fbpx

CheonnelFirepaul – Cruel Control

I can’t remember the last time I wrote a Magic article, but I’ve been playing with an incredibly fun deck in Modern and wanted to share it with you guys. The deck in question is Cruel Control, and this is the original list that inspired my version of the deck:

[deck]Main Deck
2 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
4 Creeping Tar Pit
1 Dreadship Reef
2 Island
1 Lavaclaw Reaches
1 Marsh Flats
2 Misty Rainforest
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
2 Sunken Ruins
1 Swamp
2 Watery Grave
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Batterskull
2 Cruel Ultimatum
4 Cryptic Command
3 Damnation
1 Electrolyze
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Mana Leak
2 Mystical Teachings
1 Spell Snare
2 Terminate
1 Tribute to Hunger
1 Jace Beleren
Sideboard
2 Counterflux
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Magma Spray
1 Ratchet Bomb
1 Shadow of Doubt
2 Slaughter Games
2 Sowing Salt
2 Spellskite
1 Sulfur Elemental
1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
1 Witchbane Orb[/deck]

For those of you not in the know, Luis Scott-Vargas has taken over as the new Daily Deck List writer for Wizards, so definitely go check him out. This was one of the daily decks that was featured, and it immediately reminded me of the lists Patrick Chapin hashed out while he was championing Cruel Control decks. And who can forget about Gabriel Nassif’s “Called Shot”?

Now why play Modern you ask? Well, it is currently my favorite Constructed format and I regularly play in the Magic Online Daily Events. There are so many viable decks out there that you can simply choose a style of deck you like to play, and quickly find a list that will be competitive. It is a very skill-intensive format, and I feel once you start playing, you will get hooked like me. There are also Modern PTQs and Grand Prix in the future, so playing the format and being aware of what the popular decks are will certainly give you a leg up once those tournaments come rolling around.

Anywho, after seeing the list, the thought of playing Cruel Ultimatum in Modern made me more excited than a kid in a candy store, Greg Hatch at the Valu-Mart, Huey Jensen at a Curacao goat ranch, or LSV in a pun convention/burrito stand. After going through the deck, I knew that there was potential here, but knew there was a lot of room for improvement. The first thing I did was look back at another successful control deck in Modern (URW Control) and see if I could play with a similar shell with [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card] being this deck’s version of [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]. This is my current list for URW Control that 4-0’d a Modern DE #notsohumblebrags:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Celestial Colonnade
3 Arid Mesa
3 Tectonic Edge
3 Island
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Steam Vents
2 Sulfur Falls
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Plains
1 Mountain
1 Glacial Fortress
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Cryptic Command
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Electrolyze
3 Mana Leak
3 Think Twice
3 Spell Snare
2 Lightning Helix
2 Path to Exile
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Hallowed Burial
1 Shadow of Doubt
1 Pyroclasm
1 Ajani Vengeant
1 Gideon Jura
SIDEBOARD
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Hallowed Burial
1 Pyroclasm
1 Threads of Disloyalty
1 Batterskull
1 Celestial Purge
2 Counterflux
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Dispel
1 Wear and Tear
1 Sowing Salt
1 Spellskite
1 Stony Silence
1 Engineered Explosives[/deck]

After adjusting the removal spells that I wanted to play in my deck and also fixing the mana base to my tastes, this was the list that I ended up with

[deck]Main Deck
4 Creeping Tar Pit
2 Darkslick Shores
2 Sunken Ruins
2 Watery Grave
1 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
2 Misty Rainforest
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
1 Sulfur Falls
2 Island
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Mountain
1 Reflecting Pool
3 Snapcaster Mage
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Batterskull
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Magma Spray
2 Spell Snare
1 Dreadbore
1 Pyroclasm
3 Mana Leak
1 Shadow of Doubt
1 Terminate
2 Think Twice
1 Dismember
3 Electrolyze
4 Cryptic Command
2 Mystical Teachings
1 Consume the Meek
2 Cruel Ultimatum
Sideboard:
1 Spellskite
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Batterskull
1 Dreadbore
1 Rakdos Charm
2 Counterflux
2 Sowing Salt
2 Thoughtseize
1 Devour Flesh
1 Damnation
1 Dispel
1 Vendilion Clique[/deck]

The deck actually plays very similarly to URW control. That is, control the early threats with a combination of cheap removal and counterspells while using your cantrips to ultimately hit 7 lands and cast an enormous draw spell. Hell, at 7 mana, I’d much rather be casting a [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card] than a [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] for 4.

