Control Your Losses: My Foray back into Magic: the Gathering

When I left Magic for good, I sold my collection and said I’d never return to the money sink that is abbreviated CCG.  Yet, here I sit, my DCI card with an ’04 expiration date, and all the inked rubbed off it, looking at card lists, and combing through decklists from the current meta like they’re a study guide for my Psych 330 Final.

I have been out of the game for a very long time, and might as well be the equivalent of the thirteen year old kid who just walked through the door of your local gaming shop for his very first Friday Night Magic, with a pre-constructed deck in hand.  I’m most likely going to make similar mistakes, and I’m not going to know everything I should play around.   The only difference, I’ll probably boast about a Top 10 finish at the Onslaught Block PTQ in Nashville after a particularly bonehead move to try and save a bit of face.

I still remember the mistake that cost me what would’ve been my first #1 finish at a FNM, I had put together a RW  combo deck right after Onslaught had rotated into being Type 2 legal.  The idea behind the deck:


The mistake?  Not knowing I could cast my Spirit Link on his Nantuko Shade.  After the match was over, and it was pointed out to me what I did wrong by a veteran player who was standing behind me watching the final match of the tournament, I decided to find a mentor of sorts, in one of the more experienced players that frequented our shop.  From there, my adventure into playing Control and Combo, and my hatred for creatures was born.

Now, to get to the point of this post, with the release of Gatecrash on the horizon, I’ve decided to try and build my first Control deck in almost nine years, without the influence of the net decks flooding the current meta.  Obviously, I’ve did a bit of research, and combed the now leaked setlist for Gatecrash, and here is what I’ve came up with.  The point of the deck, control the board while you either kill with a stacked Consuming Aberration, or mill them death via Jace and Duskmantle Guildmage.

Used to, I was known for running as little creatures as possible in my decks, and the ones that I did run, were only there to fuel combos, such as Mirari’s Wake/Ambassador Laquatus or Psychatog/Upheaval.  It doesn’t seem like I’m going to get away with only six or seven cards featuring numbers in the bottom right corner anymore. so let’s start with the creatures I am running, and why:


Both of these creatures are a dual threat and feed into both of my major win conditions.  The Aberration is very straight forward and I don’t need to say much more than that to tell you what he’s there to do.  The Duskmantle Guildmage on the other hand can be used incorrectly without thinking about it.  The biggest thing I could see people overlooking is trying to use it with Cipher, don’t do it, you’re not going to attack with this card 90% of the time, and it’s life drain isn’t going to trigger Cipher, it’s not combat damage.  The other less obvious no-no with this card is it’s mill effect, four mana for two cards is not worth it, sure, it’s okay if you have four mana to spare when they end their turn, but if you have four mana untapped at your disposal when they end their turn, and it’s not turn eight or later, either you didn’t control something you should’ve, or you’ve did a really damn good job at controlling them up to this point, and how are they still alive?  Chances are, there is something better you could’ve did with that four mana before you ended your turn, or maybe you just saved it to counter/bounce something that didn’t happen, in that case, feel free to eat two of their cards.


Both of these are being used for Control purposes, while Lazav could end up serving a much different role if you mill something really good on turn five, for the most part he’s going to be used to control your opponent via Cipher, since he’s protected with Hexproof.  High Priest of Penance on the other hand, he is the ultimate chump blocker, throw a regenerate effect on him (which you’ll see in a bit) and he’s going to take care of most anything that is giving you a problem.  Remember, you get to target what get’s destroyed, if your opponent makes the mistake of attacking while he’s on the board, you can get rid of pretty much anything you need to, be it a Planeswalker, Thundermaw Hellkite, or simply something like an Oblivion Ring holding your Consuming Aberration hostage.

Initially, I placed two of these in the deck for the purpose of protecting my Consuming Aberattion, or anything else I don’t want exiled, murdered, unsummoned, etc.  The more I think about it though, I’m not sure if she really has a solid place in this deck, or I just put her in her for the sake of making opponents play around her; don’t get me wrong, your opponent trying to play around her can be a big enough impact on the game to make her worth the two slots she’s taking up, but I just wonder if there isn’t something that is going to have better synergy with the deck.

