In preparation for Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, I considered a variety of approaches to control decks. Ultimately I decided on blue/black. As is often the case, blue provides the counters and card draw spells, but needs help from other colors to deal with permanents in play. Black offers plenty of strong removal for both creatures and planeswalkers so it’s an easy choice. I rejected red because it lacks mana-efficient answers to both planeswalkers and large creatures. White was more appealing because of Elspeth and End Hostilities, but the lack of strong early plays really hurts it.
Here’s the deck list I settled on:
Bile Blight – This is the best 2-mana removal spell in the format. Having a good answer to Goblin Rabblemaster and Mantis Rider is vital if you want to avoid falling behind. There are very few two-mana plays available in Standard for reactive decks, and this is the best of what’s available.
Thoughtseize – This is another card that is in the deck mostly to have an additional early play. While it is very powerful, it’s also the case that the second one you draw will often not be very useful.
Hero’s Downfall – Control decks can struggle to deal with planeswalkers, but this card gives the best answer possible. It’s the number one reason to play black in a control deck.
Dissolve – If you want to play a control deck, you should be excited to include this card. Most of your opponents will be relying on four- and five-mana threat cards. Countering them while scrying for only three mana is a great rate.
Aetherspouts – This card can be great if you surprise your opponent with it, but can also be easy to play around if you include so many copies that the deck becomes predictable. I’ve included one copy because the deck needs a tool to catch up if it falls too far behind.
Perilous Vault – This is the first innovative card in the list. Early on in testing I was struggling when building a deck because I thought End Hostilities was the only viable sweeper versus green decks. White as a color just didn’t offer enough good cards, so that was just a dead-end. Once I started trying this card it quickly became apparent that this was exactly the card the deck needed. It’s great versus the green decks because the sequence where you play it turn 4, use it at the end of their turn 5, and get to have all your mana untapped on their turn 6 is very hard to beat. It also provides an answer to any of the resilient permanents like Gods and planeswalkers that most decks like to play in order to not overcommit into sweepers. The only real weakness of the card against green is that it can’t kill the lands that are animated by Nissa, Worldwaker so you want to focus on not letting that card resolve when playing against a green deck.
Murderous Cut – This card is in the deck for two main reasons: First it’s another card that can kill Courser of Kruphix. Second, the delve ability means you will often be able to cast it and another removal spell around turn five or six which is great any time you fall behind.
Disdainful Stroke – Blue/black very much wants to play at instant speed so an additional counter is very welcome. It’s great that it costs only two mana because that means it can be used to counter four-mana plays like Xenagos against green decks that have mana acceleration even if you are on the draw.
Dig Through Time – This is the most exciting card in Khans of Tarkir for control decks. I initially thought it was a card that control decks would play two copies of. My teammates quickly showed me how wrong I was and it was a definite four-of ever since. The point at which this deck usually establishes control is when you cast the first copy. Ideally you will find a removal spell like Hero’s Downfall to answer whatever threat is in play and either a counter or another Dig Through Time. The ability to chain these together is what gives the deck inevitability.
Jace’s Ingenuity – This was the last card we added to the deck in testing. For a while we were playing Divination instead. The problem with Divination is that it just played too awkwardly with the counters in the deck. Jace’s Ingenuity plays great with Aetherspouts because you can give yourself the option of casting either depending on how your opponent’s turn goes.
Pearl Lake Ancient – Once I’d decided on blue/black it was a huge struggle to find the right way to win the game. In addition to Pearl Lake Ancient we also looked at Empty the Pits, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, Villainous Wealth, and Jace, the Living Guildpact. Empty the Pits and Villainous Wealth proved to be useless for far too long into games. The mana investment before they become effective is just too high. Empty the Pits also suffered from the fact that it turned useless Bile Blights in the opponents hand into powerful spells. Ashiok received more consideration but really suffered from the fact that it just isn’t a good card. There are too many matchups where it can be in play for three or four turns without accomplishing anything. Even against green decks where it should excel there aren’t actually all that many good creatures to hit because the decks are filled with cards like Genesis Hydra or planeswalkers. Against non-green decks the card really struggles because putting your opponents’ creatures into play will turn on whatever dead removal they happened to have in hand.
That left only Pearl Lake Ancient to consider. It doesn’t look great on paper because of its high cost and lack of evasion. It actually turns out to be the perfect card for the deck because it’s an instant-speed threat in a deck filled with instants. The bounce ability on the card also means that it plays well with Perilous Vault. There’s no need to ever worry about killing your own win conditions. The deck also features both scry lands and life gain lands which can be recycled late into the game. It’s a minor advantage, but it will definitely come up when playing the deck.
The main deck is set up to be strong in this matchup.
Try to use your Thoughtseizes to take Genesis Hydra or cards like Reclamation Sage that can answer Perilous Vault. Try to counter Nissa. If you let Nissa stay in play for more than two turns you’ll fall too far behind to ever come back.
Mono-Red or Aggressive Mardu
The main deck is not good in these matchups.
These are tough matchups. I’d expect to lose game 1 but have decent chances in games 2 and 3.
Versus Jeskai Tempo
The main deck isn’t great in this matchup because you have limited life gain to handle the burn spells. Try to answer every creature with removal immediately and use your counters to stop any card draw. If you can prevent the creatures from dealing much damage to you early in the game you should be able to win. If not, you’ll have very little hope of winning.
The strategy in the post-board games is basically the same but the Murk Lurker helps out a lot because you now have persistent life gain that can neutralize the burn spells.