Saturday, 7 October 2017
UW Treasure Control
Classic style control decks have gotten a lot of tools recently to help them compete better in cube. This deck showcases some cool new Ixalan cards as well as some other things that greatly help this kind of deck. So what are the problems facing the classic permission style control deck in the current cube meta? It could be summarized broadly by saying it was stretched too thin and made too vulnerable. Threats offer more tempo (or more threat I guess) while being either more resilient or also coming with some extra value. Mass removal, spot removal and countermagic has not improved much over the last 15 years of magic, it has gotten a bit deeper, a bit more redundant and a bit more exotic but it has had nothing on the power creep of threats. Trying to control everything in cube as a blue white player has felt like juggling where each new set adds an extra ball (or whatever one chooses to juggle with, fruit?) into the mix.
With threats generally being better than answers it is a bad idea to try and react to things. The proactive strategies do better in magic now adays. Using your mana to be proactive greatly reduces the value of countermagic. For a good while tap out control decks using little to no countermagic were the only really competitive control decks. Several things have come together to ease this particular issue for the classic permission control deck. One is a healthy number of top quality threats that can be played at instant speed thus synergizing well with countermagic. Another is a couple of cheaper cards that can be sufficiently threatening despite such a low mana cost, either it is a gradual feed of mana that empowers the card or a period of time or some other stipulation like graveyard size. Ashiok is perhaps the best example of such a card although it is not in the classic colours. The last is access to burst mana that comes in a controlling guise. All these various things allow control decks to still rely on countermagic for a chunk of things while giving themselves the ability to be more proactive. Here is a list showcasing some of these tools. It is an amalgam of a deck I played and one a friend played against me but I think it takes the best aspects of both.
Swords to Plowshares
Wall of Omens
Search for Azcanta
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Gideon of the Trails
Settle the Wreckage
Commit // Memory
Ugin, the Sprit Dragon
17 Lands (including Field of Ruin)
So lets take a look at some of the cards and what situations or problems they handle well. In this list I ran Nimble Obstructionist which is a nice all round utility card. It gives you a much bigger safety net against cards like Emrakul, the Promised End as you actually have a tool to stop them stealing your turn. Disallow can also help in this sphere but it is a much weaker card all round than the birdy. Obstructionist can be a surprise 3 damage to an attacker which is OK, most usefully however it can come down EoT and do a lot of work against planeswalkers in the early game. Planeswalkers have been a huge part of the problem for control decks as they struggle to deal with them due to lack of board presence and quality hard removal. Killing planeswalkers with removal is never good value so you really want to counter them or attack them where possible. Obstructionist is a card that doesn't weaken any aspect of your deck while at the same time making it more robust.
A good way to look at the permission deck is like a net trying to catch things. Playing against diverse threats means you need a bigger net however for the most part making a bigger net is akin to stretching the net you have which makes the gaps wider! This in turn means things will start to fall through the net. You had to choose weather you wanted a fine mesh that let nothing through but with a low area coverage or a deck that was full of big holes but that could potentially cover all areas. Obstructionist and several other new cards have enabled the control player to extend their net without having to increase their hole size!
Next up we have a pair of cards that have combined to greatly help out in multiple ways again. Torrention Gearhulk and Commit // Memory do a tonne of work. While it may seem a bit over the top I have found most heavy permission decks really want a way to reuse their decks. A lot of games go long, many cards are drawn and milling yourself is a possibility. Further to that you may really need to reuse certain cards before the game is done. I have used a lot of Elixir of Immortality in UW control. I have splashed green for Primal Command and Bow of Nylea style things. I have even run Mistveil Plains all to give me that reshuffle. The issue is that all these cards and plans are not great outside of the reshuffle which comes late. Seeing such cards early hurts you. They are a dead card or at least a very low powered one for much of the game and many matchups. Memory is free, it comes on the back of Commit which is a very nicely playable and rounded card. Now, you don't often play Timetwister in control decks because paying mana to give your opponents a load of cards is pretty dodgy. Having the option free on the back of something is still nice and is still a lot better than milling yourself but it is only a mild help. What pushes it through the roof is the ability to fire it off at instant speed on the back of a Gearhulk. This way you get first go on the new cards with all your mana up and you have a massive dork in play to give you a leg up on the tempo side of things.
