A peculiar plan of play that produced a Path of Peril, yet progressed to a positive performance. Perhaps the price we pay for playing Painted Pact. Wait, what?!
Greetings, gamers! I’m Witty, short for Witty Zitty on Discord, and you can find me nicknamed under “Kaito Stan” in the Gladiator server (Kaito Shizuki is an amazing card, as I hope I can convince you through this article). As the 5th place finisher in the Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Gladiator Games, I decided to write an article as an underdog Control representative and the only Control player who finished in the Top Eight. Special thanks to WreckDeck, the one who gave me this list and helped make a few modifications! This list really feels like my niche, with several fresh inclusions to round out my predilection for spicy cards, and I look forward to piloting the deck for future Gladiator tournaments!
About the List:
I have always been a die-hard Dimir Control mage at weekly Gladiator tournaments. I have played a non-Control list exactly once, and I have played a non-Dimir list fewer times than you could count on your fingers. However, this deck is unlike any other Control list I’ve ever piloted. First and foremost, it is not a typical, play-for-the-long-game Control deck. It would be more suitable to call this deck “Dimir Combo Control,” for its main win condition is the combination of Tainted Pact and Thassa’s Oracle, more commonly referred to as “Tainted Oracle.” In order to find the combo, the deck plays more tutors than seen in a typical Control lineup.
So what is different about this list compared to the first iteration of Dimir Control I wrote about for LoadingReadyRun’s Great Big Gladiator Games? From a curve perspective, Dimir Combo Control tops out at four mana, with Shark Typhoon almost always cycled as opposed to being cast. It runs fewer kill spells, significantly more artifacts, and cheaper engines. Normal Control decks seek to shut down opponents’ play and win in the long game, whereas Combo Control has the subtle difference of not wanting to durdle but rather get the combo as quickly as possible while still staying alive. However, Combo Control has the flexibility to become a normal Control deck with certain hands and while waiting to find the combo or tutors. Since Tainted Oracle is an instantaneous win, Combo Control doesn’t need to run threats that stick, but rather engines that will both protect our life total and draw more cards, such as Kaito Shizuki and Sorin the Mirthless. Combo Control is also less afraid of playing cards at sorcery speed during the early game such as mana rocks, since it would rather ramp into a boardwipe rather than trade off kill spells for threats one-for-one.
From a metagame perspective, the Dimir Control for LRR’s GBGG was a much more generalist deck, while Combo Control was crafted to beat the two most prevalent decks at the top of the metagame: Mono-White Aggro and Azorius Control. The deck runs quite a few 3 mana “all creatures get -2/-2” effects purely against Mono-White’s small, aggressive creatures. In addition, cards like Life of Toshiro Umezawa and Baral, Chief of Compliance help mitigate early-on aggression while providing other forms of value.
Azorius Control, on the other hand, capitalizes on white’s premium removal spells and boardwipes with blue’s countermagic and card drawing to form the current top-tier Control archetype, performing very well in past tournaments. However, it is a very slow Control deck. Dimir has access to an arsenal of hand attack spells, including the newly released Break Expectations, to protect the combo and the ability to land early engines before Azorius has a chance to establish control over the game.
Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Gladiator Games Recap:
Match 1 vs Sultai Midrange:
Game 1: I kept a bit of a greedy opener on the draw:
My opponent applied huge pressure early on with Questing Beast on turn four into Sarulf’s Packmate on turn five to protect against Soul Shatter. Thirst was used on Questing Beast and I found a wipe with Wishclaw Talisman, which actually gave my opponent an open window with their Wishclaw Talisman activation and me tapped out, but instead of grabbing Nullpriest of Oblivion to reanimate Questing Beast and take away my remaining four life points, they grabbed Bolas’s Citadel and didn’t cast it, which then got hand attacked away.
The game eventually came down to a very grindy midrange vs midrange matchup, but I got there eventually by answering Ghalta, Primal Hunger, the only threat they landed, and then finishing the job with God-Eternal Kefnet.
Game 2: The second game was much faster and cleaner. I Memory Lapsed and then Censored opponent’s Narset, Parter of Veils, landed Sorin the Mirthless, Demonic Bargained for Thassa’s Oracle and comboed off on turn six, securing match one.
Not much of Sultai Midrange presents a huge issue for Dimir Combo Control. The only concern is not letting any particular card generate too much value. This Sultai list also ran no countermagic and no hand attack spells, which I found surprising, since I believe those two are what blue and black are unique for, so no interaction meant Tainted Oracle could not be prevented.
Match 2 vs Mono White Aggro:
Game 1: I expected to face Mono-White Aggro at some point in this tournament; unfortunately it came very early on, with an equally early roadblock in game one, courtesy of Reidane, God of the Worthy. I eventually managed to boardwipe on turn six, leaving me hanging on by a thread at one life. Swift End, the Adventure half of Murderous Rider was out of the question against Cave of the Frost Dragon due to the life restriction. Luckily I topdecked Hagra Mauling, and my opponent chose to develop their board, all of which got countered. Shortly after, I cycled Shark Typhoon for X=6 and cast Hagra Mauling on Cave in response to Unbreakable Formation, and the 6/6 Shark finished the job.
