I’m home from Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir and I finished in 11th place with Blue/Black Control. Andrew Cuneo was the driving force behind the deck and I would give him the lion’s share of the credit, he even wrote a detailed primer on the deck posted on this very website. I went 7-3 in Constructed with it, but I thought it was an excellent choice I would play the same 75 cards given the option.
Before I left to start the ten-day testing process with Team ChannelFireball: The Pantheon I was pretty excited about the possibility of playing Blue/Black Control. My version was quite a bit different than our final product though. My deck was downright bad in fact, it featured Omenspeaker, Jace, the Living Guildpact, and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.
I thought Ashiok would break the format wide open. With the existence and popularity of Siege Rhino, I felt that Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix would be widely played and powerful cards. I also felt that Ashiok was one of the strongest cards in the Block format against green decks and it seemed obvious to me that green decks would be popular again.
In practice Ashiok failed miserably. In essence it’s just a lucky card since if you’re not on the play or if you are ever behind on the board it does nothing to help stabilize your situation. Also, it just has a random element right on it, if you aren’t milling good creatures that cost five or less it has no effect on the game. It was a serious liability to have a card in your deck that allowed your opponent to make good use of their Hero’s Downfalls. At the Pro Tour I had many players leave in Hero’s Downfall againast me, sideboard in Despise, or even cast Phyrexian Revoker and name Ashiok. I feel strongly that removing Ashiok from the deck was one of the largest stepping stones to go from an OK list to a Pro-Tour-caliber deck.
Reid Duke made an extremely good point during playtesting that I had never noticed. This deck leaned pretty heavily on hitting all its land drops, up to four and five mana for Perilous Vault and yet it had no cards that actually helped you hit those land drops. There was no Divination so if you didn’t just naturally have five lands in your top twelve cards you were likely in trouble.
This lead us to Divination, which was dismissed for multiple reasons. The deck’s only true sweeper was Perilous Vault which wasn’t totally reliable given that if you didn’t do anything to effect the game before you activated it you were likely at a very low life total and need to activate it to prevent damage, allowing the opponent to redevelop their board post-combat. Divination on turn three, Perilous Vault on turn four, and activate on turn five wasn’t a reliable strategy.
The deck also leaned on both Hero’s Downfall and Dissolve as its catch-all three casting cost spells and when you had to cast Divination to hit lands instead of holding up these cards it was often difficult to get back in the game. The moment Andrew decided to cut 4 Divination for 3 Jace’s Ingenuity and a land I felt that the deck improved massively.
Here’s the list I used:
I’d have to say the single largest selling point on the deck for me was easily Perilous Vault. Once again I have to give Andrew major credit on that find, he knew from day one that Perilous Vault was the key to making control viable and he felt other teams wouldn’t consider control if they didn’t discover that card.
We expected the most played deck to be a mix of Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix decks where Perilous Vault shines brightest. It’s a very difficult card to play around and it’s super powerful. If you get to untap with it in play there are many good options moving forward. If the opponent over-commits to the board, you can just activate it and untap on an empty board—but that would be too easy. Often I’ve found people slow down once Perilous Vault is in play, correctly so. In these games I like to just use Murderous Cut and Hero’s Downfall to pick off their threats one by one and best punish them for slow playing their hand. I’ve also had some nice spots come about where I have Vault in play with five untapped lands and my opponent knows all their creatures will die anyway, so they try and deal as much damage as possible by attacking with everything: that’s where I cast AEtherspouts.
My original list started out with three copies of AEtherspouts and although I recognize that it’s a powerful card that adds a unique element to the deck, it was far too exploitable to play more than one in the deck. But boy did the single copy perform well for me over the course of the event. At worst it played out very similarly to a Murderous Cut, and there were times where it was just instant-speed Damnation. On top of that, situations could arise where you would play it in the first game and the opponent would be gun-shy all match and never know how many creatures to attack with. Sometimes they would attack with only one and you’d simply Hero’s Downfall that creature and never draw your one-of Aetherspouts in the entire game, or even sideboard it out. Unless somehow someone had gained extra knowledge about my list I was a very difficult opponent to play against and I placed a high value on that in my deck selection process.
