Word on the street is that this is one of the best standard formats ever. There are essentially no “oppressive” decks, and with the three- and four- mana slots being core to every deck, there’s just enough space to get under decks with aggression and enough time to get over them as they play their tap lands. The result is that all sorts of decks are viable, apparently.

The GP Denver top 8 had six different archetypes, and every basic land was represented. I watched the top 8 after hearing that my friend Ed Nguyen had snuck in with the awesome Mardu Aggro deck that was created and refined in Portland by Cody Lingelbach and the Draft-PDX team. Although Ed lost in the quarters, the top 8 was pretty interesting… until the finals.

The finals involved Andrew Brown’s Dimir control deck, with three win conditions, doggedly boring Matt Sperling and his exciting Abzhan Aggro deck to death. I wanted to appreciate the purity of Andrew’s deck, and the extraordinary way the deck was positioned in the format, but I mostly found it torturous to watch.

After all, I had just spent the entire previous day playing basically the same deck in a PTQ. I finished very bored and in 24th place, losing two very good matchups to awkward draws and some loose play, and getting an unintentional draw against U/W control when we ran out of time before I could formally close out a won game. It was a miserable tournament.

This format is full of really cool cards, decks that attack on all sorts of neat angles and use sweet synergies, and subtle manabases. The best deck for winning game, though, is Dimir Control hands down. Every match I played with the deck, I felt favored. The format has diverse decks, but the awkward lands and predominance of three- and four-drops make it extremely easy to assemble the correct answers, deploy them in a reasonable time frame, and get to the mid-game where card draw spells can take over.

It’s a control players dream! A control deck wants four things: answers that line up well with the format’s threats, efficient card draw at instant speed, an invulnerable win condition, and some kind of board sweeper.

Hero’s Downfall and Dissolve match up very well in a format full of midrange cards.

Dig Through Time is a dream come true for a control deck, offering flexible mana cost, card advantage, and excellent card selection.

Pearl Lake Ancient is slow and awkward, but extremely difficult to kill, and relatively quick to close games.

Perilous Vault looks awful. Truly awful. But it kills everything from monstrous Fleecemane Lions to Planeswalkers to Jeskai Ascendancy‘s, it does it at instant speed, and there are very few ways to truly take advantage of the tap-out turn in Khans Standard.

This all begs the question: why is no one playing this deck? Ten years ago, a control deck with such dominant answers would be terrifically popular. The deck would be massively metagamed against itself by necessity!

I have a few possible explanations:

1. This format is too fun to play a boring deck. Ultimately, we all play Magic for fun. Even people who rely on Magic for their primary income could make more money if they devoted themselves to poker or got a desk job somewhere. It’s possible that Khans of Tarkir Standard is just so full of fun cards that people can’t bring themselves to play Radiant’s Fountain. If this explanation is true, I don’t think I understand the Magic community anymore… but I’m not necessarily sad about that.

2. Dimir Control has remained under the radar. The Pros haven’t had important tournaments using Standard since early December, and control decks don’t show themselves off: they require skilled pilots to demonstrate their value. Perhaps the format didn’t crystallize sufficiently to be attacked by a control deck until recently. Control decks are precise instruments, and they need to know what environment they will be operating in to be effective.

3. Control isn’t cool anymore. I actually think this might be a big part of what’s happening. Magic has grown and expanded wildly in the last few years, and although Sphinx’s Revelation and Supreme Verdict made sure that control decks were an important part of the Standard landscape for much of that time, they never had the sort of stranglehold on the format that control decks have occupied historically. Somewhere along the way, did control stop being the preferred strategy of competitive players?

There is a long line of truly oppressive control decks in Magic history, and competitive players from every era learned that winning and controlling were so often synonymous that we all tried to find every format’s control deck first. From The Deck to Counterpost, from Morphling to Psychatog, and as understood by anyone who played Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Standard… control was the way.

Hey, everyone! CONTROL IS BACK! Put away your four-mana creatures that die to removal and get on the friggin bandwagon!

Or don’t. It’s ok. If we all agree that Dimir control isn’t good, maybe we can enjoy this diverse, fun Standard for a few more weeks.

But something about it just doesn’t feel right.

Gabe Carleton-Barnes has been playing Magic for over 20 years, mostly as a PTQ grinder and intermittently as a Pro Tour competitor. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Open Source web developer by day, Gabe lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for three years. While there, he failed to make a documentary about competitive Magic but succeeded in deepening his obsession with the game. Gabe is now a ringleader and community-builder for the competitive Magic scene in Portland, wielding old-timey slang and tired cliches to motivate kids half his age to drive with him to tournaments.

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