Featured Deck: Sultai Control - Competitive Meta EventFormat: Standard
Last Updated: 08 Oct 2018
Taking a break from F2P-friendly articles, JackischMTG breaks down the picks and thought process behind the Sultai Control list he ran to a climactic 7-0 finish in the Comp Meta Queue.
Disclosure: This deck is difficult to pilot. Making the correct play consistently requires you to know your deck by heart and your opponents deck incredibly well. If you don’t know nearly every competitive-viable card in standard by memory, this is not a deck you should build.
Before we dive in to today’s write-up - I want to make my typical shameless plug. I stream live on Twitch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, starting around 8:00 PM (EST). I also make myself available on my community discord channel, which you can join here. If you enjoy this deck and want to see more, or perhaps are struggling with the deck and need help, please come join me. I love helping new players, and would be more than willing to talk all things MTG with you. For those who learn new decks best by watching, you can see me go 7-0 in Comp Meta Constructed here.
It’s Friday Morning - I’m sick, my daughter’s sick, and I’m feeling generally lousy. So what do I do? I kick back on the couch and lurk on Nox’s stream, only to hear a bajillion questions about some “Meta Challenge”. Much to my surprise and delight, I had not paid attention to the events listed in the state of the beta, and was suddenly not feeling so terrible at the thought of brewing a control deck to take on the meta. As I said in my last article, I LOVE control, and what better way to put my current knowledge of the format to the test than to brew a control deck on the fly for a high risk, high reward challenge?
Enter my thought process before deck selection. Before even picking colors, I quickly made notes of what I believed would be the dominant decks to watch out for, as well as the most powerful options available to control decks to close out the game. Here’s what I came up with:
Mono Red Burn - This deck is scary good, relatively easy to pilot, and gets free wins. A Classic.
G/x Aggro/Midrange - So many efficient, quality threats with a quick clock
Dimir Surveil - Library Manipulation on almost every card with extra synergies, WCGW?
G/W Tokens - My instinct is there is serious potential here, although I’m uncertain of best build
Teferi Control / Turbo Fog - [[Teferi, Hero of Dominaria]] has and will remain a power house until it rotates. Period.
I was in a quandary. All 5 of these deck archetypes come from entirely different angles, hardly an easy environment to tailor a control deck to. Just as I was about to give in and jam a 4x Teferi deck, I had an idea. What if we just play the most efficient, utility-packed (with an emphasis on instants), and well-positioned removal along with the best threats in those colors and hope that’s enough to shut down our opponent’s game plan? So I looked over all the available answers (including sideboard tech) in the format, and noticed a serious trend that I could get behind. Barring [[Settle the Wreckage]] and [[Fiery Cannonade]], everything I wanted was in Sultai. This was exciting to me, as I already knew that those colors had access to some well-placed finishers in [[Doom Whisperer]] and [[Carnage Tyrant]]. On top of this, I could also try playing a few copies of my pet card, [[Dryad Greenseeker]], as well as few copies of both [[Vraska, Golgari Queen]] and [[Vraska, Relic Seeker]]. So I set to work play-testing before the event went live.
With the first iterations, I had some serious difficulties. Any well-built, proactive deck I played against, I just couldn’t keep up. At best, I was casting 1 spell a turn. And at worst, I was taking turns off putting a halt to my opponents game plan to accommodate a rather difficult mana base.
Upon deeper review, I noticed some trends and a mistake in my play pattern. First, I was always using turn 1 to play a tapped land, naturally since we don’t have 1 drops. But because our mana base isn’t well supported for control like Grixis is (until [[Breeding Pool]]), I found myself needing to use turn 3 to compensate with an ETB tapped land more often than I would have liked. Second, I would frequently jam my value generating 2 drops ([[Search for Azcanta]] and [[Dryad Greenseeker]]) on curve without a second thought, thinking the sooner I get it down, the sooner it pays off. This was flawed thinking, of course, since every good aggro/midrange deck has such quick clocks that we NEED to stay on top of our opponent’s threats else face being overrun.
