Taking Control in Frontier

Good morning, it's Matthew again with your weekly Frontier content. After writing about the more “aggressive” lists last week, I thought I'd touch on a few of the control shells for the format.

Sultai Control

Sultai Control used to be a bigger hitter back in Theros and Khans of Tarkir Standard, but enough of the pieces are still around along with new cards from Kaladesh block to power up these old lists.


CREAUTRES [10]
4 Den Protector
3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang

SPELLS [20]
2 Duress
4 Fatal Push
2 Sultai Charm
2 Ruinous Path
3 Disallow
2 Languish
2 Crux of Fate
3 Dig Through Time

PLANESWALKERS [4]
2 Liliana, the Last Hope
1 Garruk, Apex Predator
1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

LANDS [26]
3 Evolving Wilds
4 Polluted Delta
4 Sunken Hollow
3 Island
3 Swamp
1 Forest
1 Yavimaya Coast
1 Llanowar Wastes
3 Hissing Quagmire
3 Lumbering Falls

SIDEBOARD [15]
2 Appetite for the Unnatural
2 Flaying Tendrils
2 Pick the Brain
1 Sultai Charm
2 Negate
2 Overwhelming Denial
2 Cranial Archive
2 Infinite Obliteration

Between Den Protector and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, we build our own Frontier version of Snapcaster Mage. This deck makes use of the graveyard as a second resource, but does not completely rely on it like other Delirium-based strategies. By playing reliable removal spells like Fatal Push and Ruinous Path, backed by sweepers like Languish and Crux of Fate, it's incredibly easy to catch an opponent off-guard and gain control of the game (Ed. note: Pardon the pun).

Landing a Planeswalker of any kind after mopping up the battlefield puts you into the driver seat, and each of the Planeswalkers in this deck have the ability to end the game quickly on their own. Garruk, Apex Predator and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon may be a bit too cute, however, and could appropriately be slotted out for more copies of Liliana, the Last Hope if you are playing in a faster meta. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet gives us maindeck hate for Rally decks—albeit on a body susceptible to Reflector Mage—and a good blocker to try and combat the more aggressive decks.

Flaying Tendrils in the sideboard is to fight the Atarka Red decks, letting us mop up Goblin tokens and any other creature, barring a Kari Zev, Skyship Raider. Appetite for the Unnatural pads our life total and can pick off troublesome artifacts or enchantments like Ensoul Artifact or Smuggler's Copter. Pick the Brain is a good combination of Extract and Distress; this effect is equally good against combo decks that are trying to assemble important pieces and control lists that only have a few ways to actually win the game. Infinite Obliteration and Overwhelming Denial also work for ensuring that decks with very limited ways to win can't get their haymakers out. Cranial Archive is a cheap way to handle other graveyard decks without sacrificing card advantage, and can also be sided in as secret tech against Sphinx's Tutelage decks that are aiming to run your deck out.

Esper Control

Esper Control is always one of those decks you see just outside the Top 8, lurking in the shadows, waiting for just the right build and meta to shine.

CREATURES [6]
4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
2 Torrential Gearhulk

SPELLS [28]
4 Fatal Push
2 Clash of Wills
2 Blessed Alliance
3 Anticipate
2 Stasis Snare
4 Disallow
2 Ojutai's Command
2 Utter End
2 Languish
2 Fumigate
3 Dig Through Time

LANDS [26]
4 Flooded Strand
3 Polluted Delta
3 Sunken Hollow
3 Prairie Stream
4 Island
2 Swamp
3 Plains
4 Shambling Vent

SIDEBOARD [15]
3 Transgress the Mind
2 Hallowed Moonlight
2 Infinite Obliteration
2 Fragmentize
2 Tragic Arrogance
2 Overwhelming Denial
2 Dragonlord Ojutai

More true to the old-fashioned grindy lists then the tempo control decks, this list focuses on efficient removal and hand-filtering to run your opponent out of resources. You get to do this while also ticking up a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or flashing in an end-of-turn Torrential Gearhulk to beat face. Ojutai's Command doubles in utility for this plan by giving you a way to sneak in a Jace at the end of your opponent's turn.

By playing a color “shard” instead of a “wedge” (two allied-color pairs instead of one), we get access to a full array of on-color BFZ land—like Prairie Stream—and Khans fetch lands—like Flooded Strand. With so many fetches, we get near-perfect mana and an easy way to fuel Dig Through Time. We also get access to arguably the best Creature-Land to come out of the BFZ block, Shambling Vent.

