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Control Is All About Early Game Survival
by Dan Rath

I know some of what I am about to say may be obvious to a lot of players out there, but after watching people play control or build control decks, I have learned that many people do not understand the idea behind control. So, I decided to write this article. I will often refer to the control deck I currently run, not because I feel it is the best, but because I know it better than all the others

I have been playing control for a long, long time. I have found through the years that the equation for a good control deck is simple. The bulk of the cards in the deck should be dedicated to surviving the early game, and then with basic card draw, the late game should be no problem. A good control deck only needs a few late game killers to win. Since blue has a hard time dealing with threats on the table, it must have several low casting cost counters to keep those threats away early, and then latter it only needs to drop one threat to win. With all its card draw and counters protecting the one threat is not too difficult.

In the current environment, now that power sink is gone, cheap counter spells are hard to come by. Of course there is counterspell itself, but most of the good counters after that cost three. This is problematic for blue. If u/w is matched up against fires and fires goes first, by turn three fires can drop a blastoderm or burst and the u/w deck only has two manna with which to counter. If they have not drawn one of their four countersells, they may be in trouble. Force spike is an option to bring the deck up to eight early counters, but I do not like this option. Force spike is what I call a 50/50 card. Half of the games you play you draw it early and it works as it should, but the other half you do not draw it until late game where it is usually dead weight. I try to avoid such cards as they tend to increase reliance upon luck.

I don't think there is a clear answer counter spell wise to fires dropping a third turn blasto (unless you go first, in which case you have three manna and exclude/absorb become an option). However, with the addition of white the answer becomes more clear. I know, you are thinking that u/w is nothing new, but I bring this up because while the deck does see a lot of play, most players I watch don't understand why it works, and sometimes lose due to their lack of understanding. White allows the addition of 4 wrath of gods. Now, to survive early game you simply need to either draw a counterspell in your first 7-8 cards or a wrath in your first 11-12 cards. Story circle is yet another option here. While this does mean you will take 5-10 damage from blastoderm, it also means you can begin to stabilize after turn four. With u/w I have won many games after being taken under 5 life.

Once again the idea is to pack your deck with as many early game cards as possible to survive to the late game. Now, we get to creatures. Here, the idea is simple. You don't want to waste counters protecting creatures if you do not have to, so the best creature is one which protects itself. Voice of All is perfect for this deck. Not only does it have two means of evasion, but it is hard to kill (nearly impossible for fires if you call red). Additionally, it works perfectly with story circle because you don't have you use your Voice as a defender vs a deck like fires by calling green. You can call red, prevent damage form their attack with the story circle and attack, attack, attack. Personally, I think Voice of All is a very underplayed card in u/w control. I have relied upon it in countless games, and it is perhaps the most important creature in the deck.

After Voice of All, the best options are probably two Blinding Angels and maybe one Mahamoti Djinn
(as the late game finisher if needed). I tried magpie for a while to gain card advantage, but it died much easier than Blinding Angel, and I have found the Angel often gives me a greater card advantage because I do not have to counter ground troops once the Blinding is out. By the time Blinding is on the table I only need to save my counters for a creature that flies or something that kills blinding. As I stated before, I do not like to have to protect my creatures with counters, but the card advantage gained from Blinding creates this exception.

Finally, we look at the big blue djinn. I think it is good to have one of these fatties in the deck. I usually run two thwarts for several reasons, one is to allow me to tap out for the dijin while still retaining my ability to counter. While typically we do not find more than ten islands in u/w control, that is nearly always enough to use thwart by the time I need it either to counter after tapping out for dijin, or perhaps in response to obliterate.

So, we see that the deck tries to survive the early game with counterspell, exclude, absorb, story circle, and wrath, and then dominate late game with Blinding, fat Djinn, fact or fiction, Thwart etc. Voice of All often falls into play sometime in the middle, but usually hangs around for the duration. Of course, the early game survival cards do not stop working in the late game. When you combine all the counters with card draw such as fact or fiction, you have a lot of defense in the late game (don't forget about the story circle either). This, pure and simple, is what establishes board control.

One other observation I have has to do with the ability of U/W control to flurish in the current environment. I think it shows a great deal of promise, and can rise to the top in many tournaments, but part of the reason I believe this is a bit strange. U/W control can show promise because of fires. The very existence of fires has made certain decks much less viable in the environment. The decks I am talking about are weenie/ speed decks. I think mono-black has a decent speed/suicide deck that could cause U/W a headache, but the deck does not seem to fare well against fires like decks. With fires in the environment, U/W has less other deck types to worry about. Matched up against fires, I think U/W stands good odds if played correctly.

Anyway, that sums up some of my many random thoughts I have about ideas behind control. I hope this article was not too basic for you, but if it was I imagine you stopped reading before you got this far. If it helps, try to pass some of the ideas a long to the newbies at your stores if they are interested in control. Remember, success is one thing that will keep the new players coming back….and that cannot hurt the game.

Dan Rath (Dragon's Den regular)