Where has the control deck gone?

Written by Ron Saikowski, December 15th, 2017

Like most players, I try and keep up with the current Old School "meta." Maybe not as carefully as others do... mine is more of a casual following you could say. As a long time "control" player, I find it's interesting to see what the "non-control" players gravitate towards at any given time. The latest combos and such. If for no other reason then I like to get an idea of what I'll be facing more often than not.

Cruising the Old School Blogger Community, I found this great article over on Old School Mtg talking about the top decks to beat as of late. A post full of winning deck pictures with insight to what's rising to the top of the Old School scene at the moment. Well worth read and if you haven't done so yet, you really should check it out.

An interesting question was raised at the end of post concerning the prevalence of "control" decks in the current meta and what appears to be their slow disappearance from the scene right now. Why are they seemingly falling out of favor for other builds? As I consider myself to be a long time control player, I thought I might share my two cents on the matter as I too have started to gravitate away from the control aspect of blue into other builds.

Interest in different strategies?
Always. I think we all like to tinker with our decks and try out new combinations. Sometimes to the extreme where we add or drop a color entirely and sometimes ever so subtle with the replacement of one card for another that's only slightly different. Experimentation never ends and I think the ease at which it can be done in this game supports that constant hunt for what works best. This is truly one of my favorite aspects of the game.

Have non-control players learned to play against control decks?
I believe so. But I think they've always been able to. There have always been blue hate cards just as there have been red hate cards or any other hate cards out there, but learning how to play against control takes a little time. For someone not used to it, it can be unsettling at first. Old School players are not these types... they do not rattle easily and most have seen it all in some variation or another.

Once you learn the pace and the tempo when playing against a control deck, you can quickly adapt to it. Add in the ability to sideboard a few key cards and suddenly the control aspect isn't that big of a problem. It's no different than playing against a Lands Edge/Tax deck for example... once you learn your opponent's win conditions, you can use that your advantage and play your deck accordingly.

Is the community cowing out the control players?
Absolutely not. In all the games I've ever played, not once have I ever felt pressured in any way to play something other than what I love to play in my deck. Quite the contrary actually, I find my opponents don't mind at all and happily accept the challenge. No matter how brutal the card or combo, everything is taken in stride and it's fun just to see the cards being played. The outcome becomes irrelevant. Enjoying the time spent casting spells is what's important, winning takes a distant back seat.

So why have I gravitated away from control then?
Speed. I find myself not being able to keep up with my opponents less and less these days. While control is notoriously slow, there comes a point in every game where you will fall behind. The faster your opponent can present a threat, the faster you need to be in countering them. It's harder than most folks think to do this well enough so as to mount both an offensive attack in addition to having a strong enough defense to keep your opponent's deck in check. It can be done, but it takes the right cards at the right time. Anything short and a lesser build that moves faster on the board will take you over in a moment's notice.

It's a great challenge for those who've never tried. I think playing a control deck has certainly helped me in understanding some of the more subtle aspects of the game.

Today I've gone from having a majority of counter spells of all types in my deck to having just one. In part as a response to the speed at which I find myself facing threats and in part because I still love to tinker with new builds. I talked about getting rid of the "elephant" in my deck recently and I think it's something that everyone should do with their deck.

As for having "control" in my deck, I'm going to try playing without it for a while. It'll be a new experience for me. Something I'm not accustomed to in any way, shape or form. As for control in the meta, I don't think it's going anywhere. Like most aspects, I'm willing to bet it's cyclical and we'll see it come back around in time. Maybe in a slightly different form, but it'll be back.

A big thanks to Magnus for his post, it's prompted me to take a closer look at my evolving relationship with "control."

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IMAGE: WotC. The one and only, original Counterspell.
KEYWORDS: Old School Magic, gaming, control