I felt that Perilous Vault was a serious piece of technology and a card people would be unprepared to play against both in terms of actual gameplay but also in terms of sideboard cards. Almost every single Abzan deck I faced had Erase instead of Naturalize or Unravel the Aether so my Vaults were all safe.
Jorubai Murk Lurker was also a solid piece of tech since it allowed the deck to have inevitability against burn strategies, but I also liked that it was an early-game stopper for 2/1s that cost 1 mana or Goblin Rabblemaster draws. It worked well with Drown in Sorrow as well.
I believed there would be very little control in the field and that most of the successful midrange decks would be geared to win the mirror and much softer against a creatureless deck with card draw. If the field had a ton of Mono-Green Devotion, Red-Green Monsters, and Abzan midrange I felt a Perilous Vault control deck almost couldn’t lose.
My deck had a fine matchup against the Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck without having to warp my strategy too much. I had access to Negate, Thoughtseize, and Dissolve, which were cards I would want to have in my deck anyway and would give me a fine chance to compete if somehow the combo deck turned out to be widely played. Lastly, Perilous Vault is an insanely strong card in that matchup, if you can put it in play before they have the ability to untap with a mana-producing creature it’s usually more than enough to lock them out of winning ever.
Somehow this is a format where one of the two players control an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth really often, which is a bit of a freeroll for the deck. Whenever Urborg is in play I almost never have mana troubles as all my Polluted Deltas get Islands which are Underground Seas. I also quite liked how Urborg interacted with Evolving Wilds, allowing it to tap for mana the turn it comes into play but also turn into an Underground Sea at my leisure, all with the upside of adding to delve.
Radiant Fountain performed very well for me in the event, I was seen looping it in and out of play repeatedly with Pearl Lake Ancient to ensure I would not die to topdecked Siege Rhinos. I wish I would have been able to justify playing more, but simply couldn’t with the deck so reliant on having two black mana on the second turn of the game for Bile Blight and two blue mana on the third turn of the game for Dissolve. The early game is extremely important as well since if you can prolong the game early it’s much more likely you can start to string together some Dig Through Times later.
This deck wouldn’t function without Dig Through Time, and I will admit it’s not as good as Sphinx’s Revelation as a finisher in a control deck. One of the chief complaints about Blue/Black Control in our testing was that the deck was underpowered and I believe that still remains true.
The deck is on the low-power side, but I still stand by my decision to play it, the cards are so well positioned against green and midrange decks. Dissolve and Hero’s Downfall are insanely strong in a field full of Polukranos and Arbor Colossus. Dig Through Time is actually the exception to that complaint though, it’s probably the single most powerful card in Standard and the reason to play blue.
Part of me actually believe that it was a mistake to print a card this powerful and that Dig Through Time will change the way we play all formats of Magic. I know it’s great in Standard and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it saw play in either Modern or Legacy. It’s remarkably similar to just having double Demonic Tutor. It’s also creates such a large advantage that you’ll be able to leverage that into your next Dig Through Time.
I think Blue/Black Control is an awesome deck and I’ve had about a hundred requests for my decklist. The only reason I wouldn’t claim it was one of the best decks in the format is that it’s weak to Jeskai Aggro, which is clearly one of the pillars of the format now. There are some things you can do to improve the matchup, but in general they have the advantage, and being disadvantaged against a popular well known strategy isn’t exactly the best place to be. I’d estimate game 1 you have about a 40% chance to win and after sideboard you have about a 60% chance to win. By far their best card against you is Keranos, God of Storms so do anything in your power to prevent that card from resolving.
Thanks for reading and if you have any sweet tips for the deck moving forward feel free to let me know!
qazwsxedcrfvtgbyhnuj on Magic Online
OwenTweetenwald on twitter