I also noticed that, at least in this deck, [[Vraska, Golgari Queen]] wasn’t cutting it. Initially, I looked at the card as a less good [[Liliana of the Veil]] in that we could -3, +2, -3 to get a 2-for-1 with some card filtering on top. But this idea proved to be untenable, as the +2 often required us to sac a land to take advantage of the draw. Even worse, the queen required us to be tapped out for our opponents turn 4 or turn 5 (depending on who was on the play). Nearly all of the most potent threats against us in the format are turn 4 or 5 drops that unequivocally demand a counter spell or immediate removal. Think [[Experimental Frenzy]], [[Nullhide Ferox]], [[Vine Mare]], [[Teferi, Hero of Dominaria]], [[Vivien Reid]], [[Ral, Izzet Viceroy]], [[Doom Whisperer]], [[Karn, Scion of Urza]], [[Nicol Bolas, the Ravager]], [[Trostani Discordant]], and [[Heroic Reinforcements]]. Thus, the queen was dethroned.
So I made a massive overhaul to the curve. If we almost always wanted an interactive two-drop on 2, and sometimes needed two-mana interaction on 3, then I needed to be overweight in our 2 slot. This also allowed us the opportunity to do exactly what I advocated for in my last article, which is get to a place of being able to cast 2 spells a turn as quickly as possible. So I adjusted the list accordingly and immediately noticed the difference. We proceeded to go 7-0 on stream with some rather tight gameplay, resulting in what felt like the most rewarding and dopamine-fueled experience with MTGA that I’ve had to date. Hats off to WotC for the structure of this event!
So enough about the thought process behind this deck. Let’s break down individual picks, as well as what I learned through 7 wins. For simplicity, I’m going to break down the list that includes the changes I made after going 7-0.
2x [[Carnage Tyrant]] - One of the best finishers in the format, I’m seriously considering dropping Relic Seeker in favor of an extra copy here. Nothing says “screw you” to control decks like countering or removing Teferi and slamming this guy on the following turn.
2x [[Doom Whisperer]] - This guy is PUSHED. The power level baked into this card is insane, and you’re insane for being in black and not playing it. The active ability also creates interesting situations to gain more value off of [[Dryad Greenseeker]] and [[Search for Azcanta]] on top of literally stacking your deck for between 2 - 6 life.
1x [[Vraska, Relic Seeker]] - Removal and game finisher, all in one. It’s a great card, but in hindsight, I think I wanted her to be a Carnage Tyrant slightly more often than not. I’m going to give her some more time to just see if those matches were outliers, as we probably only drew her 5 or 6 times? On the other hand, this is our only finisher that we can search for with flipped Azcanta. We clearly need more data here.
Before we get into removal, it’s important for me to note that we are taking the “Brad Nelson” approach of being overly-prepared for the aggro and midrange match-ups in g1 and relegating the majority of our things to be used in the control match-up to the sideboard. I’d argue that Nelson is one of the best Standard players in the world, and I have no interest in questioning his judgement.
3x [[Assassin's Trophy]] - Most versatile removal in the game, so why not 4? Well, we basically never want to cast this on turn 2, except if our opponent plays [[Steel-leaf Champion]], 4/3 [[Knight of Autumn]], or 4/3 [[Jadelight Ranger]], AND we have no other options like [[Cast Down]] or [[Moment of Craving]] (for the latter 2, of course). It’s also worth noting that this card has virtually no downside when use against opposing Doom Whisperer. If the opponent wants to surveil prior to [[Doom Whisperer]] dying, they must decline the land search to keep their deck stacked.
2x [[Cast Down]] - Ever played [[doom blade]]? This card is near that in power level and efficiency. ‘Nuff said.
3x [[Essence Scatter]] - I’ve been so high on this card that at first I was running the full 4. I’ve since decided that alongside the rest of what we have going on, that 3 feels better. Basically, spend 2 mana to prevent almost any creature from sticking, including their ETB effects. You’re always happy when you trade 2 mana and a card for their 2 - 6 mana and their card.
2x [[Moment of Craving]] - This 2-of in the main board is a concession to the aggro match-ups. You need to be scared of low costed creatures that threaten to run away with the game like [[Runaway Steam-Kin]], [[Emmara, soul of the accord]], [[Pelt Collector]], and [[Legion Warboss]]. The residual life gain baked in frequently makes ALL the difference in the burn match-up.
2x [[Murder]] - I initially had this in the sideboard as an alternative to disinformation campaigns, if memory serves me correctly. This is now main-board because of what I said above about Brad Nelson’s approach to Standard. My mistake with disinformation campaign in the main was that it went against the grain with our plan of playing at instant speed, and often sat in our hand way longer than we would have liked against aggro/midrange. More info down below on [[Disinformation Campaign]], and what I’ve learned so far with it.
