I’ve written a few different series here at 5 Color Combo but today I’m going to start something new. This series will technically have no end, but from time to time, I’ll add to it. This will be similar to the Deck to Beat series over at Channel Fireball.
With each entry, I’m going to discuss a powerful strategy in modern and give a brief overview of how it works. Then, I will discuss cards that do well against that strategy so that no matter what deck you are playing, you will feel confident that you can beat it.
Today, I’m here to talk about Control. I originally planned to write about Jeskai Control, but with the recent rise in Grixis Control, I decided I would include both strategies in this article. They are fairly similar and a lot of the same hate cards work against both.
The Giants in Question
Let’s get right into it, with a Jeskai Control List from Dutch Modern Open from April 10, 2016:
This deck is a typical control deck. It uses counters and efficient removal to control the pace of the game. It also have lots of card advantage and Snapcaster Mage, which represents every card in their graveyard at any given time. Finally, the deck usually wins by killing with Celestial Colonnade along with burn from Bolt/Helix.
Next up is Grixis Control. This deck swaps white for black and gains some interesting graveyard synergies to complement the control package. There are other variations of a Grixis deck, but the Patrick Chapin style Grixis Control is the only one that is truly control, in my mind.
Seen below is a Grixis list by Trevor Holmes at Modern Nexus:
As you can see, black gives access to a few different spells like Terminate and Kolaghan’s Command. The deck also uses Thought Scour, targeting the pilot, to accelerate Snapcaster Mage and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy synergies. In addition, the deck utilizes Delve Threats, which are some of the largest creatures in the format. They are able to cast these very early in the game thanks to the self-milling, and anything left in the graveyard is still accessible thanks to Snappy and K. Command. It usually wins by overwhelming with two-for-ones and damage from Burn Spells, along with beatdown from the delve threats.
Grixis’ playstyle is definitely a bit more aggressive than Jeskai’s, but the core strategy is the same.
Giant Slaying: Green
This is, without a doubt, the best way to handle Jeskai Control. They absolutely cannot touch him with any of their spells, so they’ll be forced to chump block with their small creatures, and eventually with their Celestial Colonnades. Thrun can be regenerated, so sooner or later they just won’t be able to keep up with you doing 4 damage each turn.
Grixis Control, however, can handle Thrun a bit better. Their delve threats can favorable block Thrun and force you to regenerate him all day. One of Grixis’ main lines of play is to lock up the ground with their enormous creatures. This card plays right into that plan, so it doesn’t work well if there are a lot of Grixis Control pilots in your meta.
In a format of three colored manabases, I’d say this is a trap. It looks very powerful, but when you get right down to it (or stick it in your sideboard), you realize it doesn’t really work as well as you’d think. Keep in mind it says ‘Islands’ and not ‘Blue lands.’
The two decks above only run 4-5 Ravnica shocklands and 3-4 Islands. While this card looks like it would lock down your opponent, when in fact it usually just trips them up a bit.
If Thrun isn’t cutting it for you and you’re not playing any other color that has a good control hate card, this will work. Just know it’s not the best. The most opportune time to cast it, though, is right after they cast Cryptic Command. Their only option usually is to bounce Choke, so make it as hard as possible for them to do so.
Scooze doesn’t seem to hate on control a whole lot, especially since they have only a few creatures for him to eat. What he does, though, is allow you to respond to a Snapcaster Mage’s ETB by eating whatever spell snappy is targeting. I shouldn’t have to tell you that Snapcaster Mage chains are some of their most powerful plays.
Against Grixis specifically, Ooze can keep their graveyard low, making it harder for them to cast their delve threats efficiently. Doing this keeps them from casting a 5/5 and having mana available to counter or kill whatever you cast on your turn.
While this is expensive to cast, if you slip this through a control opponent’s wall of counters, you might completely invalidate their strategy if you have a large amount of creatures in your deck.
Being able to regenerate your creatures from board wipes and combat damage also helps. Basically, all of your creatures become akin to Thrun, the Last Troll, except they can still be countered.
This card basically functions similar to a green Kolaghan’s Command. It gains life which really helps to keep you out of Bolt-Snap-Bolt range and returning a creature that they spent removal on is a great way to generate advantage versus these decks. This card also has uses against midrange and burn decks. I wouldn't recommend using this unless it fits your meta.
Giant Slaying: Red
Chandra’s +1 allows you to kill Snapcaster Mage, but that’s not really what we care about. Her second ability (The 0 one) generates card advantage, which wins games vs these types of decks. They win by generating enough card advantage that you just can’t keep up, so drawing an extra card a turn puts them into trouble.
As a bonus, neither of these decks can interact with planeswalkers very well. Both have access to Bolt and Bolt-Snap-Bolt will kill Chandra for sure, but that’s a lightning bolt and a snapcaster that they can’t use to kill you or your creatures. If you get a few cards off of her before she dies, that’s worth it.
Both of these decks can just attack Chandra with a large creature like Celestial Colonnade or Gurmag Angler, so make sure the path is clear or you have blockers before you cast her to guarantee a few activations.
The reason to run Chandra over the next card is it also has uses in other matchups, where you can kill a creature with her each turn.
Outpost Siege does the same thing as Chandra, except it’s even harder for these decks to remove. Grixis’ only choice is to bounce it with Cryptic Command and Jeskai has enchantment removal postboard, but they won’t expect enchantments from most decks in game two (though you might watch out for it in game 3).
If you don’t need the additional utility provided by Chandra, Pyromaster, Outpost Siege is most likely the better answer to these decks.
