Theros Theory Crafting: White-Blue Control in Standard
- Brent Terean
White-Blue Control has been a solid deck choice for recent Standard events. The deck could be seen at the top of multiple PTQs, MTGO Standard Leagues, and various community tournaments. Now it's time to figure out how the deck evolves as new cards from Theros Beyond Death are introduced to the mix.
Control decks are, historically, very malleable. In fact, any control player worth their salt will tell you that the "right" control list is rarely static for any long period of time. As metagames evolve, so too do the threats, and your job as a control player is to adapt to these changes. Because of this, control decks won't always look the same from player to player or from week to week. However, most of the things a control deck needs can be broken down into a few broad categories: threats, answers, ways to accrue card advantage, and the mana base.
Threats are cards that either end or take over the game either by themselves or when supported by the rest of your deck. Our White-Blue Control relies on a few solid finishers in Castle Ardenvale, Brazen Borrower // Petty Theft, Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis, and Teferi, Time Raveler. Castle Ardenvale is a way to win the late game when you have the mana available. While the steady stream of 1/1s provided by this card is a slow and reliable way to achieve victory eventually, it doubles as a way to chump block big attackers turn after turn.
Brazen Borrower is another example of a card with a dual purpose: a soft removal spell that bounces an annoying permanent back to our opponent's hand and then an evasive 3/1 that is more than capable of closing out a game given enough time. In a pinch, it can also do a solid Ambush Viper impression for flying attackers, but we'd prefer not to have to do that.
Elspeth is a brand-new card from Theros Beyond Death that the community is hotly debating. Some view the card as an overcosted gimmick, other's see the escape keyword and assume she will be a grindy value engine. Whatever the case, I'm interested in exploring what a couple of copies can do in a control deck. Like Castle Ardenvale, she produces a stream of tokens. However, she can also buff those tokens, buff our Brazen Borrowers, or provide life if we need it. Ultimately, Elspeth does a lot of things that we could certainly utilize, but she is only included in the deck on a trial basis.
Despite his lack of any obvious text that would lead us to win the game, Teferi, Time Raveler is one of our strongest threats. Not because he himself reduces our opponent's life to 0, but because he can straight-up turn off a huge portion of our opponent's deck while enabling us to play uninterrupted. Do you know what's scarier than a good control deck? A good control deck that gets to do whatever it wants without fear of instant-speed interaction from its opponent.
In addition to the security a resolved Teferi provides, he can also allow us to gain a tempo advantage over our opponent by bouncing their only blocker, bouncing an important permanent like Fires of Invention or one of the new Theros Gods, or just by allowing us to cast board wipes on our opponent's attack steps. Teferi is a brutal card that this entire deck is built to benefit from.
A control deck's game plan first of all focuses on answering threats. That's why it's called a control deck. Let's start with the mass removal:
Mass removal spells are one of the most important parts of any Constructed control deck because they allow us to trade only one of our cards for multiple of our opponents. Shatter the Sky is our newest, and cheapest, board wipe in Standard now and will be replacing Time Wipe in this list. Shatter the Sky's drawback will be irrelevant against the most aggressive of aggro decks, but may come up against the many midrange-style decks of current Standard. While your opponent drawing a card isn't ideal, the advantage of its mana cost is not easy to overlook.
After Shatter the Sky, a couple of copies of Planar Cleansing will probably be a good idea as Theros Beyond Death features a lot of new enchantments and three new planeswalkers to look out for. These are things that Shatter misses, but Cleansing addresses nicely.
Targeted removal and counterspells are both integral to our game plan as well. We want to make sure nothing that can threaten to end the game resolves, while also being prepared to remove anything that does. Dovin's Veto and Absorb are two strong mainstays of the archetype in both Standard and Pioneer, so they'll probably continue to make the cut.
Beyond these two cards, however, we have quite a few options on how to build this part of our deck. We could include Revoke Existence from the new set to handle the new God cycle or Ashiok's Erasure as a counterspell with Gideon's Intervention tagged on. Heliod's Intervention and Thassa's Intervention scale in strength according to how much mana we dump into them, so a few copies of those may also be worth including. Whirlwind Denial can counter spells and might also hit some relevant abilities, maybe even planeswalker ultimates. Most importantly, it deals with Hydroid Krasis's body and its triggered ability both at the same time.
Basically, there is a lot of room to adjust this section of your deck based on the metagame that develops after Theros Beyond Death drops.
Drawing additional cards is one of the most powerful things in Magic and our deck is one of the best at doing that. Card draw has also been a vital element of control's playbook since time immemorial, for one simple reason: the easiest way to have the right answer at the right time is to have a larger collection of cards at one's disposal.
In the past, control decks in Standard have relied on Gadwick, the Wizened, Opt, and Chemister's Insight to keep their hands full. More recently we've seen Finale of Revelation in some white-blue lists as a one-of that plays well with Teferi's +1. These cards are most likely still good, but Theros has given us a few new toys to mess around with.
Omen of the Sea is intriguing as it's essentially an instant-speed 2 mana version of Preordain — a card banned in Modern. As if that weren't enough, it sits on the battlefield until you activate it and sacrifice it to scry 2. In short, this card seems very good for what we want to do. I admit I'm a little concerned about a 2-mana Preordain being too slow, but instant speed, additional value later, and the option to bounce it with Teferi are all points in its favor.
Another strong contender from Theros is Thirst for Meaning, but unless we include more enchantments in our deck, this card will often be drawing three and discarding two. Discarding may end up another upside for escape decks, so this is definitely a spell to try out somewhere. Thassa's Intervention we mentioned earlier for its second mode, but the first mode scales even better and makes for an incredibly flexible card. Of course you don't want to pay full price for an Inspiration or a Dig Through Time, and neither would you want to pay 3 for Quench or 4 for Convolute. However, getting to pick from all of these options the one that best fits the situation and your available resources may just be worth the surcharge.
The Mana Base
The mana base is an extremely important aspect of most every Magic deck, but it's particularly critical to the design of a deck that deals in reactive cards. Our mana base should be able to provide us with Dovin's Veto mana on turn two, Absorb mana on turn 3, two white mana on turn four, triple blue at some point, and triple white on turn six. Luckily, Theros Beyond Death provided us with the white-blue scry land, Temple of Enlightenment, which we can play alongside Hallowed Fountain for a solid start to our mana base. Beyond that, we also want to have some amount of utility, so we'll be including Castle Vantress, the reprint of Field of Ruin, and a single copy of Labyrinth of Skophos.
|White-Blue Control 1.0|
As you can see, this first iteration allows us to test multiple Theros Beyond Death cards. We have lots of card filtering and draw from Omen of the Sea and Thassa's Intervention, great mass removal with Shatter the Sky and Planar Cleansing, solid ways to end the game with Castle Ardenvale and Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis, and a huge load of countermagic.
The sideboard features a solid mix of spells we may want to board in according to what matchup we face. Sky Tether, Time Wipe, and Giant Killer are great against aggro and midrange decks. For control mirrors we have access to extra copies of Dovin's Veto, Tithe Taker to tax their counterspells, and a singleton Spectral Sailor which I have found to be an amazing source of card advantage in long games. Other than that, Aether Gust and Devout Decree are great at dealing with specific issues. I included Heliod's Intervention as a hedge against all the enchantments that we just got and as a possible way to gain life against aggro.
Wrapping UpFrom here, real practice on MTG Arena will help narrow down what changes should be
made and how good these new cards are! Remember, control decks must adapt to their environment, so this list 100% sure to change. However, it should be a great place to start for Day 1 of Theros Beyond Death Standard.
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