Attention to Detail #17
A Controlling Interest
by Jordan Kronick
April 14, 2006
It seems like just yesterday that the buzz
among all the Magic writers was the impending release of
Guildpact. The second set of Ravnica block gave us a few new
guilds with some interesting new abilities. Everyone
marveled at Bloodthirst, Replicate and Haunt and quickly
tried to figure out how best to make use of the new
mechanics. Casual and tournament players alike agreed that
Angel of Despair was really, really cool. We've barely had
time to breathe since then. People are still trying to
figure out exactly how the RRG draft format works, and
suddenly it's time for Dissension previews. Through both
official and – shall we say – less official sources,
information on the final three guilds of Ravnica has started
to roll in. With every card that is revealed, opinions shift
as to what the dominant decks in the block constructed
format will be, and what the shape of Standard will be for
the next year – or at least the next three months before we
get yet another addition to the format, this time in the
form of Coldsnap.
As I've mentioned before in this column, my greatest
interest as concerns new sets this year is the Block
Constructed format. I've always been a big fan of the
smaller format. It combines the atmosphere of a Standard
tournament with the more homogenous card pool of Limited.
Aaron Forsythe pointed out in a column a month or so back
that until recently, most Standard decks were really just
dolled up Block Constructed decks. Block mechanics, for the
most part, function best when combined with more cards in
the same vein. The cycling decks of Onslaught block didn't
have much use for the non-cycling cards of the surrounding
blocks. The blue-green tempo decks and machinehead decks of
Invasion Block Constructed worked best when utilizing the
powerful multicolored cards of their own block when
translated to Standard. The same can be said for the
artifact-based strategies of Mirrodin or the Tribal decks of
Onslaught. Wizards R&D has said that they are trying to
increase the inter-block playability. This is why there are
so many spirits in Ravnica – so that they will more easily
fit in with the spiritcraft and soulshift cards of Kamigawa.
One can expect that Time Spiral (this fall's large
expansion) will find a way to work with the multicolored
theme of Ravnica, without directly borrowing the theme.
Still, even with this interconnectivity, block-based decks
still look to be dominant on the scene of Standard. What
that means is that the most exciting new decks of Standard
are often decks which can be replicated (no pun intended)
into Block Constructed.
Dissension seemingly doesn't pull the format in any
particular direction. The three new guilds seem to be
designed with balance in mind. The Azorious pull the format
in a slower more thoughtful control direction, while the
Rakdos pull it in a fast-paced aggressive direction. The
Simic seem to be built with an eye for combo but, as I've
stated before, Block Constructed is never a friendly place
for combo decks. At the time I'm writing this, the spoiler
sites and Magicthegathering.com have revealed to us 45 of
the 180 cards that make up Dissension. A fairly even split
among the guilds has been found, but I have to say I'm most
excited about the Azorious. Any frequent reader of Attention
to Detail knows my love of control decks. Particularly of
the classic control scheme – white/blue. It seems like every
Azorious card that is released makes me break out in a fit
of evil laughter. Black may be the color of demons and
immorality, but anyone who's fallen victim to an old school
control strategy will tell you that White and Blue are the
colors of evil.
With that in mind, I take a look at the first officially
revealed card to use the new Azorious mechanic – Forecast.
It's a heck of a card, and it does a lot of the things a
good control card should do. Here's what it reads like, if
you haven't seen it for yourself:
Pride of the Clouds – 2WU
Creature – Elemental Cat
Pride of the Clouds gets +1/+1 for each other creature in
play with Flying.
Forecast – 2WU, Reveal Pride of the Clouds from your hand:
Put a 1/1 white and blue Bird creature token with Flying
into play. (Play this ability only during your upkeep and
only once each turn.)
The mechanic is pretty easy to understand fundamentally.
It's another one of those pseudo-keywords, where everything
is written out on the card. Basically you get to spend mana
during you upkeep to make a bird, if this is in your hand.
That's pretty handy. A bird in the hand is worth two in the
bush, after all. I apologize for that joke, but it had to be
said. Let's look a bit more closely at just what this card
does. At it's core, it is a 2-drop flying creature. That's
pretty standard, or even a little bit substandard as a 1/1.
Of course, if you're doing things right, it will probably be
much larger than that. Even as a 2/2 flying for 2 mana,
that's a heck of a deal. In a deck with a large number of
cheap flying creatures, that could be a heck of a beater.
