The odds are stacked against control in the world of Kaladesh Limited. Decks are capable of very aggressive curve-outs. Plus, the new fabricate and Vehicle mechanics are inherently good against reactive decks, and make it more challenging to line up the correct answers with the correct threats.
But we can’t always have perfect aggressive decks chock full of Renegade Freighters and Welding Sparks. Even if it’s not your first choice, knowing how to draft a control deck when the time is right can be valuable. It’s one key part of being a well-rounded, masterful Kaladesh drafter.
Have a Plan for Winning the Game
I’m not going to tell you how many times I’ve decked myself in Kaladesh Limited, because it would simply be too embarrassing. Every functional control deck will need a healthy amount of removal, card drawing, and early defense. That doesn’t leave a ton of room for win conditions. So in a world where your opponents also have removal spells, blockers, and potentially an endless number of Servos and Thopters to clog the board, you simply can’t expect a Bastion Mastodon or two to get the job done.
Kaladesh is also a format with an unusually large number of activated abilities. This contributes to aggressive and midrange decks having a lot more staying power than normal. In something like core set Draft, you might be able to score a couple of 2-for-1s and run your opponent out of gas. In Kaladesh, however, even an average creature deck can easily have something like a Module or a Key to the City, which can make it virtually impossible for a control deck to grind them out in the long game.
So what’s the best way to win games with control decks? The answer is simple: have a rare! Vanilla creatures won’t get the job done, but an abnormally powerful rare can easily win the game for you.
Great, I read Reid Duke’s Draft article and he told me I should try to open good rares. Yes, it’s a bit lame when you look at it from that perspective. But I believe that two of the most important skills in drafting (especially in recent times) are knowing what to do when you don’t get rares, and knowing the best way to capitalize when you do get one.
When you don’t open a bomb rare, that’s fine—just draft normally. You should probably go for a 2-color deck with a nice mana curve. If you do open a bomb rare, then you should strongly consider building a control deck. Control decks are better suited to using rares than aggressive decks are.
Imagine, for example, that you have an aggressive R/W draft deck with Depala, Pilot Exemplar. Depala is a fantastic card! When you have Depala in your top 12 cards and she isn’t met with a removal spell, she’s going to offer a major contribution towards winning the game.
Now imagine instead that you have a U/B Control draft deck with Demon of Dark Schemes. Your deck aims to play the long game, and even has additional card draw and filtering. When things go according to plan, you can easily see the top 20 cards of your library in a game. The Demon is going to be awesome any time you cast it, whether it’s turn 6 or turn 15. You might even have Diabolic Tutor to find it, and possibly ways to recur it from your graveyard as well.
If you have a card as powerful as Demon of Dark Schemes, or Saheeli’s Artistry, or one of the Gearhulks, then that card can be your “plan” for winning the game. All you have to do is build the rest of your deck to survive long enough to find it and cast it.
The best reason to start drafting a control deck comes when you first pick an expensive rare. If you find yourself drafting a controlling deck and are desperate for a win condition, non-rare cards that might get the job done (albeit with a bit more effort) include Gearseeker Serpents, Self Assemblers, or having a high concentration of the powerful multicolor uncommons.
What Colors to Draft
Blue and black are the most natural control colors. Blue actually has a hard time being aggressive, so when you aren’t drafting a dedicated energy deck, control is one of the natural archetypes for a blue drafter to find themselves in.
Black is more interesting because it’s relatively split between aggression and control. Aggressive decks aren’t very interested in Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot and Live Fast (and Tidy Conclusion and Essence Extraction aren’t even at their best in aggro). Control players likewise shouldn’t be in love with Night Market Lookout and Foundry Screecher. One advantage of this is that you might find yourself drafting an Esper Control deck behind a W/B Aggro drafter and actually have very little overlap in the cards you’re looking for.
Red is a poor control color, but can be a splash for removal spells.
Green offers mana-fixing, so if you want to draft a 3- or 4-color control deck, it’s a great option. Green is my favorite color to draft in Kaladesh, in part because you can pivot into a multicolor control deck when the powerful multicolor cards come to you later than they should.
Along those lines, I place a high value on Prophetic Prism. Once you’re drafting control, I believe that it becomes the best common, bar none. Being able to splash rares, removal spells, and multicolor uncommons is one of the greatest appeals of playing a slow deck, and Prophetic Prism allows you to do that at a comically low cost. Additionally, artifacts tends to be an important theme in most blue and black control decks, so having a cheap one that replaces itself is awesome. You also get the value of resetting enters-the-battlefield effects with cards like Aether Tradewinds and Disappearing Act.
