Hello! I’m Witty, my username is some permutation of “Witty Zitty” on Discord, and you can find me nicknamed under “Ban Toski” in the Gladiator server (more on Toski, Bearer of Secrets later). WreckDeck has asked me, as a surprise (I was surprised) top eight finisher in LoadingReadyRun’s Great Big Gladiator Games, to write a deck tech on what I piloted in the tournament. I’ve never actually written an entire article explaining anything to do with Magic before, much less one on a single deck, so here goes nothing!
The Deck List
Disclaimer: I built this deck for one reason: I hated losing to Toski, Bearer of Secrets while piloting Izzet Control. It functions almost identically to Izzet, and is a very traditional Ux Control deck. This deck has both advantages and disadvantages when compared to its closest sibling in the meta, Izzet Control.
First things first, let’s address Dimir’s removal package. After all, the blue half of the deck is almost identical to Izzet Control. Out of the 11 sorceries in the deck, Bloodchief’s Thirst is the only targeted removal spell. Five of the remaining 10 are board wipes, imitating most Izzet lists running five as well, although Dimir Control is not limited to damage-based board wipes like Izzet. On the instant side of the decklist, you have Heartless Act, Eliminate, Doom Blade, Swift End, the adventure half of Murderous Rider, and Fatal Push under the “destroy” category, Baleful Mastery and Vraska’s Contempt in the “exile” department, and Erebos’s Intervention, Flunk, and Silumgar’s Command in the “-X/-X” department. Lastly, Soul Shatter is the sole sacrifice removal. While Izzet edges out Dimir in terms of mana efficient removal with the likes of Magma Spray, Shock, and Lightning Bolt, Dimir has greater versatility in creatures it can answer, including creatures with indestructible (thought Izzet does have access to Soul Sear), which are quite prevalent in Wx Aggro decks as well as some green lists. However, burn spells are significantly better at dealing with planeswalkers that have already resolved. Depending on the matchup, which I will discuss later, it is a very good idea to consciously “line up” answers to specific threats, such as Soul Shatter against creatures with hexproof.
Dimir unfortunately does not grant a huge boost in the win-con department; this list’s blue win cons match up with Izzet’s, with the addition of Ashiok, Nightmare Muse and The Scarab God, while losing out on Niv-Mizzet, Parun; Ral, Izzet Viceroy; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Chandra, Awakened Inferno; and Inferno of the Star Mounts (this is not to say that the typical Izzet list runs all those listed above plus mono-blue win cons, I’m just listing out win cons that I have seen do well in Izzet lists, both my own and others’). However, Dimir does have its merits. Thought Distortion is a welcome inclusion in Control decks that run black, since it will usually win Control mirrors. Having slots for hand attack cards such as Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize allows the Dimir player to take out what would otherwise be the most troubling card in the moment as well as gain valuable information about the opponent’s hand. Finally, Demonic Tutor provides a cheap method for obtaining whatever may suit your needs in the situation, whether it be a wrath or win condition.
Last, but not least, Dimir suffers slightly in the land department, having neither a reveal land like Choked Estuary nor a campus in its colors. Blast Zone is, in my opinion, an underrated land for any Control deck that’s at most two colors. In addition, Hive of the Eye Tyrant in Dimir slightly edges out Den of the Bugbear in Izzet thanks to its additional point of toughness and ability to exile cards from the opponent’s graveyard. Crawling Barrens is one that I forgot to run in my list, but I believe to be somewhat situationally superior to Blast Zone.
Great Big Gladiator Games Recap
Day 1: Eight-Round Swiss
I do not vividly remember each of the eight rounds, but I will do my best to provide as much commentary as possible from my opponents’ decklists and from what little I remember.
My round one opponent claimed to be on Grixis Control, but after reading their list I was not convinced. Knight of the Ebon Legion, Robber of the Rich, and Nighthawk Scavenger are not cards you run in any Control deck. This is my first-of-many warning to always peruse your opponent’s list before deciding on your opening hand. Unfortunately, this list was kind of a wannabe Control list that tried to do too much and lost a lot of consistency in the process. The high end of its curve tops with Thryx, the Sudden Storm, Agent of Treachery, and Kiora Bests the Sea God, which are not the most ideal win conditions in any Ux Control list. I believe this opponent was not particularly experienced with playing Control, especially considering that they labeled this deck as Control when it clearly was not. This matchup mostly came down to holding onto one or two cheap removal spells to pick off the occasional creature, while having counters for the bigger threats, which is atypical of a “Control” mirror.
