Simon Says: Searching for Control in Standard
I love playing Control.
If there’s ever a viable control deck in a format, then there’s also a high chance I end up playing it. However, the power of Control in Standard has been horribly inconsistent for the past few years—at times, there were decks like Esper Dragons (DTK) and Grixis Control (SOI) that were respected Tier 1 archetypes. But, shortly after that we reached a period of questionable U/B Liliana decks (EDM), as well as the bumbling disaster that was U/R Control (AKH). At this point, Control sits somewhere between the categories of guilty pleasure and downright meme.
This doesn’t have to be the case though. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar’s reign of terror is finally over, and with its end comes a new opportunity for Control to be viable again. Other annoying threats like Ulamog and Tireless Tracker are also out of the picture, and in addition to that, we have some of the best card draw, counterspells and finishers that we’ve seen in years.
My initial experiment is going to be with U/B, and here’s the first list that I’m going to test with:
U/B Control, Simon Tubello
Now, some of you keen-eyed readers may realize that this bears a striking resemblance to the list in Gabriel Nassif’s recent article. Well, that’s because I based a lot of my numbers off his list, seeing as how he has a lot of recent experience testing this archetype; however, there is one card I want to try that I think has huge potential.
GabeN also posted a great article on Tuesday evaluating the flip enchantments, where he speculates that Search for Azcanta might be a little too clunky for what U/B Control wants. He may be right, but I have a theory that involves trimming Glimmers and adding more cantrips to accommodate this unique ability. Glimmer of Genius + Torrential Gearhulk has been the go-to for card advantage in control decks since Kaladesh, but with the right tweaks, U/B might turn into the perfect shell to abuse the substantial late game power of Azcanta. The big advantage with this change is that you don’t actually have to worry as much about resolving your Glimmers and saving your Gearhulks to flash them back, because Azcanta will give you late game inevitability—this way, you can be a little more liberal with your removal.
Another sweet thing about Search for Azcanta is that it’s basically a Rampant Growth. Imagine this: turn 1 Opt; turn 2 Search; turn 3 mill with Search, Fatal Push a dork, sac Evolving Wilds, cycle Censor, get Duressed by your opponent; turn 4 mill with Search, flip into Azcanta, play The Scarab God. GG scrub.
Ok maybe that’s a little absurd. However, flipping Search on turn 5 to power out a Gearhulk is much easier to accomplish, and even something as simple as flipping it on turn 7 to play The Scarab God + Supreme Will could be enough of a tempo advantage to help swing a game in your favour.
Two copies of Search for Azcanta seems to be a good number to start at, as the plethora of cantrips, Glimmers, and Supreme Wills should be enough to help find one of them. Drawing multiples can be pretty bad (although once the first flips, the second can sit in play as the enchantment), and The Scarab God will still be able to grind your opponent out if you’re unable to dig to an Azcanta.
At 2BB, Vraska’s Contempt costs a little more mana than I like to pay for my removal, but the rest of the interaction in this deck is actually very efficient, and the ability to deal with basically anything while gaining a little life is important. Plus, all spells cost the same when you flash them back with Gearhulk.
Normally I would be a frothing maelstrom of rage at the fact that WotC even printed an abomination like this, but luckily you get a fantastic (if somewhat crude) sideboard plan of just bringing in deathtouch creatures to block it. These are even incidental answers that would be in your sideboard anyway, as Vampire Nightwalk (Gifted Aetherborn) is primarily brought in to combat Mono-Red, and Gonti is really strong against RUG Energy. You can also fight it with Bontu’s Last Reckoning and The Scarab God, so I don’t think this weird-looking chicken will dumpster me nearly as much as I first thought it would, although I do have to give a shoutout to its awesome flavour text.
Anything can happen with a new Standard format, and while I’m certainly hoping that a variation of this list turns out to be strong, I would be ecstatic if any sort of control deck turns out to be a serious contender. U/R Control, U/W Approach or Esper Control all look like plausible options, and Daniel Fournier also brewed up a sweet Grixis list in his most recent article (my memory isn’t very good, but I’m pretty sure he even named the deck “2-0 Grixis” because of how powerful he thought it seemed).
That all being said, sometimes there just isn’t a solid control deck to be found, so I think it’s also important to know when to abandon ship. I love Control, but I also love competition, and at the end of the day I’ll play what I think gives me the best chance at winning (unless it’s Dredge, in which case I would rather eat sawdust). If none of these decks work out, then my plan is to fall back on RUG Energy for Nationals – at least then I’ll still get to play some Negates in my sideboard.
Are you as stubborn as Simon and want to jam control at the highest level? Come out and join us as Face to Face Games hosts Canadian Nationals weekend at The International Centre on Oct.14! We also host Standard events every Wednesday so that you have ample time to test out your counterspells for the big day.