Because what’s a blue deck without having a Jace or Tamiyo? =P  In all seriousness though, there isn’t a Planeswalker I can think of that has better synergy with the deck than this one, and Planeswalker or not, his synergy is amazing.  For one, if your opponent lets him resolve while a Guildmage is on the board, and then last until the next turn, the game is pretty much over. Besides that, everything he does is exactly what you want out of a card in this deck.  I’m considering making room for a third, and maybe even a fourth, will need some play testing before I decide, I’m just worried that he’s going to be too big of a target to protect because of the danger he’ll present with Guildmage, and running more than two could be a waste.

Alright, that’s all the creatures, and yes, I lump Planeswalkers into the creature category, sorry if that annoys you, it isn’t likely to change anytime soon.  Moving on to spells, and the real Control aspects of the deck, but first one last card that serves a purpose I very frequently overlook, and that’s creature protection.


Ring of Xathrid, I decided to include this into the deck for a couple of reasons, the first being that I don’t want to rely on milling + Guildmage as my only win condition, so I recognize that sometimes I may have to win the old fashioned way and beat them out of life with some beefcake copied with Lazav or a beefed up Consuming Aberration, and if it comes down to that, I don’t want a Murder, Smite, Victim of the Night, or anything else taking care of them. Also, you throw it on High Priest of Penance, and you have a two mana removal for almost any permanent on the board if your opponent makes the mistake of attacking with something it can block.  I almost went with Skeletal Grimace because of the cheaper regeneration cost, but ultimately Ring of Xathrid wins out for two reasons, it’s Equipment, so if something does manage to get rid of the creature, whether I don’t have the mana to regenerate it, or I’m forced to sacrifice it, Ring stays on the board and can be attached to the next creature, and also, everything but Restoration Angel, who might be getting the ax anyway, benefits from it’s secondary effect.

The second form of creature protection comes in the form of Dying Wish, and the more I think about this card, I’m not sure how I feel about it’s inclusion in the deck, it’s just coming off as more cute than anything else, it’s original purpose was to dissuade opponents from killing a Consuming Aberration that’s sitting at some ridiculous power/toughness, or maybe so I could move Ring over to another creature after it had boosted High Priest up to a 5/5 or higher, so I could still chump block and destroy permanents with it, and still make an opponent think twice about whether or not they want to allow a large shift in the health totals just to get rid of one form of removal.  Still, the more I think about it, the less viable I feel it is, and that more direct control could benefit the deck more often than this would.

Now, as promised, the real meat of the deck:


Oh how I love what Dimir has brought to the table, to start, we have our first mention of Cipher in the deck, and oh how I love this ability, for a couple of reasons really.  One, if I have a 8/8 Consuming Aberration on the board, but I also have Lazav whose copied your Wolfir Silverheart and attached it to High Priest, and has Paranoid Delusions attached to it.  It makes it a very hard choice of who to block, if you block High Priest, he kills one of your other blockers, or something else you don’t want destroyed.  If you decide to block Consuming and let Lazav go through, then I get to play another Paranoid delusions, which is going to mill three cards, plus it activates the Aberrations second ability, and then you have to worry about the potential massive life lost to a Duskmantle’s activated ability.  TL;DR Cipher really makes an opponent have to make tough choice, IF you attach the Ciphered card to the right creature, never attach it to the obvious choice to block, you’re just wasting it at that point, and not making your opponent decide between much at all.

Even without Cipher, Paranoid Delusions is an amazing card, and perfect fit, 2 mana for a 3 card mill, add in Duskmantle Guildmage & Consuming Aberration on the board and you just milled anywhere from 4-10+ cards and drained an equal amount of life from your opponent.  Not to shabby.  Now, Mind Grind, again, a wondering mill card, even for only three mana, if you get lucky you can take a chunk out of your opponents deck, and if you consider that Consuming Aberration is going to make them go until they reach an additional land every time, it has the potential to be one hell of a removal, again, throw in your Guildmage and the synergy is enough to make your pants get a little bit tighter.

Moving on, we have one more card with Cipher in the deck, and it’s another card I liked at the time, but am slowly wanting to replace the more I consider it.  It is just coming off as another cute factor, when I want serious control out of it.

Originally, I took it because of it’s ability to lock up a potential blocker for two rounds, and then using that to Cipher it on to the least likely target to be blocked on my side of the board, and use it to keep locking things down, but I just don’t see it being nearly as effective as I initially envisioned it being. Aggro can just keep chump blocking it, mirror matches and other Control can just remove it, or remove the things it’s trying to open the gates for, and your RG Beats/Bloodrush decks will just kill it, and sacrifice to Bloodrush.  Plus, Midrange decks aren’t going to be to worried about whatever low rent creature I throw it on, as they’ll have a blocker who outpowers it’s holder.

