The Options of Blue-Black Control

by Chapman Sim on 09 October 2017, Monday

Chapman Sim

The Options of Blue-Black Control

Hi, everyone,

The World Championship concluded yesterday. What an exciting tournament it was to see twenty four of the best players in the world compete against one another, as well as Team Musashi and Team Genesis. While I had expected Ramunap Red, Temur Energy, and Grixis Control to be the top decks in Standard, my expectations didn't quite pan out in terms of the control deck department. The saving grace was that, despite only one copy of Grixis Control at the World Championships, it was piloted by control master Shota Yasooka.


Drowned Catacomb Fetid Pools Submerged Boneyard

Blue-Black Control was the choice of four out of twenty four players at the World Championship. Despite this small percentage of the metagam compared to Ramunap Red and Temur Energy, it was the best performing deck overall, putting Josh Utter-Leyton and Kelvin Chew in the Top 4, as well as Samuel Black in 6th and Gerry Thompson in 9th.

However, that result includes the Booster Draft portion, which is why I've taken the liberty of displaying their respective records in the Standard Swiss rounds and also listing their decklists:


  • Kelvin Chew (6-2)

  • Samuel Black (5-3)

  • Josh Utter-Leyton (4-4)

  • Gerry Thompson (4-4)


As you can see, with the expection of Kelvin Chew's record, the 5-3 and 4-4 records are just about average. In a narrow metagame such as the World Championship, we need to take these scores with a little pinch of salt.

There are numerous factors that might have caused this. Everyone at the World Championships are excellent players, the best in the world. They've also made metagaming choices that may or may not pan out. I'd like to say that Blue-Black Control isn't just a "so-so" deck, but an excellent one in our new Standard environment.

Let's examine some of the card choices by these four players and analyse the deck a little more!




Search for Azcanta


Search for Azcanta

  • Kelvin Chew (2 main, 0 side)
  • Samuel Black (3 main, 0 side)
  • Josh Utter-Leyton (3 main, 0 side)
  • Gerry Thompson (3 main, 1 side)


Search for Azcanta was the breakout card of the weekend, a card that was responsible for the resurgence of blue decks.

For just two mana, you could drop it on turn two and begin smoothing out your draws, or you could drop it later and transform it into a card selection machine. You can also use it to fill your graveyard with Torrential Gearhulk targets. Since it transforms into an untapped land, it's kind of like mana ramp as well. Drawing multiples isn't entirely terrible, since you can opt not to transform it, keeping both the enchantment and the land in play, to continue scrying and searching for more cards.

The only player to play a fourth copy was Gerry Thompson, while Kelvin Chew had only two copies. Personally, I like the plan of three in the main and one in the side.




Field of Ruin


Field of Ruin

  • Kelvin Chew (1 main, 0 side)
  • Samuel Black (3 main, 0 side)
  • Josh Utter-Leyton (3 main, 1 side)
  • Gerry Thompson (2 main, 1 side)


Field of Ruin has only one purpose, to kill Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, and to a much lesser extent Temple of Aclazotz. Very rarely will you use it to manascrew an opponent or manafix yourself. I believe the inclusion of this card was for the mirror match strictly.

In a matchup where leaving Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin unchecked for just a few turns can mean game over. The value of a couple of cards can make or break the matchup, which is why it was also noted that Shota Yasooka actually chose to draw in the control mirror. Needless to say, if you're not ready with Field of Ruin, you will most likely lose to the one or two additional activations unless
you are ahead on the board with The Scarab God or Torrential Gearhulk.

Personally, I like Josh Utter-Leyton's configuration of choice (3 main, 1 side) since the manabase is relatively stable. Playing an additional land in the sideboard is what I like to do in the control mirror match, because there is an old saying that "whomever misses a land drop first loses". While not always true, I like to be up one more land in the mirror match.

Essence Extraction Contraband Kingpin Gifted Aetherborn


Ramunap Red Hatecard


The four players running Blue-Black Control anticipated a lot of Ramunap Red in the metagame, some more than others. Because of that, they had a different configuration of hate cards dedicated towards that matchup. In particular, Essence Extraction isn't particularly great in the mirror or against Temur Energy, leading me to categorise that card together with the Ramunap Red hate cards. The choice between the number of Essence Extraction will depend on the metagame you expect.

However, the issue I wish to discuss is between the creature of choice. A lifelink creature forces Ramunap Red to deal with it immediately, even if Samuel Black decline to play any of those. Personally, I dislike Kelvin Chew's choice of Gifted Aetherborn.