Beating down with a quick swarm isn't what this was built
for, though. It's a rare, after all, and it's not just
because of the power and toughness. When you want to swing
with the Pride, you want an army backing it up. However,
unlike similar cards like Radiant, Archangel, the Pride
brings it's own army. It's a slow build up, of course. You
probably don't want to start making tokens with this on turn
4, as that's a big price to pay for a small creature.
Instead, you want to save the Forecasting for the midgame,
after you've established control. This Forecast ability has
the potential to be a huge drag on your mana supply. I'll
come back to that later, and I think this is going to be an
imporant consideration for the White-Blue deck of the
White-Blue control has historically had a reputation for
being very creature-light. The theory goes that if you
control the game completely, you only need one creature.
Pride of the Clouds fits this very nicely, as one creature
becomes many. The question of quantity then needs to be
addressed. Oftentimes blue control decks will only run a
couple copies of their kill creature, so as to make room for
more control. The most recent Standard decks to feature blue
control use things like Keiga and Meloku as kill cards. The
legendary status of those creatures adds to this reasoning,
and the decks usually only run a couple copies of either
creature. I think a different reasoning strangely applies to
the Pride of the Clouds. I say strangely, because the
Forecast effect is somewhat less useful in multiples. It's
unlikely that you're going to have enough mana to produce
two birds every turn, even if having two allows you to do
so. Eight mana is a big investment. However, having two
doesn't make for a dead card. Far from it. It allows you to
put on a bit of pressure. While you're building up that
army, having a second copy means you can play a big one too.
The extremely cheap cost means you won't have to give up
your bird production hopefully, or at the very least you'll
have mana enough to protect your Pride.
Mana – that's the real hot button issue. Conterspells and
card draw used to be a lot cheaper. And the card draw used
to happen at instant speed. Even the token generators used
to work as an instant. Look at Decree of Justice for an
example of that. If you want to protect yourself and keep
control, you're going to need a lot of mana. White and Blue
are notorious for having the worst mana acceleration of any
two colors. Black has the older fast mana like Dark Ritual.
Red has the more recent fast mana like Seething Song. And
green, of course, is the king when it comes to speeding
things up. That doesn't mean that all is lost, however.
Remember that you're playing a slow game. You want to
control the pace and make sure that you're moving at a
steady clip. You don't need to bust out quickly, as long as
you bust out steadily. Ravnica provides us with a perfect
card for this. The key to maintaining a steady pace is to
make your land drop every turn. Most often this is
accomplished by drawing lots of cards. But Ravnica gives us
the “karoos” - the common bounce-lands. Each one is like two
land drops. In recent months, karoos have proven somewhat
ineffective in Block Constructed, due to maindeck land
destruction from the Green-White-Black control decks.
However, the decks that were getting their lands destroyed
didn't have any way of stopping it from happening. As a
Blue-White control player, stopping things from happening is
your prime objective. And once you've got the land
advantage, you can keep control while you Forecast your way
I'm not quite done talking about mana. There's another new
Azorious card which has mana advantage written all over it.
Those of you who read the rumor sites will know immediately
that I'm talking about the leader of the guild, Grand
Arbiter Augustin IV. Here's what he says, in case you
haven't seen my new favorite card of Ravnica block:
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV – 2WU
Legendary Creature – Human Advisor
White spells you play cost 1 less to play.
Blue spells you play cost 1 less to play.
Spells your opponents play cost 1 more to play.
That is, as they say, a hum-dinger. All your stuff gets
cheaper, all your opponent's stuff gets more expensive.
Suddenly your Mana Leaks only cost 1 mana, while your
opponent's removal becomes more vulnerable to the Leak.
Sounds like a great combination to me. Of course, we don't
have a Mana Leak in Ravnica. We have to settle for (so far)
a much poorer set of counters. This is going to be a
hindrance to the deck. However, there's still 135 cards to
be revealed from Dissension. I'm still holding out hope that
the counterspells will be in there, and the deck will have a
place in the coming format. Augustin has spurred something
of a debate among fans of control. Some see it as a great
way of maintaining control. Some see it as a liability.
Control elements tend to be instants and sorceries. Ways of
controlling the board in short spurts. Augustin provides us
with a control element that needs to be protected. That's a
bit different from what some people are used to. I'm of the
mind that it's still a good card. Of course, you don't want
to drop this on turn 4 with no way of preventing it from
being destroyed. It's a big target for a Putrefy, and 1
extra mana isn't going to stop that from happening. Augustin
make himself easy to protect, though. Let's look at the most
popular counterspell so far released in Ravnica block.