Games 2 & 3: Just couldn’t find a wipe in either game, which is something the deck kind of needs to survive if not for a super early Tainted Oracle. I also misplayed in game three and thought Davriel, Soul Broker’s +1 ability roughly translated to “Whenever a creature attacks you, its controller discards or sacrifices an attacking creature.” I think he would be absolutely insane in that case to be fair, but I just kind of slammed Davriel, upticked him and thought “Hey, you can’t attack me with 4 creatures with only 2 cards in hand, else you risk losing half your attackers.” Had I read Davriel properly, I probably would’ve just used his -3 and removed a creature.
Mono-White Aggro is arguably the most difficult matchup for Dimir: it just turns into a game of boardwipe or bust. Even if you land Baral, Chief of Compliance or God-Eternal Kefnet, they can simply attack through Baral with creatures with three power or more or some sort of evasion and simply play a removal spell on Kefnet, and the three turn delay before you draw Kefnet again is simply too long. In addition, Mono-White has the most ridiculous delaying cards on ridiculous bodies, like Elite Spellbinder, Ranger-Captain of Eos, and Reidane, God of the Worthy, which makes playing Control even more challenging without a boardwipe or a Tainted Oracle nut draw.
Match 3 vs Abzan Lands:
Game 1: Shigeki, Jukai Visionary whiffed quite a few times for my opponent, while I was sitting on four lands and a hand of countermagic and kill spells but no cantrips for several turns. Eventually I drew lands and answered all their attempted threats, and my opponent’s list wasn’t super well equipped to stop me eventually drawing into the combo.
Game 2: I had the combo in hand by turn three, stalled until I drew the fourth land on turn six, then comboed off.
Abzan Lands has quite powerful and consistent synergy, and runs several hand attack spells to mess up Dimir’s progression. It is still a Midrange list, so a similar game plan is adopted: Prevent the accumulation of value from any single or pair of cards, and combo off as fast as possible.
Match 4 vs Sultai Pact:
Game 1: The mirror matchup was very close, my opponent starting game one with Tainted Pact in hand. This meant living life on the edge for me, since my opener didn’t have any countermagic, so at any point my opponent could just draw Thassa’s Oracle and win. The game opened up with a hand attack spell from each side, though I cannot remember what I took over Tainted Pact. I resolved an early Mazemind Tome and Malevolent Hermit, and starting doing some chip damage, then got to broker two deals with Davriel, Soul Broker. At some point when I had God-Eternal Kefnet and Malevolent Hermit out, my opponent landed a 5/5 Hydroid Krasis, which helped them regain some footing. I tutored for Ritual of Soot off of Wishclaw Talisman to answer Krasis and the Beast token left from Thragtusk, allowing opponent to tutor for and fire off Thassa’s Oracle, but I countered Pact with Thassa’s Intervention and opponent had nothing else in hand. I eventually resolved Sorin the Mirthless, started regaining some life with the Vampire tokens, and killed my opponent by The Meathook Massacreing my own board.
Game 2: Opponent took a mull to five on the play, whereas I curved Search for Azcanta into Kaito Shizuki into Break Expectations with Thassa’s Intervention on X=1 backup, causing the opponent to scoop.
The mirror match can be quite varied. It can be drawn out for quite a while, as you saw in game one, or it can be as quick as one person lands and untaps with a value engine and the other can’t catch up. The key is to develop normally until about turn four or five, just playing mana rocks or value engines like Search for Azcanta, and try to set up a hand with at least one or two counterspells, an unconditional kill spell, a cantrip or two, and some lands (in a perfect world), and once either Pact deck tries to establish control of the game via comboing off or a value generator, then you transition to playing normal Control.
Match 5 vs Mono White Aggro:
Game 1: I guess lightning can strike in the same place twice. Or by lightning, I mean Mono-White Aggro. Game one was extremely close, I played The Meathook Massacre on turn three (X=1) clearing 3 targets (Dauntless Bodyguard got sacrificed targeting Skymarcher Aspirant so I would gain one less life). The Meathook Massacre then got exiled by Skyclave Apparition, which got me a nice 2/2 after Apparition died. Shortly thereafter Serra the Benevolent resolved, creating an Angel token. I used Flunk on said token, Field of Ruin on Blinkmoth Nexus, and just slowly but surely turned the game around once the aggro deck ran out of gas.
Game 2: An untimely Reidane, God of the Worthy shut down my hand full of boardwipes. A Paladin Class on level 2, Seasoned Hallowblade with a Bonesplitter equipped to it, and Reidane became too much for me to handle and quickly finished the job; bit tough when the deck is already light on spot removal.
