Blue-Black Control in Standard (Videos)

Feature Article from Steve Rubin
Steve Rubin
10/13/2017 11:00:00 AM
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The Magic World Championship took place last weekend, and it's set the precedent for the Standard metagame moving forward. Temur and Four-Color Energy, Ramanup Red, and Blue-Black Control and a few variants of these archetypes, were the only decks that 24 pros from across the globe selected to compete for the largest prize in MTG history. It's safe to say these are the best decks in Standard at the moment. A somewhat classic aggro, midrange and control triangle makes it quite tough to break through with any other deck as it's impossible to build a deck to beat all three.

Throughout the weekend, the deck that intrigued me the most was the new take on Blue-Black Control. I was quite surprised to see this strategy break through the established Temur and Ramunap Red decks. You would assume that you have a tough time with the most popular deck in Standard – Ramunap Red – and while that may be somewhat true you make up for it by being a bit favored against Energy. Couple that with a skill intensive mirror match, and you have a recipe for success. The thing I learned most about watching this tournament was that these three top dogs of Standard are all closer matchups against each other than you would expect. Although it's a narrow format, the close and interactive games keep it interesting. There are also some combo decks in the form of Gift and various Anointed Procession decks, creating a well-rounded atmosphere in the world of Standard.

The narrow trajectory of Standard is generally a positive for control strategies, as you can sculpt your deck to answer a more specific range of threats. If you're interested in playing UB you should check out the deck tech from the World Championship itself.

As recently as last week, I had thought Hostage Taker the clear favorite for best card in Ixalan, but it turns out what puts Blue-Black Control in the fray all of a sudden is Search for Azcanta – the more low-key powerhouse of Ixalan. Search is great as it provides you with early game card selection at a low cost – this allows you to hit your land drops, or improve your curve, which are two of the reasons that Control has been poor in Standard for several years now. You can't just not do anything and expect to compete with Longtusk Cub, Hazoret, and any other hard-hitting cards of recent Standard. In a deck with lots of cycling, this deck gives you a lot of control over whether you need to dig for answers or lands when you need them.

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Once you get Search for Azcanta to transform, it becomes a usable land. This is the part of the card that I vastly underrated. It's essentially a blue Rampant Growth. This can often be your sixth land for Torrential Gearhulk, or conveniently get you closer to casting two spells a turn. But the best part is that flipped Azcanta forces your opponent to kill you rather quickly as they likely cannot interact with a land. This is the sort of late-game engine attached on a card that is a reasonable early game play makes Search for Azcanta insanely powerful. Josh Utter-Leyton describes it as broken, and after playing a bit with it I now see why.

Speaking of interacting with lands, the other big Ixalan card that rounds out Blue-Black Control is Field of Ruin. This card, like Search, might look a bit lackluster on the surface but is a huge asset for decks that can afford to play them. Before Ixalan, control decks had absolutely no answer to Ramanup Ruins. Field of Ruin provides a built-in protection against the Ruins, which improves your ability to consistently grind out wins against Red decks. It also acts as a countermeasure to opposing Search for Azcantas, or any of the new transform cards that create lands. This gives Blue-Black Control superiority in control mirrors, as four copies lets you not lose to a flipped Azcanta as often. Field of Ruin is also a nice boost to Fatal Push, providing you with an extremely clean outlet to trigger revolt. This is by no means irrelevant, and comes up quite frequently in matches.

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Blue-black is the best control deck. You get the best mana with cycling lands and Field of Ruin to boot. Fatal Push and Vraska's Contempt are among the best removal spells available. The Gerry Thompson/Josh Utter-Leyton cycling-heavy version is a great place to start. Not having Cast Out is a bit annoying – particularly against the quite popular Anointed Procession decks – but I have been able to beat these decks without it. Approach the Second Sun is just too cute in my opinion, and White-Blue Approach is more of a turbo-fog combo deck than a pure control deck. The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk are powerful closers that aren't a liability when drawn. While Approach may net you some wins faster, these cards actually help interact through combat, which is a better than providing life gain. Any Esper or Grixis deck is going to suffer big time on the mana base front. Sure, the mana does “work,” but it's never worth losing games to your mana, and now losing games to not having enough Field of Ruin. Since you need blue as a base color and black offers the best removal, this combo is the best and will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Without as many good answers to Procession, it's important to include Bontu's Last Reckoning and potentially Walking Ballista, which is a reasonable option help against Ramanup Red. Moving forward, I think this will be correct as Contraband Kingpin has severely underperformed in my experience and could easily be cut.

Steve Rubin
@RubinZoo




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