Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Seth Manfield won a tournament. You’ve all heard that tale plenty of times. Let’s take a look at the deck he used to win GP New York last weekend.
Usually when I break down a deck, I start by taking a look at the creatures. Standard is based in creature combat, and creatures are the most effective way of dealing with opposing powerful planeswalkers. So let’s start there!
That’s the headliner behind this WB Control deck. While a card like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is one of the most powerful in Standard, it’s mitigated greatly by being the only creature in the deck. Rather than give some additional value to Reflector Mage or have a target for cards like Declaration in Stone, Dromoka’s Command, or Ultimate Price, the WB Control deck is creatureless. Just pure Magic.
The planeswalkers do a lot of heavy lifting. At the beginning of Shadows over Innistrad Standard, many players were down on Gideon. Top players called the planeswalker being poorly positioned, and with good reason. Decks like Humans can overwhelm a 4-mana play before it’s useful and Bant Company can tap or bounce the token to finish off Gideon, which made it rare to get 4 mana worth of value out of him.
In the right shells, we’ve seen Gideon rise as one of the best cards in Standard. He can easily be considered the most important card for the GW Tokens deck, which says something of his power level. When backed up by cheap removal, discard, and sweepers like Languish, Gideon can dominate. Like Chandra, Flamecaller, but for 2 less mana, Gideon will churn out a Knight to protect himself before attacking for 7 (5 + 2 from the token) each turn afterward. Being able to create an emblem when you have a good board presence from tokens is another benefit, although this isn’t the best deck for that effect.
On a clear board, Ob Nixilis moves up to 6 loyalty, which can flat-out take over a game, but the most common usage will be to immediately kill a creature. The ultimate will win the game against a number of slower decks in the format, and with lots of other removal spells to protect the planeswalker, getting there doesn’t take long.
Sorin, Grim Nemesis sits at the top of the curve and works similarly to Ob Nixilis. The plus will draw you cards and win the game eventually (and no ultimate needed here, the damage adds up quickly), but Sorin also comes down and kills a creature while leaving behind a threat. The life gain is a huge boost and is actually one of the ways to turn your Ob Nixilis back on when you’re too low on life. Planeswalkers can be tough to deal with from a creatureless deck and you’re likely to be behind in life if one sticks early, so Sorin’s minus ability lines up perfectly.
Languish went from being the card that you most wanted to figure out how to build a deck around for the PT to relatively unexciting. With fewer aggressive Human strategies, and cards like Gideon, Archangel Avacyn, and Secure the Wastes everywhere, the card is not as valuable as it once was. Decks like Grixis Control are also picking up in popularity, and while Languish can kill a Kalitas or Goblin Dark-Dwellers, it’s not great in the matchup, especially when your deck already has plenty of spot removal for those few creatures. But with the changes in the metagame, the Cryptolith Rite decks have picked up in popularity, and Languish is amazing there. Whether this remains a 4-of I don’t know, but the card is powerful enough even as a spot 1-for-1 removal spell that its inclusion is mandatory.
Ruinous Path is not a very powerful Magic card, and it’s weak against cards like Collected Company and Archangel Avacyn. It’s a necessary evil to include some copies to actually deal with giant threats as well as planeswalkers, and the awaken can win a game, but it’s not a card you’re happy to play.
Anguished Unmaking, on the other hand, does everything you want, and exiles powerful threats like Hangarback Walker, but the life loss is problematic. The only ways to gain life in Standard that you want to play are Sorin, Grim Nemesis, which will cost you a 6-mana investment, and Shambling Vent, which opens you up to opposing removal spells. While both of these cards are great and you’re absolutely going to be playing them anyways, it highlights the cost of Anguished Unmaking. Losing 15% of your starting life total leaves you wide open to incidental damage—especially if you ever cast 2 of them.
Manfield ran a single copy of Planar Outburst. There are creatures that Languish can’t deal with, such as a flipped Archangel Avacyn, Sylvan Advocate, The Gitrog Monster, or a Tireless Tracker that sat around for too long. The awaken can kill a planeswalker the turn you cast it and clear the battlefield, so that’s a nice bonus. It’s a common line of play from experienced players to not play their Sylvan Advocates on turn 2 against Languish decks to try to maximize value (note that this is also effective against Grasp of Darkness), and Planar Outburst is a reasonable way to punish them for coming out of the gates slower.
The other key piece of “removal” in this list is Hallowed Moonlight. I’m a big fan of this card as a main-deck option thanks to the prevalence of Collected Company, Secure the Wastes, and Hangarback Walker. Dealing with multiple creatures at instant speed is not something many decks are equipped to deal with. A single Bounding Krasis or Avacyn can be dealt with using instant speed removal, but a bunch of tokens or multiple creatures off of a Company can lead to far more damage than you can afford to take. Plus, Moonlight can stop a single token from a card like Gideon or Nissa, which may clear the way for an attack to finish off the planeswalker. I really like having access to this card as a main deck cycling counter in a deck that doesn’t play blue.
Transgress the Mind isn’t technically removal, but it does a good impression. This is the best discard spell in Standard to maindeck since it deals with just about everything you care about. The cheap creatures will come down before Transgress anyway, and most of the other cheap spells in Standard are going to be removal spells like Ultimate Price or Dromoka’s Command. The only real downside to Transgress in this deck versus a card like Duress is that you can’t take Secure the Wastes, as X-spells do a great job of getting around it.
