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Running American Control in the Post Ban Modern World!

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

In case you lost internet for a few weeks, Wizards announced that they have banned Deathrite Shaman and unbanned Wild Nacatl and… Bitterblossom!?! Unfortunately Born of the Gods didn’t give us anything really spicy so it looks like the deck won’t be changing too much…or would it?

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While Deathrite is one of the key cards against American Control players. All three abilities hurt us, it slowed our clock, put a clock on us and ate Snapcaster targets. It also helped to power out a turn two Liliana of the Veil. While a turn one Deathrite dies to a Bolt or a Helix an Electrolyze is too slow and a Path to Exile is counterproductive. While I’m happy to see him go, he wasn’t impossible to deal with as a creature but I can see the reason that with him and Bitterblossom in Jund, it would probably have really made the deck too good.

Now, for the bad news, Wild Nacatl is unbanned, so I expect a good amount of Domain Zoo and Kibler Zoo (Midrange Naya) decks to start popping up. Even if the deck isn’t considered tier 1 by some, (I do) Zoo type decks have always been popular! Believe me when PTQ season comes, you should be prepared for it. The biggest problem with Zoo decks is that four toughness creatures like Loxodon Smiter are a beating and Thrun, the Last Troll is an absolute nightmare. Geist of Saint Traft becomes a 2/2 that hits with a 4/4 flier for one turn.

Now for the really bad news, Bitterblossm is unbanned! This means we will start seeing three types of decks emerge: b/w tokens, Faeries, and B/x/x control with Bitterblossom. This card is bad for UWR midrange because it blocks Geist, shuts off Vendilion Clique, and unless we are on the play and they are without a Thoughtseize, it will likely resolve and stay on board for game one. I thought about putting two Thundermaw Hellkites but at five mana versus Thoughtseizes, Paths, pump spells like Honor of the Pure, and countermagic it doesn’t look good for the Geist mid-range in this new modern format.

So what to do? Luckily for me, there is a similar deck that doesn’t require too many cards that I think is a solid tier 1, the American Control deck. Let me explain why with some modifications this deck will be a good choice for either GP Richmond or the PTQ season.

(Note: I’m still debating those slots, the deck viewer shows an eighteen card sideboard, but I am trying to figure out if Thundermaw Hellkite, Baneslayer Angel, Pyroclasm or Anger of the Gods are the most correct cards to play in the board!)

Changes to consider

Anger of the Gods: Pyroclasm has generally been the sweeper of choice for this deck and I still think it might be the right class however, many Zoo (Wild Nacatl) have 3 toughness and if tokens can manage to get out 2 pump spells, Pyroclasm seems a lot worse. Exiling also helps a bunch versus Melira pod which I think will also be a popular deck. Volcanic Fallout is an option if Faeries become dominant.

Graveyard hate: With Deathrite getting the banhammer and joining Bloodbraid Elf in Legacy, I feel there will be somewhat of a resurgence of graveyard based decks. Groyo’s Vengeance style decks, Living End, and Loam/Vengevine decks. With these decks we have generally three choices against them when it comes to the sideboard. Grafdigger’s Cage (which also hits pod), Rest in Peace (hits goyfs, but turns Snapcaster into just a 2/1 with flash, and Surgical Extraction (my least favorite but having it as a surprise does have its benefits). I suggest at least two probably three graveyard hate cards for the new modern meta because people will try these strategies with the Elf Shaman out of the picture. I personally like Rest in Peace better because Cage is dead versus Living End (brings creatures back from Exile, not the graveyard). So I’m looking at probably a 2/1 split between RIP and Surgical.

Spell Snare: I really think that a minimum of three is the right number to play, maybe even four. Between Bitterblossoms, Voice of Resurgence, Tarmogoyf and others this card hoses fast strategies to help us establish control for the late game.

Engineered Explosives: I am really starting to think that this card is main deck worthy in lieu of board sweepers. It can be a 2 mana sweeper for tokens, actually kill the Bitterblossom/Honor of the Pure/Intangible Virtue, helps versus Affinity, and help us stall versus Zoo.

The New Match-ups

The Zoo Match-up: American Control plays either 2-3 Board sweepers which can do a lot of work against Zoo, while they are slow (turn 4) we can easily buy time with Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, and Paths. Before the Nacatl ban, I remember playing four Helix and Snapcasters against Zoo and that really favored us. Many Control decks only play two now but I am thinking three might be the right number depending on your meta. Save burn for Manlands if possible because sweepers can take care of the rest. Plus it is a decent card against Affinity which is another popular deck.

