4c Control is a control deck that's trying to use all of the best disruptive cards like Thoughtseize, Force of Will, Snapcaster Mage, and planeswalkers. There are many flavors of 4c Control, but with the recent printing of Wrenn and Six most are traditional Grixis Control decks, but splashing cards like Wrenn and Six and maybe a few other green cards. This shows the evolution of Legacy and how decks evolve as new cards are printed and as the format warps. This month it feels like every deck is trying to utilize Wrenn and Six, and this is indicated by its recent sticker price of $100 on Magic: The Gathering Online. Over the past few sets several new toys like Dreadhorde Arcanist, Narset, Parter of Veils, Wrenn and Six, and Force of Negation have been printed, and 4c Control has been trying all of them! This has caused a lot of brewing and people trying to figure out where these cards belong in the meta, and the best shell for these cards. With all of these new cards coming into the Legacy scene it's important that we know how we can beat them.
How does 4c Control matchup against TES?
Thoughtseize - We should be fairly familliar with playing against Thoughtseize. It's all over Legacy in combo decks, control decks, Delver of Secrets decks, and any other black deck. It's one of the best pieces of disruption against us because it's something we can't fight with Defense Grid or wait until our combo turn to try and fight through it. We just have to take the hit and lose a card, and usually that's before our combo turn. An early Thoughtseize can slow us down just enough for the opponent to be able to find another discard spell or a counterspell. When playing against counterspells the opponent has to try and guess when is the best time to use that counter. If they counter the wrong card they can just throw the game, but with discard spells they get access to full information and can leave a gap in our hand. The best way to beat discard spells is playing out your Lion's Eye Diamond, if the mana is important and you don't need the storm count, and to use your cantrips wisely to hide the best cards on the top of your library.
Wrenn and Six, Wasteland - Typically, against control decks we usually don't even have to worry about Wasteland. We usually see this in tempo decks, Lands, or like Gx decks, but now thanks to Wrenn and Six we see control decks trying to use this strategy. Wrenn and Six isn't that great against us, but if we play a longer game then Wrenn and Six and Wasteland can lock us out pretty quickly. This is where Chrome Mox, basic lands, and Mox Opal are going to shine. We should have enough tools for this to rarely matter, but it's important that we don't just walk into it by fetching duals for no reason.
Force of Will, Force of Negation - Similarly to Thoughtseize, Force of Will should be no surprise. With the recent printing of Force of Negation now they could be playing up to 8 copies of Force of Will — that's a lot. Consider those odds when jamming into unknown cards in your opponent's hand. An important thing to note is that we can still Ad Nauseam at the end of the opponent's turn to get around Force of Negation.
- 4 Burning Wish
- 4 Infernal Tutor
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Thoughtseize
- 2 Defense Grid
- 1 Empty the Warrens
- 1 Ad Nauseam
Ways to win this matchup
Killing Them and Our Game Plan
When thinking about our strategy playing against control, it's important to think about how the opponent will be trying to stop us from comboing. Against this type of control deck, it will be more counters, discard and maybe even some graveyard hate. This isn't going to be a race and we aren't pressured to combo off by a particular turn or anything like that. This matchup will be dictated by positioning ourselves and looking for an opportunity to combo off through their spell-based disruption. This generally means the games will slow down compared to other matchups. The key turns in this matchup will be 3-5, and that tends to be the average length of turns I play, regardless if I win or lose. On top of the normal control disruption, 4c Control also packs Wasteland. That will set both players back on lands; another card making the game go just a little longer. One of the reasons I bring in the extra copies of Empty the Warrens here is because it is good against all of those angles I just described. It requires fewer resources to combo, cheaper to cast, and can win on the earlier turns of the game before the opponent drags it out. Leaning on this card is where I have my most success in the matchup.
The opponent's main ways of disruption are counterspells and discard spells. One of the best ways to counter this is by maxing out on Empty the Warrens. 4c Control plays very few ways to remove all the tokens. They may play maybe 1-2 copies of Toxic Deluge or Engineered Explosives, but for the most part, it's pretty safe. Boarding in the other copies of Empty the Warrens increases our chances of naturally drawing one, and that's exactly what we are looking for. Most of the time the opponent will wait to counter one of the tutors or Ad Nauseam itself, but if they wait for that we can blow them out by just casting Empty the Warrens from hand while they sit on counters. I like to board out Chrome Mox here because this isn't a matchup where we are trying to race or play under permanent hate. These games will go longer, especially post-board. The opponent will be trying to use discard spells to keep us low on resources, and in that spot the last thing we want to do is to be pitching cards to Chrome Mox. Some people may feel inclined to bring in cards like Hope of Ghirapur, but I steer away from that because it only protects us from one of their angles, counterspells. They still have Wasteland, plenty of discard, and cards like Snapcaster Mage to use the discard spells again. Playing a card to prevent one angle just isn't enough.
