This weekend was the Charlotte Modern Grand Prix and this deck piloted by Zac Elsik made it to the Top 16:

DECKID=1241565

This brew looks really sweet, fun to play, and I'm sure it took a lot of work to build. I think this deck is awesome and takes creativity, but I would never recommend this type of deck for a Grand Prix. Here are a few reasons why playing a Control deck in Modern is a bad idea.

  1. Control decks are by definition reactive, they have removal, counters, and some ways to get card advantage. In Modern though the creatures are too powerful, they do too much, and they often have enters-the-battlefield abilities that give an advantage even if they are killed. Not to mention that they are under costed. Take a look Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Tarmogoyf, Wild Nacatl, Siege Rhino, Snapcaster Mage, and Dark Confidant. All examples of extremely powerful creatures that have to die immediately or they run away with the game, and the best removal spells out of UW, for example, would be Path to Exile, Dismember, and Supreme Verdict. These removal spells just don't cut it. You can't play too many Dismember without black mana, so let's say you have one copy. If you don't have your one copy and your opponent plays a Dark Confidant on turn two, you're pretty screwed, even if you kill it after getting hit and it triggering twice you are usually too far behind. Their deck is designed to punish your resources with Liliana of the Veil and discard spells while playing cheap, powerful creatures.
  2. With so many different combo decks in Modern that require different hate cards, a reactive deck like UW control just doesn't have enough sideboard slots to hate all of them effectively.

These are the various combo or decks needed to be sideboarded against in Modern:

UR/x Twin
Affinity
Goryo's Vengeance
Monored Burn
Ad Nauseum
Gr Tron
Storm
Infect
Boggles
Amulet

For a reactive deck that's trying to survive you need to have silver bullets for all the linear decks you're going to play against, with only 15 sideboard cards the access to these bullets is very limited. With proactive decks they can play some silver bullets, but they are not relying to draw them in order to win. Monored Burn doesn't need to draw the Combust or the Rending Volley to beat the Twin deck. They can just burn Twin out, just playing their game plan, which is a close matchup either way. The same goes the other way; Twin can just combo on the Burn deck without needing the Dragon's Claw, or whatever their hate may be.

3. There are no good ways to get card advantage out of the control decks. Ancestral Vision and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are both banned and there isn't much to punish someone for falling behind. There are cards like Sphinx's Revelation but those cards are very expensive, and if your opponent has Liliana of the Veil, Fulminator Mage, and even just a discard spell you are never going to resolve one for enough to get you back in the game. Control decks usually play more lands than the opponent which means that, unless you have very solid ways of getting card advantage in the late game, every time you play a land, your opponent pulls ahead; even though the only thing that matters is drawing spells, you are less likely to do so if you have 25-26 lands to their 20-22 lands. The only advantage you really get is if you have a very low count of creatures, then most of the removal your opponent draws is close to useless while your removal is invaluable.

Let's talk about ways to build control in Modern. Take a look at Patrick Chapin's 9th place Grixis deck:

DECKID=1241641

Patrick has made his name by building Control decks his entire career. He has played all the way up from Cruel Ultimatum Control with 28 lands to this deck. If we take a look at this list it has 21 lands, four Serum Visions, four Thought Scours, and two large threats in Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler. While still retaining its control elements, the deck is proactive to its core. Aggro/Control is the best term I can come up with for this deck and Snapcaster Mage is possibly the best Aggro/Control creature in the game. Cryptic Command, Kolaghan's Command, and Lightning Bolt give the ability for this deck to go from "I will kill and counter all your creatures" to "I will burn you out and Cryptic Command to finish you off." This is a very powerful tool against reactive and proactive decks.

These decks are a blast to play and have always been my favorite archetype. My first Constructed deck was Merfolk, and quickly I moved to Faeries, UW Delver, then UWR Delver in Modern, to the UWR Control deck that I ran at my first World Championship. Over the years, playing these Aggro/Control decks, I've gotten very good at knowing when to act aggressively and when to be more passive and maintain control of the game. My biggest strength in the game is the ability to tell when I can lock up the game by getting aggressive. For example, instead of holding the burn spells in hand I switch gears, burn their face, and play Cryptic Command as a Falter / Boomerang card.

I know it sounds very black and white; one time you are control and the next aggro. Simple? Not even close. If you choose the wrong path, you just Lightning Bolted their face and then died to a Vendilion Clique three turns later; pretty punishing, huh? Playing an Aggro/Control deck is more of an art than any other archetype in the game. All of them take different skills, but going from one end of the spectrum to another, then back to the other, or just staying in the middle for a bit is the reason I fell in love with the game in the first place.

I wished I played a deck similar to Patrick's last weekend; instead I played Jund, the most boring deck in Modern. It's very good and, at worst, tier 1.5 but it's not a deck I would enjoy writing about. As one with so many articles written on it already, instead I'm going to build an Aggro/Control deck that I will most likely play at the next Modern event and will continue to work on in the future. Here it is:

DECKID=1241961

This deck is more like it! The real reason to play black over white is Tasigur, the Golden Fang. This card basically does everything you need it to: it gets you card advantage once you are stabilized, it blocks extremely well, and it is very cheap to cast with the rest of your cheap spells. You usually play him for one or two mana and leave up mana for a counter spell or removal spell. He is also quite resilient with Lightning Bolt, Electrolyze, Kolaghan's Command, and Abrupt Decay being the biggest ones that don't kill him. He is perfect for this deck in every way. Sometimes you even get to stabilize the board at the end of turn, untap, and play Blood Moon and Tasigur on the same turn.

All that is cute, but the biggest reason this card is so strong right now is it blocks Tarmogoyf like a champ. Tarmogoyf has always been a huge problem for control decks; it can get in play under counters and be Lightning Bolt proof the rest of the game. They discard your hard removal, play Tarmogoyf before your counters get online, and you fall behind very quickly. I'm not saying the deck still doesn't have this problem but having nonlinear cards that help you solve it is so valuable. After all, that's what non combo decks in Modern are all about: finding answers to multiple questions in one card.

This weekend I'm going to Grand Prix Providence and the format is Standard. Though I have not decided what I will be playing yet, it's most likely going to be a deck I have yet to play in a tournament, which means not Burn and not Esper Dragons. Maybe a Blue/Black Control deck or an Abzan deck, either aggro or control. If it was tomorrow I would play Abzan Aggro:

DECKID=1241962

After this weekend I'm going back to Israel for a short break and to see my family. My next event will be in Montreal for the Grand Prix, but I hope to see everyone in Providence!

Shahar