The great part is that you don’t necessarily need the Ultimatums to win. You already generate a ton of card advantage with all your 2-for-1s ([card]Think Twice[/card], [card]Electrolyze[/card], [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], [card]Mystical Teachings[/card], sweepers) that you can just outvalue your opponents. Finishing them off with [card]Creeping Tarpit[/card]s and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s when they run out of threats is a very common path to victory.

One thing that I love about the deck is that its Hexproof matchup is better, since you have 2 edicts in the main. That may sound like a stretch but I’ve won multiple games by fogging with [card]Cryptic Command[/card]s, sweeping the board with a [card]Pyroclasm[/card] or [card]Consume the Meek[/card], then following it up with a [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card] on their lone pimped out creature. The fact that you also have access to a tutorable edict in [card]Devour Flesh[/card] in the sideboard also goes a long way in the matchup.

I could go on for a long time talking about the changes that I made to the original list, but I think it would be better if we just go with the individual card choices for the current list. The biggest difference between my list and the list featured in Luis’s article is that I am not running the 4 [card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card] in the main deck. I decided that playing more [card]Electrolyze[/card]s and [card]Think Twice[/card]s to smooth out my draws was more important than the Inquisitions, and I also hate missing with the card. All the cards in the deck are reasonable spells on their own and are almost never dead draws. That being said, I still have 2 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s in the sideboard for the control and combo matchups. Time to finally go over the actual cards in the deck:

Lands

The important part about building a mana base when playing a deck with [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card] is to minimize the number of basics in your deck. If you play more than 2 Islands or 2 Mountains or 3 Swamps, the times where you draw them all with a Cruel Ultimatum in your hand will get incredibly awkward. You still want to have some number of basics, as there are times when you want to fetch a basic to avoid taking damage against aggressive decks. [card]Path to Exile[/card] and [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] are also present in the format. Other than that, it’s pretty tough to actually mess up a mana base for decks in Modern. With the existence of the fetchland/shockland combination, even if you do mess up, you won’t notice it all that often. Here are the lands of note in the deck:

[draft]creeping tar pit[/draft]

4 [card]Creeping Tar Pit[/card] (Awesome win condition in an otherwise very durdle-y deck. Don’t think about sleeving up this deck without 4 copies of these.)

[draft]Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth[/draft] 1 [card]Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth[/card]: I’m surprised the original list did not play one copy of this card. Urborg seems awesome in a deck where you need BBB to win the game.

[draft]Reflecting Pool[/draft] 1 [card]Reflecting Pool[/card]: This is the land I’m least sure about but I basically wanted a land that produced all three colors of mana without taking damage. This could easily be another [card]Misty Rainforest[/card], but I’ve been happy with it so far.

[draft]Sunken Ruins[/draft] 2 [card]Sunken Ruins[/card]: Normally these lands generally don’t make the cut in most Modern decks, as having access to fetchlands and shocklands is generally superior. However, when you’re trying to cast both [card]Cryptic Command[/card]s and [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card]s, Sunken Ruins helps make that happen reliably. The downside is that it doesn’t allow you to cast a turn 1 [card]Spell Snare[/card] or [card]Thoughtseize[/card] (also another reason why I didn’t play the Inquisitions main).

Creatures

[draft]snapcaster mage[/draft]

3 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]: The original list played the full 4, but it also had 4 [card inquisition of kozilek]Inquisitions[/card] main, making 4 Snapcasters very desirable. I shaved it down to 3 and have been very pleased so far. Snapcaster is an absolute house in any blue control deck with access to cheap spells. Getting it back with Cruel Ultimatum is pretty sweet value. Then, recast Snapcaster Mage returning Cruel Ultimatum for the ultimate dream (I’ve only done this twice so far).
[draft]vendilion clique[/draft]

1 [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]: The main reason that Clique is in the deck is that you can [card mystical teachings]Teachings[/card] for a way to interact with your opponent while putting a clock on them at the same time. This is usually one of the prime targets to search for with Mystical Teachings against control decks (or [card]Cryptic Command[/card]). I don’t like playing more than 1 in the main deck as there are matchups where it just isn’t all that great, but there is room for more in the sideboard, as it serves as an excellent way to get information and provide a clock against control/combo/Tron decks.

[draft]Batterskull[/draft]

1 [card]Batterskull[/card]: One of the best win conditions in the game, as it is reusable and doesn’t just die to removal. I even considered playing this over Gideon in the URW control deck.