As a three-toughness creature, it can be dealt with via Lightning Strike or Abrade. Contraband Kingpin survives those eight burn spells, while still being able to block a whole bunch of creatures in that matchup, particularly Bomat Courier, Kari Zev, Skyship Raider's token, and also Earthshaker Khenra. Interestingly, you also get to scry 1 from Torrential Gearhulk when Contraband Kingpin is on the battlefield.


Evolving Wilds

More importantly, the casting cost is also much easier on the mana. Coming up with BB is much more difficult that UB on turn two. As you can see, Kelvin Chew's mana base suffers in that regard. He has less Evolving Wilds (which plays a pivotal role in transforming [[TAG_CARD_NAME="Search for Azcanta"]], and also less Field of Ruin for the mirror match.  To me, that is a huge sacrifice. 


Carnage Tyrant Vizier of Many Faces

However, a very important thing to note is that, a 2/3 deathtouch creature deals with Carnage Tyrant, which is probably a hedge which Kelvin Chew was going for. Other players had to play Vizier of Many Faces, but he had one sideboard card rolled up into one against two matchups.

At the moment, I am undecided which is better. If Dinosaurs prove popular and Carnage Tyrant becomes an imminent threat, I will go with Gifted Aetherborn. Otherwise, Contraband Kingpin is better for the overall mana base to improve myself against mirrors.

The Scarab God Torrential Gearhulk


Win Condition


Against decks without Essence Scatter and Vraska's Contempt, running out of win conditions is very real in the mirror so you have to navigate them carefully. The risk of library death is quite real. Two players chose the 3/2 split while the other two chose the 2/3 split.

Personally, I'd like to find a spot to include another win condition, possibly a planeswalker (Shota Yasooka had Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh in his maindeck).

Other Notable Cards (Interestingly None Blue)


Duress Arguel's Blood Fast Treasure Map


  • All four players ran four copies of Duress in the sideboard. Plain, effectively, simple, and potent in the control mirror match and one of the most important additions of Ixalan to Standard.

  • With the exception of Gerry Thompson, all players played one copy of Arguel's Blood Fast in the sideboard. It is a great card in the mirror match, a matchup that doesn't care that much about life. One copy is the correct number, since you'll never want to draw a second copy which is really dreadful.

  • Josh Utter-Leyton was the only player running Treasure Map. It feels like a really slow Ancestral Vision that even suspends your card draw. However, that card is really great in the mirror. Not only will you have excess mana to fight counterwars, it is also basically a four-for-one, since you get a land and three cards out of it. An excellent one-off that I will be happy to play.

Liliana's Defeat Bontu's Last Reckoning Gonti, Lord of Luxury


  • Gerry Thompson was the only player running Liliana's Defeat, a card which I feel is misplaced in the metagame. I will be happier running something else, such as another threat, or another hate card against Ramunap Red, or another Negate if planeswalkers and mirror matches are an issue.

  • Kelvin Chew was one of two players who played with Bontu's Last Reckoning. The other player was Shota Yasooka. Having one Damnation in your deck is not bad. Ideally, you want to use it on turn five or six, such that you can also leave mana open so can kill or counter a threat. That way, you won't actually get killed while you're being Time Walked. It's also a great card against Carnage Tyrant.

  • Gonti, Lord of Luxury might be old tech but it's still great for any grindy matchup. It has deathtouch, which, again, means it's good against Carnage Tyrant.

Harsh Scrutiny Doomfall


  • Samuel Black was the only player with Harsh Scrutiny. I don't think it is a bad card but I do think it is risky to have more than one copy. It is still possible to miss in the mirror if you fire it off on turn four (before your opponent reaches five mana for The Scarab God). However, it is great against Ramunap Red and Temur Energy. As a one-mana spell, it buys you a lot of time to help you stabilize.

  • Kelvin Chew was the only player who ran Doomfall. With the full playset of Duress already, that card's hand disruption capability is less of an issue. It's great for exilingThe Scarab God or Carnage Tyrant on an empty board, but I would much rather have Vraska's Contempt in its place.



That's all my sharing for today. I have been preparing hard for my upcoming Nationals and I hope I can do well this weekend. Just a few more days as the reigning Singapore National Champion. Naturally, I hope to do well enough to at least get back on the team or defend my title. Regardless, I will be happy to share the list I am playing this weekend.

More importantly, hearty congratulations to my buddy, Kelvin Chew. You've done MTG Mint Card and the Singapore Magic community very proud!

The Traveling Philosopher,
Chapman Sim

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