Gearhulk itself is an all round win in control. It is arguably better than Snapcaster in the control builds even discounting the synergy with Memory. Snapcaster is never more tempo than playing the spell you give flashback to and using two mana to do something else than a 2/1. Snapcaster is value and utility and that is what makes it so good. It isn't bad tempo but it can be better. Gearhulk on the other hand gets more and more impressive in terms of tempo the bigger the card you recur. Past a couple of mana on your recurred spell and you are getting a huge swing. Further to that a 5/6 is pretty relevant while a 2/1 not so much. Gearhulk gives you everything! Tempo, value, utility, and a flash threat.
Spell Swindle is an interesting one. It works nicely with Gearhulk being a big instant but it isn't like Memory in that it isn't good enough with Gearhulk to make them any sort of combo you specifically want together. Spell Swindle gets it work done all by itself in a couple of ways. It allows you to have a big burst turn and stabilize. Mana at a given time is a big deal for control. Having access to an inflated ammount for a specific turn makes a huge difference. If you can slap down a threat or mass removal and still have mana up for disruption then game on. Another way the card helps is by being really awkward to play into. If you are facing five untapped mana of which two is blue you are a whole lot less keen to cast a big thing. Spell Swindle by itself doesn't do huge amounts to disrupt how your opponent can play however when you combine it with a multitude of other 4 and 5 mana high impact instant or flash cards it gets really uncomfortable. Trying to play around several fairly blowout big cards just leaves a lot of players without any good safe lines of play. A five mana counterspell seems horrible but a Gilded Lotus with flash on the other hand sounds amazing, try thinking of this doing the job of the latter rather than just being the former. This is a big card that enables other big cards rather than taking up the slot of a big card.
Settle the Wreckage has been another very useful tool. While the card is a lot less like a Wrath than I had hoped it is still a fantastic card for control. Careless players will simply run into it and it will be like a good Wrath. Others will play around it and as such will be greatly slowed down by it. Sure, you won't gain as much actual card advantage nor such a huge tempo swing in one go but you will get a lot of out just having the card in your deck. Generally they still need to offer you up a couple of threats to bait it out and you still come out ahead, just not as ahead as you would be to the careless player. It is most like Wing Shards but a little better so far even with the extra cost. It deals with all the same problem cards, monstrous Fleecemane Lions, manlands, vehicles, haste dorks and so forth but it also exiles them too which is nice and it will go as wide as your opponents attack regardless of storm count. Settle very much falls into the group of cards that mean your opponents lines of play become increasingly risky as you get to 4 or more mana.
Gideon of the Trials is decent in control builds. He allows you to develop a bit of a board and he has great synergy with Wrath effects. You can slap him down and buy loads of time fogging their threats and force them to over extend into a wrath. If they diversify and flop down a planeswalker you can use removal on their dorks and use Gideon to beat down on their walker. Gideon is very unlikely to win you games but he does a good job of being like both a Wall of Omens and a Celestial Colonnade at the same time. He also provides a niche form of protection against some obscure combo decks.
Treasure Map and Search for Azcanta are some of the less obvious newer additions. Both are somewhat similar in that they are low impact cheap cards with a mild tempo cost that are able to generate a lot of value in a lot of areas over time. The cards have the feel of Sylvan Library or Divining Top combined with Ancestral Visions! Beyond that they start to differ more in how and where they are good. Azcana is lower impact but it is also less onerous of an inclusion cost. The big swing cards available now make two mana do nothings far more playable in control. Further to this the comfort of a graveyard reshuffle makes looting much more appealing in control. Azcanta drip feeds you card quality and potentially graveyard fuel for as long as you want it. Then it is a land that gives you a bit of extra burst mana in the mid to late game and finally some extra gas and mana sink utility. It helps a little bit at every stage of the game. For the low low cost of 2 mana and 1 card you will end up with a whole lot more far enough down the line. Four scry, five mana and a couple of cards isn't even that impressive of a showing for the card. It is like a safe mini planeswalker!
