Standard is developing into a format that supports a wide range of strategies. While midrange and aggro decks may be seeing a bit more play than control decks, I believe there are a bunch of ways for control decks to succeed. Many do want to be base-blue because of the presence of Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise, but there are also some non-blue options as well. The control deck which has had the most success is UB Control, but many may already be aware of this deck, so I'm going to be looking into some more unique options.
Are there viable Sultai Control decks? The answer is definitely yes, but the question of how to go about building Sultai Control. Let's start by checking out a unique take which 4-0'd a Magic Online Daily in the hands of Allartus, and is about two cards off from the list Frank Lepore created and played in his article:
This is not a typical Sultai Control deck; it is really more of a Villainous Wealth deck. Rather than trying to win with a creature like Prognostic Sphinx, the primary plan is Dictate of Karametra plus Villainous Wealth. There are very few deck which can actually effectively use a ton of mana, except for perhaps decks like Green Devotion. Most of the time though it is possible to set up an end step Dictate of Karametra and then fire off a big Villainous Wealth. The one issue with the plan is its weakness to Counterspells. The other big spell which Dictate of Karametra enables is In Garruk's Wake. This card can absolutely wreck midrange decks like Abzan which rely heavily on planeswalkers.
The big spells provide win conditions, but outside of that this just a normal Sultai Control base. A more normal Sultai Control deck looks like the one Riley Curran played at SCG Columbus:
Here Riley has opted to play more planeswalkers alongside Prognostic Sphinx as a win condition. Personally, I think that Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is severely underplayed right now. There are certainly arguments for playing it in UB Control, but there it is more difficult to protect, and doesn't work very well with Perilous Vault. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is easier to protect in this deck because of creatures like Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid which hold the ground. The interaction with AEtherspouts is particularly nice, as putting your opponents creatures on top of their deck and then taking them away with Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver can be an absolute blowout.
AEtherspouts is one of those cards that is seemingly never respected or played around from the opposing side. Usually it is seen as a one of but I like the fact the Riley is running two copies. Without any other board sweeper AEtherspouts is one of the main ways this deck is able to buy time versus aggressive decks. In addition, decks like UW heroic can be annoying because of protection cards Gods Willing, and AEtherspouts is a way of getting around this. Sultai Control isn't a heavily played deck, which means that opposing players won't know what's in the deck, and you can use this to your advantage.
Being able to play Sylvan Caryatid in a control deck is a big deal, as this card is better the more controlling the deck. Other non-green control decks first of all aren't green and can't cast it, but besides that those decks usually have sweepers which interact poorly with Sylvan Caryatid. Being able to have access to ramp often allows something like Kiora, the Crashing Wave or a Prognostic Sphinx to be cast a turn earlier. Prognostic Sphinx can be great versus a deck like Jeskai Burn, but it is important to realize the existence of Crackling Doom. In a similar way Kiora, the Crashing Wave is awesome when left unchecked, but is extremely vulnerable to burn and creatures with haste.
One addition that I am a fan of in this list is the Garruk, Apex Predator. This is a planeswalker that isn't getting the respect it deserves right now, and I would love to see it being played in more decks. In a midrange world this is one of the best trump card you can have. Many of this decks removal spells like Sultai Charm and Hero's Downfall trade one-for-one, so having more cards that gain automatic card advantage is a good thing. Of course one of those types of cards is Dig Through Time which allows you to find one-ofs like Garruk, Apex Predator. In this format it seems that all blue controls opt to play Dig Through Time as the card advantage spell of choice, or maybe not all...
I want to move away from Sultai and onto a deck that caught my attention recently, Temur Control. No not Temur Aggro or Midrange, but control. Here is the deck that recently 4-0'd a daily event on Magic Online in the hands of yu-ki:
I have a lot of love for this decklist, and yu-ki has proven the deck is not just fun, it is actually quite good. For starters we are seeing the presence of Treasure Cruise here, rather than Dig Though Time. Treasure Cruise's power has been felt in other formats and it may just be a matter of time before the same is true for Standard. With all the scry effects in the deck, yu-ki wants the extra cards more than additional forms of card selection.
