I had planned on taking a break from discussing Modern to write about M15 Limited and the Team Draft League performance of my team, Arts and Leisure Suits. I have notes, observations, and strong convictions about the format, and spent the last weekend watching Pro Tour M15, with hope that the pros’ take on the format would shed some light, and a closing argument, to my article. What I found instead was a giant Sphinx’s Revelation burying the Pro Tour in card advantage.

This isn’t an anti-control rant. I love, and have loved, control decks. One of my earliest competitive decks was a blue/white deck that abused Browse and Soldevi Digger. This deck bears similar qualities to the blue/white build that Ivan Floch rode to victory this weekend, in that it holds little concern with whatever is going on with the opponent’s side of the table. If there were permanents that weren’t lands, it calmly and methodically swept them from the table. And when the dust would settle, I would have seven cards in hand to my opponent’s zero, and the battlefield was serene: nothing but lands aplenty, my little Soldevi Digger, and clear air. Which is exactly when Kjeldoran Outpost would begin its slow, inevitable token production.

Usually the opponent just concedes. Otherwise, flashing a hand of Wrath of God, Swords to Plowshares, Counterspell, Force of Will, and infinite recursion via Soldevi Digger would just end the game. You never won, but your opponents always scooped them up. The deck pissed everyone off, because it didn’t actually do anything except stop your opponent from playing Magic.

The blue/white deck Ivan Floch played is a beautiful control deck, perfectly suited to a Standard metagame full of creatures and marginal sources of card advantage. In Floch’s very capable hands it seemed rarely a contest. The deck quite simply dominated the tournament. And when he won I was not the least bit surprised, even though I futilely rooted against him whenever he was featured. Not because I hate control players, or control decks, but because I wanted to believe the Azorius package Wizards printed back in Return to Ravnica could be undone. That Sphinx’s Revelation—an absurdly powerful card in the format, and arguably a mistake (R&D debated on whether to make it a sorcery or an instant)—was not still the best finisher. That in Sphinx’s Rev’s twilight, a month before rotating out of Standard, we would see a prophetic strategy emerge for the next generation of Standard magic.

But everything I witnessed proved otherwise. Return to Ravnica’s card-for-card power level overshadowed an entire block of cards: Theros, aside from Thoughtseize and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, which conveniently were all in the same deck until earlier this year. When Esper Control was outclassed by blue/white control, a deck with better mana and fewer hard win conditions—not to mention the potential to go infinite—I sensed Standard was in trouble. A deck that could easily rely on playing only planeswalkers and one non-land permanent, Detention Sphere (a card later cut in favor of the better Planar Cleansing), was a deck operating on an entirely different axis than the rest of the format. So long as it draws reasonably well, the pre-determined sequencing package of the deck’s core—Azorius Charm into Divination into Jace, Architect of Thought/Supreme Verdict into Elspeth, Sun’s Champion/Planar Cleansing into Sphinx’s Revelation—takes a mountain of luck and perfect draws by any creature-based deck to overwhelm. And the reliance on strong, consistent sequencing without a single turn lost to a misstep has proven unreasonable in the face of such a powerful control deck. Even The Pantheon’s white/black strategy, championed by Owen Turtenwald, hung its tail between its Pack Rat legs in the icy face of Sphinx’s Revelation.

Watching his opponents not concede to Floch must have been an exercise in withstanding humiliation. Because there is no way of coming back from your opponent Rev-ing for ten on your end step. It was hard to watch, and while they each played valiantly, I never believed anyone stood a chance.

My frustration comes at a very inopportune moment, as Wizards has just announced the next year of Pro Tours, where the only constructed format supported is Standard. And with the new regional PTQ system in place at the end of 2014, the formats I have become infatuated with, Modern and Legacy, have been shoved into the background in favor of a calculated business decision to focus wholly on their grandest economic source. If Wizards supports a format that sells less packs, they endanger the velocity of their most valuable economic transaction. They profit nothing for every Tarmogoyf sold on the secondary market. It makes sense when I remind myself of this, but it nevertheless disappoints me.

Moreover, there seem to be fewer eternal-format Grand Prix next year when compared to those hosting Limited and Standard formats. Compound this with the practical consideration of travel expenses, and I can foresee myself playing less competitive Modern next year than I hope to. It’s quite a shock to me, considering the push for Modern by the Mothership these past 12 months.

So, I am forced to engage in Standard, and now have to resolve this future with myself. I know I am not the only one who hopes that, with the release of Khans of Tarkir, Wizards will print some really awesome cards that will inspire me to commit myself to the format. I believe that so long as they are willing to consider a power level that will feed Modern and Legacy in conjunction with Standard, that we will be happy to talk business. Otherwise, it may very well be a begrudging future for some of us.

We are now in the twilight of the reign Sphinx’s Revelation has wielded on Standard, and I could not be happier to witness its departure—and the entire Azorius package that was so inconceivably unleashed along with it. I struggle with the notion that modern magic, where creatures wield the most power, can still be clouded by a deck that shares little with the convictions of its era. If a deck can dominate an environment with a minimum of interactive spells, we may as well be playing against a combo deck.

Farewell, Sphinx’s Revelation. You may be a beautiful and powerful card, but don’t let the sun burn your ass on the way out.

After a ten-year lapse from Magic, where his favorite combo was Tradewind Rider with Stasis, Derek is back to learn the new-border variant of the game. While less frustrating cards have been printed, he now has to get used to planeswalkers, and people rolling dice when he resolves Hymn to Tourach. He qualified for the Junior Super Series in 1999 at Pro Tour New York, then used his collection to finance his college education. Years later, he works in the fashion industry as a stylist, consultant, and sometime-matchmaker for brands. He loves all things black leather, and is out to journal his level-ups with hopes of playing at the highest competitive level of the game. You can reach him at [email protected].

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