Control. The mere mention of this deck archetype sends people into a frenzy of heated and argumentative discussion. There are people who abhor the dreaded control matchup and cite its pilots as the absolute worst of the worst. They’re unfair, they’re no fun, and the always-valid nickname of “The Fun Police” are just some of the things that are said of control players. On the flipside, control players tout their decks as being ‘fair’ and ‘interactive’, as well as taking much more thought and strategy to pull off than the average deck. Today, I’d like to discuss a little history behind the deck as well as some simple strategies, hopefully shedding some insight into what makes the most argued archetype what it is.
Control cards have existed from the beginning of Magic’s history, with cards like ‘Counterspell’ and ‘Swords to Plowshares’ providing cheap, easy-to-access answers for the threats of yesteryear. As the game evolved and shifted, differing versions of the same cards have been printed to varying degrees of success. Cards like ‘Cryptic Command’ and ‘Mana Leak’ sit atop the high throne of denial, while ‘Path to Exile’ and ‘Terminus’ keep the field clear until control players can lock down their win condition. Understanding how a deck works can be the key to disassembling it, and too many players become frustrated with the experience before allowing themselves to learn from it.
One of Control’s worst matchups is against any aggressive deck. Aggressive decks are able to put threats onboard before a control player has had enough time to finalize a response. The constant pressure of three to five damage a turn can most times be all it takes for a control player to lose… Well, control! Decks such as Zoo, Burn, and variants of Elves can deploy enough of a board presence to send a control player scrambling to find answers.
On the flipside, Control fares very well against midrange and combo decks. Any deck that takes a few turns to set up is best for them because it allows them the time and opportunity to set up their mana and craft their hand into the perfect set of answers. Midrange players should consider looking into keeping speedy threats in their sideboard that they can swap out for their bulkier, often slower creatures when matched up against control. As stated before, an early board presence is a nightmare for control since you can’t counter what’s already on the battlefield.
With all this being said, Control is still a very powerful archetype and it is definitely deserving of being respected and analyzed. It can seem a daunting task to those not used to playing against it, but the deck does have many weaknesses that can be exploited. And if all else fails, make them have the card. You never know when Control is just bluffing a hand filled with lands. Force them to play that counterspell on a lower cost threat so you can sneak out your bigger creature right afterwards. Or, you could always bring every match to time by playing control yourself!