The Many Flavors of Modern Control

Modern has always been known for being the most open and diverse competitive Magic format, and this time it's not any different. In this article, we want to look at a bunch of different Cryptic Command control decks, including some lesser-known variants, that are part of the metagame right now.

cryptic command

Ever since Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Field of the Dead have been printed, the Modern control deck landscape changed and seemingly homogenized. At the very top of every Modern event one can find Simic-based Uro decks opting for a different splash — red for Lightning Bolt and Wrenn and Six; black for Fatal Push, Abrupt Decay, Assassin's Trophy; white for Path to Exile and Teferi, Time Raveler; some splashing two colors to run Omnath, Locus of Creation. In this article, I want to show some old fan favorites that have popped up here and there. The lists presented mainly come from Modern Challenge results.

White-Blue Control

Personally, my most on-brand archetype. I've been playing White-Blue Control in numerous formats for quite some time now and always fondly come back to it. However, lately it's been set aside by many due to its lack of tools compared to, for example, Bant decks employing Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Veil of Summer. On the flipside, a straight two-color mana base has its own merits — it is easier to cast one's spells, one gets mana screwed less often, the mana base is less painful and allows for more blue-producing non-Islands to play around a potential Boil. Today, I will present two interesting takes on White-Blue that I've found among Challenge results.

What separates this white-blue shell from most others, aside from the wild one-of-based sideboard, is the card Delay. It is often compared to Remand which is an apt comparison only to an extent. Both cards are meant not to deal with a threat permanently but rather to delay it, pun acknowledged. The difference between these two cards is that Remand gives you access to another card immediately and, crucially, forces your opponent to respend all the mana on the spell — which becomes more and more pronounced, the more expensive the spell was. For example, having to spend eight mana to actually resolve a four-drop, all while the opponent has spent two mana and drawn a card to accomplish it sounds like a good exchange for the Remand player. However, when it comes to one-drops Remand is laughably bad and basically unplayable — and Modern is rife with such cheap spells rather than the aforementioned four-drops.

Now, this is where Delay comes into play. Regardless of the cost of the targeted spell, it gets put off until three turns later. The bad — it gets replayed for free and gains haste if it is a creature, we've spent a card and still have a threat to worry about. The good — if we can capitalize on the time we've bought with the card, it gets much better; our control deck can probably recuperate lost card advantage easily unless it's a mirror match; with Teferi, Time Raveler on the battlefield, our opponent is unable to cast the suspended spell at all. As far as I am concerned, that's not enough of an upside to play Delay. To me it would make more sense in a more aggressive build that can capitalize on the time bought by killing the opponent. I'd probably go Jeskai and play Lightning Bolt in a Snapcaster Mage, Spell Queller, Vendilion Clique shell — basically R/W/U Tempo Flash.

delay counterbalance

Blue control decks with a Terminus package have been on the fringes of Modern for quite some time now. Most players know their power as Miracles has been one of the top archetypes in Legacy for years and there have been numerous attempts to port the deck to Modern. Despite countless tries, it's always been just short of competitive. Earlier this year, the Counterbalance-centered shell was popular due to the prevalance of Lurrus of the Dream-Den, as it promoted playing mainly one- and two-drops. Now, the deck seems to be coming back. Its biggest strength is how it abuses Mystic Sanctuary and plays a draw-go strategy very well. The downside is that the deck is a touch more prone to variance since Miracle cards are themselves high variance in a format without Brainstorm. In order to mitigate the downside of drawing Miracles early and capitalize on the Sanctuary, I always like to include Tragic Lesson in my Miracle decks. As far as I'm concerned, it basically reads "Draw two and return a Sanctuary" or "Draw two and discard a miracle from your hand, so that you can Sanctuary it back on top later."


blue moon

My second-favorite two-colour combination in Magic, very close to first, is blue-red. In Modern, the main appeal of the shell lies in: Blood Moon, the flexibility of Snapcaster Mage and Lightning Bolt, and a wide array of possible ways to close out the game, including plenty of combo finishes. I've always liked blue-red because of its ability to adapt regarding card choices but also in-game. Damage-based removal and flash creatures allow these colors to turn the corner when need be. Blue-red is also known to be the best color combination for Remand, mostly due to running Blood Moon, making it difficult to replay spells, and including combo finishes where Remand's "bought time" is actually useful.

