Frontier: The Pros and Cons of Different Flavors of Control.

Rasmus discusses the best Control lists in Frontier. Which is right for you? Blue-Black? Esper? Four Color? Rasmus has the answers.

Hello everyone. Today I’m picking apart the different flavors of control decks in Frontier and which control variant is best suited for the current metagame. Thanks to some powerful additions from Ixalan control decks has made, control is back in a real way. The tenth Frontier Cup this weekend showed this with 4c Control winning the whole tournament and Esper Control also making the top eight. This was following the last major event in Tokyo which was taken down by Blue-Black Control. Clearly the archetype is good again, but the big question among control players is still left unanswered: which control variant is the best?

Control has been represented in some form in pretty much all color combinations since the printing of Torrential Gearhulk in Kaladesh. Everything from Dark Jeskai, Esper Dragons, Grixis Control to Blue-Black control has been represented at some point in Frontier. But thanks to some great control cards being printed in Ixalan, such as Opt, Vraska’s Contempt and Search for Azcanta the archetype is one again Tier one. In this article I’ll look at UB Control, the tournament winning 4c Control list and then Dragons Variants. I’ll also mention lists like straight Grixis and Esper, but I think they are largely inferior to Blue-Black and Four Color.

UB control by Rasmus Enegren.

Lands (25)
Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand
Bloodstained Mire
Drowned Catacomb
Sunken Hollow
Swamp
Island
Field of Ruin
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Instants (24)
Opt
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Essence Scatter
Negate
Disallow
Vraska’s Contempt
Dig Through Time

Sorceries (3)
Languish
Enchantments (2)
Search for Azcanta

Creatures (4)
Torrential Gearhulk
The Scarab God

Planeswalker (2)
Liliana, the Last Hope

Sideboard (15)
Sorcerous Spyglass
Gifted Aetherborn
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Negate
Disdainful Stroke
Dispel
Sphinx of the final word

Blue-Black Control is the “new hotness” coming out of Ixalan thanks to the cards printed in Ixalan. Its strength lays in the deck’s mana base and consistency. Very rarely does UB Control come slow out of the gate thanks to the low amount of taplands. This not only bolsters the consistency of the deck in general, but is a major factor in the deck’s strength in the current Frontier metagame because of the popularity of aggressive decks like Atarka Red, White Weenie, URx Ensoul and Abzan.

One of the cards absent in the current builds of UB control is Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. This might seem weird as Jace is one of the most powerful cards in the entire format thanks to the two mana wizard’s ability to control the game all by himself. It turns out that the inclusion of Jace in most of these builds is actually a liability. That’s because he turns on the opponent’s cheap removal spells like Fatal Push, Magma Spray and Harnessed Lightning which would otherwise be stuck in their hand doing nothing. Also, we have few ways of returning him to our hand, or to the battlefield after he dies in straight Blue-Black.

Blue-Black control is not the only way to build this archetype, of course. Many players have had success with both traditional Grixis and Esper control, most notably Simon Tubello’s Grixis Control lists. These decks play similarly to straight UB control, but sacrifice consistency for more powerful cards. After the printing of Vraska’s contempt, Opt and specifically Search for Azcanta I think the splash for a third colour is unnecessary. This is mostly because Search for Azcanta lessens the competitive advantage decks like Grixis and Esper have in returning Jace, Vryn’s prodigy with Kolaghan’s Command and Ojutai’s Command.

There’s also just the question of manabases, as Blue-Black has nearly perfect mana and can afford to even splash utility lands. Esper lists in particular risk getting run over if they can’t get two white sources on line for a turn five Fumigate. They also can’t afford to run lands like Field of Ruin, which can be impactful as Search picks up.

Still, the most important change is just Search for Azcanta. Before the printing of Search, decks like Grixis and Esper would have an edge over something like UB control, as Jace was just too powerful to not play. Grixis decks in particular can overpower the opposing removal by continuously bringing Jace back with Kolaghan’s Command.

Despise Jace being a more powerful card in a vacuum, the high amount of removal spells seeing play in the format makes Search the better choice. The virtual card advantage gained by having most of your opponent’s removal spells dead just cannot be overlooked. Playing control, your games tend to go long, which means turning around a tenth of their decks into blanks you can always trade off your removal spells with their threats profitably.

I think if you’re going to run a Jace deck, you need to move away from traditional control builds and towards something slightly different: 4c Control, or Dark Jeskai. These decks take mana bases to the extremes to play some of the most powerful spells in the format and are specifically built around recurring two drops like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Soulfire Grand Master.

Dark Jeskai by 木原 惇希.