Spells

Determining which spells to include in the main deck took the most time, and was definitely the hardest part about building the deck since you have access to an incredibly large number of removal spells and counters. Not only that, you are also playing with [card]Mystical Teachings[/card], which then makes you go even deeper as you have to consider all the instant-speed silver bullets you can jam into the main deck. These cards still have to be relatively versatile as drawing a one-of Extirpate against aggressive decks is pretty miserable. I’m going to cover the less obvious inclusions here:

[draft]Magma Spray[/draft] 1 [card]Magma Spray[/card]: This essentially acts as [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] number 5, in that it’s another cheap removal spell that you can return with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. It’s clearly worse than Bolt in most cases, but I love the fact that you can Mystical Teachings for it and deal with pesky value creatures like [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] and [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]. I even got to [card]Magma Spray[/card] then [card]Terminate[/card] a [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] (just ask Cedric Phillips).
[draft]Dreadbore[/draft] 1 [card]Dreadbore[/card]: Now this will seem like the most random card in the deck. It is not an instant that you can fetch with [card]Mystical Teachings[/card], nor is it better than [card]Terminate[/card] most of the time, so why play it? Well, it’s basically a concession to [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] and [card]Karn Liberated[/card]. This deck has a real difficult time dealing with a planeswalker that is already in play. The URW deck has access to [card]Celestial Purge[/card] in the sideboard, which URB does not so I decided to maindeck one and board up to a second one to mimic the 2 [card]Celestial Purge[/card]s in most URW sideboards. It’s also just a fairly strong removal spell that can kill [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s.
[draft]Pyroclasm[/draft] 1 [card]Pyroclasm[/card]: Another seemingly random card, I wanted to play at least 2 sweeper effects in the deck and this is the cheaper of the two that I am playing. Great against Affinity and other decks that try to rush you early.
[draft]Shadow of Doubt[/draft] 1 [card]Shadow of Doubt[/card]: Most URW lists already play a miser’s copy of [card]Shadow of Doubt[/card]. It cycles and is great against [card]Scapeshift[/card] and fetchlands. It makes a LOT more sense in this deck as a 1-of since you have access to [card]Mystical Teachings[/card], and it will definitely be the first card I search out against Scapeshift.

[draft]Dismember[/draft] 1 [card]Dismember[/card]: This is a recent addition that I am using to replace the 2nd [card]Terminate[/card] in the deck. The reasoning for the Dismember is that it kills mostly the same creatures that Terminate does, but dodges [card]Spell Snare[/card]. The URW control decks tend to bring in [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]s and go aggressive with a combination of Hellkites and [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s, and having a removal spell to dodge Spell Snare is nice. It is also very strong against [card]Splinter Twin[/card], as it’s a one-mana way to disrupt their combo. Again, taking damage to kill a creature is pretty poor in a control deck so I can see going back to 2 Terminates over a Dismember.

[draft]Consume the Meek[/draft]

1 [card]Consume the Meek[/card]: While Damnation is generally the better sweeper, I chose to go with [card]Consume the Meek[/card] as it is searchable with Mystical Teachings. This was the 2nd sweeper that I wanted in the main deck, and combined with the 2 Teachings you essentially have 4 “wrath” type effects in the main.

Sideboard

Sideboarding in Modern is very interesting. The format is so diverse that it’s really hard to just dedicate a few cards to just one particular matchup. It’s generally better to play cards that are good against multiple decks, especially when playing in a tournament with many rounds such as a PTQ or a GP. That is why you will rarely see white decks playing with cards like [card kataki, war’s wage]Kataki[/card] and instead see cards like [card]Wear // Tear[/card] instead. Most of the time, you should aim for cards that hit multiple decks, as opposed to just one—with the exception of cards against Tron. Because let’s be honest—we all hate Tron.

[draft]Spellskite[/draft]

1 [card]Spellskite[/card]: Great against Hexproof and Splinter Twin. I have been very impressed with this card in those particular matchups.

[draft]Engineered Explosives[/draft]

1 [card]Engineered Explosives[/card]: Also a great card against Hexproof, but can also be brought in against any aggressive decks with a low curve (Affinity, Hatebears, Zoo). I have also considered bringing it in against Splinter Twin as the games tend to go long. At some point late in the game, being able to resolve an [card]Engineered Explosives[/card] for 3 should make it difficult for them to combo off.

