in the cards that are difficult to answer. Namely hexproof creatures, enchantments, equipment, flashback spells (Lingering Souls), lands and planeswalkers. In order to answer this host of threats we really need a plan from the start.
Our answers are as follows Phantasmal Image, Liliana of the Veil, and Despise for Hexproof creatures, Revoke Existence and Oblivion Ring for enchantments, Divine Offering/Revoke Existence for equipment, Surgical Extraction for flashback cards, and Oblivion Ring/Walkers of our own for Planeswalkers. Our deck has to be designed to execute our plan just as efficiently as the aggro decks are executing theirs. I believe counterspells will not be nearly as powerful in the new format as they were before because opponents can wait for their Cavern of Souls in order to resolve their big creature threats against us. This is why I believe we have to play a tap-out control deck that does not sit back on counterspells but instead tries to overwhelm our opponents with powerful card advantage and planeswalkers. I give you my version of Esper Planeswalker Control.
This threat dense version of Esper Control responds well to aggro decks while at the same time presents too many threats for control decks to efficiently handle. Lingering Souls can either be your offense or more often can provide the defense necessary to begin landing planeswalkers. If your opponents ever commit too many creatures to the board you can set them back with a Day of Judgment followed up by any of our six drop creature spells or the newest edition to our team Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. Her plus ability should be able to handle the threat our opponent plays post wrath and we can just continue to add to our board position. Since creatures dominate standard today our deck reflects that by playing 6 direct removal spells, 3 wrath spells, 4 creature killing planeswalkers, 2 Curse of Death’s Hold, 1 Elesh Norn, and 2 Phantasmal Image. That means that 19 of our 35 spells are removal spells. What is great about this deck though is that many of them offer consistent and repeatable card advantage (Elesh Norn, Gideon Jura, Liliana of the Veil, Curse of Death’s Hold, and Phantasmal Image).
The finishers are varied and but all very powerful and we have added Unburial Rites to guarantee that if our opponent is somehow able to fight through our best spells that we can bring them back for round 2 and round 3. You should also notice the card draw is light but since we are hoping to tap out every turn we didn’t want to go too heavy on those spells. Always remember that this is a deck that attempts to control the board through superior card quality not spell permission.
Let’s go through a card by card breakdown so I can explain why each card is included and why.
26 Lands: Playing three colors is tough but with the help of Evolving Wilds the deck runs fairly smoothly. Our spicy lands are Vault of the Archangel, Ghost Quarter, and Cavern of Souls since the life gain/deathtouch keeps us in almost every matchup, there are some lands we would love to kill, and if the enemy is using Cavern to resolve their Titans…well why can’t we.
Phantasmal Image: This card provides answers to some of our opponents best threats; Geist of Saint Traft and Thrun the Last Troll while providing a ton of utility to copy value guys as well. Then Sun Titan spins them all back for our win condition.
Grave Titan: Dropping a Grave Titan in many matchups spells game over for our opponents and I still believe it is the most powerful thing you can do with six mana.
Sun Titan: Our deck plays nicely with Sun Titan since we play 2 Phantasmal Image, 2 Liliana of the Veil, and 1 Ghost Quarter maindeck.
Wurmcoil Engine: Wurmcoil plays nicely with Day of Judgment, gains you life, can be copied with Phantasmal Image for great value, and is pretty tough for your opponent to play around.
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite: Blows out a lot of decks and our deck is actually a hidden token making machine and this Praetor lets us steal games out of nowhere.
Tragic Slip: Kills early accelerators and can scale to take care of their bigger threats late if necessary.
Go for the Throat: Point removal, kills anything.
Ponder: This is probably the biggest deviation from other decks and to be honest I am still not sure about this decision. In the past several months I have been playing with 3 Think Twice and 2 Forbidden Alchemy in order to hold Mana Leak open and have a good amount of draw spells. But Standard has gotten so fast that I often find myself wishing those draw cards were actually just more action. Ponder lets us dig a bit, is efficiently costed, and thins the deck.
Oblivion Ring: The threats we need to answer are so diverse and Oblivion Ring has insane versatility. A great catch all card.
Liliana of the Veil: She serves as a valuable removal spell against decks we need to edict and a few of our spells can be discarded at our profit as well in order to put more pressure on our opponent.
Lingering Souls: This card is the reason this deck works. It’s insanely powerful and holds down the fort until we can get our win conditions online.
Day of Judgment: Wrath spells are the cornerstone of tapout control decks and this is still the best one in the format.
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad: Every time I play Sorin I am so impressed with his power level. Whenever I cast him behind 2 Lingering Souls tokens I feel like I am cheating.
Batterskull: One of the best utility cards in the format; it gains life, serves as a threat, plays defense, protects itself late game. Really like this card.
Curse of Death’s Hold: Quite a few decks simply can not beat a Curse and the good news is our deck is strong enough that we can win quickly before they draw an answer.
Gideon Jura: Gideon plays so well with Tamiyo and with our whole deck actually. I very rarely have him on offense, but instead he is helping us eat their guys in order to get our whole engine online.
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage: Perfect for our deck. A repeatable icy, a card drawing machine, and an ultimate that wins the game; could ask for any more.
Unburial Rites: Why should the French have all the fun? This is the 60th card in this deck and it is also the most hit or miss. When I am happy to draw it I always win the game but there are times it’s in my hand and I am stuck wishing it were anything else.
The sideboard is flexible and provides some scalpel like precision to dramatically enhance every matchup. One of the biggest reasons we are playing white is because it gives us insane sideboard cards like Celestial Purge, Timely Reinforcements, and Divine Offering. Here is breakdown of the sideboard plan.
Ramp: +3 Despise, +2 Surgical Extraction, -1 Tragic Slip, -2 Oblivion Ring, -2 Gideon Jura
Humans: +1 Revoke Existence, +1 Divine Offering, -1 Unburial Rites, -1 Sun Titan (If they don’t have Geist of Saint Traft then +3 Timely Reinforcements, -1 Liliana of the Veil, and -2 Phantasmal Image)
Delver: +3 Timely Reinforcements, +1 Divine Offering, +2 Mental Misstep, (+1 Revoke Existence, depending on read and specific deck), -2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, -1 Unburial Rites, -1 Wurmcoil Engine, -1 Day of Judgment, and -1 Sun Titan
Mirror Match: +2 Surgical Extraction, +2 Celestial Purge, +1 Revoke Existence, -2 Gideon Jura, -1 Day of Judgment, -2 Tragic Slip
Zombies: +3 Celestial Purge, +3 Timely Reinforcements, +3 Despise, -1 Sun Titan, -2 Phantasmal Image, -1 Unburial Rites, -1 Sun Titan, -2 Lingering Souls, -2 Liliana of the Veil
Green Red Aggro: +3 Timely Reinforcements, -1 Lingering Souls, -1 Unburial Rites, -1 Liliana of the Veil
UB Control: +2 Celestial Purge, +2 Surgical Extraction, -2 Phantasmal Image, -2 Tragic Slip
If you are considering a tap out control build that should do pretty well against the field this is certainly one you could run in the new standard. Just always keep in mind when playing this deck that you are attempting to stall the game out for your finishers or planeswalkers to get the job done. I would also recommend a significant amount of practice with this deck as the games tend to go long and if you want to rack up wins and not draws you should be ready to play the deck quickly. Well that’s it for now, although I will leave you with one bonus list that I also plan on running in the new standard environment when I get tired of playing the control roll. Enjoy!
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