I will start off with the wackiest deck in the line-up. The above includes ten counterspells main, but don't get fooled, it is very much a combo deck. The main engine consists of cycling cards, which very late in the game and once the desperation mode has been enabled can be hardcast; Living End, which brings your previously cycled creatures to the battlefield; and As Foretold and Electrodominance which allow you to cast the aforementioned Living End. An additional free spell to abuse As Foretold and Electrodominance is Crashing Footfalls, which lets you put pressure on your opponent. Some time ago, people used to play Ancestral Vision in the Footfalls slot in order to be more grindy rather than proactive. I enjoy the fact that such a shell proves playable, but unfortunately Teferi, Time Raveler exists and destroys all the fun. On top of that, the deck may be vulnerable to aggro/tempo decks, especially when they employ discard or counterspells themselves.

You don't get more pure control than that. The deck has a full set of my beloved Cryptic Command, Archmage's Charm, and even Mystic Sanctuary. The strength of the Sanctuary is even more pronounced in a Bolt deck as your removal not only is never dead but also can be replayed over and over again to kill your opponent. To actually close the game up, alongside the Bolts, there are four Snapcaster Mages and three copies of the rightfully Modern-legal Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Raugrin Triome also enables a very light splash, which is understandable as the opportunity cost is relatively low and it provides much-needed life gain in the form of Timely Reinforcements.

This Twin list makes me feel things. In addition to the blue-red core, the deck uses the combination of Deceiver Exarch and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to create an arbitrarily large number of Clerics, which should be able to kill the opponent immediately. Every Splinter Twin enthusiast will most likely enjoy copying the Exarch for the win in 2020. Furthermore, it is worth looking at the mana base — not only does it not try to abuse Mystic Sanctuary but actually eschews it completely. Why would one do that? If you run mainly nonbasic non-Islands, you get to sidestep Boil, which is hands down the most powerful spell against blue decks nowadays. Consequently, if your mana base can easily play through Boil, you can actually play one yourself — which greatly improves the matchups against other blue decks.


scapeshift wilderness reclamation

Last but not least, it's time for a different take on combo-control. This time three-colored and with a one-card combo finish.

The first thing I'd like to point out is the seemingly surprising number of lands. At first, one may think the land count is quite high; however, in a Growth Spiral and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath deck, you want to hit every natural land drop and every additional land drop provided by these cards — ergo high land count. How does the deck kill? It ramps, interacts, and then casts Scapeshift to tutor out an appropriate number of Mountains and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to shoot the opponent down. The main deck includes fifteen interactive spells, so don't think it just goldfishes. On the contrary, I like to think of it as a control deck that can have strong proactive draws with Spiral, Uro, fast Cryptics to start fogging and finish the opponent off with its combo finish. An excellent choice for people who want to abuse Uro but not play endless pass-the-turn games.

The final deck in today's article is an interesting take on a shell that I've liked a lot, namely BUG Control. Much to my surprise, this one does not run Field of the Dead but uses a different over-the-top engine — Wilderness Reclamation and Nexus of Fate. Most of its games will be played out as if it was a normal BUG Control deck with all the removal and counterspells, stabilizing with Uro. However, from time to time it will land one of its two Reclamations to take over the game with its mana velocity. I suspect the deck can't play too many as it does not affect the game immediately and is still a four-drop, but devoting just a couple slots might be worth it. If you can both escape Uro in your main phase and then still be fully untapped with all the Cryptics and Fact or Fiction, your opponent will be buried in card advantage very soon. In my opinion, there is almost no reason not to play Field of the Dead, especially in an Uro/Spiral shell. Other than that, the deck looks solid and like a lot of fun, but I might be biased toward BUG.

Modern is as diverse as ever, even within a specific archetype. I hope you've enjoyed exploring Modern control with me today. As always — hold my hand, let's pass the turn together, and see you next time. Cheers!

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