I finally got my invite to the Magic Arena Beta, and I’m telling you: This game’s going to be great for Magic. Even with just Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan in the system, I’m having a ton of fun crafting different decks, playing against different opponents, and simply trying to collect all the cards.
Like Magic: Duels before it, Arena feels more like Kitchen Table Magic than competitive FNMs. I love building from a limited collection, throwing together the best deck you can and upgrading it as cards come your way (which is how most of us started out, after all). I won’t say anything more about actual gameplay or economics here, for fear of violating the Beta’s NDA, but suffice it to say that Arena is fun and easy to grok, which is what Magic’s digital platform needs.
That said, aggro decks are currently RAMPANT on Magic Arena. Because the Ixalan block pushes players toward tribes, and tribes push players toward aggressive decks, the Arena card pool already encourages players to build aggressive decks. When you factor in that digital CCGs’ rewards models also incentivize playing aggro (faster decks mean faster wins, faster wins mean more games played, more games played means more rewards earned), it’s easy to see why the Magic Arena queues are filled with Merfolk and Vampire decks.
I’m here to change that. Ixalan and Rivals contain the tools necessary to build a good control deck, and you don’t even need that many Rares and Mythics to do it. Read on to see my take on U/B Vraska, the control deck that Magic Arena needs.
(For those who’d like to view the list on TappedOut, click here.)
I’ll dive into a number of my card choices in a just a second, but first, I want to address the obvious Gorgon Planeswalker in the room. That is, why splash Green for Vraska, Relic Seeker?
The reasons include:
- Blue and Black alone are incredibly weak to Enchantments like Deeproot Waters. Straight U/B control is also weak to Artifacts, though that’s mattered less so far (although, losing to Primal Amulet also sucks, and is the reason I’m trying one Field of Ruin). Splashing Vraska gives this deck game against Enchantments and non-The Immortal Sun Artifacts without having to mess around with ineffective counterspells.
- Due to Ixalan’s Binding, control decks require a variety of win conditions (or Nezahal, Primal Tide, which I do not have yet). Here, Vraska supplements Tetzimoc, Hostage Taker, and Distant Melody.
- The splash is basically free. Evolving Wilds (with one Forest to back them up) is almost as good as Submerged Boneyard would be in straight U/B control, and Sailor of Means‘s Treasure tokens help us ramp to six mana and provide the one Green we need for Vraska.
Now that explaining Vraska is out of the way, let’s discuss some of the other card choices:
- Moment of Craving is incredible at the current…moment, because it both kills a threat and pads your life total. Between Moment and Vraska’s Contempt, you can easily stabilize a board and nudge your life total back high enough to take advantage of your Dusk Legion Zealots.
- Speaking of Zealot, it and Sailor of Means block X/1s nicely. That’s why we’re playing all of them. Sailor of Means also conveniently dodges Red decks’ Lightning Strikes.
- The one-of Search for Azcanta has been quite good at taking over the late game. It is also key to beating opposing control decks (which we are not favored against, due to our lack of resilient threats). In the same vein, Secrets of the Golden City has been good, but waiting until you have the City’s Blessing to cast it is a trap. Don’t fall for it.
- Tetzimoc, Primal Death has been insane. You should not hesitate to put the fear of Tetzimoc into your opponent, as slamming Prey counters on their creatures early can cause them to hold back their other threats. This gives you time to stabilize by other means, including this deck’s secret weapon…
- Golden Demise. This card is why we’re playing this deck. It sweeps up our opponents’ hordes, and it does so at zero to little cost to our own creatures. Two Golden Demise’s seems to be the right number so far, but I wouldn’t fault you for playing three. Against Vampires and Merfolk, it tends to be quite good.
- Finally, do not play Walk the Plank. Merfolk is by far Magic Arena‘s most prevalent deck. I played one Walk the Plank as a hedge for a bit, but ended up swapping it for a Vanquish the Weak.
For the most part, the deck plays like a fairly straightforward control deck. I’d love to add the last Ravenous Chupacabra and maybe another Hostage Taker, but I’m also happy with the deck’s performance so far. As I mentioned above, the deck most frequently loses to other control decks, which is fine, as we’re designed to beat up on aggro and midrange, not control. When Magic Arena gets sideboards, the control match-up is the first one I’d look to shore up (Nezahal might be the way to go there).
In the meantime, hopefully I’ve encouraged the other Magic Arena players out there to try something besides aggro tribal. Even with just two sets, there are a lot of cards to mess around with in Arena, and we owe it to the developers to try and BREAK THEM ALL.
Be back here in a couple weeks, when I’ll hopefully have more good things to say about Young Pyromancer.