Our removal package may seem all over the place, but is fairly powerful when used in tandem. Fatal Push with our high fetchland mana base ensures that we frequently have the Revolt trigger live. Blessed Alliance can mop up troublesome or evasive creatures, while also giving us a way to pad our life total. Stasis Snare gives us an instant speed, unconditional answer to cards that other removal spells struggle to deal with. This includes things like a Darksteel Citadel enchanted by a Tezzeret's Touch, a transformed Westvale Abbey, or an Emrakul, the Promised End.

Disallow and Ojutai's Command are powerful counterspells that let us drudge through most match-ups, and give us some added utility due to the versatility of each card. Disallow can stop a Planeswalker's ultimate if we weren't able to counter the Planeswalker itself, or stop something like a Perilous Vault. Ojutai's Command is great at stopping a Siege Rhino or Reckless Bushwhacker, digging us deeper into our deck, bringing back a Jace, or getting us some life to buy more time. Utter End is a good catch-all card, but could easily be slotted out for cheaper removal spells like Immolating Glare or Silkwrap in a Creature-heavy meta where a four-mana removal spell isn't the best answer.

In the sideboard, we have Dragonlord Ojutai as an alternative win condition when necessary, and Infinite Obliteration and Hallowed Moonlight combat the Rally decks very well. Fragmentize and Tragic Arrogance are similar in effect but serve completely different roles; Fragmentize helps stem bleeding from quicker Ensoul Artifact lists, while Tragic Arrogance is a good sweeper against some of the less popular but hard to answer–archetypes in the format, like Super Friends, Starfield of Nyx, and Metalwork Colossus.

Jeskai Black Cat

By taking the powerful tempo shell of Jeskai Black and injecting the Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai combo, we gain a powerful end-game that keeps opponent on their toes.

CREAUTRES [13]
3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
4 Felidar Guardian
3 Spell Queller
3 Reflector Mage

SPELLS [20]
3 Fatal Push
2 Duress
4 Lightning Strike
2 Anticipate
3 Disallow
2 Kolaghan's Command
3 Dig Through Time

PLANESWALKERS [4]
4 Saheeli Rai

LANDS [24]
2 Wandering Fumarole
1 Shambling Vent
4 Flooded Strand
2 Polluted Delta
2 Bloodstained Mire
2 Prairie Stream
2 Sunken Hollow
1 Smoldering Marsh
3 Island
2 Plains
2 Mountain
1 Swamp

SIDEBOARD [15]
2 Fragmentize
2 Overwhelming Denial
2 Fumigate
3 Radiant Flames
3 Hallowed Moonlight
1 Utter End
2 Tragic Arrogance

Spell Queller is an addition to this list that I am surprised we haven't seen more of. It is an efficient body that can throw your opponent's plan out the window with proper timing and is also a good target for Kolaghan's Command's Disentomb mode. Kolaghan's Command is generally a good card when you are trying to grind out a game; at the end of your opponent's draw step, the instant-speed combination of Disentomb to return a Felidar Guardian and making your opponent discard a card will push you miles ahead the game.

Dig Through Time is being played over Painful Truths or Treasure Cruise in this list because of the combo. Having the lasting threat of just picking up your two combo pieces at the end of your opponent's turn and winning on yours will keep your opponent from tapping out as long as you have a single card in your hand and six lands. It adds a level of inevitability that regular Jeskai Black lists don't have. It's also easy enough to win games with just tempo beats with Reflector Mage, Spell Queller, and your burn spells. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is especially good in this list, as it helps you filter out your draws for more combo pieces or replay burn spells to close out the game.

Our sideboard lets us pivot into the control role with mass removal spells like Radiant Flames and Fumigate. Overwhelming Denial can help push our threats and combo through, or dead stop or opponent if they're trying to push something through. Tragic Arrogance and Utter End are great to cover all your bases in a more diverse meta.

Wrap Up

I hope you enjoyed this look at the control aspect of Frontier. If you have any questions or suggestions for these lists, or want to hear about something specific, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @Mattplaysmagic.

Dillon Matthew Baca, "Matt", is a Magic: the Gathering judge, modern grinder, and the president of MTGDreamTeam. He has been playing Magic on-and-off since Onslaught, joining the competitive scene in Innistrad Block. Matt enjoys brewing control shells and toolbox midrange lists. "Why win the game when I can draw more cards?"

 

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