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By: Leviathan, Mike Morales
Feb 03 2011 9:27am
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Welcome back!  As you may recall, I am currently looking at the three main deck archetypes as they relate to Commander: Aggro, Combo and Control.  I already covered Aggro HERE, so feel free to go back and take a look.  As you can probably tell today I am going to discuss Control decks.  Let's dive right in!

What does a Control deck try to do?  As the name implies it attempts to control the environment of the game.  It usually has answers, and as such requires that its hand is full almost all the time.  It needs to be able to answer the threats that each of the other opponents puts into play.  The Control deck is the one that is able to (or tries to) directly influence the game state at almost all times.  Whether it is through putting up an impenetrable defense, or through making sure that the board is clear of non-land permanents, it is usually the Control deck that is in charge of the situation.

So what makes a Control deck?  First, a Control deck has answers.  Whether it is All is Dust or Damnation, you can usually depend on the Control deck to have the ability to deal with permanents or problems.  Second, a Control deck deals in card advantage.  This can be done through mass destruction (one Wrath of God taking out numerous creatures), card draw (with Phyrexian Arena you are typically drawing more cards than your opponents) or recursion (being able to use your stuff in your graveyard over again is always nice), and as such the Control deck is typically able to keep up with multiple opponents at the same time.  Finally, the Control deck has a finisher or two, some sort of large beater than can typically end the game quickly.

Going back to the Wild West analogy I used last article, the Control player has always seemed like the bartender in a rowdy bar to me.  Not the way that they are depicted in movies, where they hide behind the bar when things start getting crazy.  Instead, I envision the Control deck players being the ones that make sure that things don't get out of hand, but are able to bring out the shotgun from under the bar when necessary to put an end to whatever problems come up.

Not exactly the bartenders I was thinking of, but they will do in a pinch.
Also, Shotgun Betty's in Scottsdale, AZ is a pretty fun place!

I couldn't find a good picture of a cool looking old West bartender, so you get good looking western bartenders instead.  Anyways.  Control players are typically willing to set back and let things develop, then react to things as they come up before deciding to take control.  This is difficult for some players, especially newer ones or players that have very little patience, like yours truly.  But when built well and piloted by a player with patience, a Control deck can usually do very well.

Finally, many Control decks usually fit Combos in them.  They are basically Control/Combo hybrids.  I'm going to try and avoid talking about these and stick to true Control as much as possible. With all that said, let's take a look at what is possibly the most common Control deck you will face when playing online.


Mono-Black control has a lot going for it.  Black is able to draw cards with Necropotence, Graveborn Muse and Necrologia.  It has access to mass destruction with Damnation and Oblivion Stone.  It also has tons of tutors so that it can find the appropriate answers for problems it faces.  The best thing that Black has going for a Control deck is Cabal Coffers.  Mono-Black can make a whole ton of mana very quickly with this card, and when you add Deserted Temple and Nirkana Revenant, things can get out of control.  Let's look at a representative decklist:


I found this decklist HERE.  As you can see, this deck can make stupid amounts of mana.  Candelabra of Tawnos, Doubling Cube and Bubbling Muck all do a great job of increasing your available mana.  The deck also has a good amount of disruption in the form of Myojin of Night's ReachMind Twist, and Mind Sludge.  It can use Sadistic Sacrament to pull out the important pieces of your deck.  It also has Yawgmoth's Will and Ill-Gotten Gains for some recursion shenanigans.

So this deck is similar to most mono-Black decks, in that it tries to ramp up mana and draw cards while controlling the creatures on the board.  Once it has enough mana it will drop a big scary beater like Ulamog or just hit someone with Maga for a ton of mana.  Both of which are very effective.  As you can see that this version of the deck only has 11 creatures.  Typically the more controlling the deck the fewer creatures it has.

There are a few other popular legends that get used for this type of deck.  Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed is very popular for the built in recursion ability.  It also has the ability to be relevant during combat as Horsemanship is basically a synonym for unblockable.  I have also been seeing Geth, Lord of the Vault get used as a control Commander.  If someone has a Sakura-Tribe Elder in the yard when Geth comes into play, he can recur the crap out of the Elder and ramp up mana quickly.  Lastly, I occasionally see Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief used.  She can be used as removal and hit pretty hard, which is always nice. 