Alright let's talk about the creature base. To start off what better creature than Hornet Nest? This card is a red aggro decks worst nightmare, and alongside all the burn spells it can generate a ton of flying deathtouch creatures very easily. Hornet Nest works well alongside a spell like Anger of the Gods which can net you the insects at the same time as wrathing the opponent's board. Besides Horne Nest the four copies of Savage Knuckleblade are here, as this guy is good in whatever sort of Temur shell you want to incorporate him in. Having a creature which is large and extremely difficult to kill later in the game is exactly what the deck wants.
There are also two copies of Polukranos, World Eater and two copies of Surrak Dragonclaw. Surrak Dragonclaw having flash is huge, because it is more likely that opposing players will be forced to attack into a Surrak Dragonclaw because this deck is so controlling. Polukranos, World Eater seems like a big catch-all creature, that can be another valuable way of dealing with smaller guys.
Let me point out that this deck is exactly base-red/green, with blue almost being more of a splash color, for more controlling elements. Yes, there are a number of blue cards in the deck but they all only cost one blue mana, where there are also double green and triple red cards. A spell like Fated Conflagration is quite strong, but its mana cost has always been one of the reasons it hasn't seen a ton of play. Both the fact that this can deal five damage to either player, and that it allows you to scry two, makes this an undercosted effect for four mana. In a way Fated Conflagration is taking the place of Crater's Claws in a more aggressive shell.
This deck is able to incorporate a lot of two mana burn spells, which are one of the reason's the deck can usually get to the late game. This deck is one of the classic ways of incorporating counters, burn spells, and large efficient creatures all in one deck. And oh wait there is more! There is the burn your own Hornet Nest to make lots of insects plan, or just the win with old school card drawing plan, in the form of Treasure Cruise. For those players looking for a deck that is capable of attacking from a number of different angles I would recommend trying out Temur Control.
There are a variety of control decks in the format, but I am only going to cover one more right now. That deck is Blue/Red Control. Here is a little bit of a different take on the deck played by Mikael Magnusson:
Mikael called this deck "Dig Through Lightning" though I have seen versions of the deck that aren't so reliant on the Riddle of Lightning. This is the ultimate Burn/Control deck as Mikael isn't even bothering playing a Pearl Lake Ancient. His only creature is the one copy of Keranos, God of Storms. This leaves the question: Is he playing enough win conditions? For example here is a realistic scenario. Your opponent has successfully cast an Utter End on the Keranos, God of Storms, and gained some life through a Siege Rhino and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, can we still burn our opponent out?
Well, the Riddle of Lightnings are likely to target the opponents, and a lot of time this means dealing them eight. One key here is that it is usually not too difficult to play one scry effect before the Riddle so that you can ensure a big flip of the Riddle of Lightning, by already knowing what's on top. However, one of the biggest win conditions here are actually the Mindswipes. Mindswipe can pretty regularly end up dealing over ten damage, and the fact that it doubles as a Counterspell means that this card is not just used as a burn spell. Besides the big burn spells there are also Magma Jets and Lightning Strikes which can kill creatures early and provide the last points of burn late. In addition, cheap two mana spells help fill up the graveyard and enable the delve cards.
Not only is Mikael playing the to-be-expected four copies of Dig Through Time, but he also has two Treasure Cruises. His plan is to just draw more cards than the opponent. Steam Augury is another card draw spell which doubles as a good way of filling up the graveyard. Once a couple of the delve spells have been cast, typically you can set up a hand that is consistently protected by Counterspells. He is even playing Evolving Wilds and extra fetchlands, to make sure his Treasure Cruises and Dig Through Times are cheap.
One card I like a lot in the sideboard are the Hordeling Outbursts. Opponents will be taking out their removal, so this card allows the deck to transform a little bit after board, as well as being one of the best cards to have versus aggressive decks like Monored, because of all their one toughness creatures. The sideboard provides a variety of extra win conditions in case the opponents are bringing in Counterspells. For players looking for a pure control deck that isn't UB, I would recommend trying Blue/Red. I have seen a few different builds of the deck pop up, and it is hard to advocate for one in particular because the deck is still unproven, but I do believe it has a lot of potential.
Thanks for reading,