Read the Bones acts as the glue to cement this deck together. Commonly, your turn 2 will be a removal or discard spell into a turn-3 Read the Bones to set you up for either Gideon or Languish on turn 4. Other games, where you have a solid early game, you’ll be chaining removal spells for the first few turns into a turn-5 Read plus removal spell to put the game away before Ob Nixilis and Sorin can slam the door shut. The scry is critical here as there will be many matchups and even more board states where there are a number of cards in your deck you simply don’t want. There are only so many Languishes or spot removal spells you need.
The final spell Manfield played in his list is also one of the most critical to the deck’s success. The combination with a Gideon emblem is something you see in many archetypes, but Secure also helps keep your planeswalkers alive. Playing only 2 colors lets you play Abbey without hurting your mana and provides a valuable threat. You can go from having 6 random basics in play when your opponent taps out to having a 9/7 flying lifelink indestructible haste creature attacking.
As for the rest of the mana base, you want to maximize your dual land count in order to reliably have turn-4 Languish or Gideon. With cards like Grasp of Darkness, more black sources are mandatory, but the more dual lands you have, the easier it is. Shambling Vent is too powerful to not play 4, and Caves of Koilos is also an easy 4-of inclusion. Not all WB Control decks play all 4 Forsaken Sanctuaries, but I believe it’s correct. By playing the additional dual lands, it also makes it easier to play powerful colorless lands, such as Westvale Abbey, Blighted Fen, or Foundry of the Consuls.
Here’s the final list Seth Manfield used to take down GP New York:
Seth Manfield, 1st Place at GP New York
The deck is going to rarely be creatureless after sideboard. This makes it difficult to know how to sideboard against this deck—how many removal spells do you really want to leave in against a deck that might have 0 creatures, or may still only have 1-3?
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is still the most powerful option against a variety of the creature decks in Standard. It’s a great road block against aggressive decks and game winning against decks like GB Sacrifice. You can set up sweepers early into a Kalitas-plus-removal-spell to guarantee value even if they have the answer.
Thought-Knot Seer is an awesome sideboard option, as it’s definitely a card you want on the play in a wide variety of matchups such as control, ramp, or decks with Collected Company. Your opponents shouldn’t have much removal against you, so taking a removal spell should clear the way for the 4/4.
Eldrazi Displacer fits in a similar vein. It can take over the game, destroy tokens and Hangarbacks, and keep Gideons off your back, but it’s also a creature that can be killed by cards like Dromoka’s Command and you aren’t playing very much colorless mana to begin with. I’m not sure I would include this one going forward, but it’s an interesting call. The Eldrazi are some of the best weapons against GW Tokens decks that many WB Control decks have access to, but in this creatureless version with few colorless sources, that isn’t as much the case.
Bearer of Silence is a card against Dragonlord Ojutai. It’s one of the best ways to kill the hexproof Dragon in matchups where you don’t want a bunch of cards like Languish in your deck. The fact that this is also a 2-mana flying creature that you have the option to deploy against control decks is a nice bonus. Esper Dragons isn’t too popular in the metagame, but that could change.
Dead Weight is one of the best additions you can have against Humans, namely the 18-land varieties. With 4 Languish and tons of cheap removal, this isn’t the scariest matchup in the world, but they can definitely punish you for stumbling. With many cards in the deck requiring life loss, a cheap removal spell is a nice boon for saving your life total. Keep in mind that a turn-1 Dead Weight on even an Expedition Envoy, not to mention a Kytheon, will end up saving you 6 damage before you could have resolved a turn-4 Languish!
Duress is fairly self explanatory. Slow decks have a weakness to discard spells. Being able to take their Secure, planeswalker, or Read the Bones is awesome. Transgress is going to be much stronger against decks like Grixis and Ramp since it can take their creatures and exiling spells against decks that play Goblin Dark-Dwellers, but Duress is cheaper and can easily be cast on turn 2 while setting up the 8 comes-into-play-tapped lands. The deck has so many discard spells in the sideboard that you get to be really well set up in the control mirrors.
How to Beat WB Control
I’ve noted the relative weakness to instant-speed creatures, although Hallowed Moonlight shores that up. Control decks with more colors, and thus more powerful options, can have an advantage in the pseudo-mirrors. An Esper Control deck with counters to stop opposing planeswalkers, while still having the same threats, has an advantage.
Ramp decks should have a massive advantage in game 1 as a Gideon alone is unlikely to race something like World Breaker, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, or The Great Aurora, thanks to ramp spells. The removal spells of WB Control aren’t interactive enough, so not drawing Transgress the Mind (of which there are 2 main deck) or not getting a Secure into Ormendahl will likely leave Ramp up a game. After sideboard, WB Control has access to 5 additional discard spells, not to mention Thought-Knot, so things can shift.
This particular version of WB Control is actually much weaker against the most popular deck in Standard, GW Tokens, than many of its counterparts, though, Anguished Unmaking is good at killing planeswalkers, Avacyn, Evolutionary Leap, or Hangarback Walker, and you have to be aware of Hallowed Moonlight. The games are often going to be drawn out and interesting, so good play is heavily rewarded on both sides.
The truth is, there isn’t a great way to get an advantage against WB Control! The deck is solid and is one of the best options against popular decks like 4-color Company. A quick clock is usually the best way to get ahead of a control deck, but Languish threatens that way of life. This is still a 25-land deck with 8 comes-into-play-tapped lands and 4 colorless lands, so stumbles do happen. Grasp of Darkness can’t always be cast on time, and a 3rd or 4th untapped land is far from a certainty.
WB Control put up a 15-0 GP performance in the Swiss with 0 byes before taking down the whole thing in the very next Standard GP. Suffice to say, the deck is for real! So which version do you prefer? Creatureless or Eldrazi? Which sideboard cards have you found to be most effective at defeating these powerful control decks? Sound off in the comments!