Today, I'm going to discuss what a control deck is, what some of the different types of control are, and finally I'll analyze whether I think these decks are good in the current modern meta or not.
What is a Control deck?
One of the most defining aspects of a control deck is that it runs very few creatures. Generally, there are 8-12 creatures and the rest of the deck is filled with instants and sorceries. These spells are where the deck gets its name, they help the pilot control the game.
They do so by:
and casting two-for-ones.
Looking at Control Decks in Modern
Let's take a look at a decklist, I'll start with my favorite, Grixis Control:
Seen below is what a Jeskai Control deck looks like:
While this deck uses many of the same staples that Grixis uses, the white splash instead of black results in an almost entirely different deck.
Path to Exile is chief among removal in modern, and Jeskai has more ways to gain life and stabilize than Grixis, such as Sphinx's Revelation, Lightning Helix and Timely Reinforcements in the sideboard. Also, without Kolaghan's Command, Cryptic Command becomes much more attractive.
It should be mentioned that both of these are ‘draw-go' control decks, meaning they literally draw their card and pass the turn. They can effectively play on their opponent's turns a lot of the time.
These are a stark contrasts to ‘tap-out' control, which mostly plays at sorcery speed, such as Grixis Midrange or Jeskai Midrange. These tap-out decks will not be discussed here.
Competitive Analysis: Grixis Control
I want to preface by saying I love Grixis. In fact, I am dying to play this archetype, but I can't bring myself to take it to a tournament.
And here's why: Grixis has a few fundamental problems.
There are some matchups (Such as burn and combo) where you just need a fast clock with a control deck, and Grixis doesn't excel at that, unfortunately.
Snap-K. Command-Snap is also backbreaking.
These are great ways to win the game, but against a faster deck, it's hard to interact in the grindy fashion like Grixis wants to.
Any good control deck needs a way to stabilize, to transition into the late game. Unfortunately, Grixis doesn't seem to have anything like this. This has plagued Grixis since its inception.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet does help, but against burn and combo, he does almost nothing and you're left pinging away for 3 each turn. Against control, he also usually does nothing special.
If only we could play Cruel Ultimatum effectively. Too bad the old Cruel Control decks aren't competitive anymore. Chapin compares Ultimatum to a Sphinx Rev for 4, which makes me wonder if a single copy in Grixis wouldn't be bad, even if it isn't instant like Revelation.
Grixis isn't sure what to do with itself
To me, ‘Control' means ‘Playing on your opponent's turn.'
I feel like most players are trying to do a bit of tap-out and a bit of draw-go and it makes for one clunky deck that doesn't always function properly.
The same could be said about Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, his abilities are sorcery speed, and thus, if you play him, you'll have to play half of your spells on your own turn.
I might even cut the Ancestral Vision to 2 copies.
What's the Verdict?
I digress. I do think Grixis has the tools to be great, but I think that many pilots are trying to cash in on as many card advantage effects as they can and in doing so, are muddling the mixture, so to speak.
Once pilots figure out the best way to build Grixis, it can be great again.
Play Grixis Flash
I'm going to take a page from Brett's Book here and say you should go all in on Instant speed spells and creatures, just as many of the old school Cruel Control decks did.
While I trashed Kalitas above, I do think he's one of the best creatures in the deck and should be kept, if only for that life gain that Grixis so desperately needs.
Competitive Analysis: Jeskai
Unlike Grixis, Jeskai lists have been 90% draw-go control for the last year or so, even though Jeskai has lost favor as more and more players realize they'd like to play Kolaghan's Command.
Jeskai Vs Grixis
It seems like Jeskai has had more success over the past year than Grixis. Jeskai pretty much has card options to shore up all of Grixis' weaknesses.
This is the first big difference. Jeskai has a 1 mana catch-all answer versus a 2 mana one. Giving an opponent a land can be disadvantageous, but being able to get rid of any threat for 1 mana is a bigger tempo swing than Terminate. Path also gets around death effects, of course.
Having maindeckable lifegain cards are invaluable as described above, and Jeskai has some great options.
The only thing that speeds up the clock for Jeskai that Grixis doesn't have access to is Lightning Helix. Additional burn is a great way to kill opponents faster.
Luckily, Jeskai's lifegain allows them to transition to the mid-game where their manlands can take over.
What's the Verdict?
Overall, I think Jeskai has better tools to survive and that's the most important thing to consider as a control pilot.
If you can't survive until you can execute your gameplan, there's no point.
Personally, I think the lack of good lifegain is what really sets Grixis behind. Jeskai can stabilize or get out of reach versus Burn, Scapeshift, Zoo and many other decks that Grixis decks might struggle against.
- Grixis has many tools to be great in modern, if pilots can overcome some key flaws.
- Grixis pilots need to focus their deckbuilding either on tap-out or draw-go, not both.
- Jeskai's faster clock combined with the lifegain allows it to survive and compete with faster decks such as combo and burn.
Farewell, Until Next Time
That's my take on control in the current meta.
I think pilots are really trying hard to jam Ancestral Vision, and for good reason-it's a powerful card. Once the dust from the recent B&R settles, control decks will occupy a bit more of the meta than they are currently.
If you're a control pilot, hopefully I inspired you to take a look at Jeskai again, as it seems to have fallen out of favor, and if you're a Grixis pilot, I hope I gave you some ideas on how to tighten up your list.
As always, thanks for reading.