The Map is a bit more costly but the payoff is a bit more swingy. You need to invest five mana and three turns in it to flip it and all you get in return for this is three scrys for one. The mana split helps but if you are trying to flip it quickly it isn't a negligible cost by any means. When you do flip it however you get a whole lot of power and options. Ideally you flip at their EoT so you get to untap with four extra mana or the extra draw with potentially two more mana. You can flip right away if you are desperate but that only generates 1 mana there and then and uses all your treasure. Flipping this EoT usually means winning, either a boat load of cards or mana as the situation commands will tend to get the job done.
Field of Ruin is another relatively fair card like Nimble Obstructionist that does a lot for this archetype. Short of playing Waste Lands the UW conrtol player is pretty cold to utility lands. Trying to beat a Kessig Wolf Run is a nightmare. Field of Ruin is a far better control fit than any other land control option and costs very little to add into a list. The top of library control it gives is not at all to be sniffed at either. Very useful card all round and likely one of the main go to colourless lands for control decks going forwards. The synergy this had with Out and Commit (and Unexpectedly Absent) was noticeable and relevant as was the synergy with Settle the Wreckage and thus presumably Path to Exile. Lots of decks simply run out of basics in my cube and so the more cards you have than will compensate your opponents with lands the less they collectively end up giving away.
Lastly we have Fractured Identity. Pretty silly card that is terrifying to play into. What it does that no other card does is remove a planeswalker favourably. You both get at least one activation of the planeswalker and you both use one card. You however have an active walker and they don't. You might even be up a little bit of mana on them although you are still very happy with a one mana deficit when you have a four mana walker fighting for you. This card allows you to fall behind a bit enjoying luxuries like Treasure Map. It lets you make plays you otherwise might not because you really had to counter any planeswalker that might get made against you. It lets you be more flexible in how you use your other premium coverall removal such as Council's Judgement. It is exactly in the same group of cards that can wreck you and needs respecting.
Although I claimed this list was an amalgam of two decks I cut the Aetherling from it despite it being in both decks. Aetherling has been the most reliable control win condition for as long as it has been a thing. While it does a great job of ending a game it is a super hard card to play. You really want 8 mana and a Force of Will in hand or like 10 mana and a counterspell, that is when you feel safe dropping it down. In this list however it was a far far more rapid threat and felt more like Entreat the Angels in its threat level. The difference between this list and older builds are the Ixalan additions. The treasure generators and the things that flip into lands give you access to those 8-10 mana turns you need to get your Aetherling into play safely and they do so on or close to the turn six mark. While six mana is often a turn six thing for control decks 8-10 mana is very rarely a turn 8-10 thing. Past the six mana mark you start to frequently miss land drops resulting in an incredibly slow and clunky win condition. One you have the Aetherling in play you only need a couple of mana to have it remain nice and safe meaning treasure is a pretty good route to getting it out in a more relevant time frame.
As you can see, this list has a selection of terrifying things. You could be well up on the board againt it and have loads of gas in hand but facing into six untapped mana and a couple of cards in hand from this list and the wrong move will kill you. Your big walker might get Swindled or Fractured, your team might get Wrathed or Wrecked, you might run into an indestructible Archangel or a mere 5/6! There are no safe paths to tread. Blue white control decks finally feel like they have caught up to the various kinds of threats thrown at it. They have enough depth and range in their threats and answers that you can draft the archetype with reasonable confidence and have it be very competitive.