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By: AJ_Impy, AJ Richardson
May 06 2009 10:23am
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Welcome, esteemed readers. Over the past few weeks, I've expounded on the fast aggro decks capable of making a major dent in the format metagame, and dabbled a bit in a few unusual avenues. It's time to take a closer look at the tools and tricks open to us at the more controlling end of the curve. What weapons do we have that can blunt an all-out offensive? How can we better shift things to our advantage?


Culling Sun Teferi's Moat Odds/Ends Void

The biggest problem with control is cost: It's no use staring at a five-mana answer with four lands, three life and two 4+ power beatsticks staring across at you. I've gone on at length about the lack of acceleration in the format: Alara Reborn will be doing its best to rectify this with a shrouded Fertile Ground and five common multicolored replacements for the Drake-Skull Cameo cycle, which are capable of being alternate-costed into play, but on the whole, if you want to live long enough to establish control, you need to start lower on the curve. Let's take a look at every counterspell in the format:

Guttural Response Trial/error Odds/Ends Countersquall
Hindering Light Perplex Voidslime Bant Charm
Mystic Snake Punish Ignorance Swift Silence Overrule

Alara Reborn will be giving us a couple more options, but at time of writing even the beta is a week away. Of the available options, only 4 are unconditional, with Error netting everything except Assault/Battery or a morphed Zoetic Cavern to almost qualify. The unconditional counters, Voidslime, Mystic Snake, Punish Ignorance and Swift Silence, are towards the upper end of the mana price range, and none of the other 2-mana counters will touch a creature. Bant Charm can in its Condemn mode after it hits play, and Odds/Ends is one of the few edict effects once you hit 5 mana, but if we are to weather the early game, we need some cheap removal as well. Creatures like Oona's Gatewarden, Tidehollow Strix or Dimir Infiltrator are effective cheap roadblocks, but what are our options in terms of spells in the 2 or less mana range?

Lightning Helix Agony Warp Assault/Battery Curse of Chains


That's discounting Riot Spikes and Scar: Doing a single point of damage can be vital, but up against a curve of Watchwolf, Woolly Thoctar, Wilt-Leaf Liege, it isn't usually going to do diddly. Once we hit 3 mana, our options substantially increase, with practically every single color pairing and triad having a 3-mana removal spell of some sort:

Allied pair 3-mana removal:
Mercy Killing
Torpor Dust(!?)

Enemy pair 3-mana removal:
Fire at Will

Triad 3-mana removal:
Bant Charm
Merieke Ri Berit
Grixis Charm
Jund Charm
Naya Charm

This is by no means even remotely exhaustive, and some are far better than others (Torpor Dust? Really, Wizards? is that the best removal ext black/blue can manage at 3 mana? really?) but it does demonstrate the breadth of options open to us even with the limitations of the format. Backing up our counters with removal, we move on to the next pillar of control: Card advantage. Having more, and more relevant, cards than the opponent. Now, there are a number of paths we can take:

Disrupting our opponent's hand
Tidehollow Sculler Blightning  Rise/Fall
Card draw
Shadowmage Infiltrator Invoke the Firemind Vigean Intuition
Or both, as the situation requires
Consult the Necrosages Esper Charm Cruel Ultimatum

Cruel Ultimatum also has the option of recursion: this is also facilitated by cards like Rise of Rise/Fall, Izzet Chronarch, Nucklavee or Hag Hedge-Mage. Let's try putting a few of these elements together.

A Kaleidoscope control build
4 Shadowmage Infiltrator
2 Nucklavee
6 cards

Other Spells
4 Agony Warp
4 Rise/Fall
4 Trial/Error
4 Consult the Necrosages
4 Grixis Charm
4 Hit/Run
4 Teferi's Moat
2 Cruel Ultimatum
26 cards
4 Blood Crypt
4 Crumbling Necropolis
2 Gemstone Caverns
2 Godless Shrine
4 Rupture Spire
4 Steam Vents
4 Watery Grave
24 cards


I've been testing this deck at length against a variety of promising builds, (With thanks to Dr_TRex, Coexistence, Acid Plum, Scartore and others) and even despite the suboptimal lands, it has plenty of game against both Aggro and Control. Grixis Charm is one of the mainstays, capable of taking out popular threats such as Woolly Thoctar, Broodmate Dragon or Wilt-Leaf Liege, or bouncing planeswalkers or excessively large threats out of the way, or rescuing/resetting a Teferi's Moat or a backbreaking Nucklavee recursion. Speaking of backbreaking Nucklavee recursion, looping it and Cruel Ultimatum is thoroughly unfair in all the right ways. The post-sideboard game is crucial: Against a heavy control mirror, you'll want less removal and more Countersquall, Odds/Ends and Guttural Responses. Odds is a hard counter against any other counter, and can enable truly ridiculous plays like copying an opponent's Cruel Ultimatum, wiping his hand and drawing into a Trial/Error to put his to bed. If your opponent intends to win the game on the back of a single hard to deal with threat, bench your Teferi's Moats and bring in Odds/Ends: this gives you no less than 10 sacrifice effects, and Nucklaveeing up Odds and Cruel is both odd and cruel. If you're facing an aggro swarm, bring in your Culling Suns to clear up the chaff, possibly with a couple of Odds/Ends if you think the curve would permit it. Be wary of Rise/Fall and Consult the Necrosages in their discard use against green/white builds: Giving your opponent a free Wilt-Leaf Liege is counterproductive.

