It is time for yet another edition of the TES Matchup Battles series and this episode we take on 4C Control! Over the past couple of months people have been shifting to BUG decks, which have evolved to playing Leovold, Emissary of Trest, because of its strong abilities in many matchups. The recent printing of Fatal Push is just one more good tool that the BUG decks get to use and lots of players love these types of strategies, so these styles of decks are getting more popular. The addition of red is for better counterspells vs the blue decks and because of the mirrors, as well as cards like Kolaghan's Command. 4C Control is a deck that tries to disrupt the opponent through efficient counterspell, discard, and removal spells while trying to out value the opponent with card draw, planeswalkers, and often two for one creatures. These types of decks fall in and out of legacy as the metagame shifts and adapts. In recent years we had the huge uprising and popular Shardless Sultai deck, and now we see very little of it. Could this 4C Control deck see the popularity and success that previous strategies like this have had? Who knows, but it's always better to be ahead than to be behind, so let's get analyzing.
How does 4C Control matchup against TES?
Force of Will – This is their best disruption spell because it will usually require an answer in the form of a discard spell because we can't really ever combo off into these counters unless the opponent counters the wrong spell or messes up. No matter how late the game goes we are going to have to find a way to beat this card.
Leovold, Emissary of Trest – With the newer addition of Leovold, Emissary of Trest, it makes for some interesting scenarios. Leovold, Emissary of Trest has a couple interesting lines of text on it. For one "Each opponent can't draw more than one card each turn." With 4 one mana accelerators in their deck we could be expecting Leovold, Emissary of Trest to come down on turn 2. This could have a huge impact on our cantrips like Brainstorm and Ponder. This is just annoying, but we can still win through it. The next line of text is the one that worries me a little more, "Whenever you or a permanent you control becomes the target of a spell or ability an opponent controls, you may draw a card." Some notable cards that we use to target our opponent are our discard spells and Tendrils of Agony. With Leovold, Emissary of Trest they have included Flusterstorm , which they may or may not have played if Leovold, Emissary of Trest didn't exist, which is just a side note. If there is a Leovold, Emissary of Trest in play and we target the opponent with a Tendrils of Agony with 10 copies, then they get to draw 10 cards. That means if the top 10 cards of their library has a Flusterstorm we just lose. That is very scary, which is one of the reasons I recommend always going for winning with Empty the Warrens instead of Tendrils of Agony when there is a Leovold, Emissary of Trest in play for post board games.
1 Of's – Engineered Explosives, Counterspell, Pyroblast, Spell Snare, Thoughtseize, Invasive Surgery and Vendilion Clique – These are all one of's that I have seen throughout the main deck and the sideboard of the 4C Control deck and it makes the matchup particularly challenging to play because every game we could be playing against an entirely different set of cards, and we don't know exactly what to play around. Seeing the opponents hand will be even more important in this matchup because of all the combinations of cards the opponent can have. The existence of all of these singletons in their deck is going to make Cabal Therapy much worse than Duress in this matchup because trying to guess correctly will be even harder, so having prior knowledge of their hand or naming Force of Will is just a safer play.
- 4 Burning Wish
- 4 Infernal Tutor
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
- 3 Cabal Therapy
- 3 Duress
- 1 Empty the Warrens
- 1 Ad Nauseam
Ways to win this matchup
Killing Them and the Fundamental Turns –
TES is great at being a fast and consistent deck and being able to kill through multiple different angles like goblins or straight to the life total. We have the ability to be flexible and change our game plan based on the matchup or the opponents hand and this is why these types of decks are traditionally a good matchup for TES. Where it gets interesting is that the opponent can surprise us with any given card because of all the 1 and 2 of's. It can make it hard to try and navigate the game without having some information of what the opponent has. The fundamental turns are going to be turns 3-4. The first couple of turns both players are generally setting up with making land drops, casting cantrips, playing early creatures and using discard spells. Both players will be hiding their important cards while trying to counter and discard the others key cards. Usually by turns 3-4 is when we will have to combo off before we are under too much pressure and before they generate enough card advantage to stop us. The longer we wait the worse it gets because of all of their card advantage, but we can't be too much in a rush because then you're just asking to run into their counters. Turns 3-4 is going to be the sweet spot for this matchup.
Ad Nauseam/Empty the Warrens – Tendrils of Agony is my preferred kill condition in this matchup because it is a nice clean kill and the unknown risk is a lot lower compared to the goblins plan. Like previously mentioned if there is a Leovold, Emissary of Trest in play then we should be killing with Empty the Warrens, and if we have an early Empty the Warrens line then I say the we should take it instead of waiting a turn or two for the Ad Nauseam or Past in Flames line, because while the risk may be higher it is very very low. The lists that did the best at the last SCG event had 1 Engineered Explosives in the maindeck and 1 Toxic Deluge in the board as their only answers to the horde. The risk of them having one of these cards is a lot lower than giving the opponent a couple more turns to draw into disruption.
