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Strategy matters in Magic: the Gathering. While you could theoretically bash away at your opponents with beefy creatures (which is actually a perfectly viable strategy), many people prefer more complicated methods.

If you’re planning to play the game more than casually, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with a range of strategies. One of the most popular ones is called control.

In this guide, we’ll be giving you tips for playing control in MTG. Aside from just giving you tips, we’ll provide examples of cards that are staples and explain what control means.

What Does it Mean to Play Control in MTG?

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

The concept of control is pretty self-explanatory – it’s in the name of the strategy: control. When you play control, your goal is to, well, control the game. You’re trying to dominate the field and only allow what you want to happen.

Generally, decks based on control are slower. They focus on preventing your opponents from doing what you don’t want them to by using things like counter spells. These are very much response-based decks that are designed to answer threats.

In many control-themed decks, you actually let your opponent play a bunch of cards and respond to them accordingly. You force them to burn through their resources. Once they’re dead in the water, you put your own win condition into play. 

Card advantage – the ability to draw more cards or use them more effectively – is important for all strategies, but it’s most important of all in control decks. You need to be able to draw what you need when you need it.

Pictured above is Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.

He gives you card advantage with his uptick, and he untaps land for you so you have mana open. His downtick helps you protect him, and his ultimate lets you exile opponents’ permanents every time you draw a card…which his uptick makes you do.

It’s a self-feeding cycle of control that your opponents will hate. 

Read Also: Best MTG Sets for Angels

Tips for Playing Control in MTG

Tip 1: Don’t be afraid to use your life as a resource.

Platinum Emperion

Most beginning players fall into this trap of thinking that their life points are precious, fragile things that need to be protected at all cost. Throw away that mindset. Toss it in the trash and forget about it.

Here’s your new mindset: everything except that last life point before zero is a resource to tap into. Remember, as long as you don’t drop to zero, you still haven’t lost the game yet. (And there are some cards that even let you go below zero without losing, but we’ll save that discussion for another time.) 

It’s okay to take some damage before using your board wipe or removal spells. Don’t immediately panic when you take a hit and assume you need to empty your hand in response. 

This allows you to keep more of your cards as options for when they’re needed most. Again, if you win with one life, you still win. 

When we think about life points in MTG, the first card that comes to mind is Platinum Emperion. As you can see, it makes it impossible for your life total to change. Be prepared to protect it if you end up casting it, though.

Tip 2: We like to counter spells and break hearts.


Counter spells are going to be the core of pretty much any control deck. They’re among the most powerful cards in all of Magic: the Gathering, because they can stop almost anything. 

Don’t like that creature your opponent’s getting ready to cast? Counter it. Is that board wipe going to ruin your battlefield presence? Counter it.

That’s why counter spells are critical. They are of the utmost importance in control decks because they protect you and allow you to control the game.

One of the most famous counter spells in the game is Force of Will. The reason it’s so strong is it’s essentially a “free” card (losing one card and life is pretty affordable, all things considered) that lets you counter something. However, Force of Will is also notoriously expensive.

A good budget option is Counterspell, which is also pictured above. It only costs two blue mana, which is fantastic. 

Tip 3: Planeswalkers are your friends (and a great reusable resource).

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Planeswalkers are powerful and valuable cards in general, but they can be indispensable tools in control-based decks. 

For one thing, they’re reusable. Usually, they’ll have abilities that protect your life or grant you card advantage. Each one will also have an ultimate ability that does something powerful – some can even help you win the game.

We recommend planeswalkers that let you draw extra cards. This is called card advantage, which is absolutely vital when you’re playing control. 

We’ve already mentioned Teferi previously, so let’s take a look at another great planeswalker for control: Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

Jace is incredibly iconic in the history of MTG. He was actually banned in standard when he came out because of how much he does. 

He draws you cards, manipulates your opponent’s deck, bounces creatures, and his ultimate usually wins the game for you. He’s the perfect example of what you want in a controlling planeswalker. 

Tip 4: Let’s get rid of those pesky creatures.

Path of Exile

More likely than not, your opponent is going to be casting creatures to smack you with. When you’re playing control, you obviously don’t want that to happen. 

You’ll want to remove creatures to protect your life total and to safeguard your planeswalkers. This is especially true when you’re using a card like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, because you can bet your opponents will do anything to get rid of him.

Prepare to use single-target removal in response. This will allow you to hit one of your opponent’s creatures before it can hurt you. 

Path of Exile is an excellent removal card. At one white mana, it’s extremely cheap, and it allows you to exile a creature. That means your opponent won’t be able to bring the creature back at a later time.

Mass removal and board wipes are a great choice, too, especially if you’re using planeswalkers. There are many board wipes that only target creatures, which means your planeswalkers would be safe. An example of such a board wipe is Fumigate, which gains you life and removes all creatures from the board.

Read Also: Best MTG Sets for Goblins

Tip 5: Let’s talk win conditions.

Fae of Wishes

We mentioned previously that many planeswalkers have built-in ultimate abilities with win conditions. However, the wise deck builder never relies on just one card to win the game. You need a back-up plan…or two…or even three. Maybe even more.

That means having other win conditions built into your deck. It is important that you have a way of winning the game once your opponent has ran out of resources. 

One card that we particularly love is Fae of Wishes. It lets you choose a card from your sideboard in a standard game, which you can fill with various ways to close out the game. If you are playing Commander and your playgroup agrees to it, you can use it as a sort of tutor to find a way to win the game.

Wrap Up

Control is a great strategy, especially the more comfortable you are with Magic: the Gathering. If you find yourself constantly wishing you could respond quickly to opponents, a control deck is perfect for you.

Incorporate some of the cards we suggested, and you’ll find that your deck is close to being like a well-oiled machine. 

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