Always be on the lookout for the best opportunities to gain advantage: In one game, my opponent had Sarkhan Vol out and tapped out for a Broodmate Dragon, looking to swing across for a hasty 10 damage and potentially end the game in 2 turns. Rather than counter it, the optimal play was to use Hit/Run when the token trigger went on the stack, removing one dragon and the Planeswalker, leaving an unhasty token to die the following turn.

Out of Control?

What sort of decks can stand up to Control builds? If everything you play is being countered or destroyed, what are your options? It just so happens that there are a number of nigh-uncounterable ((Voidslime being the exception) spells in the format, although none of them can be played off Pillar of the Paruns. I'm not talking about Vexing Shusher or Wreak Havoc here, but one of the more recent mechanics to see print:

Sedraxis Specter Shambling Remains Fire-Field Ogre

Not only does Unearth give you an uncounterable second chance with haste, it also interacts favorably with your opponent's discard. Not quite as well as with Wilt-Leaf Liege, but certainly enough to put pressure on. All three current unearth multicolor creatures have excellent power to cost ratios and relevant abilities. A first-striking 4-power creature can face down everything smaller than Oversoul of Dusk (except Stillmoon Cavalier or relevant Outlanders), and 3-mana 4-power creatures even if they can't block have proven quite popular in recent years. On top of all that, there's a very nice little interaction with Turn To Mist that may not be immediately apparent: Effects which remove Unearthed creatures from the game get around the 'remove the unearthed creature from the game' clause, as that merely puts it where the spell intends it to be. Instead of getting a single usage, you can 'reset' your unearthed creatures, leaving your opponent blinking in 'Can they really do that?' awe. Now, if our Unearth creatures are at their best in the graveyard, how do we profitably get them there? Aiming a Consult the Necrosages or negative Dimir Guildmage activation at yourself is inefficient. Instead, let's turn to another mechanic from a multicolor set, one whose monocolored exemplars have seen competitive play but whose multicolored ones, not so much. Dredge adds green to the blue, black and red of Grixis unearth, and it just so happens that the blue-black-red-green Nephilim can get a useful benefit from discarding cards.

Shambling Shell Grave-Shell Scarab Glint-Eye Nephilim

So, we have cards that can dump tons of Unearth cards into our graveyard whilst being replayed over and over again. Trading a Shambling Shell with any of the myriad 2- and 3-mana 3-toughness creatures out there is profitable, especially if you can stick a counter on another creature you control. The trickiest part of this deck is its ability to interfere with race math by suddenly milling a bunch of unaccounted-for hasty creatures for an alpha strike. For sideboard options, we aim to defeat Teferi's Moat decks with unlimited 5/5 fliers: Call the Skybreaker doesn't mind getting dredged repeatedly. The other trick there is using Grixis Charm to bounce the moat for an alpha strike. Guttural response is a useful 'No, U!' to counter-based control, with Hit/Run and Void offering extra removal against unsolvables, protection creatures or hordes.

Complete Shambles
Kaleidoscope control-resistant build
4 Shambling Shell
4 Shambling Remains
4 Sedraxis Specter
4 Fire-Field Ogre
4 Glint-eye Nephilim
4 Grave-Shell Scarab
24 cards

Other Spells
4 Agony Warp
4 Turn to Mist
4 Grixis Charm
12 cards
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Savage Lands
2 Gemstone Caverns
1 Vivid Grove
1 Vivid Marsh
4 Rupture Spire
4 Steam Vents
4 Watery Grave
24 cards

4 Hit/Run
4 Void
3 Call the Skybreaker
4 Guttural Response
15 cards
Turn to Mist

That's all I have for you this time. By the time this is published, Kaleidoscope should be live, or very nearly. It's time to put all this into practice: To all those trying to win packs in the new format, I bid you Hello, and Good luck.


Grixis Control by tempesteye at Thu, 05/07/2009 - 09:49
tempesteye's picture

I'd be interested in seeing what you plan to add with ARB, especially in the Control based deck.

I like the shambles dec a by Scartore at Sat, 05/09/2009 - 14:03
Scartore's picture

I like the shambles dec a lot. I'm gonna try to run it with a more budget manabase