4x [[Sinister Sabotage]] - One of the best control cards that standard has seen in a long time. Think Dissolve, but better. Also triggers our [[Disinformation Campaign]] for our game plan against Control.
1x [[Eldest Reborn]] - Aside from trading in one of our own Doom Whisperers or Carnage Tyrants, this is one of 3 possible cards that can deal with opposing [[Carnage Tyrant]], which since we are a control deck, are one of the most potent threats against us. Also cleanly deals with a lone [[Vine Mare]] and is generally a great value play, typically worth tapping out for at sorcery speed.
3x [[Vraska's Contempt]] - Takes care of Creatures, Planeswalkers, has Residual Life gain, and Exiles. Do I need to spend more time explaining why all of this combined is good?
2x [[Discovery]] - Accomplishes several things for us, but for this section I want only cover the dispersal half. Dispersal itself is most often used when we are facing down an opposing [[Carnage Tyrant]] or [[Vine Mare]]. Even if we aren’t able to force our opponent to discard the threat we bounce, this card still buys time to find another answer with perhaps an [[azcanta]] activation or our other library manipulating cards.
Deck Manipulation / Card draw:
2x [[Search for Azcanta]] - Arguably one of the most powerful control cards in all of Standard. Azcanta has remained a solid two-of in every blue based control deck since Ixalan was released, and our deck is no exception.
2x [[Dryad Greenseeker]] - Super underrated card that also happens to be one of my pet cards. The pre-rotation meta didn’t seem to support playing Greenseeker, however with the change in meta and the introduction of surveil mechanics, greenseeker could start seeing some consistent play. It’s important to note that it’s often worth guaranteeing a drawn land with surveil because we can always pitch it to jump start a [[chemister's insight]]. I will continue to re-evaluate this pick over the coming weeks and months, as it’s possible that it proves to be not good enough to compete.
3x [[Chemister's Insight]] - The most obvious replacement for [[Glimmer of Genius]], I Initially started with 4 copies. Given the demands of our curve and the fact that jump-start is like having extra copies in the deck, I cut down to 3 and have felt satisfied ever since.
2x [[Discovery]] - Talking over the discovery half of the card now, in g1, we primarily want to use this to find specific things we need. Answers, Threats, Land, whatever.. In post sideboard games, it also serves as a surveil trigger for [[disinformation campaign]] in the relevant match-ups.
Land Base: (25 lands)
This number may need to be bumped up to 26 (if so, replace [[Vraska, Relic Seeker]] with the land), but with so much library manipulation, I think it’s possible that 25 is fine. Another consideration is dropping the memorial to folly in favor of one more island, as this would help bump up our blue source count to where we want it. Until we get breeding pool, sultai is going to have a rather awkward mana base, as we run 4 [[evolving wilds]] to ensure we have an easier time getting to our colors.
Speaking of our colors, let’s quickly cover our most aggressively costed spells and the sources they number of sources they demand from Karsten’s article. Again, Karsten’s 90% recommendation is an arbitrary threshold to aim for, but that’s not the point. The point is to try and make our deck as consistent as possible, and his article is a great practical tool for that purpose.
In Blue, we have [[Sinister Sabotage]], asking for double blue on 3 - 19 Blue Sources is our aim
In Black, we have [[Vraska's contempt]], asking for double black on 4 - 18 Black sources
In Green, we have [[Carnage Tyrant]], asking for double green on 6 - 15 Green sources
What our mana base contains (counting [[evolving wilds]] as 1 or nearly 1 for every color):
18 Blue Sources, 18 Black Sources, 13 Green Sources
Revisiting what was mentioned earlier, if we went up to 26 land, that last land should probably be an island, which would make us on target for both the blue and black thresholds we are aiming for. As for being shy green, this is actually not too bad. When we consider the amount of library manipulation that will likely occur between turns 1 and 6, we are not as far off it might seem, and sometimes we might not be wanting to tap out to cast Carnage on curve anyways. It’s also worth noting that 13 green sources is exactly the prescribed amount for casting a green spell on turn 2 (i.e. [[Dryad Greenseeker]], or if we were forced to, [[Assassin's trophy]]).