Being mono-Black, these decks have a weaknesses to artifacts and enchantments.  However, these decks still have access to cards like Nevinyrral's Disk, and with the high amount of tutors, it should be able to find what is needed.  These decks are also typically highly reliant upon their mana doubling abilities, specifically Cabal Coffers.  Coffers is usually among the first cards tutored for, that's how important it is.  If an opponent can get rid of the Coffers, the deck will be slower, and opponents will have an easier time of ganging up on the mono-Black player.  Keep in mind, though, that the mono-Black player has plenty of ways to double and triple his mana.  The more you work to get rid of them, the better.


Another common type of deck you will find is mono-Blue control.  Blue has the ability to counter things before they come into play, which is among the best things going for the color.  Oftentimes the Blue player will be the annoying player, and will have a target on his head.  This is also because on top of countering things, Blue has the ability to steal whatever is bothering it, copy things that it likes, and tutor up answers.  It also relies upon artifacts like Oblivion Stone to re-set the board.  Blue also has a ton of little 2 and 3 card combos, and finally has the ability to draw a ton of cards.  Let's take a look at a decklist.

Sakashima the Impostor
A Commander deck by Surging Chaos
1 Body Double
1 Dreamscape Artist
1 Duplicant
1 Gilded Drake
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
1 Magus of the Future
1 Memnarch
1 Mnemonic Wall
1 Mulldrifter
1 Sakashima the Impostor
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Sower of Temptation
1 Sphinx Ambassador
1 Sundering Titan
1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
1 Trinket Mage
1 Vedalken Aethermage
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
1 Willbender
19 cards

Other Spells
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Crystal Shard
1 Everflowing Chalice
1 Expedition Map
1 Lightning Greaves
1 Meekstone
1 Mind Stone
1 Nevinyrral's Disk
1 Oblivion Stone
1 Proteus Staff
1 Sculpting Steel
1 Sensei's Divining Top
1 Sol Ring
1 Thran Dynamo
1 Tormod's Crypt
1 Vedalken Shackles
1 Jace Beleren
1 Tezzeret the Seeker
1 Future Sight
1 Rhystic Study
1 Capsize
1 Cryptic Command
1 Evacuation
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Forbid
1 Hinder
1 Long-Term Plans
1 Muddle the Mixture
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Pact of Negation
1 Pongify
1 Spin into Myth
1 Thirst for Knowledge
1 Twincast
1 Acquire
1 Blatant Thievery
1 Bribery
1 Fabricate
1 Knowledge Exploitation
1 Rite Of Replication
40 cards
1 Academy Ruins
1 Darksteel Citadel
1 Flooded Strand
1 High Market
24 Island
1 Maze of Ith
1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Polluted Delta
1 Reliquary Tower
1 Riptide Laboratory
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Seat of the Synod
1 Strip Mine
1 Thawing Glaciers
1 Tolaria West
1 Vesuva
1 Winding Canyons
41 cards

sakashima the impostor


I found this decklist HERE.  I tried to find a list that didn't have a whole lot of combos, but instead had synergy.  As you can see, the deck packs a decent amount of counterspells, using cards like Hinder and Forbid.  It also packs some card draw, using Magus of the Future and Sensei's Divining Top, as well as Mulldrifter.  In addition there is a large amount of theft here, from stealing your creatures in play using Vedalken Shackles, to stealing stuff directly from your library by using Bribery and Acquire.  Plus it can copy your creatures with Rite of Replication, or copy your spells with Twincast.  Tutors come in the form of Mystical Tutor, Long-Term Plans and Muddle the Mixture.  Finally, creature control can be done using theft or Proteus Staff and Evacuation.  

Most mono-Blue decks have a variety of combos.  I'm talking about such things as Academy Ruins and Mindslaver or Oblivion Stone, Arcanis the Omnipotent and Mind Over Matter, Tunnel Vision and Hinder, etc.  But as you can guess these mini-combos aren't essential.

