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A brief look at Magic's slowest archetype

Out of Control

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Premium members, want to know how R&D thinks? Click HERE to see the “Vapor Ops” test results for all the current developers. Then click HERE to see the test results for the last round of rejected applicants.

The letter T!here are some notorious control players working here in R&D. Matt Place made the US National Team one year by boring everyone to death with a Stasis deck. Randy Buehler made a name for himself with creatively-titled decks like “Cuneo Blue,” “Buehler Blue,” and “CMU Blue” (the little-known “Turian Blue” deck never really took off). Randy still holds the world record for countering spells—277 consecutive spells were countered by him at Worlds 1998. And for some reason I have Brian Schneider linked in my mind to a maddening concoction that could only win via two Gaea's Blessings and a Lightning Bolt. Or maybe I'm thinking of Mike Donais. Or Alan Comer. Whatever, they're all the same.


Mark Rosewater's True Form

Yes, these are the people currently making Magic: The Gathering—a group of blue mages that would probably poke their own eyes out before doing something as distasteful as playing Rancor or Carnophage in constructed. And yet, even with all these people here under one roof, Counterspell was taken out of Eighth Edition. And do you know why?

Rosewater did it.

That guy is unstoppable. Everything you read about him is true by the way. He is the man behind the curtain, the guy responsible for everything you don't like about Magic.

Well, just about everything. Randy was responsible for banning all the cards in Standard.

Unless you think that was a good thing, in which case I'm responsible. I rock. Speaking of me, did you know that I'm a corporate shill? It's true. I read it on a message board somewhere. Now please go buy some booster packs. It'll be fun, really!

Control Cards Then and Now

Premium members, click HERE to see the Affinity deck R&D built without artifact lands that prompted the banning of Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault.

Over the years, R&D has realized that many control elements in Magic were overpowered compared to the creatures. I probably mentioned something in an earlier article about how Force of Nature, Mahamoti Djinn, and all the other awesome fatties from back in the day were at the mercy of Swords to Plowshares, Counterspell, and Terror and how that really sucked, but I'm not going to link to it because I don't feel like looking it up. So anyway, now we make Kodama of the North Tree and Call for Blood and it all evens out.

Here is a chart of some old, somewhat overpowered control cards and what R&D considers their modern equivalents:

OLD NEW
Counterspell Hinder
Swords to Plowshares Reciprocate
Force of Will Disrupting Shoal
Nevinyrral's Disk Oblivion Stone
Rainbow Efreet Fleeting Image
Frenetic Efreet Drill-Skimmer
Whispers of the Muse Reach through Mists
Impulse Peer through Depths
Stroke of Genius Sift through Sands
Morphling The Unspeakable
Moat Kami of Old Stone
The Abyss Zzzyxas's Abyss
Balance Crack the Earth
Mana Drain That terrible five-mana red common from Fifth Dawn
Kjeldoran Outpost Gods' Eye, Gate to the Reikai
Library of Alexandria The draw step
Island Forest
Masticore Umezawa's Jitte

As you see, we've been toning control down a bit over the years. As a result… mono-blue control is currently one of the best decks in Standard. What?! Really? How did that happen? Didn't we print Aether Vial and Boseiju? And Boil? I read somewhere that we were weakening blue!

Premium members, Ninth Edition is almost here. We know Birds of Paradise is gone… click HERE to see a list of the other cards not coming back!

Back to the list. Where on that list is the most classic of control cards, Wrath of God? Wrath is a weird animal. We keep making “new” Wraths that are all about six mana (Catastrophe, Final Judgment, Solar Tide, etc.), so it's clear that we think the effect is worth more than four mana. Yet good old-fashioned four-mana Wrath keeps showing up in every Core Set. Why?

For the answer, I turn once again to the message boards. Wrath of God, I'm told, is one of only two cards in the Core Set that make it worth purchasing. No, seriously, read the boards. And we've already promised to remove the other—Birds of Paradise—next time around (mostly because we hate our players). So we keep reprinting Wrath just to make sure the company doesn't go bankrupt. Now please go buy some booster packs. It'll be fun, really!

And now for something completely different…

Development Stories: Cards with the Word “Control” in Their Titles

Control Magic : This is one awesome card, but it falls into that category of “too good compared to the creatures in the environment.” Alpha was like that. None of us that are working here now did development on Alpha.

But some of us here did work on Urza's Destiny, the home of the “fixed” Control MagicTreachery. Treachery is just like Control Magic except it costs zero or negative mana instead of four. Obviously we didn't quite get the idea of “fixing” cards back then.

Later, in Odyssey, we printed Persuasion. Persuasion is, well, strictly worse than those other two cards. Not very exciting. Maybe this isn't the best topic. Hmm.

Tidal Control:

Rattlesnake: 1
Gorilla: 4
Sponge: 2.5
Trilobite: -3
Agouti: 78
Groffskithur: 0

Actually, I never heard of this card until I looked it up in Gatherer. I can't imagine why “any player may play this ability” is on it though. Things were different back in those days.

Premium members, click HERE for exclusive air hockey tips from Magic R&D!

Control of the Court : The creation of this crazy Portal Three Kingdoms card is one of my favorite R&D stories of all time and really shows off the different ways we like to solve problems around here.

If I recall correctly, it goes something like this: We took the card Goblin Lore from Portal Second Age and gave it a different name. Then we went and played air hockey.

The Next Block and the Future of Control

Rosewater made the joke in his column about how the next large set was codenamed “Control” and this is Control Week and so on and so on. Well, he wasn't too far off when he said that the set's codename confused people. On more that one occasion I was told to “design Control cards” or “build Control decks for playtesting” and I took the instructions quite literally. Other designers and developers had the same problem. The end result is that the set is, shall we say, a little slow. There are over 25 different counterspells in the first set alone, and most of the creatures are defenders or really expensive fliers. Sounds like a fun year, doesn't it? At least Randy likes it!

Now please go buy some booster packs! And sign up for our premium service to guarantee access to awesome content like this!

Next week: The brief but illustrious history of the five-mana 2/1.

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