[draft]Batterskull[/draft] 1 [card]Batterskull[/card]: There are certain matchups where this deck has a hard time winning so I wanted another hard-to-kill win condition in the main deck. This used to be a [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card], but there are too many [card]Path to Exile[/card]s running around. If somebody could come up with a card that would be better against both URW and Jund, I am all ears. Batterskull is basically the card you always want to bring in against all of the ‘fair’ decks (non-combo).
[draft]Dreadbore[/draft] 1 [card]Dreadbore[/card]: Already playing one these in the main, but I wanted a 2nd way to deal with Liliana and other planeswalkers in the sideboard. This used to be a [card]Threads of Disloyalty[/card], as it was a good way to steal [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s, but I decided to forego the stronger effect there with the versatility of Dreadbore, as I now have two ways to kill planeswalkers. With 3 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s, that’s like 5 [card]Dreadbore[/card]s…

[draft]Rakdos Charm[/draft] 1 [card]Rakdos Charm[/card]: This used to be a [card]Smelt[/card] until I lost a few games to graveyard-based decks. I like the versatility of Rakdos Charm a bit more, as you can Mystical Teachings for a way to counter [card]Living End[/card] and other various graveyard strategies. It also happens to be strong against [card]Splinter Twin[/card], as they can combo off with a bunch of Exarchs and you can deal approximately 45 million damage to them (Don’t worry I ran the numbers and it checked out).
[draft]Counterflux[/draft] 2 [card]Counterflux[/card]: There are hard counters and there’s [card]Counterflux[/card]. The HARDEST counter. I love this card as it basically just says to your opponent, NO [card]SCAPESHIFT[/card] FOR YOU. Great card to bring in any type of control or combo matchup.
[draft]Sowing Salt[/draft] 2 [card]Sowing Salt[/card]: Remember that thing I said earlier about keeping your sideboard cards versatile and able to hit several decks? Well I threw that all out the window with this one. I’m not sure which deck I hate losing to more, Tron or Hexproof—it’s close. Tron is not a good matchup and the Sowing Salts definitely go a long way. You can also bring it in against Scapeshift in the hopes of hitting a [card valakut, the molten pinnacle]Valakut[/card]. I’ve also considered bringing in like one copy against URW to get their [card celestial colonnade]Colonnade[/card] but that’s probably a bit loose.
[draft]thoughtseize[/draft] 2 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]: Another strong card to bring in the slow matchups. Against blue decks this is awesome as it allows you to strip the counters out of their hand and rebuy with Snapcasters to clear the way for Cruel Ultimatum. Cheap efficient disruption and the only reason I don’t have more is lack of space.
[draft]devour flesh[/draft] 1 [card]Devour Flesh[/card]: I strongly considered playing this in the main deck. I actually had it in over the [card]Dreadbore[/card] but there are way too many matchups where this card is incredibly underwhelming (Any deck that plays [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] or [card]Lingering Souls[/card]). The deck that this card shines the most against is Hexproof. Having a way to Mystical Teachings for an edict effect is very strong and it goes a long way there.

Obviously they can have multiple hexproof creatures in play to diminish this effect, but you can cast some kind of sweeper prior the [card]Devour Flesh[/card] before running it out. Also, if your opponent is keeping up a fetchland, make sure you have another spot removal spell to go with the Devour Flesh to deal with the [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] that will undoubtedly get fetched in response. This could have also been a [card]Tribute to Hunger[/card], but I liked the fact that this is cheaper and you can still bring this in against most creature decks.
[draft]Damnation[/draft] 1 [card]Damnation[/card]: Another sweeper effect for the control matchups. This could have been a Pyroclasm but I decided I wanted to be able to kill larger creatures instead. This was also originally in the main but I moved it to the sideboard. Damnation also kills annoying creatures like Etched Champion which Pyroclasm cannot.
[draft]Vendilion Clique[/draft] 1 [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]: Almost want to play up to 3 of this card after sideboard. Absolutely fantastic against control/combo matchups. Having information while providing a clock with a mild disruptive element at instant speed is awesome.
[draft]Dispel[/draft] 1 [card]Dispel[/card]: I don’t like losing to other control decks so I added a [card]Dispel[/card] as a cheap counter to tutor up with [card]Mystical Teachings[/card] in anticipation of a large counter war. Resolving Cruel gets much easier with Dispel to back it up.

Wow, this deck has a ton of one-ofs. Normally these write-ups and card analysis tend to go a bit quicker, but I guess that’s what happens when you play a deck with Mystical Teachings. I plan on recording a couple of Modern Daily Events with this deck for the next few weeks as well as streaming it, and hopefully there will be some fun games to watch. While this deck certainly isn’t a Tier 1 deck by any means, I think I’ve tinkered with it enough that it’s a competitive and fun deck to play. If I had to choose a control deck to play in a tournament, I would probably go with URW—but if you want to play something a little different and a lot sweet, sleeve up some Cruel Control!

I plan on streaming with this deck fairly often in the upcoming weeks, so you can catch me on www.twitch.tv/HAUMPH every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. PST, streaming for ChannelFireball.

Discussion

Scroll to Top