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Deck Spotlight - Sultai Control

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Those of you who regularly read and follow my articles may have noticed that this Deck Spotlight is a bit late? No? Well, anyhow, I deliberately delayed this article a couple of days since I really wanted to cover some interesting decklists from the Pro Tour, since there are always some cool breakthrough decks that appear during the PT weekend.

I was playing a lot of Magic during the weekend which prevented me from following the PT coverage live, so I had a lot of catching up to do when I finally found some time. I started with the top 8 decklists and matches, obviously, and since six Mardu vehicles in the top 8 isn't really my definition of exciting, I started digging into the 18-30 points Standard decklists hoping I might find something interesting among the top performers, if not in the top 8 itself.

After going through all the lists, I was pretty disappointed with the lack of creativity at Pro Tour Dublin. While going through the lists I felt that there are over 60% Mardu vehicles, followed by B/G constrictor and B/G delirium. Other than these three archetypes, there were sprinkles of Saheeli combo in different variations, as well as couple of G/W tokens, U/R(w) control and B/R aggro decks. Few would say that this metagame was interesting or exciting, but if we look at it realistically, we can really say that this metagame is actually pretty balanced. We have pretty much everything: aggro, midrange control and combo are all represented more or less, which didn't really happen for quite some time. Obviously, Mardu vehicles was overrepresented for the metagame to really be healthy, but now that we know what the metagame looks like and vehicles develop a nice red crosshair on the forehead we can expect it won't be so oppressively strong anymore. All of you probably know what is the usual answer to the question: 'What archetype thrives in a known metagame?'

Why, yes, it is control! Control decks have more than enough tools to fight the aggro menace, and the fight should be far closer than it seems to be from the PT results.

While the control decks still have to adapt to the state of the Standard right now, there were some brave souls who ran control at the Pro Tour and persevered. The most interesting one, and the most interesting list among all the 18+ point Standard decklists is definitely this one:

Torrential Gearhulk
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

This Sultai delirium control list was played by Jun Ishihara to a 8-2 (24 points) Standard result, which is not a small feat at the Pro Tour, and is definitely something that gives a lot of credibility to his list.  If someone would tell me about 'Sultai delirium control', my first thought would be B/G delirium splashing for a few Negates or some other blue cards, but here we can see this is not the case. Ishihara's deck is a completely different affair, putting more focus on the 'control' and less on the 'delirium' part of its name.

Even though seven removal spells and four counter spells might not seem like a whole lot, we must take into consideration the fact that Torrential Gearhulk adds to the numbers in no meager way. The fact that the Gearhulks can be tutored by Traverse the Ulvenwald (and Vessel of Nascency somewhat) as well as returned from the graveyard by both Liliana, the Last Hope and the Grapple with the Past essentially means that this deck rarely runs out of removal or counterspells as long as it has enough mana and Gearhulks to operate. Glimmer of Genius is there once again to make sure that you have those, gluing together all the parts of the machine, while also giving you the pleasure of flashing it back with Torrential Gearhulk, which is simply a cathartic experience.

While control elements in the deck are plentiful and somewhat obvious additions, delirium elements might be a bit less obvious. Besides the aforementioned Traverse the Ulvenwald, we have two main deck and one sideboard copy of Ishkanah, the Grafwidow, a card that is renowned for stopping the creature decks but fell out of favor somewhat lately. This might be a period where Ishkanah is made great again due to the efficiency it has against various threats Mardu vehicles present. The other two delirium cards we see in the list are both heavy metagame calls. Pick the Brain is an obvious nod to the Saheeli Rai combo deck, but also efficient against other control decks and some fringe strategies like Improvise. Since the combo wasn't really as popular at the Pro Tour, maybe Pick the Brain deserved a sideboard slot rather than a main deck one for this particular tournament, but in a more random metagame, I would keep it main deck. The last one of the bunch, but certainly not the least - To the Slaughter. This is a card I never liked, since 'edict' or any other 'opponent chooses' effects do not always do what you want, and this would also be the case here, if it wasn't for the delirium part - killing a planeswalker. Mardu vehicles runs Gideons, B/G decks run Liliana, Nissa and/or other planeswalkers in the sideboard and these cards are their best tools to fight control. Having an instant that deals with planeswalkers other than a counterspell is very important, since it gives you a lot of flexibility, while also making Torrential Gearhulks even more menacing. To the Slaughter looks really good in this metagame and shouldn't be underestimated.

The sideboard hides another To the Slaughter, which comes as no surprise, as well as one additional Ishkanah, two additional Fatal Push, Appetite for the Unnatural, one Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Yahenni's Expertise, which tells us that Ishihara was well prepared for Mardu vehicles and other aggressive decks. The rest of the sideboard is there for slower decks and it consists of a third copy of Pick the Brain, Overwhelming Denial (an amazing card), Negate and Transgress the Mind. I am not a huge fan of one-ofs, but all of these are complimenting the cards already in the main deck, simply adjusting the numbers to better fit the matchup, and the plan stays the same. The only card from the sideboard left unmentioned is Grim Flayer who is here to take advantage of the less removal heavy matchups and the fact that some of your opponents might shave some of the burn and other removal that targets smaller creatures after sideboard. Grim Flayer is usable as both offense and defense and is a card that will often come in from the sideboard when you are on the play.

The game plan is a rather straightforward control plan where you use your removal and counterspells to mitigate any early life loss and prevent your opponent from getting a serious board presence. Once that phase is over, you start taking over the game with big efficient creatures and card advantage that these creatures provide in combination with recursion and card draw spells. This is nothing out of the ordinary for a control deck, but I just feel this one does it very efficiently thanks to Traverse the Ulvenwald which somewhat turns land slots into value in the late game.

Conclusion

Even though the bottom line isn't very different than what we are used to from the control decks, the approach Ishihara took for this particular list is very interesting and should be developed on. I believe the metagame is moving to a point where it will be in a balance between aggro, control and combo and this type of deck is exactly what control needs to tip the scales in its favor.

Good luck and have fun!

Stjepan Sučić
Stjepan Sucic

About Stjepan Sučić

Stjepan started his Magic career in 2003, and had some decent finishes over the years, including a World Magic Cup top 8, Pro Tour and Worlds top 32 finishes, and a GP top 8, with 61 pro points total.

During the summer months he is also a Magic Online grinder who you can easily find in the draft queues. Stjepan boasts a 74% win rate in his real life Magic career. When he is not playing Magic, Stjepan enjoys watching Starcraft and playing MOBA games.

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