As for other decks, you should check out Ith's Patron of the Moon deck that I included at the bottom of the article HERE.  His deck has a lot of the same concepts in it, although he has additional card draw, and uses Dissipation Field and Web of Inertia for additional creature defense.  He also has the ability to take extra turns with Beacon of Tomorrows and Walk the Aeons.  Other common mono-Blue control Commanders include Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir (who keeps the opponents from playing cards at instant speed), Arcanis the Omnipotent (who helps with draw and can combo with Mind Over Matter), and Venser, Shaper Savant (having a counterspell at your beck and call is always nice.

Mono-Blue is the ultimate in reactive decks.  Therefore, the mono-Blue mage really likes to play things at instant speed.  As such you will often see them playing Vedalken Orrery, Leyline of Anticipation and Teferi.  If you can stop them from using stuff at instant speed, you can typically disrupt their plans.  Cards like City of Solitude, Dosan the Falling Leaf and even something like Defense Grid can all help out.  Or just dropping a Teferi of your own.  In addition Blue has a little bit of a weakness to enchantments and artifacts, so those often come in handy against them.   I say "a little bit" because Blue does have the ability to bounce an offending artifact, typically with Capsize, then counter it the next time an opponent tries to play it.  Finally mono-Blue really likes having a full hand at all times.  If you can punish them for having a large hand with something like Iron Maiden or just make them discard a lot, they will be pretty unhappy.


Less commonly played than the above two styles of decks, but still a style that I see frequently, is mono-White control.  Mono-White one huge thing going for it: It has the ability to deal with any type of permanent.  It also has large flying beaters like Akroma and Baneslayer Angel that can pound you into submission.  White has plenty of defensive enchantments, with things like Moat, Humility and Story Circle to keep from being hurt.  It even has a decent amount of creature and artifact recursion with Adarkar Valkyrie and Razor Hippogriff.  Finally, it can tutor up artifacts and enchantments with the likes of Enlightened Tutor.  However White is most well known for being able to clear the board, whether it is land destruction, creature destruction, or just Planar Cleansing.  Let's take a look at mono-White control.


I found this decklist HERE.  Like most mono-White decks, this one packs a ton of sweepers.  There are 7 sorceries, 1 artifact and 3 creatures that can wipe the board of creatures and most of them can also take out other permanents as well.  On top of that, this deck runs other protection in the form of Story Circle, Crackdown, True Believer and Spirit of the Hearth.  After wiping things out, the deck has some recursion in the form of Emeria, the Sky Ruin and Reya Dawnbringer, as well as tutoring with Planar Portal and Citanul Flute.  But what the deck really comes down to is the ability to deal with any permanent in play, specifically with Mangara.  When you have Thousand-Year Elixir out, no permanent is safe unless it has shroud.

The biggest weakness of a mono-White deck is its lack of card draw.  As such, the mono-White deck has to rely upon artifacts such as Urza's Blueprints and Mind's Eye to draw cards.  White decks can also use the recursion available to help out with card advantage, but other than Emeria all the recursion is essentially of the one shot variety.  In addition, mono-White really needs to get to the 7 mana spot quickly, and more if at all possible.  Most of the sweepers in the deck cost at least 5 mana.  The deck wants to be able to cast a sweeper then drop a threat.  If it can't, it is essentially playing catch up most of the time.

Finally, mono-White does not have the same number of available mini-combos that Blue and Black have.  There is no Academy Ruins for White to exploit, and the big mana spells that White has don't compare to the same player killers that Black has.  As such, this style of deck isn't quite as powerful as the other two.

Other Commanders to watch out for that play control include Konda, Lord of Eiganjo (due to his indestructibility, can survive all the sweepers) and Akroma (used as the beater after keeping control in the early game).  Like I said, these decks are all about mass removal, with plenty of spot removal to help clean up what is left.

What happens when you combine all of these deck types?