Lands (26)
Mystical Monastery
Bloodstained Mire
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Dragonskull Summit
Glacial Fortress
Shambling Vent
Sunken Hollow
Prairie Stream
Smoldering Marsh
Mountain
Island
Plain
Swamp

Creatures (10)
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Soulfire Grand Master
Torrential Gearhulk

Instants (22)
Fatal Push
Fiery Impulse
Crackling Doom
Kolaghan's Command
Kozilek's Return
Dig Through Time

Sorceries (2)
Painful Truths
Claim // Fame
Sideboard (15)
Gifted Aetherborn
Duress
Disdainful Stroke
Kozilek's Return
Painful Truths
Doomfall
Claim // Fame
Search for Azcanta

Dark Jeskai takes the opposite approach to control from Blue-Black. This take on control utilizes the power of fetchlands and Battle for Zendikar lands to play the most powerful spells available. Adding versatility by adding cards like Crackling Doom, Kolaghan’s Command and Ojutai’s Command to the core control shell of Dig Through Time and Torrential Gearhulk.

But with increased card quality comes a decrease in consistency. And Dark Jeskai control can easily fall behind the opponent if the lands don’t line up right in the early game. This can be very punishing in a metagame full of aggressive decks like like Ramunap red and Atarka red.

If you are willing to sacrifice a bit of consistency for raw power Dark Jeskai is the deck for you. Few other decks in the format can match the raw power that cards like Crackling Doom, Dig Through Time and Soulfire Grand Master bring to the table if the game goes long.

The last control archetyple I’ll look at has slightly better mana than 4c Control and is able to turn the corner faster than UB Control: dragon based control decks.

Esper dragons by Rasmus Enegren

Lands (25)
Shambling Vent
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Drowned Catacomb
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Sunken Hollow
Prairie Stream
Island
Swamp
Plains

Creatures (7)
Dragonlord Ojutai
Dragonlord Silumgar
Torrential Gearhulk

Instants (21)
Fatal Push
Utter End
Vraska’s Contempt
Grasp of Darkness
Silumgar’s Scorn
Disallow
Dig Through Time
Foul-Tongue Invocation
Enchantments (3)
Search for Azcanta

Planeswalkers (2)
Liliana, the Last Hope

Sorceries (2)
Crux of Fate

Sideboard (15)
Infinite Obliteration
Sorcerous Spyglass
Arashin Cleric
Anguished Unmaking
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Disdainful Stroke
Flaying Tendrils
Negate
Dispel

The addition of dragons in the control shell allows us to add powerful cards like Silumgar’s Scorn, which gives us a hard counter for as little as two blue mana. But the biggest advantage of playing a dragon control deck is the ability for us to jam a huge flyer onto the board and turn the corner very quickly. A deck like Blue-Black control just can’t do this. This makes matchups against decks that have a stronger late game, like Marvel or other Emrakul, the Promised End lists a lot better for the dragons deck than other control decks.

Grixis dragons by James Hartley

Lands (25)
Bloodstained Mire
Canyon Slough
Choked Estuary
Fetid Pools
Haven of the Spirit Dragon
Island
Mountain
Polluted Delta
Smoldering Marsh
Sunken Hollow
Swamp

Creatures: (7)
Dragonlord Silumgar
Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury
Thunderbreak Regent

Instants (26)
Anticipate
Dig Through Time
Disallow
Draconic Roar
Essence Scatter
Fatal Push
Foul-Tongue Invocation
Silumgar’s Scorn
Ultimate Price

Sorceries (2)
Languish
Sideboard (15)
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Pearl Lake Ancient
Silumgar, the Drifting Death
Disdainful Stroke
Negate
Summary Dismissal
Crux of Fate
Duress
Self-Inflicted Wound
Sweltering Suns

The downside of going Grixis or Esper Dragons is that it makes you more susceptible to removal spells from your opponent, something that control decks in frontier normally dodges by having cards like The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk as finishers. Both of these cards are either hard to get rid of, or gains us additional value even if your opponent can remove them. This isn’t always true with their dragon counterparts.

Overall i think that dragon based control decks are a good choice if you expect aggro decks and “go large” strategies like Aetherwork’s Marvel. Cards like Thunderbreak Regent and Dragonlord Ojutai are great at stopping the opponent’s onslaught and hitting the opponent back in huge chunks.

On the other hand, if the field full of midrange and control decks overloading on removal they are a poor choice. You simply lose one of the traditional advantages of control: the virtual card advantage we get from blanking our opponent’s best removal spells.

Conclusion

Overall, I think control is in a good spot in Frontier at the moments thanks to the powerful additions from Ixalan. I’ll save a more in-depth analysis of each of these archetypes for another time, but wanted to give eager control pilots an overview of the most successful strategies in the format.

There are also a great number of control decks waiting for their time in the spotlight which I didn’t discuss here, or which remain undiscovered. Don’t be afraid of playing the style of control that best fits your style and innovating from week to week. If you have questions about building control in Frontier, or anything else Magic related, I’m on Twitter @raggmunk99. You can reach me there anytime. As always, see you in two weeks for my next article!

Rasmus is a Modern and Frontier player that loves his tempo and control strategies. He’s usually trying to force blue.

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