Control is back in limited Magic!
I had one of the most exciting Prerelease weekends in recent memory, thanks to the epic shenanigans brought by the Silumgar brood’s Exploit mechanic. Sure, the sealed pools were especially bonkers given the seeded booster pack containing 14 on-color cards for the dragonlord we chose to follow (ex. my choice of Silumgar gave me 14 blue and black cards all in one booster, one being a foily blue/black promo rare), but that just allowed us to dive deeper into experiencing the new Dragons of Tarkir set.
I played sealed events at two great local game stores – Gamer’s Gauntlet in Clinton Township and Stadium Cards & Comics in Ypsilanti (Michigan) – and chose the Silumgar pack for both. I originally intended to run Silumgar for only one event and try a different color pair for the other, but abusing the Exploit mechanic was too much fun for me to only play with it once. Interestingly, I found that the two decks played differently, even though they both contained many of the same cards. It only took a few key cards differing in each deck to completely alter the approaches I took to controlling my opponent and paving the road to victory.
I ended up 4-1-1 in the first event and had a 4-2 record for the second, splitting the Top 8 prize in each. The whole weekend was a blast – I won more than a booster box’s worth of Dragons of Tarkir (DTK) packs, played some fantastic limited Magic with old friends, and gained deep insight into the value-crazy control archetype for DTK/Fate Reforged limited. Read all about my DTK Prerelease exploits, below.
Day One: Gamer’s Gauntlet, 4-1-1 (8th place)
As you’ll see better once you finish reading this article, blue/black control in DTK/Fate limited can produce two different styles of play, depending on which color is most dominant. This deck relied heavily on the black portion of the color pie, focusing on graveyard recursion, -X/-X removal, and zombie token generation.
What if I told you that for 5 mana (4 colorless, 1 black) and a nearly-useless creature, you could get a 3/6 creature, TWO 2/2 zombie tokens, and draw a card? Sounds pretty epic, right? Well that’s just playing Rakshasa Gravecaller and exploiting a Palace Familiar or Jeskai Sage. Give up one tiny creature and get the MEGA-VALUE of three creatures and a new card!
What about paying 4 mana (3 colorless, 1 black) and sacrificing a 1/1 creature to get a 2/3 flyer, a 2/2 manifest creature, and a Sign in Blood effect (draw 2 cards, lose 2 life)? Cast Vulturous Aven exploiting a Sultai Emissary – a virtual 4-for-1.5 (.5 for the 2 life cost)! INSANE VALUE!
Value-tastic plays like these happened multiple times each game, enabled by the awesome fact that these cards are just commons and uncommons! My deck on Day One only had three rares (granted, Deathbringer Regent is insane, but I only had it in one game the whole day) and four uncommons, with the remaining 16 cards being lowly commons. I also had a pair of Silumgar Butcher giving targets -3/-3 with an exploit exploited and a Gurmag Drowner exploiting me up some card advantage, both cards being found at the common rarity.
Of course, these decks needed fodder to exploit for maximum advantage, and the set is full of fantastic options. Besides my favorite card in the entire block, Palace Familiar, there’s Dutiful Attendant trading up for a previously-defeated value-making creature.
The fodder serves double purpose, however. As you prepare to generate an incredible amount of card advantage with the higher-costed exploit creatures, your cheaper creatures awaiting sacrifice can soak up early damage to ensure you make it to the late game. It’s no little act to chump one of those huge green creatures with your Palace Familiar to save 4-6 damage and draw a card. Sure, you might not get to eat the owl for exploit value, but saving some life and still getting the can trip will make any control mage happy. The exploiting creatures can always exploit themselves to still get the effect. Paying 5 mana to get two 2/2 zombies (if you exploit a Gravecaller to itself) is still decent, but as you’ll see below the blue exploit creatures are better prepared to fall on their own sword.
As I said before, this deck was primarily a black deck, evidenced by the sheer number of 2/2 zombie tokens I made throughout the day. The zombie count raised (pun intended!) beyond 20, thanks to the bomb rare graveyard recursion card Foul Renewal, which doesn’t seem like it should exist. Only four mana to Gravedigger something good AND neuter/kill an opponent’s creature…at instant speed! You opponent plays his 6/6 dragon, and at the end of his turn you play Foul Renewal to get back your Rakshasa Gravecaller and give the dragon -6/-6 (Gravecaller’s toughness is 6! huge butts ftw!), and then on your turn you play the Gravecaller and make two 2/2 zombies. I’m bad at math, but that sounds like an epic 4-for-1 to me.