All right, I think I ought to have at least on multi-colored deck in here.  But it was actually pretty tough to find one that didn't have a bunch of combos in it.  Most Esper decks are Sharuum decks that include a bunch of mini-combos, but I wanted to avoid showing you guys something like that first.  However I remembered that I actually made control deck a while back.  The deck was made back before Emrakul was banned, but still has relevance as I'm sure all of you are going to be seeing a card called Blightsteel Colossus shortly.  Go check out the visual spoiler if you haven't heard about this card yet or just click on that link, I'll wait.  Essentially those people that were sad to lose their Emrakul are going to replace it with BSC.  So be aware that it will be coming for you.

So what these Esper control decks do is try to use the recursion abilities of Black, the mass destruction of White and the theft and draw of Blue all together to put together a control monster.  Let's take a look at what I did:  

Dakkon Blackblade
A Commander deck by Leviathan
1 Angel of Despair
1 Archon of Justice
1 Clone
1 Dakkon Blackblade
1 Dominating Licid
1 Dread
1 Duplicant
1 Ethersworn Adjudicator
1 Gilded Drake
1 Godhead of Awe
1 Graveborn Muse
1 Kederekt Leviathan
1 Memnarch
1 Mnemonic Wall
1 Mulldrifter
1 Shriekmaw
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Sphinx of Magosi
1 Stonecloaker
1 Vesuvan Doppelganger
1 Visara the Dreadful
1 Weathered Wayfarer
1 Zur the Enchanter
23 cards

Other Spells
1 Coalition Relic
1 Darksteel Ingot
1 Journeyer's Kite
1 Loxodon Warhammer
1 Oblivion Stone
1 Proteus Staff
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Animate Dead
1 Debtors' Knell
1 Journey to Nowhere
1 Land Tax
1 No Mercy
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Phyrexian Arena
1 Rhystic Study
1 Enlightened Tutor
1 Evacuation
1 Lim-Dúl's Vault
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Path to Exile
1 Return to Dust
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Time Stop
1 Austere Command
1 Bribery
1 Consuming Vapors
1 Damnation
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Fabricate
1 Final Judgment
1 Grim Tutor
1 Hallowed Burial
1 Mind Spring
1 Planar Cleansing
1 Promise of Power
1 Recurring Insight
36 cards
1 Academy Ruins
1 Arcane Sanctum
1 Azorius Chancery
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Creeping Tar Pit
1 Diamond Valley
1 Dimir Aqueduct
1 Fetid Heath
1 Flooded Strand
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Godless Shrine
1 Hallowed Fountain
5 Island
1 Marsh Flats
1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge
1 Miren, the Moaning Well
1 Mystic Gate
1 Orzhov Basilica
1 Phyrexian Tower
4 Plains
1 Polluted Delta
1 Reliquary Tower
1 Rupture Spire
1 Shizo, Death's Storehouse
1 Strip Mine
1 Sunken Ruins
4 Swamp
1 Temple of the False God
1 Tolaria West
1 Volrath's Stronghold
1 Watery Grave
41 cards

dakkon blackblade


You can find out more about this decklist HERE.  This deck focused on spot removal, specifically stuff that could handle Emrakul, but can also handle BSC as well.  It has Oblivion Ring, Path to Exile, Swords to Plowshares, Duplicant, Archon of Justice and Journey to Nowhere.  It also has Return to Dust, Consuming Vapors and Hallowed Burial to help out with the cause.  The deck can also steal a BSC with Memnarch, Gilded Drake and Bribery, or copy it with Vesuvan Doppelganger.  It can also make a BSC smaller with Godhead of Awe, or just tuck it with Proteus Staff.

The deck contains a bunch of different tutors, so you should be able to find what you need quickly.  In addition, there are plenty of methods of card draw.  Keeping your hand full is essential with a deck like this.

Getting a slow start with your mana is tough with this deck, as with most control decks.  A lot of your answers cost a decent amount.  In addition there are no cheap counterspells in this deck to hold back early turn plays by opponents.  However, Esper builds can all vary, and can include such acceleration as Mana Crypt, Mana Vault and Signets, as well as the original Counterspell and Mana Drain.  With a decent draw they can power out stuff in the 8 mana range by turn 4.