I win the die roll and we both keep our opening 7. I lead off with my basic Swamp and cast Thoughtseize. My opponent reveals a pretty good hand. The only two cards I care about are Force of Will and Wasteland. Thankfully, I lead with basic Swamp and I take his Force of Will.
My opponent just plays Underground Sea and passes the turn. On my second turn, I draw a Ponder. I play out my Underground Sea and cast the Ponder. My goal here was to look for a 3rd land and not risk getting Brainstorm locked, so I used Ponder. I miss on the top three cards and choose to shuffle. I miss again, but I find another copy of Ponder. I just pass the turn back hoping to get a land on my next draw step. I figure my opponent will Wasteland. That's exactly what they do. On my third turn I miss on a land again, I decide to cast Chrome Mox imprinting the Ponder I drew to cast the Brainstorm. I really want to find another land or a way to combo here. I draw my three cards and there's Empty the Warrens and Lotus Petal! Those are pretty good ones.
I put back both of my tutors because I want to go for Empty the Warrens right now. I could wait a turn to use the Duress and make sure it's clear, but I think that's too risky opening myself up to a discard spell or a cantrip into a counterspell. Too much could go wrong and I'd rather go for it now. I play my Lotus Petal and tap the Swamp to cast Dark Ritual. Both resolve and I cast Empty the Warrens with Storm equal to five.
That's good enough for the first game! Now it gets harder.
My opponent decides to go first and we both keep our opening 7's. I have plenty of mana with lands and rituals, and I have a Ponder to help me find a pay off card. That's all I need for a very fast kill. I even have a Duress. Almost the ideal hand. They lead off with an Inquisition of Kozilek and take my Ponder. Pretty obvious decision there to try and slow me down and buy some time. With no other way to find a pay off card, I'm relying on the top of my deck to find one or a cantrip for more looks. For my first draw step on turn one, I just draw a land, so I play it and pass. My opponent plays a Ponder, land, and ends their turn. For my second turn, I draw a Brainstorm! Just what I am looking for to help me find something good. I lead off with it and my opponent spends some time thinking before casting Force of Negation. I wasn't expecting them to counter that, but they stay consistent with their plan of slowing me down from finding the payoffs.
A couple of turns have passed and my opponent cast a Snapcaster Mage on Inquisition of Kozilek to take a Lion's Eye Diamond. My next two draw steps were the payoff cards, but unfortunately, I can't cast them. I'm in a difficult spot with a dual land in my hand and there's a Wasteland in play. Not being able to play out the lands when I have a four and five mana spell is rough. It's definitely an awkward situation. I do want to play out my Lion's Eye Diamond here though in fear of another discard spell.
Another two turns go by as both me and my opponent continue to draw cards and pass. While this is happening I am being attacked for two a turn. The only card I know in my opponent's hand is a Snapcaster Mage. I think they are saving it because there's not much in their graveyard they can flashback and they're probably hoping to draw a Force of Negation or Force of Will. On my next draw step I pickup a Brainstorm and immediately cast it. I need some good draws here. Thankfully, they were.
I figure now is the time to go for it. I put back both copies of Empty the Warrens and sacrifice my fetch land for a red source. Imprinting Ad Nauseam I cast Burning Wish and sacrifice Lion's Eye Diamond. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough storm for Tendrils of Agony, but I could cast Empty the Warrens and it was good enough.
These games went about as good as I could have asked for. The first game was pretty much a blowout, but game two I got to play against every angle of disruption, Wasteland, discard spells, and counterspells. The game definitely slowed down post-board when the opponent knew what they were up against and could plan for it. There have been lots of new cards printed that are being tested in Legacy right now. Which ones will be the flavor of the month, and which ones will be here to stay? Your guess is as good as mine, but until that settles down we need to be prepared for all of it! Until next time, I wish you the best of luck in your own testing!