What do I want to replace it with?

I have my reservations about this card as well, which is what initially kept it out of the deck, sure, I can use it to dump a lack-luster hand and refuel it, but it could also lead into the opponent getting exactly what he needs to deal with what I’m throwing to him, used early enough I could still hit a fair amount of cards, but it’s unlikely by the time I can use it with Guildmage to any real effect, unless a Consuming Aberration is on the board and hits a fair amount of cards, now, the upside comes in when you consider that it also has Cipher, if I can get it onto a creature that will consistently get through to damage my opponent, I can use it to refuel my hand anytime I’m not comfortable with the amount of/lack of Control cards that I’m holding on to, or if I know my opponent has something in his hand that I want to force him to either play or discard.  Maybe I want to force him to play his Restoration Angel to keep from discarding it, instead of using it to blink a creature I tried getting rid of, or maybe I know he made the decision to hold off on Terminus/CyRift/Supreme Verdict for another round, and this will force him to dump it.  Ultimately, this will probably replace Hands of Binding in the final revision of the deck, but for now, it’s still up to debate.

The bane of a Control/Combo deck is a fast Aggro deck that just outpaces what I’m trying to do, and ends the game to early, also, a solidly build Midrange deck if it can keep enough on the board to finish me off before they run out of off cards, or life.  Because of this, I need creature removal to keep myself afloat while I wait on the ME to announce time of death.  My choices:


Murder is extremely straight forward, and needs no real explanation at all, have a creature giving you a problem? Murder it. 3 Mana, instant, done. The same goes for Supreme Verdict, except it does come with a bit of warning, and that warning is this, make sure if you’re going to cast this, you’re in a better position without creatures than they are, if you’re playing against a Boros deck featuring a lot of 1-2 mana cost creatures and your opponent is holding five cards, your better be damn sure you can deal with it if three or four of those are creatures he can put on the board next turn, if you can’t, don’t wipe the board quite yet.

The charms are almost always perfect for any deck featuring the type of mana needed to cast them.

I’ll start with Azorius, it gives you three options, all of which are useful in the deck: Running low on life and need a couple more turns to finish the game, but have a substantial amount of beef you can attack with even though it will get blocked?  Swing away and then we they block, give everything lifelink and live to mill another ten cards.  Facing a mirror match/another form of control and racing to get the card that will win the game before your opponent does, you can spend two mana at the end of their turn and grab an extra card to play with next turn (the least likely use in this deck).  Got a pesky Thundermaw Hellkite or other beefcake that’s going to give you some problems, or maybe your opponent keeps chump blocking a creature you want to get through, bounce that shit back to their hand.

Now Dimir, it can be used as a counter if your opponent is trying to push out a Sorcery that you don’t want, Terminus or an Overloaded CyRift are perfect targets.  You got a low power creature with a particular annoying ability giving you problems, or your opponent tries to chump block your stacked Consuming, smoke that chump. And as always, any card that offers the ability to mill your opponent fits just fine in a deck with milling as a win condition.

I considered running Orzhov Charm and it still could find it’s way into the deck once I start removing things, ultimately though, it didn’t make the initial cut because of it’s final option being completely ineffective in this deck. The other two however, could be enough to get in when all is said and done.

With creature removal being taken care of, that leaves us with one last category that a Control deck needs to account for, and that’s the ability to control your opponent’s hand and to keep certain things that can’t simply be removed from ever resolving and hitting the stack.  For that, we have:


Appetite for Brains is perfect for this deck.  For one, we didn’t have a consistent first turn play, and that also makes me want to feature another one in the deck, but if I do decide two run three, or even four I think the others will be Duress. Simply because Appetite will let me hit creatures like Resto Angel, Hellkite, & Thragtusk, while Duress will let me hit pesky sorceries/instants that could keep me from doing what I want to do.