Remand costs 1U. That's a perfect cost for Augustin. He
turns it into a 1-mana counter that can stop anything
temporarily. Temporarily is great when Augustin is around,
though. If you drop this on turn 5, with one mana as backup
against a tapped out opponent, it's extremely unlikely that
they'll find a way to stop it before you can untap again and
establish more complete control. The jury's still out on
whether or not the judge is any good, but I'm voting in his
Enough speculation. Let's try to do something with these
cards. Or at least one of them. I've got a deck in mind that
I want to make an argument for to make the best of the Grand
Arbiter. He reminds me of two earlier cards from Ravnica
block which seemingly provided a hint as to the future of
the Azorious. I'm talking about Spelltithe Enforcer and
Loxodon Gatekeeper. People have already tried to combine
these two cards into decks, with limited success. I think
the time for them to shine could be now, however. The
Gatekeeper means that your opponent is severely slowed in
mana development, and haste creatures become irrelevant. The
Spelltithe Enforcer punishes them for playing their most
expensive cards. Augustin further complicates matters, by
making even cheap things more expensive. Eventually your
opponent ends up in a position where casting anything more
expensive than a two drop becomes a painful endeavor.
Let's start out with the trio themselves. Augustin is
legendary, so three copies should do nicely. He's important
to the deck, so two probably won't cut it.
3x Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
4x Spelltithe Enforcer
4x Loxodon Gatekeeper
Protecting these guys can go a couple of ways. More
permanent control like Privileged Position is possible, but
the high end mana costs are pretty well locked down for this
deck, and it's probably best to try something a bit cheaper.
Ravnica gives us the perfect card, though. A deck like this
make bounce spells particularly devastating, as they
severely slow things down. To that end, Peel From Reality is
the perfect choice. When Augustin is around, it only costs 1
mana, and it can save one of the control elements while
simultaneously removing one of your opponent's threats.
Besides that, how about Repeal. It also becomes cheaper when
Augustin is around, and gives us a cantrip too.
4x Peel From Reality
Sometimes though, there's something in play that you just
don't want coming back again and a gain. Bounce works great
against a creature like Rumbling Slum, but it's not going to
cut it if your opponent's got themselves a creature with a
comes-into-play effect. To that end, we want Faith's
Fetters. It's control and it slows things down. It's hard to
express how useful this card can truly be. So let's add 4 of
4x Faith's Fetters
It can't be all control, though. Ending up in a topdecking
match against an opponent when your creatures don't affect
the board position but merely slow it down is no good. We
need some card draw, too. The repeals help in this respect,
but something a bit more substantial is necessary. We could
use a large-scale drawing card like Train of Thought, but
that's not quite spicy enough. Instead, I recommend
Compulsive Research. The three mana cost means that it can
happen before you start playing the elephants and judges,
and it will get cheaper when the Arbiter is around, too.
4x Compulsive Research
This deck is still looking pretty high on the back end. The
removal is cheap and the creatures are expensive. We need
something that's going to let us survive the first few turns
long enough to get to our control. To that end, I recommend
a wall. I think the best choice here is Vertigo Spawn. It
only costs two mana, so the price is right. It has the
potential to slow the beatdown quite a bit, as well. In it
4x Vertigo Spawn
We're at 31 cards so far, and there's still a couple things
I want to put in. First of all, the deck needs something
flashy. The three rare control elements aren't bad, but
they're nuts and bolts. And they also top out at three
power. We're going to need something to help kill the
opponent, too. And while we're at it, why not a bit more
control as well? For our purposes here, I think the right
choice is Dream Leash. It can steal anything you want when
the Gatekeeper is around, and that's not bad. Against a mana
deprived opponent, it could even be used to steal a karoo,
further solidifying the position.
4x Dream Leash
35 cards. I think there's two more card to put in. And the
speed of the deck is still a concern, so I think it's time
for a pair of signets.
2x Azorious Signet
Throw in 23 land, and that's the deck. The blue-white
shockland would be a nice addition here. Maybe even the
blue-white guildhall will make the cut. This deck only uses
two cards from Dissension so far, since there's a limited
supply to pick from. I'll revisit this deck in a couple
weeks to see how things panned out. If I can get together
the card stock, maybe I'll even try to build it.
That's it for this week. I hope you enjoyed the look at what
the future of a format might look like. Forecasting is,
after all, the act of predicting future climates. I'm sure
by this time next week the spoiler sites will have assembled
nearly all of Dissension. And then we can find out if a bird
in the hand really is worth two in the bush. I'm sorry to
reuse the same joke, but control isn't about dynamic actions
after all. Until next week, may things stay just the same.
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