If I flash back six months ago or so, I barely saw any Modern control decks at all. Many players were under the assumption that the various Death's Shadow variants were bad matchups for control. This, combined with the use of Cavern of Souls in a variety of strategies including Eldrazi Tron, compounded issues. However, we have since learned that control is very far from dead. In fact, there is an argument that control decks are stronger than they have been in quite some time.
Why are control decks suddenly much better than they were before? When we see a large shift like this in a metagame there normally is more than one reason for it. The first is straightforward: players are building their control decks more appropriately to accommodate for the top decks in the format. There were some control decks like Grixis Control that seemingly couldn't keep up with the metagame, and that deck has lost a lot of popularity. On the other hand, Jeskai Control has access to Path to Exile and a different set of threats – a much better fit.
Jeskai Control at one point was relying on Nahiri the Harbinger to search for Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Once players realized that win condition wasn't working out that well, Jeskai Control lost a ton of popularity. Players were forgetting about cards like Geist of Saint Traft or just good old Snapcaster Mage beatdown. Now, Jeskai Control has turned into the hottest control deck in Modern, and there are a few different ways to go about building it. This version touches on the fourth color to be able to add Lingering Souls into the mix.
Now that control is becoming more popular in Modern, Lingering Souls becomes better positioned. This has always been one of those cards you hate to play against from the control side. By playing Lingering Souls, you have a win condition that provides an edge in control mirrors. It is also hard to answer Lingering Souls with a single card – only a card like Izzet Staticaster out of the sideboard truly trumps Lingering Souls.
On the other hand, a turn three Geist of Saint Traft can immediately be eaten by an opposing Liliana of the Veil, and that can be the difference in a game. Overall, Lingering Souls provides a good safe win condition, but it does mean you make your mana base a bit worse by adding black, though you gain access to Mystical Teaching. This sort of control deck needs to make sure it keeps Blood Moon off the battlefield, as that card can cripple your lands even if it comes into play late in a game.
With all the card draw and spells with flashback, the late game of this control deck is fantastic. There is even a copy of Sphinx's Revelation to truly bury the opponent in card advantage. That said, there is also a lot of cheap removal, so this deck has resiliency to an early creature assault. Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, Lightning Helix, and even Fatal Push are extremely efficient cheap answers. This mix helps give the control deck the edge against aggro. The deck will eventually win the game one way or another once all the opposing threats are dealt with.
If you can't go long against control, or win with an early onslaught of creatures, then how do you beat this deck? Well, there are decks in the format that can kind of just ignore most of the cards in the Jeskai Control deck. For instance, the Green-White Hexproof strategy plays creatures that can't be answered by these spot removal spells. Another strong strategy against control is Dredge, as pretty much the only way to beat it from the control side is a card like Rest in Peace post-board. However, both Dredge and Hexproof Auras aren't super popular, so once again it makes sense why control is in a good spot.
While Jeskai Control and four-color variations are the most popular control decks, there are certainly other directions you can go. I want to talk about some control decks that are not established archetypes yet. Do we really need to be stretching our mana base, or can we go back to two-color control decks? When we think of control decks in Modern they usually play blue, but this one is not. I helped popularize White-Black Control in Standard, and now the deck may be transitioning over to Modern.
This deck has a lot of cards that may seem a bit strange in the main deck, but we are talking about a deck that was able to earn a trophy on Magic Online, so clearly there is something here. This is mostly a Superfriends deck, with a large variety of planeswalkers that can kill and disrupt the opponent. We see a variety of different Gideon, though I believe the most powerful one to be Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which is why there are three copies. These planeswalkers can turn into a creature and attack, so even though there aren't many creatures in the deck, Gideon serves as a good win condition.
The singleton copies of Liliana of the Veil, Ob Nixilis Reignited and Sorin, Grim Nemesis may seem a bit random, but sometimes you need to be able to find a very specific planeswalker. Each one provides the deck another unique effect, and variety is a good thing if it doesn't hurt your mana curve. I do think if I were building the deck myself I would include more copies of Liliana, just because she is a three-mana card that has been proven to be extremely powerful in Modern.
Cryptbreaker is here as a card that can take over the game if you play it one turn one, but I'm not sure this plan will be good enough. My issue with Cryptbreaker is the opponent will likely kill it on turn one, and later in the game it isn't a good draw. Without a huge Zombie theme, I'm not sure it's good enough here, though I would like Cryptbreaker to see play in Modern. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet makes more sense as a card that can get out of hand alongside removal effects.
I like the various forms of removal in the deck. Control decks need a critical mass of removal to be able to deal with opposing early creatures, especially when you want a clear board to land a planeswalker. Collective Brutality doubles as both hand disruption and removal, so it is going to be very good in most situations. This deck doesn't have that much card advantage, but Night's Whisper fills the role of cheap card draw. Lingering Souls makes blockers to protect planeswalkers, and is an all-around good card that should fit into any White-Black Control deck quite nicely.
What stands out here are the main deck Leylines. Playing Leylines in the main is a big gamble, because they are generally either going to very good or very bad. This both depends if they are in your opening hand and what deck the opponent is playing. Normally, they are better once you have a better idea of what's in the opponent's deck. However, if you feel like you are in a known metagame full of decks relying on their graveyard, it does make sense to main deck Leyline of the Void. The Leylines will often get sideboarded out, and if nothing else you can discard them to Collective Brutality.
It may be that by only playing only two colors there aren't quite enough good cards to fill out the deck, although I think the deck could be constructed slightly differently to make it better than this list. In any case, you can build other non-blue control decks, with Mardu being another reasonable direction to go in. Once you decide to play the Mardu colors there are a couple directions you can choose to go in – this one aims to abuse Young Pyromancer and Bedlam Reveler.
Young Pyromancer and Bedlam Reveler both that want to be played alongside cheap noncreature spells, and the same can be said for Monastery Swiftspear. In a deck like this, the idea it to have a few high-impact creatures that have an extremely high upside, and then build around them. Both removal and discard spells fit perfectly, and while discard spells don't always see play in control decks because they are bad topdecks, they are very good here.
We see a combination of Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize and even Kolaghan's Command as ways of targeting the opponent's hand. I'm a bit surprised to not see Collective Brutality in the mix as well. Kolaghan's Command serves more than one purpose, as all the modes can be relevant. This deck doesn't want to flood, because there aren't many expensive cards, but it does want to pile up spells in the graveyard.
Enter Faithless Looting. We generally don't see Looting outside of dedicated combo decks, yet it is quite good in this deck. While Faithless Looting is technically losing you a card when you cast it, once you can play a Bedlam Reveler you will be very happy to have cast the Faithless Looting earlier in the game. Initially I was surprised to see the full four copies of Bedlam Reveler since you don't want to draw two in the same hand, but you can always loot one away, which is nice. This deck wants to play a ton of one-mana spells, which allows for big turns involving Young Pyromancer.
I'm a bit surprised that there aren't any Fatal Pushes in the main deck, and instead there is more of an emphasis on burn to you more closing power once the opponent is at a low life total. Forked Bolt isn't a card we see all that much in Modern, though it can kill multiple one-toughness creatures in the right matchup. The single Blood Moon main deck may seem a little out of place, but it isn't that bad since this deck is primarily black-red – the only white cards are Lingering Souls and Lightning Helix.
Blood Moon is a card you want access to because it will hurt your opponent more than you. This deck can still function with a Blood Moon in play, while some decks can't say the same. Here we see the Leyline of the Void in the sideboard, which seems like a safer place to have them.
Thanks for reading,