With the recent unbanning of Ancestral Vision, many players are talking about how this card can steal the suspended Vision when the last time counter is removed. Stealing a draw three after your opponent waited 4 turns for it is a huge blowout.
Another use versus blue matchups is the ability to cast Trap in response to a counterspell. Then, you change the target of said counter to target Ricochet Trap and your important spell gets to slip through, unless they have yet another counterspell in wait.
Giant Slaying: Black
This card is similar to Outpost Siege, except the cards aren’t revealed to your opponent, and they go to your hand so you can cast them at a time of your choosing. Unfortunately it does cost life, so make sure you can offset the life loss before using this card.
Neither of the two control decks above can deal with this card very well, similar to Outpost Siege.
This is the most powerful Planeswalker in modern; in fact, it is one of the most powerful cards in modern, period. If you’re playing this card, you most likely are playing a midrange deck. If control is popular in your meta, you without a doubt want four of this lady.
She is hard for them to interact with for the same reasons as Chandra, Pyromaster.
Her +1 strips away their hand and deprives them of the card advantage they so desperately need. If they can’t find an answer to her quickly, you can use her -6, which is virtually impossible to come back from.
Again, midrange decks use some of these cards maindeck, but many other decks with access to black mana fit some into their sideboards.
These cards basically function as a proactive counterspell. They get rid of anything in the control player’s hand that you don’t want to deal with, including opposing counters. You can also pick removal from their hand so that you can squeeze a threat through and ride it to victory.
Stripping apart a control opponent’s hand can be one of the best paths to victory, especially when you can selectively discard the cards that hurt your game plan the most.
Against Jeskai Control, this card stops Snapcaster Mage forever, unless they’re able to bounce it. Although, you most likely have better options for hate cards against them.
Grixis decks, however, hate this card the most. It shuts off the aforementioned Snapcaster Mage chains, stops their Kolaghan’s Command value train, keeps them from casting delve creatures cheaply, and prevents them from casting Thought Scour on themselves. This card neuters the entire deck until they get a chance to bounce it with Cryptic Command, at which point they have to build a graveyard from scratch. If you play this on turn 0 against Grixis, you will most likely win.
Giant Slaying: White
This isn’t the best answer to control, but it can help somewhat. Basically, if you play it on turn 0, you can keep them from burning you out or, if they are Grixis, targeting you with their hand rip spells
I wouldn’t recommend this against control, as it really does nothing against any of their other lines to victory.
White doesn’t have the best options for fighting control. Luckily you should have one or two other colors at your disposal, and you can find control hate cards in those colors.
Giant Slaying: Blue
Dispels are great to sideboard in versus control. They allow you to counter an opponent’s counter (Or removal) for just a single mana. Do this a few times and it will put you ahead in tempo.
This guy is basically Dispel on a stick. Mostly sees play in merfolk, where it's best to Aether Vial it in response to a spell you want to counter. Unless you're playing Fish, this likely isn't the best option.
Glen is a bit expensive, but she can counter a counterspell or removal twice before she dies.
Giant Slaying: Multicolor
Against the Jeskai Control deck, this card is very good, unless they happen to have Path to Exile at the ready. Otherwise, this card can eat a couple removals and gain you some life.
Against Grixis, the card is even better since they don’t have access to any exile effects aside from Anger of the Gods.
This is another trap card. Players read the text and think it’s really powerful and they buy it. But then they realize that Shusher literally dies to every removal spell there is, and it can’t even block a Snapcaster Mage. This is definitely not the card you want to be relying on.
Exactly the same as Cursecatcher, except it's playable in more color combinations. If these colors are all you have available, this card is serviceable. But there are better options.
This one is a great control hate card. ‘Can’t be Countered’ is really nice versus these control decks and he’s an undercosted beater. Being Bolt-proof, is also really nice. The Jeskai mage has to use a Path to Exile or a Bolt-Snap-Bolt to get rid of him, both of which make it easier to squeeze another resilient threat through later.
This one could be sideboarded versus control, but there’s better. If they’re mainboard, then they will do some work in these matchups.
This card is very good; if you have access to black or red (or both), you should most likely have 2-4 of these in your sideboard.
Both of these Control decks have fairly greedy manabases. First of all, Cryptic Command is pretty hard to cast, so you can blow up their blue sources. You can also blow up their manlands, Celestial Colonnade and Creeping Tar Pit, which just so happens to coincide with the keep-them-off-blue plan. These manlands will also kill you if you’re not careful.
If this creature resolves, land destruction is inevitable. If you’re lucky, you can block a creature or get a few hits in with this volatile mage before he blows up.
Giant Slaying: Colorless
This card is very, very good against a control deck. They will spend all their resources trying to get rid of it or this little Germ (Or whatever else you suit up) as it slowly beats them to death. As long as this card is in play, they will have a hard time deploying any of their own threats because they know it’s very easy for you to pull ahead with Batterskull if they don't divert all resources to getting rid of it.
Postboard, Grixis will have more artifact removal if they feel the need and so will Jeskai.
Setting Chalice to 1 or 2 can be very effective against both decks to keep them from casting most of their removal and counters.
As with Batterskull, be prepared for more artifact removal from both decks postboard. If control is really giving you fits, perhaps multiple chalices would be better.
That’s All for Now, Folks!
That covers most of the control hate cards that see play in competitive modern, and few cards that rarely see play.
If you play control, I hope I gave you insight on how decks will try and beat you, and if you’re looking to beat control, there should be multiple answers in your colors.
Either way, I hope you enjoyed this and I hope to see you back next week for another issue of Felling the Giants.
Thanks for reading!