In this last installment we’re going to wrap up our discussion of Standard Control decks by talking about Card Advantage; the ways that card advantage is generated, how control decks use it to beat us, and how we can use it to beat them. 

A lot of the decisive spells we talked about last section, cards like Outpost Siege, Nissa, Worldwaker, and Genesis Hydra, generate card advantage.

The reason card advantage is often so powerful against a control opponent is because usually the non-control opponent is the beatdown, that is to say he is pressuring the control opponent’s life total. When a non-control opponent is attacking via both aggressive creatures and card advantage, it forces the control opponent to deal with him on two fronts. Its all about keeping pressure on the field and gas in the hand. If you don’t know what I mean yet you will by the end of this.

If you have missed the previous posts in this series:

Card Advantage

Card advantage in an abstract sense is when you utilize your resources to generate more resources. This could be a card like Divination.

Cards like Divination create card advantage that is non-interactive. This card is one of the purest examples of card advantage in a vacuum, you’re using three mana and a card to draw two cards, with no investments on your opponents part.

However, there are more interactive sorts of card advantage. Like,

Bile Blight, if you’re lucky, can net you a “two-for-one.” That’s when you use one of your cards to deal with two of your opponents. At the beginning of the game this can seem of little consequence, but it can also lead to a later point in the game where your opponent has run out of questions to ask, and you still have answers in hand.

That is exactly the situation that the control deck is trying to maneuver into. See, if you don’t play two cards with the same name, then you can’t get two-for-oned by Bile Blight. But if you hold your second Seeker of the Way in hand all game, you’re not going to apply enough pressure to end the game.

So you have to find a balance, and keep yourself from overextending.

How Esper Gets Card Advantage

Control decks are going to gain card advantage in one of three ways,

1. Draw Spells:

Draw spells are non-interactive card advantage. Control decks use this to play games where the removal doesn’t generate card advantage. They will one-for-one all your spells and then use draw spells to “reload,” leaving you relying on the top of your deck.

2. Threats:

Cards like Dragonlord Ojutai, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, help control decks generate card advantage while pressuring the opponents life total. These cards work in tandem to provide current Esper Dragons list with something not many control decks have, the ability to transition seamlessly into the beatdown early in the game if your opponent stumbles.

3. Board Wipes:

Cards like Crux of Fate, End Hostilities, and Perilous Vault will generate two-for-one’s and beyond depending on how much you extend into them.


How much is too much?

Again, we come back to a motif of my articles. It’s all up to the context, and in the end you’re going to have to make a judgment call.

But there are a couple of things you can keep in mind when wondering how much to extend into the board.

What Board Wipes Do They Have?

If you have reason to believe that they’re on Crux of Fate, then playing a mix of Dragons and Non-Dragons can help to complicate your opponent’s decisions.

If they have two black open early on, it is probably not worth playing two early drops of the same name, lest you be Bile Blighted. That is, unless you think you can’t win the game without doing just that. Sometimes you’ve got to make them have it.

If you think that they’re leaning hard on Perilous Vault,  then often you have more time to do damage with the cards on the board, and can at least see the board wipe from a mile away. You can use this as an indicator to hold back, or get in for those last crucial points of damage, depending on how fast your creatures can get in.

What Kind of Threats Do You Have

Haste creatures can help you get valuable points of damage in before the boardwipe comes down.

Dash is an ability that conveniently gets around boardwipes. More commonly played than my pet card above is Kolaghan, Storm’s Fury. The ability to get in for damage, and avoid sorcery speed removal can be invaluable when the opponent is leaning on board wipes.

I’m going to be keeping my eye out for Strike Leaders future, for the record, especially once Goblin Rabblemaster takes his leave. I can see myself slotting it into a lot of my early Battle for Zendikar brews, and having played with the card a lot I can tell you that it’s sorely undervalued.

Keeping cards in hand can be crucial, especially decisive spells. If you can extend just enough so that your opponent is forced to boardwipe, and you can follow that up with an uncontested decisive spell the next turn, then you’re in a good position.

Closing Edict

All is not so simple anymore. Dragonlord Ojutai’s prevalence in control decks makes Esper be able to assume the beatdown quite seamlessly, with an extremely difficult to remove dragon. Being able to hit them with a stray Hero’s Downfall is quite difficult. That puts Edicts in a special position to help deal with Esper Dragons.

Crackling Doom punishes the Esper Dragons player severely for tapping out on turn five to play Dragonlord Ojutai, while also dealing some nice coincidental damage. That’s why I’m going to be on the same Mardu Dragons list I played at GP Providence til Origins comes out and

Languish messes everything up.

Anyway, Esper Dragons isn’t going anywhere, so let me know in the comments if there’s anything I missed that you’d like to hear more about.

Til next time.

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