Psychic Strike is here simply because any deck without a form of Counterspell is no deck of mine, I man-wept when Counterspell was rotated out of Standard, and it’s never felt the same without ol’ reliable sitting in my hand waiting to disrupt someone’s entire combo at the very last second for only two mana, but there are plenty of alternatives to play with now, be it Dissipate, Second Guess, etc, but in my opinion, Psychic Strike wins the award for best alternative.  Sure, it’s multicolored, but who doesn’t like a good mix of blackberries and blueberries in their pie?  Let’s see one more mana than Counterspell, and it mills two of their cards?  Yes, please. Hell, even if I wasn’t running a mill deck, this would be the featured Counterspell in any BU deck I was running.  Plus, while it cost the same, Dissipate doesn’t mill my opponent, and it exiles the cards, meaning it can’t feed Consuming Aberration.

Well, that’s the deck, outside of the lands, and I guess at least one of the lands is worth some honorable mention in this deck, Nephalia Drownyard fits in just dandy with the general theme of what I’m trying to do here, and this is why:

Taps for a colorless, which isn’t ideal, but it has the benefit of being another mill option if you’re sitting on three mana and an untapped Drownyard at the end of their turn.  The thing that worries me is it popping up to often in my opening hand, or early in the game when I need actual colored sources of mana, it’s secondary is nice, but it’s simply a convenient luxury, like heated seats or push to start on your car, sure it may warm your ass up in the middle of December, but it’s really not a difference in whether or not you make it to your destination.  I think it may get cut down to two, or even removed completely for more reliable control, such as Ghost Quarter. I just don’t really see me using the mill ability much until a point where it’s late enough in the game that it just ends up being heated seats.

Besides that, I’m running you’re standard dual/shock lands, whatever they’re being referred to as in today’s meta.


Now, I’ve showed you everything that made it passed the rough draft and into the initial deck, however, I feel like I should mention a few cards that are the reason for the skepticism I’ve given for some of the cards above, and are trying to flirt their way into the main board.


These are the five cards that are trying to get into my deck’s panties, the least likely of the five being Dream Twist and Unsummon, but both still provide a strong case.

Destroy the Evidence, it didn’t make the cut for one reason, the mana cost, I liked what it does, but Consuming Aberration and Mind Grind already provide the same effect sans the land destruction, so it seems to me that a better land removal option is the aforementioned Ghost Quarter, especial because it can cripple your opponent’s early game, which can be much more crucial to a win, than stalling someone’s mid to late game is, at least in my opinion, although neither are to be scoffed at.

Unsummon gives you cheap creature removal, and it can bounce your own creature, similar to the reason that Restoration Angel is in the deck, the upside being it’s cheaper and provides offense and defense, the downside being Resto Angel doesn’t make me recast my creature, and it gives me another creature with flying.  However, it will most likely stay right where it is at, the Sideboard.

Thought Scour, it’s a solid one drop, and probably has the highest chance of making it into the main deck, hits your enemy for two cards early on, and gives you a bit of acceleration, which never hurts combo.  I just have a hard time giving up defense for pure offense.

Dream Twist is nice, but it’s simply Thought Scour without the card draw, and I can flash it back, yeah it hits another card, but I have enough ways to mill my opponent that one card isn’t enough to make me decide on it over the acceleration that Thought Scour provides, Flashback or not.

Cyclonic Rift is a card I really, really want to like, but I just don’t like the fact that I can’t target my own cards with it, and I don’t like the extremely expensive Overload cost, granted if I hit a turn seven CyRift with Overload and it resolves, which is easier to do with an Instant, it’s probably going to be the end of my opponent, I doubt they’ll be recovering before I meet one of my win conditions, and that may be enough to get in the main deck on it’s own, just still not convinced myself to make the leap for it yet.

Well, I’ve ranted and raved about my reasoning enough, here’s the deck list:

Control Your Losses

Creatures: 14
3 Consuming Aberration
3 Duskmantle Guildmage
2 High Priest of Penance
2 Lazav, Dimir Mastermind
2 Restoration Angel
2 Jace, Memory Adept

Spells: 23
3 Dimir Charm
3 Paranoid Delusions
3 Psychic Strike
2 Azorius Charm
2 Appetite for Brains
2 Dying Wish
2 Hands of Binding
2 Mind Grind
2 Murder
2 Supreme Verdict

Artifacts: 2
2 Ring of Xathrid

Land: 21
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Watery Grave
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Isolated Chapel
3 Nephalia Drownyard
1 Island
1 Swamp

3 Death Wind
3 Detention Sphere
2 Crippling Chill
2 Dissipate
2 Supreme Verdict
2 Unsummon
1 Psychic Strike