If you want to see another version of an Esper control deck, check out the one Kelly Digges wrote about back at the mothership HERE.  He went with more artifact mana and included a few blink cards like Mistmeadow Witch to help with abusing Sharuum.  As you can see there are plenty of ways to go with this combination of colors. 


So there you go, a brief rundown of control decks.  In general, control decks like sitting back and waiting, using their destruction spells to get the most card advantage out of them.  They like accumulating mana, and drawing cards.  Once things look they are going their way they bust out the threat.  That threat is often a big beater, but is sometimes a combo.  So typically you want to attack their mana production and card drawing abilities.  And if you can keep them from casting instants, so much the better.  But control decks are known for having answers, so you will often find that they can deal with whatever you throw at them.

Another type of control deck that I didn't mention is the Red/White control deck.  This type of deck often uses Red and White sweepers to keep the board clear, and include life gain and protection abilities.  I don't see these too often, but they are definitely out there.  And if you can think of something I missed, feel free to mention it in the comments.

Typically control decks play some combination of the colors that I covered.  So if you are trying to figure out who the control deck is at your table, just look to see which of your opponents are playing Black, Blue or White.  Of course, with the variety of cards out there decks don't always neatly fall into these categories, and you can occasionally run into the mono-Blue Illusion aggro deck.  But for the most part you can stick with this as a rule of thumb.

That's it for my review of Control decks.  Until next week, when I cover Combo!

Leviathan, aka Tarasco on MTGO
mrmorale32 at yahoo dot com



What no MonoRed Control or by ShardFenix at Thu, 02/03/2011 - 14:54
ShardFenix's picture

What no MonoRed Control or MonoGreen control...im disappointed. Though I also doubt they exist.

Monogreen no, but I think by Scartore at Thu, 02/03/2011 - 18:43
Scartore's picture

Monogreen no, but I think Monored control can be done. You have lots of removal and access to Mana Flare effects. Plus you have access to the best land destruction outside of the unfun Armageddon style cards. Also, I think warp world and other red chaos based decks are a form of control. The Red Chaos deck is trying to win by setting up a chaotic environment and then being better than his opponents at dealing with the warped world.

oh monogreen control can be by ShardFenix at Fri, 02/04/2011 - 02:46
ShardFenix's picture

oh monogreen control can be done...i know it. just have to figure out how...

Something like Plow Under, by Paul Leicht at Fri, 02/04/2011 - 04:51
Paul Leicht's picture

In fact: http://mymtgo.com/view_deck.php?did=1886

15mins worth of thinking about it.

Woops realized afterward that I missed a banned card (Staff of Domination) so just stick the obvious one I missed in there: Eternal Witness.

Other Cards omitted that could be in it: Smokestack, Plow Under, Primal Command, Genesis Wave, Sylvan and Worldly Tutors, etc.

I know that Green and Red by Leviathan at Fri, 02/04/2011 - 11:33
Leviathan's picture

I know that Green and Red control are possible, but I doubt you are going to run into them very often. I just tried to hit the common archetypes you would run into online. Feel free to give it a shot though. It's tough without the tools the other colors have but it looks like Paul has already tried something out.

Red control is certainly by plank at Mon, 02/07/2011 - 04:30
plank's picture

Red control is certainly possible, and probably best shown online by the few Zo-Zu, the Punisher decks around. Ideally you'd want to ramp out with artifact mana and drop cards like Wildfire or Destructive Force, ensuring that you're always that little bit ahead. Winter Orb and tax spells (Sphere of resistance, trinisphere) help enforce the lock.

Not a lot of fun to play against, and probably more suited to competitive 1v1 than full-blown multiplayer.

Hehe the point of by Paul Leicht at Mon, 02/07/2011 - 08:24
Paul Leicht's picture

Hehe the point of EDH/Commander is that it is purely for multiplayer. That said I think the way to go with red control is not so much destruction (though that does work) but chaos effects as mentioned above. Your deck will be better prepared for them so it won't just be a gimmee but its more of a fun deck than a competitive one if you build it this way.

On the other hand if you do what you suggest you may find many people quitting or refusing to allow you into their tables once they know what your deck is about (and the Punisher says it very well imho.) There are very few players online who play competitively in this format.