Before we talk individual picks, I want to remind you that we are heavily built towards beating aggro and midrange in g1, which will explain why almost everything we talk about in this section will be about beating control. Since not every control deck is the same right now, and we haven’t come across any standard lists, you should know that you will have to intelligently decide how much of our control oriented cards to bring in. The same seems to be true of the mono red match-up, in that some mono-red decks are more creature-based, while others are very much burn oriented. In the latter’s case, we want to bring in ALL of our negates, where the creature based will be variable. Anyways, on with the picks.
2x [[Crafty Cutpurse]] - The jury is still out on this card, but I believe it’s correct vs a card like Golden Demise in the tokens match-up. The reason why is that [[March of the Multitudes]] is nearly always going to be cast on the end step of your turn, meaning that an opponent is going to put a ton of tokens in the red-zone before you ever have a chance to deal with them. I’ve only had one tokens match-up so far with this deck, and Cutpurse never came up, so I have no idea how good this is in practice.
4x [[Disinformation Campaign]] - Comes in alongside our thought erasures against other control decks. The most common control match-up I played against in testing was a classic creatureless U/W teferi list, in which this card is a perfect fit. The reason why is we can cast 1 or 2x of these (depending on who’s on the play) before our opponent gets to 5 mana, at which point we need to be ready to contest an opposing Teferi or Ral in the case of jeskai control. The worst case scenario is that we trade one for a counterspell, which quite honestly is fine because it’s one less counter to fight through in inevitable counter war later in the game.
3x [[Negate]] - Used to be 4 copies in the side before 1 got moved to the main. All 3 always come in against opposing control and burn decks. Nothing feels better than negating an opposing [[risk factor]] or [[experimental frenzy]], since it’s one of the few ways in the burn match-up to trade one-for-one where we are the player who spent less mana.
4x [[Thought Erasure]] - I was running duress prior to bringing on the Disinformation Campaign package. If you take out Disinformation Campaigns, move this back to 4x Duress for the control match-up.
2x [[Moment of Craving]] - Trade one-for-one against burn and aggro while padding your life total. Make sure you only bring this in on the match-ups when you can actually kill a large number of their creatures with a single copy.
That concludes today’s break down. Who knows where the meta will go from here, so make sure you adjust the list according to what you’re seeing. There is a real possibility that as opposing decks become more efficient and refined, Sultai Control will fall off entirely until we get access to Breeding Pool. If you enjoyed this write-up and are also excited about brewing Sultai Control, I encourage you to drop by my discord where we can further refine the list to keep it competitively viable.
Finally, thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of my recent efforts to publish regular articles. I’ve experienced quite a lot of praise and gratitude, much more than I ever expected. Your words, views, likes, and mentioning of my write-ups to others has been so encouraging! Therefore, I plan on making these write-ups a recurring feature here on Aetherhub for the foreseeable future.
Until next time,
EDIT: I'm currently testing the following changes. I'll try to post the results of the testing here, but that won't likely be until Tuesday.
-1 Vraska, Relic Seeker (In favor of another Carnage because it's performed so well)
-2 Dryad Greenseeker (I was up front with y'all about this being a pet card, and I think it's time I try a few iterations without it)
-1 Memorial of Folly (Swapped out for a swamp because I don't like having 5 mandatory ETB tapped lands in such a fast meta)
+1 Carnage Tyrant (Best finisher in green, the only downside in this change is that Vraska has more utility and can be targeted by azcanta)
+1 Chemister's Insight (4th copy to replace the value that I aimed to gain with Greenseeker)
+1 Island (Wanted to try going up to 26 lands)
+1 Swamp (1:1 with Memorial to Folly)
Mainboard - 60 cards (25 distinct)
|Instant, Sorcery, Enchantment, Artifact (28)|
Sideboard - 15 cards (5 distinct)
Mainboard - 60 cards (25 distinct)2 Carnage Tyrant
2 Dryad Greenseeker
2 Doom Whisperer
2 Search for Azcanta
3 Vraska's Contempt
2 Moment of Craving
2 Cast Down
1 The Eldest Reborn
3 Essence Scatter
3 Assassin's Trophy
4 Sinister Sabotage
3 Chemister's Insight
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Evolving Wilds
1 Memorial to Folly
4 Hinterland Harbor
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Watery Grave
1 Vraska, Relic Seeker
Sideboard - 15 cards (5 distinct)2 Crafty Cutpurse
2 Moment of Craving
4 Thought Erasure
4 Disinformation Campaign
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