September 17, 2015

The Leanest Cut

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Welcome to the second week of Battle for Zendikar previews here on DailyMTG. Today, we'll be discussing an exciting new card from Battle for Zendikar that will allow control decks to operate with maximum efficiency throughout its duration in Standard.

Making a good control deck isn't easy. There are two things that our control deck absolutely must accomplish: We need to find the right balance of answers for a particular format's threats, and we need to be able to accrue enough card advantage to actually win the long games we're trying to engage in.

Frustratingly, there's one more thing that our control deck needs to accomplish. Eventually, in a far-off distant universe where an opponent has no cards in hand and we're deciding which Dig Through Time in our hand to cast, we'll need to actually win the game.

Winning the game has always been one of the biggest hurdles for control decks. It's hard to squeeze the right mix of card draw and answers into a deck and still have room for a real win condition that can actually do something when we're ready to be winning the game.

The "win condition" problem has plagued players trying to build the best control deck since the very beginning of competitive Magic, when players jammed a few copies of comparatively embarrassing Serra Angels or Millstones into their Counterspell/Swords to Plowshares/Ancestral Recall–laden powerhouses.

The big problem with playing a win condition is that sometimes we draw it and find ourselves with a card that's essentially dead in our hand. We want to use our win condition when our opponent is completely spent. We're just gonna activate or attack while the opponent flounders under the crushing weight of card advantage we've accrued over the course of the game.

Some of the most successful control decks we've seen in recent years have been able to overcome the win-condition problem by simply playing Snapcaster Mage. Instead of devoting slots specifically to winning the game, control players are able to increase the redundancy of a matchup's most important spell while also having access to a card that actually attacks for some damage.

That's the control deck we should be scared of—the deck whose win condition would likely be played as an answer regardless. Today, I'd like to introduce you to that win condition.

Scatter to the Winds gives us a reasonably efficient piece of countermagic that gets upgraded to a card-advantageous win condition in the later stages of the game. Standard control decks have been playing with four copies of Dissolve since it became an option, and Scatter to the Winds seems like a solid upgrade from there.

With Scatter to the Winds, we can simply play our game. Kill things, counter things, maybe draw some cards on our opponent's end step. We're never going to be forced to make the move. Eventually, we'll have generated enough card advantage that it will translate into a mana advantage as well. This will give us the green light to start turning our lands into 3/3s while we counter our opponent's spells. Our 3/3(s) will attack a bit, and the game will end. No messy Dragons, Angels, or gimmicky milling plans required, just some good ol' fashioned lands attacking for the win.

If our game is going according to plan, then we should have established a pretty healthy team of lands on our side of the table by the time we're thinking about winning the game. Cashing in one of our lands for a beatstick seems like a fine deal.

Looking back through Magic's history, it's not easy to find a pure analogue to a card like Scatter to the Winds. Sure, there are cards like Mystic Snake and Draining Whelk, but those cards are much narrower in scope. Mystic Snake and Draining Whelk have both been incredibly strong Constructed tools at one point or another, but neither gave us the option to simply counter a spell straight up for three mana. Cancel may not be the most exciting card, but it's fantastic when it becomes one of multiple options on a given card.

Where can we find a home for a card like Scatter to the Winds?

The most obvious place is a blue-black or white-blue control strategy. White-blue decks will probably play Scatter to the Winds, but the card isn't nearly as important for them as it is to the blue-black control strategies that don't actively want to be playing a win condition like Dragonlord Ojutai.

Scatter to the Winds | Art by Raymond Swanland

Scatter to the Winds isn't just for the control decks. In fact, the card is tremendously well-suited for a tempo strategy that aims to stick a very powerful two- or three-mana threat, which it then intends to back up with countermagic and removal. Players are often able to combat these types of decks' one-spell-per-turn nature by setting up a pair of removal spells for the fifth or sixth turn. With Scatter to the Winds, we're creating a unique type of card advantage when we draw more lands than intended, and the card is still quite powerful when we're operating with the expected amount of mana resources.

In Limited, the card is often a blowout. Anyone who's played with or against this type of effect in Commander or Cube is intimately familiar with how powerful countering a spell while making a threat—all from a single card—can be. It's kind of like a Draining Whelk that I can also use as a Cancel if I'm trying to use my mana. Scatter to the Winds is particularly good in Sealed Deck, where cards like it have always been haymakers.

Scatter to the Winds is a powerful card that's going to have a big effect on Standard in the coming months. It's been a long while since control decks were given a mixed set of tools with this type of efficiency in Standard. With board sweepers, cheap removal, good countermagic, and Dig Through Time, we can be sure that control decks have been set up well for a blockbuster performance.

Knowledge is power!



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