Keeping Control

by Sebastien Owens

The standard metagame today looks pretty healthy, even though we were all in doubt for a bit during the great Delver invasion (pre- M13). Plenty of decks are a viable choice for those who wants to play something different.

Most people have realized that there are plenty of answers to the Delver decks. With that realization, Naya Pod and Esper midrange decks  have been putting up great results. Faithless Rites won the last TCGplayer platinum 5k event.

With that said, there might be one problem with this diversity. It’s not that the format isn’t very diverse. In my opinion: it’s more like something is missing. The format is filled with aggressive, midrange and tempo decks. Now if you’re like me (a control junkie) you must have been asking yourself: “Where the heck are the control decks?” Apart from Solar Flare having making appearances ,no other control deck has been cutting it. What is keeping the control decks from making a break for gold?

Let’s try and see why, let’s make a trip back in time … all the way back when Dark Ascension was released.

Some of us might remember U/B control being the best control deck when Dark Ascension came out.  How times have changed! I remember playing that deck and thinking it was the most fun I’ve had in a while. I mean, the amount of times that deck put me in what I like to call “the zone”( you know, when you’re in a kind of bubble/state of mind that you don’t care about whatever your opponent will do because you just know you have answers for just about anything he can do) is insane.

Add to that, the fact that you usually won by milling out your opponent was loads of fun. I remember playing a version without any creatures at all and my only win conditions being Jace, Memory Adept and Nephalia Drownyard. This allowed me to have tons of space for yet more answers for their threats as well as making their creature removal spells rather useless. However, suddenly (well not really suddenly, metagames don’t shift thatquickly) (Editor’s Note: Wanna bet?)  U/B control became worse and worse in Standard.


Why is that?

Well, you see, with the same set that brought U/B Control to the spotlight, it also brought one of the most annoying abilities for control decks: Undying.

Undying, the ‘inverted’ persist mechanic, brought aggressive decks to a whole new level!  It is very hard for control to deal with undying creatures since it will often require you to have 2 removal spells for a single threat (unless you play white and want to waste your Oblivion Ring on a Strangleroot Geist) instead of something harder to deal with such as a planeswalker , Birthing Pod or bigger undying guy.

Again, you need to remember that Pillar of Flame did not exist yet.

In the beginning, the first deck that brought down control with undying was Zombies (both monoblack or U/B versions). You couldn’t successfully mill Zombies either, without helping them find a Gravecrawler in the process. Their extremely aggressive one-drops would slip right under your Mana Leaks and they could just start attacking as of turn 2. While doing that, they could just wait to have 6 mana and drop a Geralf’s Messenger while having enough mana to pay for your Mana Leaks. The matchup was worsened if you didn’t deal with all the zombies on the field at once. Otherwise, you would just have an army of Gravecrawlers coming back each turn. The UB version had Phantasmal Images with Undying (since they would have copied the Geralf’s Messengers with them. You can just imagine how difficult that was for control.

Then the Strangleroot Geist decks came along. At first, they were in Red/Green agro decks. A 2/1 creature for 2 Green mana with haste and undying is extremely hard to deal with. It enters the battlefield, it attacks for 2 damage and requires 2 removal spells to kill. Otherwise it will just come back and pummel you with a vengeance. Plus, don’t you even think about countering this little guy!  Your opponent will just cast another one or an even bigger threat. Equipped with a Sword of War and Peace, you will be punished you for having cards in your hand, something you need to have when playing control.

Another factor, which was kind of brought by the presence of swords, is threat density. Their whole deck is a threat to you. With a sword in play, even a weak little Birds of Paradise is something you just have to deal with. If you waited to Mana Leak their late-game threats they would just beat you down with it.

Too many counters made the deck worse.

Another thing that made Counterspells worse was the ‘birth’ of Birthing Pod decks. Earlier on, Pod decks were a joke because without the actual Birthing Pod in play they did little to nothing. Newer Pod decks became good even without their namesake card. Have the Pod? Well, I’ll be playing the threats I need when I want them and you can’t even stop me from doing it!

Cards like Blade Splicer and Huntmaster of the Fells are hellish for control because if you don’t counterspell them they will enter the battlefield and their job. Your opponent will not care if they die, since they brought in a second creature with them that you need to deal with.

What if you don’t destroy them? They will just Pod Blade Splicer or just simply attack and wait for their Huntmaster of Fells to flip to get a bigger creature as well as free damage in.

Now with all that said, (I might be missing a few points) the environment in Standard right now is pretty hostile to control decks. On top of it all: let’s not forget the printing of Cavern of Souls and Restoration Angel.

I was once told that I had to be a masochist to keep trying to play control decks (back in the days when I brought a different control brew every week). Well ladies and gentlemen, looks like I like being hurt because I’m back!  I just guess playing Delver decks made me realize how much I missed the control archetype.

I chose the Grixis colors for this control deck as I find that they have the more proactive ways to fight aggressive decks.

I know, I know: Another random control deck …

It has Pillar of Flame, which I definitely want to play main deck. The card might seem a bit weak to some but it’s a permanent way to deal with undying creatures, like Strangleroot Geist. They don’t play them? It’s still a 2 damage burn spell! Also, if you finish off a Wurmcoil Engine with this, your opponent gets no Wurm tokens! That’s pretty a pretty nice interaction to be aware of.

Sweepers are also amazing versus undying dudes because you get to kill a bunch of other creatures along with the undying ones. You even get value if you destroy at least 2 of them . In addition Grixis has access to the best discard spell in the format:  Despise. On turn one it can really ruin your opponent’s game plan.

If a big threat hits the table, well hey! , guess what: we play Go for the Throat, Doom Blade and our latest addition:

Nicol Bolas!

Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker is probably one of the best win conditions for this deck since just like Karn Liberated, if it isn’t dealt with you pretty much win the game. He deals with pesky permanents while getting even more loyalty counters. He can even steal you a couple of creatures like an opposing Titan or Elesh Norn to turn the tide!

Speaking of planeswalkers, Grixis has less problems dealing with them compared to other control decks. You can keep your permission for them because you have the rest of your deck to kill their creatures. We play things like Slagstorm and Bonfire of the Damned, which is just such an amazing card. The burn spells in the deck are very versatile as well.

Without further ado, here is the list:


Grixis Control


2x Augur of Bolas

3x Grave Titan

1x Inferno Titan

2x Snapcaster Mage


2x Doom Blade

4x Forbidden Alchemy

2x Go for the throat

2x Mana Leak

2x Think Twice


3x Bonfire of the Damned

2x Pillar of Flame

3x Slagstorm

2x Whipflare


2x Gilded lotus


2x Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker


3x Blackcleave Cliffs

3x Darkslick Shores

2x Dragonskull Summit

2x Evolving Wilds

2x Hellion Crucible

4x Island

4x Mountain

1x Shimmering Grotto

4x Sulfur Falls

1x Swamp


2x Ancient Grudge

1x Curse of Death’s Hold

1x Devil’s Play

1x Duress

1x Despise

2x Memoricide

2x Nihil Spellbomb

1x Surgical Extraction

2x Tribute to Hunger

2x Zealous Conscripts

So here is what I think would be a good Grixis Control decklist in the current metagame. I believe that a lot of sweepers is what you need. They dispose of hexproof creatures and somewhat counteract the token producers.

I will be going over my specific card choices for this deck in Part 2 as well as the game plan and sideboard.

See you soon in Keeping Control, Part 2.

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