Artifacts don’t necessarily have to be an important part of your game plan, but they often are, especially if you’re in both blue and black. Here’s a (nonexhaustive) list of cards that incentivize you to have artifacts in your control decks:
- Gearseeker Serpent
- Tidy Conclusion
- Dhund Operative
- Underhanded Designs
- Glint-Nest Crane
- Shrewd Negotiation
- Era of Innovation
- Foundry Inspector
- Chief of the Foundry
And that’s not even to mention rares! I recommend prioritizing artifacts right from the start in order to put yourself in a position to make use of these cards when you do see them.
Some Finer Details
In addition to the obvious—defense, removal, card draw, and win condition—there are a couple of other things that I really like to build into my control decks.
The first is life gain. Life gain helps you climb out of reach once you’ve stabilized the game. It ensure that you won’t get bled to death by incidental damage, or by Servo tokens attacking for the last few points of damage. Thankfully, the black removal spells Tidy Conclusion, Essence Extraction, and Underhanded Designs have life gain built into them. You can also find life gain in Prakhata Pillar-Bug, Aetherborn Marauder, Filigree Familiar, Appetite for the Unnatural, and Cloudblazer.
The next is a token sweeper. In a perfect world, it would always be Fumigate or Demon of Dark Schemes. In the real world, I’m happy to settle for Make Obsolete. This is a card that you should pick highly and put in your main deck. Hazardous Conditions can also be good if your mana supports it (and don’t be afraid to sideboard in Hazardous Conditions and 2 Forests if the situation calls for it). Tokens + Inspired Charge is a common archetype in Kaladesh Draft, plus, virtually every deck will have some fabricate. A swarm of tokens can be particularly annoying for a control deck to handle since it makes 1-for-1 removal so ineffective.
If you can’t get a sweeper, at least choose your blockers to match up well against Servos. 0-power creatures like Consulate Skygate match up poorly against Servos (despite being a generally good card in control), as do 1-toughness creatures.
Finally, I like a way to free a creature from a Revoke Privileges-type effect. Having access to that in the course of a very long game is valuable. It could be fabricate or Appetite for the Unnatural if you’re in those colors, or it could be Disappearing Act or Aether Tradewinds.
How might you find yourself drafting a control deck? Let’s say your first pick is Padeem, Consul of Innovation. You know right off the bat that you’re likely to be in a non-aggressive color, and that artifacts are going to matter. You also have a powerful rare that will give you an advantage as the game goes long. Over the next few picks, you choose a black removal spell, a Prophetic Prism from a weak pack, and another filler blue card. Pick five, you see a powerful gold uncommon—let’s say Restoration Gearsmith. You don’t want to lock into drafting Esper so early in the Draft, but now you have an incentive to splash a color, which is even more incentive to draft a slow control deck.
In pack 2, you’re willing to first pick Prophetic Prism since you might play 3 colors, and artifacts are likely to matter. You spend a relatively high pick on Gearseeker Serpent since you’re worried about win conditions (even though you’re still hoping for one more rare). You’re prioritizing removal spells and cheap defense, and hoping to pick up a Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot mid-pack, and a Tezzeret’s Ambition later on.
The individual picks in this example aren’t important, nor is how pack 3 winds up going. This is just to give you a feel for how you might turn toward drafting a control deck. Some of the key points include: an early rare, a late multicolor card or other incentive to splash, and an incentive to draft artifacts.
Here’s a template for what a solid control deck might look like:
Removal. You want as much as possible, within reason. You also want a variety in order to handle a wide range of possible threats. For example: 2 Die Young, Tidy Conclusion, Underhanded Designs, Make Obsolete, and Malfunction.
Sample Deck List
Here’s a draft viewer from Pro Tour Kaladesh. It’s early in the format, and I don’t make every pick perfectly, but it still stands as a decent example for how to get into and navigate the control archetype in a Kaladesh Draft.
Aggression is good in Kaladesh Limited, as are synergy-based decks. But it’s important to know how to draft control when that’s the way the cards are pulling you. Follow the advice in this article, and you’ll be able to pick up extra wins by knowing how to use the cards that nobody else seems to want.