-1 Swamp, -1 Chrome Mox, -1 Ponder,
+1 Bayou, +2 Xantid Swarm
Xantid Swarm is going to be pretty good in this matchup because of all the counterspells the opponent will have postboard, but I don't like all 3 because there's a chance the opponent could still have in Lightning Bolt, Kolaghan's Command, or Engineered Explosives in their deck, so I don't want to make those cards live if I can help it. This means we have to bring in the Bayou, so in this matchup I cut the Swamp. I want to keep my land count the same and they don't play Wasteland, so this is an easy swap. Trimming 1 Chrome Mox is fine because we don't need to be as fast as possible. We aren't trying to combo off before a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or a Chalice of the Void or anything like that so the full 3 isn't too necessary here. Cutting 1 Ponder is a little nod to Leovold, Emissary of Trest. We don't want the opponent to have a turn 2 Leovold, Emissary of Trest and our hand be a bunch of cantrips. Postboard the opponent is going to have a lot of good counters and discard and I don't want to be put in a position where I have to use a Cabal Therapy on a Leovold, Emissary of Trest simply because I have a couple cantrips in my hand when I could be taking a Force of Will or a Flusterstorm.
Game 1 was not very exciting. I was on the play and had a fairly solid opener vs an unknown opponent. I was pretty close to having the combo and I had a discard spell. My opponent had a turn two Leovold, Emissary of Trest off a Deathrite Shaman. Being as it was game 1 I wasn't too afraid, but it could be annoying. I untap for my third turn and draw Lion's Eye Diamond. That'll do it. I cast a Duress to take the opponent's Force of Will and went Infernal Tutor into Ad Nauseam from 18 life and that was the game.
I sideboarded exactly how I described above and went into game 2 on the draw. The game was starting off fairly standard and looking like game 1 until we get to this board state.
This is what my board looked like. On turn 2 of this game I cast a Duress taking a Force of Will, so I knew what his hand was. I had a solid hand with lands, combo pieces, and disruption. I untapped and drew a Lion's Eye Diamond. Wow, that was more than enough mana to combo off. It was great, but what made it interesting was my opponent's side of the field which consisted of this.
Notably he has a Deathrite Shaman activation available to cast his Pyroblast, and if we go with the Tendrils of Agony route then thanks to Leovold, Emissary of Trest he can draw a bunch of cards, and if one of them is a Flusterstorm then he can cast it and we just lose the game. Also with Leovold, Emissary of Trest we have to think twice about our Gitaxian Probe and Duress.
This is a pretty interesting scenario, and I'm sure there are several different ways to handle this situation, and I'm sure I didn't make the best play, but that is one of the reasons I love storm and the community because of the ability to all take different lines, think plays through, and have a discussion, and that is the exact point of these parts of the article. I will tell you what I did, but don't assume it's the best play and try and think through the pros and cons of my decisions and then what you would have done.
I took a risk and started off with a Gitaxian Probe to see if it would resolve. Opponent drew a card off of Leovold, Emissary of Trest trigger and Gitaxian Probe resolved. it was a land. Great news. I had more than enough mana to Burning Wish for Dark Petition for Ad Nauseam and go for Tendrils of Agony, and then hope no Flusterstorm off the opponents deck from the Leovold, Emissary of Trest triggers, or I could Burning Wish for Dark Petition for Empty the Warrens and make my opponent beat a huge horde of goblins, which he currently cannot do, but all it takes is some creatures, removal spells, or 1 of his 2 potential sweepers (if they are in his deck). Him having Jace, the Mind Sculptor in play to help him find all these cards was what sealed the deal for me. Him being able to look at three more cards or bouncing a token every turn could really make the difference.
I went for plan A...and he found the Flusterstorm. Onto game 3.
I kept my 75 the same and resubmitted. Opening 7 had no lands, so down to 6. My opening hand is one of the hands I like to call a teaching moment. I'm on the play with the combo in hand, but lose to a Force of Will. What should I do?
The answer is I always go for it. Doesn't matter if its versus Miracles, Delver, 4C Control, doesn't matter. I'm always going for it. Here's the reason why. Especially in this matchup I'm not sure of all the possible cards my opponent can have (see 1 of's up above). It may seem like I'm not playing around Force of Will by going for it, and you're absolutely right, but as soon as my opponent plays a land then they could have a dozen other counters, discard, or other hate cards online. By going for it now, then I am essentially playing around all of those card, so I am willing to play into one card and play around a dozen others.
I went for it, and cast Ad Nauseam into the win. Before my opponent could leave the game I asked him to reveal his hand, so I could see the impact of going for it immediately. His hand had an Invasive Surgery and Spell Snare. Had I waited for a discard spell, I probably would have lost this game. Being short on lands, and no cantrips for help I figured this was the best line, and it paid off.
The main takeaway from this is that there is quite a bit of evaluating and tough decisions. There are very few decisions, but the ones you make can and often will determine who wins the game. I easily could have won all three of these games or went 1-2. The differences between these records is less than five decisions which just shows how hard legacy and TES is, and just because you win the game doesn't mean you made the correct decision and vise versa, so it is important the TES and storm community keeps the conversation going to strive for the best decisions, which we hope will ultimately lead to the best records in the long haul.