I feel that Baneslayer Angel is a great card for the Zoo match-up, they either have to have two burn spells or the Path (which they sometimes board out second game).

The Faeries/Token Match-up: I’m not going to lie this is looking to be a hard match-up, especially tokens because our removal is trading 1 for 2 or 1 for 3 at times. I think the key is to stay alive with Electrolyzes and Snapcaster, so we can get some value. Faeries can be tricky but I really think it’s winnable. The key is to utilize Electrolyze, Bolt, Helix and save Paths for Mistbind Clique. Volcanic Fallout might be necessary depending on how many counterspells they play.

Here is the Thudnermaw versus Baneslayer debate: If you’re expecting more Zoo in your metagame, I’d stay stick with the Angel (which I recommend because Bitterblossom’s price is quite absurd right now) but if tokens/faeries are more popular, then the Dragon might be the wiser choice.

I took my new control deck to a GPT this weekend at Curio Cavern in Springfield, VA hoping it would yield me the same results as it did last time before the “new” modern era. Boy, was I in for a treat!

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After coming back from my 2nd GPT I learned a few lessons about the deck and about playing Magic in general.

I wanted to test this deck so I decided no matter what happens I was going to play the day out, for me that turned out to be a cringe worthy 2-4 day (including a game loss for a misregistered Deck). I showed up late and scribbled my deck list and played my first round while I was still out of breath and completely not focused on the match-up. Then I found out that because I was in such a hurry, my registration had an error and I got a game loss to start round 2, not exactly the best way to begin a tournament. After going 0-2, I decided to stay and test my match-ups and watch other people to learn more about this new format that we have.

The positives were that I did manage to squeeze in 2 match-ups versus Zoo and 1 against B/W Tokens. (Of course I lost all three which tells me that my build was very sup-optimal)

The issues I had with this deck all day was the lack of spot removal, Zoo often lands a turn 1 Goblin Guide followed up Nacatls and Steepe Lynxes which you have to answer right away, even with Engineered Explosives in the main deck, I felt that it was too slow because turn three I’m already back peddling. And if they are on two mana Goyfs, Qasali Pridemage, and Knight of the Reliquary, I feel that the mass removal simply doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. There were times that a Path to Exile would have won me the game but because I cut the amount down to two, I never drew it and died to a 7/7 knight.

One may think that after a wrath effect, Zoo would be completely set back to the stone age, that’s what I thought too but I was wrong. A good zoo player never overextends, for example one game he held two uncracked fetchlands on the battlefield for the post wrath … I wrathed, he landfalled four times on a Steppe Lynx and won. Also many zoo decks play 4 Boros Charms, sometimes a Nacatl and Tarmogoyf can go call the way with a Boros Charm when they essentially counter your mass-removal spell for two mana. (or deal four to your face)

Against B/W tokens, I didn’t feel that this was a completely terrible match up but a turn two Bitterblossom when I’m on the draw is pretty hard to come back from when they have targeted discard and I’m trying to “control” the game with 1 for 1 removal spells.

I still managed to beat Affinity and U/R delver which is good, I’ve played against Affinity about 5 times now at modern GPT/GP Side events and I’m a good 5-0. Affinity is a popular deck and I would never cut any Stony Silence from the sideboard, having a high percentage match-up versus a popular deck is always a good thing when heading into a 1200+ GP (which I fully expect from GP: Richmond).

So what now?

Conclusion: Adapt (go back) and overcome.

While I won’t have many opportunities to practice, I think I’m going to go back to an all-in Geist version of this deck. I wish I could practice with Brimaz (he’s a legend and if you have a Eijano Castle, opponents need to deal six damage to get rid of him) as a two of or even replacing Geist altogether, but I’ll leave that to the Pros in Valencia. If you have any experience playing with Brimaz, please comment below or message me and let me know how it went. Here is my updated list, I feel that a full targeted removal suite is great for this metagame. Zoo players almost generally fall to 14 from two fetchlands and two shocklands every game. A hit with a Geist, a Lightning Bolt, and Snapcaster Bolt is enough to do the trick sometimes against that.

Here’s my list that I’ll likely be playing at the GP pending Valencia surprises:

Thanks for reading!

-Wen

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