Back in December we discussed the Aggro archetype, which ultimately seeks to deal 20 damage as fast as possible. With the current trends in Standard, however, we're seeing a bit of a rise in Control decks, so I'd like to discuss the other side of the spectrum this week. Instead of a quick game like you'll see with Aggro matches, Control wants a battle of attrition, dragging the game out for the long haul, thus allowing the Control player more opportunities to generate card advantage, which will eventually bury the unprepared opponent.
The first priority during the early turns for a Control deck is making sure to hit all of its land drops. Missing an early land drop is usually death and, to avoid this most grisly of fates, most Standard Control decks opt to run 26 or more lands. Utilizing the incremental draw spell Think Twice, as well as the 4-card dig spell Forbidden Alchemy, Control players will tend to do very little in the start of the game, save for sifting through their deck, stocking their hand for the long game, and hopefully hitting every land drop along the way. Leaving up Mana Leak mana is crucial, with Geist of Saint Traft and other powerful third turn plays. Both Think Twice and Forbidden Alchemy can be cast during the opponent's End Step, allowing the Control player to keep their mana available for counterspells during the opponent's Main Phases. Once turn four comes around, it is often time to start casting spells, and a common theme is to clear the board on turn four or five with a sweeper effect like Day of Judgment or Black Sun's Zenith. Ideally this will start to generate some card advantage by clearing away multiple opposing creatures. I like to call this 2-or-more-for-1 exchange 'breaking card parity' and it will be a common theme among Control decks. Simply put, this means card efficiency, and is a staple for generating card advantage in a longer game. Aggro decks will usually excel in the early game and, if an Aggro deck is going to beat a Control deck, the early game is where that happens.
Once we get into the intervening turns of the game, the Control player will start casting more spells and causing more headaches. With one-for-one removal spells like Doom Blade, as well as untargeted removal such as Geth's Verdict for the assortment of Hexproof creatures out there, moving into the middle of the game a Control player should have started generating some card advantage, and will now begin to reap the benefits. With a crafted hand full of answers thanks to early card draw, Control players begin to take over the game by having answers to each individual threat the opponent casts or, better still, by having counterspells available to prevent them from resolving in the first place. The more card advantage that the Control player has been able to generate, the more effective their parity spells like Doom Blade and Mana Leak become. Ramp decks start to shine against Aggro decks in the mid game, but can have particular difficulty against a good Control build, since the Control player will almost invariably have more answers than a Ramp deck has threats. By simply countering each threat as it gets cast, or Doom Blading those that resolve after the Control player taps out, the Control player can usually force the opponent into topdeck mode in the mid game. That is to say, they have run out of cards in hand, the board is mostly clear, and the opponent is hoping for an out to the situation during their draw step.