Guilds of Ravnica Standard has been a lot of fun to explore. I’ve been enjoying playing a range of decks, but ultimately I’ve been trying to solve the format.
Between each PTQ being dominated by Golgari Midrange, I’ve been searching for a deck that can answer Golgari while threatening the rest of the format.
We’ve known the best control cards in Standard for a while, and most of them didn’t rotate when Guilds of Ravnica came around.
Hard hitters like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Settle the Wreckage, and Search For Azcanta have been a great team. For the cards that rotated, they’ve been adequately replaced. Disallow is now Sinister Sabotage and Glimmer of Genius is Chemister’s Insight. Torrential Gearhulk? Sadly, some cards can’t be replaced.
At the start of the format, I was determined to make control work in Standard. The issue was that I was living in old Standard, where cards like Settle the Wreckage were fantastic.
Every deck list I built started with four Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and three Settle the Wreckage. But no matter how many Meandering Rivers I played, the deck just wasn’t packing the punch it used to.
One of the key reasons I dropped U/W Control was the mana base.
The cyclelands that worked with the checklands from Dominaria are now gone. The mana base U/W was left with is worse. Let’s be honest—Meandering River hardly compares. Sometimes cards are good enough to be played, even with a mediocre mana base. But in this case, I think you lose too much by playing 2 colors due to a combination of a weaker mana base and less flexibility in your removal suite.
So where does this leave control? This is the list I’ve been testing:
When considering your mana base, it’s just as important to consider the sweepers available. Some of them just aren’t going to make the cut.
This leaves us with Deafening Clarion and Cleansing Nova. Deafening Clarion might miss a lot, but it’s cheap and doesn’t give your opponent lands. Cleansing Nova is the most expensive, but has upside in that it can snag enchantments and artifacts while your spot removal spells clean up.
They are more powerful in combination with each other.
So, why Jeskai and not any other color combination?
Realistically, the U/R deck has too many holes. It is simply unable to beat certain permanents and game plans presented by other decks. I believe this deck will cycle out soon.
The U/R/x Dragons decks are closer to a midrange deck than a control deck. Your list will consist of removal spells and threats, and it will likely play out like Jund decks do in Modern. You hope to trade well during the course of the game and then start slamming threats once you and your opponent are out of gas. If you’re looking to do this, I would recommend learning to enjoy a Golgari mirror.
Attacking the format from a different angle, the Esper and U/B-based control decks have access to Vraska’s Contempt. But due to the prevalence of Frenzy Red, Selesnya Tokens, and even sometimes Golgari Midrange, the card is not well positioned now. To touch on the mana issue, Esper would be a Watery Grave based deck, it would suffer a little trying to cast Cleansing Nova, and would end up leaning on Ritual of Soot.
I think people will keep trying to make U/W Control happen, but having access to two shocklands and three checklands makes me believe that Jeskai Control will become the go-to control deck, even if it’s less powerful pound-for-pound than other options.
Jeskai doesn’t have all of the best individual cards, but it does have the best collection of mana and cards, including the cheapest spot removal spells.
With that in mind, here’s my sideboard guide:
Spot removal spells are unnecessary with my approach to the matchup. You’re willing to take incidental damage from explore creatures (Merfolk Branchwalker, Jadelight Ranger) to counter their “big plays” until you set up Deafening Clarion and Ionize, which enables you to turn the corner.
Sometimes you can bring in Negates or remove more draw spells, but in general, this matchup is okay.
The reason you keep one Justice Strike in, instead of bringing in Lyra Dawnbringer, is because almost every flavor of control has a creature threat in the sideboard. U/B/x has Thief of Sanity, U/R/x has Niv-Mizzet, Parun, and Legion Warboss and U/W/x has Lyra Dawnbringer. And between Crackling Drake, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Legion Warboss and the Nexus of Fate, your threat density is high enough without Lyra Dawnbringer.
White-Based Aggro and Sometimes Midrange
I generally shave on draw spells against the aggressive decks, as your board wipes are able to generate enough of an advantage.
Trust your intuition. If you can’t think of the scenario where a card is good, it’s probably bad. If you can’t think of a scenario where a sideboard card is good, you probably don’t want it.
Lastly, while this is a good list for what the format look like now, looking forward, most green-based decks will consider some number of main-deck Carnage Tyrants.