Building on a Budget -
Budget Control

Last week I discussed the merits of Beatdown on a budget. This week I'll a look into the slower side of Magic -- the Control deck. Whereas the strategy of Beatdown is to gain tempo and put threats down while neutralizing answers, Control tries to negate your opponent's tempo and answer multiple threats with the same card.

Two cards that embody control are Counterspell and Wrath of God. Think of these cards in a Beatdown deck -- why would you ever play them? To a Control deck, however, these cards are the building blocks to victory. The general conundrum for Control is having all the right answers.

Since most decks try to beat you with creatures, Wrath of God is often a good answer. However, what if you are playing against a Burn deck? Then maybe Renewed Faith becomes the right answer. Counterspell defines Control, as it's almost always a good answer to anything -- provided you have the mana to use it.

From this description, it seems like Control decks are always struggling to find the right answers. While this is true to an extent, when one answer stops multiple threats, Control decks obtain card advantage -- and these extra cards are often more answers. Thus, a Control deck might have three answers in hand while the Beatdown player has no threats in play or in hand. This is the definition of having control of the game.

At the end of any given game that Control wins, it's likely for the Control player to reveal a handful of answers. And when this deck wins, it wins by a lot. "If I show you six counterspells will you concede?" is the Control player's mantra.

The life total is a Control player's first answer to the tempo a Beatdown player generates. Control can bide its time until it only has one life left and then take complete and utter control of the game. Being at one life doesn't matter after a Wrath of God when you've got three counters in the hole. Of course, you'd rather be higher, but the point is you should use your life total wisely to buy time.

If the format is so fast that your life total will be in too much danger by the time you can gain control, then you will want to consider a mana curve with some early game control cards. A Control curve uses controlling cards in the early game to counter early threats, setting back the tempo clock. Force Spike is a prime example -- it was the main answer for Jackal Pup in a format where it was difficult to stop early-game threats with mass removal.

While Control is a more difficult deck to build on a budget, it can still be done. I know I have mentioned the rare card Wrath of God about nine times already, but really, any card that answers multiple threats will do fine.

Getting mileage out of your control cards is important. For example, by using Icy Manipulator in your deck with Wrath of God, you increase the number of creature threats that your opponent has to draw to win. You can play the Icy in order to slow the tempo a little, and then Wrath of God to bring it to a shuddering halt. Now your opponent needs two creature threats in order to make you Wrath again, netting you more card advantage. In this manner, every time you Wrath, your Icy sets them back even more. There are many cards that have this effect -- Story Circle comes to mind. Your opponent might try to play out creatures to tie up your mana, but then you can just Wrath them all away.

Card drawing is another important aspect to the Control archetype. Although many Control decks don't utilize card drawing, relying on the sheer number of power cards they have, it can help you find the right answers when you need a specific one. Often this translates into a life-for-cards trade. For example, you might take a turn off to cast Concentrate, letting your opponent hit you for another 5 damage. But then you may find the Wrath of God you need to put yourself 5 cards up on her (Concentrate included). It's difficult for a Beatdown player to come back from that without good disruption.

Virtual card advantage can also be a Control player's best friend. This is embodied by one card effectively neutralizing multiple threats -- even if it doesn't remove them. A good example is Wall of Spears, as it can stop your opponent from attacking you with multiple 2/2 creatures. Since it requires your opponent to throw his resources away, you leave him literally banging his head against a wall. I have qualified for the Pro Tour with cards like Wall of Heat and Hammerhead Shark in my deck for this reason.

The last thing a Control deck needs is a path to victory. Some of the best Control players believe that victory conditions often dilute the controlling power of a deck, thus you should have very few of them (or they should double as a control aspect in some manner). Also, your win card should be extremely hard to kill, or you should have multiple copies of the ones that double as control elements. Morphling was probably the hardest Control card to kill -- once it hit the table and you had some available mana, there was pretty much nothing short of Wrath of God that could stop it. Decree of Justice is an example of a Control card that doubles as a win condition. Stalking Stones is also win condition that doesn't take up slots for control cards.

Building on a Budget - Budget Control

Main Deck

60 cards

13  Island
Salt Marsh

25 lands


5 creatures

Aether Burst
Circular Logic
Fact or Fiction

30 other spells

Many of you will recognize this deck as a (mostly) pre-Onslaught Block version of Psychatog. While this deck doesn't run Upheaval (as most 'Tog decks did at the time) because it is an expensive rare, you'll find that it doesn't need them to take control of the game. I included one copy of Wonder to break through with your Psychatogs when you are ready to try and win the game.

Notice that this deck includes lots of card drawing and counters. The card drawing elements will help you find your answers: Infest and Aether Burst. It will also help power your Psychatogs so that your opponent won't be able to attack you without losses. Aether Burst also acts as a little bit of a card disadvantage answer later on, since you can bounce something and then either counter it on the way back down or play Standstill.

Standstill is one of those anti-tempo cards. If your opponent wants to keep things flowing, she'll have to give you three cards -- which will probably let you find an answer to whatever she's doing in the first place. If your opponent doesn't keep the tempo up, then she'll lose to you just playing out lands and eventually winning with a Wonder-full Psychatog. Just be careful not to play out the Standstill if your opponent has more than a 1/1 attacking you.

Overall, this deck is pretty simple -- counter the threats and try not to get killed. Draw lots of cards until you can win the game.

Whatever you do, just don't lose control.

Until next time, 4,T: Draw a card.

Nate Heiss
Team CMU
NateHeiss on Magic Online

 Which archetype is the most difficult to play?  

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