My round two opponent was my comrade-in-arms Izzet Control. I believe this matchup went atypically due to my opponent mulliganing twice both games. However, I can provide some commentary for this particular Control mirror. Izzet’s burn package is basically useless besides answering a planeswalker that dodges countermagic. Unfortunately, Lightning Bolt, Lightning Strike, Soul Sear, etc. provide mana-advantage answers to quite a few of Dimir’s planeswalkers, so you have to keep in mind whether your planeswalkers will stick around long enough to provide you with enough advantage before they hit the bin. Other than that, be sure to leave up your counters for cards that will win your opponent the game if left unanswered. Dimir’s removal is much better than Izzet’s, especially at answering Hall of Storm Giants, which Izzet basically cannot remove unless they are running Blitz of the Thunder-Raptor.
Other than those general tips, scan your opponent’s Control lists for 1) uncounterable threats like Chandra, Awakened Inferno, and 2) the peculiarities of their removal package, such as Burning Hands over Blitz of the Thunder-Raptor. That being said, Izzet Control is a potent deck that has proven its success across the format as a whole, so I could comfortably recommend either decklist if you, readers, would like to dip your toes into playing Control in Gladiator. I will come back to this matchup, for the exact same opponent was also my top eight opponent.
My third round opponent was Gruul Aggro, and this is not a great matchup for Dimir Control. However, I caught my opponent’s list running some uncharacteristic cards, including Collected Company, an instant speed threat to watch out for, and Cragplate Baloth, a big beater that laughs at Control decks. Luckily, my opponent never found the Baloth, and the one time Carnage Tyrant came out I had Soul Shatter, which is the only answer to a big, uncounterable, hexproof creature besides Crux of Fate. Neither of those two big beaters belong in an Aggro deck, especially not Gruul. They fit more into Mono Green Ramp or Gruul Stompy. Domri, Anarch of Bolas is also an irritating card since he is a harder-to-answer Prowling Serpopard that also ramps the opponent.
Other than the exceptions listed above, against most Aggro decks it is usually a good idea to moderately mulligan to a board wipe (typically I draw the floor at a starting hand of five), but any hand with a supple amount of removal plus lands is operable even without a wrath. Gruul decks also almost ubiquitously run a wrath-dodging powerhouse in the form of Klothys, God of Destiny. I got super lucky against Klothys in game two, for it came down on turn three and did absolutely nothing for three turns due to both players’ graveyards being empty. As a side note, Izzet Control cannot gain life, while Dimir has access to Vraska’s Contempt, Erebos’s Intervention, and Cling to Dust, and in some lists Moment of Craving. Basically I let Klothys stick around and played my win cons into an empty board, with Contempt and Intervention coming in clutch, giving me the 2-0 against Gruul Aggro.
My fourth round opponent was the infamous Mono-Red Aggro and my only loss on day one. This is the worst matchup for any blue based Control deck. Countermagic doesn’t really matter when your opponent is perfectly happy to beat your face in with creatures that have already resolved before you had mana for countermagic. Even a board wipe doesn’t do the trick sometimes, when one or more burn spells can ignore your removal spells. Dimir and Izzet Control also have trouble dealing with artifacts and enchantments like Roiling Vortex and Embercleave.
My best advice for this matchup is pray you can find a board wipe in your first two hands, and try to line up your removal as best you can. Don’t be afraid to overpay for Erebos’s Intervention to buffer your life total. Iymrith is a good blocker, because she blocks most small threats profitably and her Ward ability hinders a wide variety of Mono Red’s answers, ranging from burn spells to Exert abilities like Ahn Crop Crasher to evasion spells like You Come to the Gnoll Camp.
My round five opponent was Sultai Control. While this deck is more controlling compared to my first round opponent’s, I still don’t like classifying this list as Control. This list is definitely more of a Midrange deck, so once again, check your opponent’s list beforehand.
That being said, this list is very solid. Koma, Cosmos Serpent will ruin your day if you don’t have an immediate kill spell or Soul Shatter. Some lists run Thought Distortion, but luckily this one didn’t. Make sure to exile Polukranos, Unchained and The Scarab God, and otherwise play a typical Control vs Midrange matchup, which is favored for Control.
My sixth round opponent was Four Color Midrange, also known as Four Color Jank. Jank decks don’t really have a cohesive game plan, they just run as much value as possible, i.e. low cost but high payoff creatures and planeswalkers. As a Control pilot, against any Midrange/good stuff deck, just play very efficiently and patiently. Don’t be afraid to use your life total as a time buffer, i.e. taking a couple hits to increase your advantage in the matchup. Most players will attack with creatures before committing mana in their second main phase, which means we, as the Control players, also have to adjust accordingly to not answering creatures during combat and not having mana left to counter second main phase threats.