Day Two: Stadium Cards & Comics, 4-2 (split 8th place)
If Day One was all about the black side of Silumgar, on Day Two I played the role of the Dragonlord’s blue mage. The deck played like a pure control deck, featuring the following classic spells and tricks:
Now, I bet you’re thinking, “None of those cards are in DTK or Fate Reforged. We’re you playing with an illegal deck?” That’s a fair question, but no, my deck was illegal (although the pool was pretty broken, just look at all those Defeat and Ultimate Price!). All of these spells are on creatures in the form of exploit mechanic effects:
These cards basically said “in addition to getting the effect of this awesome control spell, you can sacrifice another creature to make a better creature too!” I often played Silumgar Sorcerer as simply a 1UU creature counterspell, sacrificing it to its exploit ability. Other times I flashed it out at the end of my opponent’s turn to start bringing the pain with a 2/1 flying creature. The same went for casting and exploiting Sidisi’s Faithful just to bounce something without care for keeping the 0/4 body, or casting it without exploiting to have some early defense. That’s the beauty of the exploit mechanic – you get good spells on good creatures, and you can choose to take advantage of either or both roles.
This deck relied a bit more on uncommons and bomb rares, but still consisted of 12 common cards, so we’re not talking about an impossible feat to replicate in a booster draft. While Day One focused on making zombies and recurring creatures from the yard, this deck involved counterspells, bouncing permanents, and being generally tricksy and controlling. Rite of Undoing and Supplant Form gave me opportunities to save my creatures, temporarily remove my opponent’s pesky permanents, and replay value cards like Aven Surveyor and Sidisi, Undead Vizier (aka Demonic Tutor with upside, if that’s even possible) for even more play.
Silumgar gives control mages opportunities for great shenanigans. In one game I played Sidisi and exploited to find a card, then cast Supplant Form on it to get a 2nd Sidisi exploit effect, played the Sidisi card again (that was bounced to my hand from Supplant Form) for another search, and then later cast Rite of Undoing choosing to bounce Sidisi as my nonland permanent and cast it again. Four Demonic Tutors in one game! Unfortunately this was all while my opponent had Citadel Siege out, and I lost the attrition war because I didn’t have an answer to it in my entire pool, let alone my deck. My opponent kept drawing creatures that immediately grew to the Siege’s Dragons option, and I couldn’t get enough damage through in time (I was forced to use Sidisi’s exploit ability to find removal for ever-growing creatures instead of more creatures to push damage through).
Take Aways from the Prerelease
– Defeat is a Sorcery, but it should be an Instant. I unintentionally played it as an Instant twice before an opponent noticed on the third time that it was a Sorcery. 1B to kill a small creature is very Instant-like, especially when cards like Smother and Doom Blade come to mind when I think of Defeat.
– Control is difficult to play no matter the format, and mental stamina drains even when you’re having fun. I made a giant misplay out of nowhere on Day Two that almost cost me the chance to play for prizes. I’ll discuss this in depth in a later post.
– Sometimes it’s a fine move to exploit a creature to its own exploit ability. You might be in a position where you just need to see more cards, or the only other creature currently on your board is better than a vanilla 2/4, so go ahead and sacrifice that Gurmag Drowner to itself to get its exploit effect. All the exploit cards give you the option to just be a spell. NOTE: if the exploit creature comes into play to be the only one on your side of the table, your opponent can kill it with the exploit trigger on the stack, preventing you from having a creature to sacrifice and stopping the exploit ability from resolving (ex. if they kill the Gurmag Drowner after you play it, before you’re able to sacrifice it to the exploit trigger, you just paid 3U to have your opponent discard a removal spell instead of the Forbidden Alchemy effect).
– Although DTK appears straight-forward and compartmentalized by color pair, there are many angles to take within each color pair depending on which color is predominant in the deck.
– DTK in general is a two-color set, which feels significantly different from the 3+ color decks we’ve been playing with Khans of Tarkir. Even so, I noticed that most of the powerful cards in DTK still only require one mana of a color, so splashing a third color is not difficult despite the lack of good mana-fixing cards in the set. If you look at my two decks above, you’ll see very few cards requiring two mana of one color.
Moving from Seeded Sealed to Booster Draft
Let’s look at Silumgar from the booster draft perspective. All of the synergy from both of my decks came mostly from commons and uncommons: Rakshasa Gravecaller and Silumgar Sorcerer are uncommons; Sidisi’s Faithful, Silumgar Butcher, and Aven Surveyor are all commons; and nearly all of the cheap exploit fodder like Palace Familiar, Sultai Emissary, and Dutiful Attendant are commons. This means it will not be hard to find yourself picking up multiple exploit creatures and plenty of creatures to clog up the board until you’re ready to sacrifice them for extra value. It obviously doesn’t hurt to grab a bomb like Sidisi or the Dragonlord Silumgar himself, but the power level of these lower rarity cards shows how easy a control mage could build a trick-filled (yet quite aggressive) deck in a draft.
Like playing control but hate fragile spell-filled draft decks? Draft Silumgar, where the creatures themselves are the control spells. It will likely be common in DTK/Fate limited to have blue-black control decks having 15-16 aggressive value creatures and only 5-7 spells, a dramatic reversal from the traditional control decks of a few walls and a ton of spells with one or two finishers.
I had a blast playing Silumgar at the Prerelease events and look forward to drafting blue-black control in the future. It’s exciting to see a new form of control available in limited – one that lets you beat face with quality creatures while still feeling like the tricksy mage that we all strive to be.