White-Blue Control's Pioneer Premiere
- Samuel Šulovský
White-Blue Control is a particularly evergreen deck, part and parcel of all of Magic's formats. From counter spells and great removal to card advantage and life gain, the Azorius guild grants us access to all the tools we need to survive, and dominate, the long game.
A Brave New World
Pioneer is quite young as a format, the far reaches of the card pool and optimal strategies still very much in the works. In wide metagames, it's harder for us to specifically target the weaknesses of our opponents' decks and exploit them. As control players, we have to be aware of our opponents' game plan. We seek to make a lot of calculated plays that will pay off later. Because of this, it's very important to tailor our deck to the expected environment. If you're playing at a local tournament, knowing what your opponents will be bringing allows you to tune your deck to beat theirs and improve your chances of winning.
Currently, a sizeable part of the metagame consists of fast, proactive decks such as Monored Aggro and Green Devotion Ramp, which can close out games quickly, or deploy large threats early. Against these decks, we have to act fast and keep hands with a plan. Board sweepers like Supreme Verdict and other ways of stabilizing are essential to these matchups.
Every Magic player should be familiar with more than just their own deck, and there is no better deck with which to practice this skill than this one. Being able to adapt in between events is crucial to playing it successfully, especially when it comes to the sideboard.
Control is one of the three main Magic archetypes. In practice, we aim to lenthen the game to a point when we can safely deploy our big threats that opponents then will have trouble answering. This can be accomplished in many ways and today we'll be looking at one of the most traditional ways of getting ahead and into the long game—removing our opponent's threats and pulling ahead in card advantage. We have access to a lot of multifunctional tools within our guild's colors too: cards like Azorius Charm and Absorb serve a double purpose and thus help us move toward our goal twofold.
White-Blue Control is essentially a simple deck. Our spells fit the removal-or-card-draw bill and fall neatly into one, or even better, more of the following categories: interaction, advantage generation, and threats. Let's look at a sample deck and split the cards up to illustrate this.
|Nick Cossey, 8th at SCG Pioneer IQ Roanoke, November 14|
Interaction doesn't just mean counter spells and removal, though that is our bread and butter in white-blue. Cards in this category serve mainly to draw out the game and prevent our opponents from going through with their plan. Against aggressive decks for example, Absorb does double duty by stopping their potentially game ending threat, while also gaining us 3 life, which further hampers their progress.
I'd like to shift the focus to specific card choices like Cast Out—chosen for its cycling ability, which means that if we're put into a circumstance where we don't need to exile permanents, we can cycle the card away and turn an unused card into a 1-mana cantrip. Other cards, like Aether Gust and Dovin's Veto are in the sideboard because of their strength in certain matchups, where they can shift the game heavily in our favor upon resolving.
Probably one of the cards I was most excited to play with when Pioneer was announced was Dig Through Time. I would hazard a guess and say that games where I resolved one or multiple Digs have always ended in a victory for me. Dig Through Time gives us card selection at the price of just 2 blue mana. Looking at the top seven cards of our library will usually find us anything we need.
I want to point out some multifaceted cards that serve as both interaction and advantage generation. Narset, Parter of Veils gives us cards while imposing a restriction on our opponent, whereas Azorius Charm has a removal mode and a card draw mode, which makes it great in all circumstances.
We've talked about how to stop our opponents and pull ahead in cards, but we do need to translate that advantage into pressure on our opponents or else, we'll eventually run out of answers after all. Our premier suite of threats are our planeswalkers. They often make our opponents focus on them immediately after coming down. Teferi, Time Raveler is particularly devastating in certain matchups, preventing our opponents from casting spells at instant speed altogether. He also bounces permanents and draws us cards, as well as letting us cast sorceries at instant speed—a lot of value for just 3 mana.
Planeswalkers alone may not be enough to win the game, though. I have had some good results with Approach of the Second Sun which, upon being cast for a second time, wins us the game outright. An interesting interaction in Pioneer is that Dig Through Time can immediately get it back into our hand to be cast the next turn. Optimally, this will be done on the enemy's end step to prevent Duress or Thoughtseize.
The choice is yours as to what big game-ending threat you want to run and some are better in certain areas than others. Cossey's list focuses on noncreature win conditions in Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, largely because planeswalkers are possibly the stickiest permanent type, with most removal cards missing them. Another upside to using planeswalkers as your win conditions is that they usually provide value while on the board. In contrast to Approach of the Second Sun, for example, which serves only to close out the game, Elspeth, Sun's Champion can deter attacks and even wipe the board!
Going Forward – A White-Blue Future
The name of the game for our deck is versatility—always having an answer, always plotting our next move and keeping our opponents guessing as to what spells they can and cannot resolve. I've found a lot of success playing this deck and really enjoy the style of gameplay Pioneer specifically provides for it.
Currently, control hasn't yet reached the pinnacle of Pioneer, and is struggling with some matchups. Recent bannings, for example of Veil of Summer and Field of the Dead, are a sign of better times to come. But with the future of powerful 3-mana planeswalkers currently uncertain, we really can't say anything for sure when it comes to how much more pressure will be taken off of our shoulders in regards to difficult matchups.
If there's one thing I wanted to highlight with this article, it's the incredible resilience and adaptability of the deck. We've got the tools for every job and the less tools we have to carry in our toolbox the better for us. Once the metagame solidifies, we'll be able to specialize, perhaps running playsets of silver bullet cards like Mystical Dispute or Rest in Peace in the sideboard. Regardless, White-Blue control is a deck with incredible depth and complexity and is very rewarding for both beginning and long-time players. No matter how the format evolves, I'm sure there will always be a place for the Azorius to watch over the metagame and uphold the law of the land.
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