While You Were Sleeping on Control
Gather round young commander players! Settle down while I tell ye a tale, of Bill Pullman’s romantic comedy days and how he won the girl without using blue as one of his colours! Normally when players begin planning out their sweet new commander brew, they always begin with the base colour of blue. This is a logical conclusion for most players since you get access to counterspells, card selection and the almighty Cyclonic Rift. I offer you an alternative way to build this archetype without steering into stax. Rather than adhere to the norm, let’s explore the other options available to us.
First off, some options for commanders:
Zacama, Primal Calamity, Shattergang Brothers, Teneb, the Harvester, Queen Marchesa, Mogis, God of Slaughter, Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, Karlov of the Ghost Council, Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, Sheoldred, Whispering One, Urabrask the Hidden, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger
Now you, most likely recognize the vast majority of these cards from your regular EDH nights, but not always as the commander, and not often used as a control deck. Every colour combination has its fair share of options for commander and I just wanted to highlight some of my personal favourites across the board. My current build isn’t actually on the list above because I know most would rather run Queen Marchesa. I am currently running Licia, Sanguine Tribune. I’ve also considered switching them out for Oros, the Avenger but Licia is a pet card of mine. Their text is relevant, and the power is undeniable. Now if only they had card advantage printed on it like Queen Marchesa does…
Card advantage/card draw is going to be one of the main ways you’re going to keep yourself in any game of commander in this archetype. If you’re constantly having to solve problems that arise on the board, you’re going to need to see a high density of cards to do so.
Some strong options for this:
Phyrexian Arena, Sylvan Library, Outpost Siege, Vance’s Blasting Cannons, Howling Mine, Greed, Arguel’s Blood Fast, Staff of Nin, Ajani Unyielding, Trading Post (bonus points if with Spine of Ish Sah), Tireless Tracker, Arch of Orazca, Chandra, Flamecaller, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Land Tax, Necropotence, Coercive Portal, Bolas’s Citadel, Theater of Horrors
Now unfortunately, you’ll notice that red and white are rather lacking in card draw. Exile effects, artifacts and Land Tax are the best options they offer. Boros commanders struggle with both this and ramp, as a result, I will generally recommend adding another colour to make sure that it works consistently. While there are some support cards that are colourless, I don’t find there’s a sufficient amount to make the colour combination work consistently within this archetype.
Another takeaway from these options is the power that black has in card advantage. As long as you’re willing to pay some life, you’ll see far more cards than your opponents generally will. Necropotence is a real stand out among the options. Being able to pay 20 life and draw 20 cards is just absurd and will often result in game winning plays from your deck. You’ll find combo pieces or tutors for said combo pieces. No matter what, you’ll be the new number one target this game.
Tireless Tracker and Sylvan Library are both wonderful inclusion in any green deck. As a control player, you’ll generally want to be hitting your land drops and manipulate the top of your library, getting the bonus value of being able to draw a card with each land you play as well as having a potential game ending threat will always force your opponents to use some form of removal on your Tracker and Library. Bonus points if you end up running Smokestack in your deck. Sacrificing clue tokens will result in a lot of counters on Tireless Tracker. The card only looks for you to sacrifice a clue, not how you sacrifice it.
Trading Post, Arch of Orazca, Staff of Nin and Coercive Portal are all stars in this archetype (also just great in general). Each of which have low opportunity costs to include within any deck. Trading Post allows for versatility helping balance out the deck. One of the ways to keep your deck relevant at any table is to make sure that your cards carry a higher amount of versatility. It’s like running Cryptic Command in a blue deck; one mode may not have text in one game, but that’s why you have three other modes. Coercive Portal also helps your politics side of the game. Being able to be a threatening board wipe while still being a card advantage engine is undeniably powerful.
Howling Mine is always an inclusion of mine that people ask me to explain. It’s not a great card in this type of deck by any means, but when your deck is full of cards that read two or more for one value wise, you’ll be doing pretty well. Your opponents playing out 2 creatures per turn right into your freshly drawn board wipe will keep you at parity if not ahead while giving you options. As well, this can gain you favor with your opponents. Who wants to attack the person giving everyone else cards? The newly printed Stormfist Crusader offers a similar effect that you can also consider in this type of slot. Now, let’s talk about gaining value over your opponents by dealing with more than one of your opponents cards for every card that you play.
The x for ones:
Now you’ll notice a lack of board wipes mentioned, this is due to the fact that I just wrote an article this last week about them. If you require any readings on the various unique board wipes widely available within this expansive format, I strongly recommend you give Apocalypse Now: Board Wipes Edition a read.
A lot of the aforementioned cards have a rather large converted mana cost to them.You won’t be slotting all of these cards into every deck (unless you want to have a pretty sweet Saskia the Unyielding brew going). In general you’ll be looking for options that get you ahead on the board or has text in various scenarios for interaction. Plenty of planeswalkers fit this bill and the repeatable effects on them is a very relevant side of this archetype. Angrath, the Flame-Chained being able to hit your opponents hands every turn into an often game winning ultimate is a rather underrated effect. Liliana of the Veil reigns in a similar slot but also hitting yourself is a downside. Her -2 and ultimate are also a touch on the weaker side due to their targeting. You’re also going to feel really bad if someone Mindslavers your turn and then makes you target yourself with the ultimate or -2.
The rest of the options are relatively self explanatory other than Humility and Night of Souls' Betrayal to newer players of the format. The two card combo makes it so that no creatures can stay on the field. Humility starts by setting the power of each creature on the board to 1/1, then Night of Souls' Betrayal comes in and gives them a further -1/-1 leaving all creatures currently on the board as a 0/0. State based effects are then checked, all creatures have no toughness and will die immediately regardless of if they somehow gain indestructible or are regenerated.
The win conditions:
Approach of the Second Sun, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Aetherflux Reservoir, Exsanguinate, Avenger of Zendikar, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker + Restoration Angel, your commander or pretty much any combo you can think of
Every time I bring up win conditions, I really don’t want to get too specific. I’m always happy to offer a few powerful cards, but win conditions are often what makes a players deck their own. Certain players prefer to win with Craterhoof Behemoth after gunking up the board with tokens from an end step Secure the Wastes. Some would rather have a copy of Comet Storm with their opponent’s name on it. In a control deck, you’ll generally run enough tutors and card draw that if you’re winning, you’re going to be winning by a mile and pretty much anything will finish your opponents off.
Finish your opponent off with Splinter Twin without blue to show them how much you don’t need to cast Brainstorm to beat them (or do it so you don’t need to learn how to cast it properly… yes you can Brainstorm wrong). Destroy them with your favourite planeswalker’s ultimate, or win with Helm of the Host shenanigans (see Godo, Bandit Warlord and Aurelia, the Warleader for examples). Remember to increase the number of tutors you have in your deck if you choose to run combos as your finisher. Two to three is generally a safe number, four to five if combo heavy.
WIth that, you follow most of the conventions of deck building for commander. Make sure you have sufficient ramp, card selection and game winning threats with just a touch more card advantage and 2 for ones. Go forth my wonderful readers! Build sweet control decks to bring your tables down to their knees! Wipe the boards! Kill the planeswalkers! Avoid commander tax! Become the monarch.