"One of my most famous decks was a creature deck! The creature was Rainbow Efreet!" - Erik Lauer
My first-ever sanctioned Magic event in 2000 was a Type 1 tournament. I played Mercenaries. There might've been one player with a Black Lotus (price tag: $200) in his deck, another with a Mishra's Workshop (price tag: $45), and one more with an Ancestral Recall (price tag: $100), but for the most part the tournament was basically "Type 2 with a Lotus Petal in It." People played Type 2 decks (my first-ever sanctioned match came against Replenish - you can imagine how fun that was for me at 11) with the cheaper restricted cards in them because people's budgets were really small, and those players that had larger budgets were content to play their one Ancestral Recall in their Type 2 deck in order to keep things competitive.
Somehow, my Mercenaries deck still got completely rolled. The match that stuck out in my head the most, other than my Replenish opponent waiting until he milled his entire deck with Attunement to kill me, was the mono-blue Millstone deck I played against in round three. He countered every single one of my spells before killing me slowly with a Millstone. Since I'd been playing at a Portal-level up to that point, I'd never seen anything like it, and I was immediately hooked. The idea of having the final say over everything my opponent did via countermagic was an attractive one.
That old Millstone deck that beat me in 2000 is lost to the Sands of Time, but there's an infamous deck that operated similarly.
Armed to the teeth with countermagic, Nevinyrral's "break in case of emergency" Disk, and a scant five win conditions (four Stalking Stones, one Rainbow Efreet), all of the controlling, prison-y ideas that piqued my interest while getting slowly milled out in 2000 are present in Randy Buehler's 1998 Worlds deck. My early Magic deck choices gravitated heavily towards control, but that didn't last long ("Force of Will is 20 bucks a pop? That's waaaay too much for one card"), and eventually my fate was decided for me on the backs of Rogue Elephants & Rancors and/or Jackal Pups and Fireblasts.
Once I picked up the aggressive cards, the holes in a hard control strategy began showing themselves. Counterspells aren't very hard to play against – since the control player isn't applying any pressure, the aggressive player has plenty of time to sculpt a hand that plays multiple spells in a turn in an effort to slide something underneath countermagic. As long as your spells are cheaper than their countermagic, this usually works out just fine.
In post-M10, the threats are almost universally cheaper than their respective answers, which essentially renders the idea of a hard control deck obsolete. These days, control decks need to be more proactive. We've seen this most recently in Esper Dragons, and even U/B Control, with its playset of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver coming down quickly, threatening to mill a giant monster and play it at little to no cost.
It's with these ideas in mind that I designed an Esper Control deck for Magic Duels.
Another trend of my early decks was that I never saw a land that came into play tapped that I didn't like. Faerie Conclave, Remote Isle, Saprazzan Skerry – gimme all of 'em. This deck is proof that in 15 years, not much has changed.
Here are the games:
Funny story: I recorded these games a while ago, on a Friday. The next day I played in a PPTQ with U/B Control and accidentally resolved one of my Anticipates as if it was a Telling Time. Man, Telling Time is the worst. Having to keep a card on top feels awful. Problem is, it's still better card selection than anything else at that rate and speed, and sometimes you just need to find a Languish.
These games were not played particularly well, but I was still able to eke out a 3-1 record on the back of some good matchups that I admittedly made a lot closer than they should've been with poor play. I'm happy with the deck, I just didn't play it particularly well. Here's what I'd run going forward if I was looking to play control:
Tragic Arrogance seems like such a great card for a control deck on paper, but the truth is that there's never any reason for someone to overextend against the control deck. The only spot where Tragic Arrogance truly shines is against something like Gaea's Revenge – an admittedly tough card for us to beat – but it still requires our opponent to control another creature, which is far from a given.
Resolving cards like Inspiration and Bone to Ash (essentially a functional reprint of Dismiss) felt just as good as it did in 1998, and I think control has a ton of potential in Magic Duels.
See you next week.