Game 3: This was arguably the most exhilarating game of my entire Gladiator career. And bonus points, it was live on the Gladiator Twitch stream! We enter the game with an Elite Spellbinder with a Bonesplitter equipped, an Alseid of Life’s Bounty, and an Isamaru, Hound of Konda on my opponent’s field, I’m at 11 life, and I have Kaito Shizuki at one loyalty and his 1/1 Ninja token on my side of the field, with a Languish in hand. My opponent full sends at me instead of Kaito. I block Isamaru with the 1/1 Ninja token, go to five life. Next turn I fire off Languish, uptick and loot with Kaito Shizuki. A turn cycle later, Kaito is on three loyalty when my opponent casts and resolves Serra the Benevolent. I cast Baleful Mastery on the 4/4 Angel token, leaving just Kaito on three, Serra on one, and nothing else on the field. I downtick Kaito to make a 1/1 Ninja and pass. Serra upticks, opponent has one card in hand, they pass. On my turn, I animate Hive of the Eye Tyrant, attack for four at Serra, the only card in my hand is Castle Locthwain and I have two mana open. My opponent flashes in The Wandering Emperor with their only four lands, exiles Hive and keeps Serra alive at two loyalty. On my second main phase, I uptick Kaito and drew Jwari Disruption. Yes, a Censor effect, right after I just got blown out by a 4-drop. I slammed my desk so hard, like that was such a bad beat. So I play Castle Locthwain and pass, with Kaito on two loyalty, Serra on two, Emperor on one. On their turn, they play a land and Intrepid Adversary, paying for it once, and uptick The Wandering Emperor on the Adversary, upticking Serra to four, and pass.
So, clearly not a good spot to be in, right? All I have is Kaito on two, a useless Jwari Disruption, and I have to answer two pressing planeswalkers and a 5/3 lifelink creature.
On my turn, I have seven mana with Disruption and nothing else in hand. I topdeck Tainted Pact, which is something nice. I’m thinking, I’m probably gonna have to dig for some kind of answer with the Pact because my 1/1 Ninja can’t pressure either of the walkers. I learned my lesson from the previous turn, so I activated Kaito pre-combat since I’m happy to trade the Jwari Disruption for whatever Kaito draws. Well, Kaito must’ve felt I needed good karma, seeing as Kaito drew Demonic Tutor. Sometimes you just win, and I tutored for Thassa’s Oracle and took game three. What a conclusion to the Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Gladiator Games. That final revenge match against Mono-White aggro guaranteed me a top eight finish with an overall record of 4-1.
Overperformers and Noteworthy Cards:
I was very skeptical when WreckDeck first showed me his list. More than a few of the cards in this list surprised me, as I had never seen them played in any Control list, much less a Tainted Oracle list. However, after piloting the deck for exactly one dozen games, I realize that my doubt was entirely misplaced. First and foremost, Kaito Shizuki was such an amazing card, especially in my final game. He comes down, makes a 1/1 Ninja that will either trade with a creature against Aggro, or most likely stick around until the next turn as most other decks won’t really pay much heed to a 1/1. However, Kaito then protects himself by phasing out, and when he comes back in, the Ninja can enable his +1 to be drawing a card every turn. Also, when he phases back in, I have my mana untapped, which means I can protect Kaito with countermagic or removal, or attack, draw, and then boardwipe post-combat. Kaito as a three-drop can also come down early and be an early-game engine should he go unanswered, not because of his damage potential, but because he loots or draws an extra card every turn without any downside.
The second overperformer was Break Expectations. I must’ve accidentally glossed over this card while scanning the spoilers for Alchemy: Innistrad, because when I read the card and the 15 options in its spellbook, I was shocked. It is like Thoughtseize’s cousin: it reveals slightly fewer cards but doesn’t cost you life and gives your opponent a choice between three basically useless cards (I think I saw Spiked Pit Trap thrice across all my games, and not once was it a relevant removal spell). Especially when this list prefers to combo off as quickly as possible, as opposed to traditional Control which may cry against a Whirlermaker, Break Expectations is by far an amazing addition to Dimir’s arsenal of hand attack, and helps protect the combo by replacing either a threat or a piece of countermagic with a dead colorless card.
The third overperformer was Baral, Chief of Compliance. While I only saw him twice throughout the tournament, I kicked myself every time I played him, for not playing him in previous Control lists. He’s a great blocker, discounts almost all the spells in the deck, and helps you filter out cards whenever you counter something, all for one blue and one generic mana. Chief of Compliance? More like the Chief of Control!
Should you play Dimir Pact? As long as you have an intermediate amount of experience with the Control archetype, I think Dimir Pact is a great option to counter the menace that is Mono-White Aggro, and for people who don’t want to play the long, super grindy Control decks like Azorius. If you’ve never played the Tainted Oracle combo before, be sure to learn how exactly to pull it off before piloting any Pact list in a tournament.
That is all I’ve got for you for now! I hope you found the article interesting and informative! 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.