'Control' is a strategy that focuses its efforts on repeatedly eliminating threats deployed by their opponents, often with forms of removal, mass removal, and countermagic. Control decks focus on reactive gameplay rather than proactive gameplay, depleting each enemy's reserve of powerful cards and resources before deploying their own game-ending effects.
Popular Cards & Commanders
Popular control cards include:
Common control commanders include:
A control deck has a simple goal: prevent opponents from developing their gameplans while simultaneously gaining incremental advantage. Once the coast is clear, then they can move to win the game themselves.
- Control decks contain a significant number of diverse removal spells to answer opponents' threats and keeping board states in check. This often includes a high amount of countermagic, which prevent opponents from establishing their plans in a meaningful way. Control decks particularly enjoy low-cost forms of removal (such as ) so that they may spend minimal resources to remove cards their opponents have invested lots of mana into.
- Control decks in Commander also use an above-average number of mass removal spells (such as and }. These cards help scale to multiple enemies and solve multiple problems at once, resulting in positive card economy for the control player as their opponents lose many game pieces at the cost of a single spell.
- Control decks commonly prefer flexible removal spells that can target multiple permanent types, especially at instant speed, which allows them to respond to various or unpredictable board states (for instance, . Contrarily, control decks may also use 'silver bullet' cards that vastly disrupt very specific enemy strategies, even if those spells are not very effective against other archetypes (for instance, using to disrupt Reanimator strategies or to stall out Storm decks).
Card Draw/Value Engines
- Control decks require a steady influx of card draw to keep their hands fueled, so that they may both find more removal spells to handle enemy threats and also outpace their enemies' resources. Control decks often employ a combination of slower card advantage spells that will accumulate many cards over a long period of time (for example, ) or spells that help refill their hand with a very high number of cards (such as ). Flexible cards that can fulfill these roles as well as the role of removal are especially helpful for a control player (see ).
- Control decks may also occasionally use planeswalkers as a source of these advantages, since they may provide consistent benefit over the course of many turns. Recursion effects may also be used by the control player, to reclaim their already-used spells and prepare to use them again against persistent enemy threats.
- Control decks tend to shy away from sorcery-speed effects that provide card advantage, preferring to keep mana available in case they must use a removal spell on an enemy card later on in the turn cycle. Control players may choose to make use of abilities such as to increase their flexibility in this manner.
Winning the Game
- Control decks tend not to deploy their lethal or game-ending effects until they have exhausted their opponents' resources, and feel secure in their ability to keep their win condition protected from enemy responses. Control decks tend not to run a high number of win condition cards in their decks, assured in the knowledge that they will eventually draw those win condition cards over the course of a long game anyway. Win conditions may vary for each control deck, sometimes deploying a single, enormous creature, casting one game-ending spell, assembling a lethal combo, or using Alternate Win Cards.
Control as a Sub-Theme
While some decks are specifically dedicated to the control strategy, others archetypes employ strong elements of control to assist their plans in a more peripheral way. Archetypes that may use control as a secondary plan include:
Strengths and Weaknesses
- Control decks are among the most interactive archetypes in the format, rewarding clever players who correctly predict the plans of their enemies while preventing other opponents from ever accessing their deck's most powerful potential.
- Control decks tend not to commit many game pieces to the battlefield, sometimes using no creatures at all, which can cause several cards (especially removal spells) in enemy decks to have almost zero impact on their plans.
- Control decks are nearly unmatched in their ability to achieve victory over a longer game, owing largely to the amount of card advantage they can accrue over an extended time.
- Control cannot respond to every problem. With multiple enemies, any attempt to remove every threat at the table will cause the control player to run out of removal spells too quickly. This problem becomes compounded if the control player is unable to find a steady stream of card advantage, as they cannot keep parity against multiple enemies at once without a consistent influx of spells that help them stabilize the board.
- Multiple enemies also can cause some difficulty in assessing the most threatening opponent at any given time. The high-variance nature of the Commander format can create unpredictable scenarios that make it difficult for a control player to adequately prepare themselves against.
- Control decks are slow. Fast-paced decks, especially aggro strategies, can sometimes deal lethal damage to control players before they have a chance to properly set up any plans.
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