My seventh round and feature match opponent was Mono-Green Stompy, an increasingly popular deck that has both consistent, aggressive hands and the ability to win games of attrition. These lists are also Toski havens, and I cannot stress this enough: Toski, Bearer of Secrets is a Control player’s nightmare. I switched from Izzet to Dimir so I actually had answers to that pesky Squirrel.
Part of why I think Mono-Green has such great success in tournaments is because green is arguably the best color for cards that generate obscene amounts of value for low mana costs. In other words, there are more than a few creatures that are decent creatures if they have no text nor abilities, but become absurd value jackpots once their text is added on (e.g. Werewolf Pack Leader or Old-Growth Troll). Garruk’s Harbinger is a rare instance of a creature that Izzet has an easier time dealing with; Dimir basically needs a wrath or Soul Shatter to answer this creature because it has Hexproof from black. Ranger Class is an absurd card because even after you answer the Wolf token, it continues to pump attacking creatures and effectively draw the opponent cards from the top of their library. Veil of Summer basically says “no” to the entirety of Dimir Control for a turn if uncountered, but luckily is not popular right now since it is a dead card in many matches. Mono-Green is definitely a deck I would recommend to any level of Gladiator player, as it has a very low skill floor and will achieve good results even when piloted imperfectly.
My eighth and final opponent was a fellow top eight finisher piloting Mono-White Death and Taxes. According to the MTGWiki, Death and Taxes is an unusual form of Control where it makes it more difficult for its opponent to play the game by “taxing” its opponent with cards like Tithe Taker, Kinjalli’s Sunwing, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, while also playing efficient creatures to finish off a “behind” opponent. Unfortunately, Mono-White cannot really answer Dimir’s board wipes in the likes of Languish and Yahenni’s Expertise, and can only delay them which is usually not enough because their clock is slower than other Aggro decks. I was lucky to have a board wipe in both games, and a Blast Zone on one counter finished off Paladin Class and Dauntless Bodyguard. Reidane, God of the Worthy is a white card that is particularly difficult to answer without a low-costing removal spell, since she delays wraths for two turns, and Legion’s Landing is something that you cannot allow to transform unless you’ve cleared the board and have a win condition out.
Other than that, the deck resembles a slower Aggro deck. Notably, Seasoned Hallowblade and Adanto Vanguard are the threats mentioned very early on in this article: the hard-hitting, low-costing white creatures that basically cannot be removed in Izzet Colors but are much easier to answer with the help of black and -X/-X effects.
Day 2: Top Eight Recap
My only top eight match was against Izzet Control again, the same list as above. This time, no mulligans were required and a true Control mirror took place. If I remember correctly, game one my opponent ran out Karn, Scion of Urza with enough mana for one piece of countermagic, and unfortunately I didn’t have an answer. After that, it was an unfortunate cycle of “out of the frying pan into the fire.” I spent too many resources trying to answer one threat, which gave my opponent enough time to draw more threats from the card advantage granted from Karn. I believe trying to answer Inferno of the Star Mounts took several turns and left me completely out of answers for Chandra, Torch of Defiance, which quickly stole game one.
Game two I made the rookie mistake of just slamming Thought Distortion as soon as I had the mana to cast it, not realizing that my opponent could have creatures in hand, which indeed he did, namely Glorybringer and Niv-Mizzet, Parun, which closed out the match 2-0 in Izzet’s favor.
As a word of advice, for most Control mirrors, cards like Doom Blade and Heartless Act are your best friends, because they are very cheap, quick answers to creature threats in most Control decks, and can be used the instant the creatures resolve if they can’t be countered. As a general rule, don’t counter your opponent’s card draw spells like Glimmer of Genius or Behold the Multiverse unless you are completely ahead in both board state and cards in hand. Demonic Tutor usually grabs Thought Distortion, which is also worth noting if you are ever in the reverse position where you’re playing Control, your opponent tutors, and you know they have Thought Distortion, a rare instance where you want to counter the tutor instead of what they tutored for.
That’s all from me, folks! In all honesty, I really did not expect to make it to the top eight going into the tournament. I wanted to enter for fun and for practice, and my choice of deck between Izzet Control, Dimir Control, and Grixis Pact was mostly swayed by Tainted Pact not being consistent and Toski existing. With the looming Jumpstart: Historic Horizons, I can’t exactly say I look forward to the shaken-up metagame, but at least I will be there to ride the wave, even if I capsize in the process.
Take care, and happy gaming!
A diehard control mage, Witty Zitty can frequently be heard uttering the phrase “Draw, Land, Go.” Since discovering Magic: the Gathering in 2013 and being introduced to Control in 2016, Witty Zitty has never swayed from the arsenal of blue magic.