Izzet control is a deck that plays primarily at instant speed. Its game plan is to disrupt early pressure and then develop a threat and protect it. In this article I’ll be going over why I chose to play this deck, the game plan of the deck, my card choices and potential changes to the list.
Let’s say you want to build a Gladiator deck to beat the current meta. What archetype do you choose and in what colors do you build? My thought process for the question went along these lines:
First, the best decks currently are Aggro decks, so do I build one of those and hope I’ll play better than the other Aggro players? I didn’t think I could compete against Aggro decks playing on the same axis. The next options I considered were Control and Midrange, as both can be built to beat Aggro decks. However I thought that midrange would be hard to build in a way that performs well against the field, and with control being my prefered playstyle, I chose control. Now, which colors to play?
Why play blue?
I’ll start with the more obvious color to play, blue. Generally speaking control decks seek to prolong the game and win in later turns. Therefore, they need to be able to deal with many different types of threats, whether that be a creature, a planeswalker, a value engine, or a game winning spell on the stack. Blue helps by giving the deck its unique type of answer: counterspells. Counterspells allow the deck to answer almost any single card and for the most part, only one counterspell needs to be used to deal with a problem allowing the deck to compete with other decks trying to go long.
Blue also has the most card selection and card draw spells. Cards selection spells like Omen of the Sea and Opt, help find the card fit for any given situation and are low in mana value. Card-draw spells like Chemister’s Insight and Behold the Multiverse fuel continuous one for one trades using counterspells alongside digging deeper for the deck’s threats.
And why red?
To understand why I chose to play red in this deck you first need to understand the meta in which I built the deck. The best decks in that meta were Aggro decks followed by Control decks, both in the form of Anti-Aggro and Value decks. The Control decks are mostly covered by the blue half of the deck, leaving me to deal with Aggro. The best way to do that is exactly what red has to offer: cheap removal and wraths.
From Lightning Strike to Spikefield Hazard, you’ll have burn spells to answer your opponent’s early plays and in emergencies multiple burn spells can take out a larger threat.. Options for wraths include Anger of the Gods and Sweltering Suns which, unlike the three mana wraths in other colors, are very likely to clear an Aggro player’s board.
Now that you know the reasoning behind color selections, we can go over the deck’s game plan and see how the colors work together to achieve it The very general plan is to use removal on the first one or two turns, later use mostly counterspells for the next few turns and draw spells when the opponent doesn’t present a threat that can’t be dealt with using the cards in your hand. Since it will usually be hard to deal high toughness creatures, planeswalkers and enchantments, you will usually have to wait to deploy your threat until you can back it up with countermagic or removal. Note that if you have a bounce spell in hand tapping out is safer.
Important notes for each archetype you could face:
You’ll need to mulligan your hand if you can’t interact on turns two and three at the minimum. On the play, this can include keeping a hand that can start countering spells from turn two, or a hand with a few one & two mana removal spells and a draw draw spell or threat for later. On the draw I would be hesitant to keep a hand without removal spells or a wrath. Continue with the same general gameplan, except value playing your creatures and planeswalkers higher because Aggro decks have less removal and it is more difficult to trade with them with only counterspells and removal.
Value cantrips and draw spells highly both on your side in the opener and from the opponent’s side when thinking about countering them. For example, if you have negate, counterspell in hand and 4 mana and your opponent end of turn casts behold the multiverse, usually Negate’ing behold is a very reasonable play.
Usually counter their tutors because the first ones will likely get Thought Distortion, which you can’t counter. Against hand attack, if you have two counterspells in hand and enough mana to cast the two or your opponent doesn’t have the mana to cast any follow up to the hand attack, counter the hand attack spell to deprive the information from them.
Stick to the general gameplan and depending on which direction the opponent chose to slant to between Aggro and control, act accordingly.
Substitutions and Meta Calls
Whether you’re playing on a budget or think some cards are underperforming in the meta, there are some substitutes I have thought of for this deck that can help guide your decision regarding changes you might want to make to the deck. Although the format Gladiator is 100 card singleton so individual card changes are less impactful than 60 card format, do expect the deck to play a bit worse with some of the budget substitutions.
Starting with the counterspell suite, you might have guessed from this name that the card Counterspell is important and you would be right. Among the rare counterspells Counterspell is the last one I would cut because of its efficiency. If you do have to replace it or any of the other rare ones, I suggest looking at Cancel and its variants like Wizard’s Retort. I suggest not playing cards like Quench and Didn’t Say Please the first because it is too narrow in use and the second because milling the opponent is usually a downside in this format. In a lower meta you could look into playing Rewind or Sublime Epiphany. The latter I found to be a bit too expensive, but it is in the New Player Experience so you could also use it in place of a counterspell you don’t have.
Next up, complementing the counters suite, we have the removal suite, most of the spells here should be cheap or instant (so you can use them and have mana for your counterspells). If you don’t have Lightning Bolt or think you need more early removal you could play Fire Prophecy, Thundering Rebuke and even Redcap Melee if enough red decks are being played. In a meta with more green decks with cheap high toughness creatures, you could run Entrancing Melody and Fight with Fire. You might want to try Blitz of the Thunder-Raptor if you do you should play a bit more self discarding like Faithless Looting or Magma Opus. In a meta with fewer Aggro decks you could cut Magma Spray and Spikefield Hazard for a card in another category.
An important part of the removal suite are the wraths, but finding replacements for these is difficult.. that said, If you don’t have any of the deck’s wraths I suggest trying Battle of Frost and Fire and/or Cinderclasm. While both aren’t as efficient as the ones in the deck, each has its place to shine. Draconic Intervention is another option, however it should be given the same treatment mentioned above for Blitz of the Thunder-Raptor. The number of wraths in the deck is not a hard number and missing wraths can be replaced with single target removal. As for planeswalkers, most of the rare and mythic planeswalker can work as replacements. Most importantly the planeswalker you choose to add should have a + ability to gain some sort of card advantage or have removal attached to them. A great example for that is Ugin, the Ineffable, as his +1 creates bodies that protect himself and “draw” a card on death and he has a -3 for universal removal. If you add enough Chandra planeswalker cards you might also like her Triumph (Chandra’s Triumph).
Aside from planeswalkers the deck gains card advantage with spells like Search for Azcanta and Mazemind Tome, which you can replace with similar cards like Treasure Map. Additionally there are the cantrips and draw twos most of which you should be able to craft but if don’t want to spend a rare wildcard on a Brainstorm or Commence the Endgame you can replace they with another cantrip like Deliberate or a draw two like Witching Well or Rain of Revelation. Graven Lore or other high mana value draw spells can be played in slower metas. Your replacements for draw spells need to be instants so you don’t have to tap out and miss the opportunity to hold up counterspells.
Creatures are the least important part of the deck, so you can make changes to the creatures suite and as long as they fit a small set of criteria the deck will still operate just fine. You want your creatures to be hard to kill, such as having 4+ toughness to be out of bolt range, having flash, or gaining some immediate value on entering the battlefield. Some examples are Crackling Drake, Thryx, the Sudden Storm, Spectral Sailor and in a more aggressive meta Weaver of lightning can be useful.
Finally, there is the manabase. Replacements for duals you don’t own can be the common “enters the battlefield tapped” lands instead of the rare ones. There are some utility lands you could play like Arch of Orazca and Blast Zone. If you choose to play them, play no more than 2 colorless ones because the deck needs both double blue and double red early.
A Magic: The Gathering player since Guilds of Ravnica. Plays primarily the fan format Gladiator at a competitive level. Writer for the Gladiator blog