Welcome everyone to my Deck Spotlight series, where we are going to explore top-tier, meta defining decks and give some left field brews a deserved glance. In this article I am going to go over Control Mage, one of the more straight-forward control decks in ES:L. You have your removal spells, some defensive creatures, ways to draw cards and ways to end the game. This deck goes way back for me, as it was the first actual deck I built. Control Mage has come a long way since then, so lets get into it.
The strategy of this deck is the same as all control decks: don’t die early, then win later. To stabilize the board, Mage runs early burn spells and clean removal spells backed up with Guard creatures. The Intelligence and Willpower attributes also give this deck access to two powerful sweepers to lock the game states in the mid to late game. The amount of prophecies in this deck isn’t insane, only 12, and when removing hand size and one draw gives you just over a 25% chance of hitting a prophecy off a broken rune. Those numbers could definitely be increased, with stuff like Fate Weaver, Fire Storms or Cloudrest Illusionist, but Prophecy Mage doesn’t really light my fire. For late game, Control Mage has the auto-includes of Ancano, Manticora and Miraak, Dragonborn, with Supreme Atromancer falling to the wayside in favor of a more defensive strategy. I still like Atromancer in this deck personally, as it turns the corner fast and can close the game when your opponent is out of answers, but it does nothing to help stabilize the board so I’m only running two. In favor of the third Atromancer, I’m running a Paarthurnax. This giant dragon provides a great way to attack other strategies from a variety of angles. If you’re lucky and manage to get a Soul Tear, you can start the infinite Paarthurnax engine, which is basically unbeatable for most decks. The one place you would want the third Supreme Atromancer over the Paarthurnax would be against Ramp Scout, but having a big dragon of your own is no bad thing. The addition of Arrest gives us a ton of play verses Paarthurnax, as we can steal it so it never even goes to the opponent’s graveyard. Arrest in general is an OK removal spell, and gets to act as our Unstoppable Rage: amazing when its good, horrible when its bad. I’ve cut the third Divine Wrath to hedge for the Arrests, and to make sure my Atromancers land on an empty board. In my testing, Arrest has been a net positive addition, so much so that I included Dres Renegade for the de-Shackle synergy. Plus Dres Renegade on its own isn’t horrible, its another Guard with some text. I’ve played worse cards for sure.
If this deck is missing one thing, its the ability to draw cards more consistently. I’m not running Elusive Schemer or Shimmerene Peddler, in favor of Wardcrafter/Daggerfall Mage package, so we had to add to the top-end to ensure we can hit out finishers. One of my favorite draw spells in Mage’s kit that this deck does run is Mage’s Trick, acting as our Electrolyze-style spell. Cycling it as a Rapid Shot isn’t awful, and killing a creature with it feels awesome. Another card missing from my list is Undying Dragon. This is mostly due to my philosophy of control decks. If my mid/late game card doesn’t do anything when it enters the battlefield, draw me cards, impact the board and gives my opponent targets for their removal spells, I don’t run it. I want the removal spells my opponents draw to be dead in their hand, and have to use it on my Guards or on my creatures that have already killed something of theirs (See Mantikora or Ancano). Undying Dragon on its own is an incredibly powerful card, and can snowball out of control very quickly, but I don’t like that style of card in my control decks. If I were to retool the deck to incorporate Undying Dragon, I would add Pillaging Tribunes, but that’s for another day. As is, the worst creature in this deck is Warcrafter by a lot, followed by maybe Knight of the Hour, but those at least have Summon effects.
In terms of matchups, this deck has a fighting chance against the majority of the field. Its worst matchups are the Intelligence mirrors, with things like Midrange Sorcerer and Midrange Assassin preying on this deck. These matchups aren’t shut outs, and if you can get to a point where you can cast one of your 10+ magicka spells safely you’re probably in a good spot. This deck can be vulnerable to Charge creatures, especially Tazkad, but most of the decks that run a plethora of Charge creatures are unfavored against Control Mage in general. Midrange Archer and Orc Tribal, in particular, you can beat up pretty bad but they do have avenues to defeat you. Ramp Scout, the ladder’s resident boogeyman, is weighted in your favor, but in a 55/45 sense. The Supreme Atromancers, Arrests and Paarthurnax shine in this matchup, but you really need to draw them on time for them to be effective and have your opponent fade Ramp/Hist Groves. As a whole, Control Mage is favored against aggressive decks, but the ones that verge on Midrange like Token Crusader can really prove problematic for you. As a small thing, Swindler’s Market Archer has an surprisingly good matchup verses Control Mage, as you can’t really pressure it early or answer their supports. I’ve seen some players go so far as to include Vicious Dreugh in their Control Mage decks, because the Support cards that need answers are very good against you.
For the past week and a bit, I’ve been playing Control Mage a bunch, Ramp Scout, Merric Battlemage, and as a request I’ve been testing Midrange Crusader, and keeping special note whenever I run into Control Mage. When I’m playing Ramp Scout or Merric, I generally don’t want to fight Control Mage. I’ve kept an alright record, but I do feel the matchups are unfavored. Alternatively, when I’m playing Mage or Crusader, I love getting queued against Control Mage. My list is good in the mirror, with Arrests and more late game stuff, and Crusader gets to run a similar plan but lower to the ground and generates a ton of pressure. One match in particular, I’ve Arrested two Elusive Schemers and Ice Stormed one away with my opponent’s board and Mage’s Tricked the other away, so it was like I had Schemers in my deck to begin with and my opponent didn’t have any. This highlights one of my favorite things about this deck: Outs. There are always a sequence of draws or a play pattern that can amount to a victory. Every time when a game starts going bad, you can imagine a card you can draw or prophecy you can hit to swing the game back in your favor. When a deck is flush with outs, especially a Control deck, I tend to like the deck a lot more. Now, with all that out of the way, lets get into the games.
At 3 wins and 2 losses, I’m proud of this deck’s showing. The wins, as expected, were against two aggro-ish decks and one non-Intelligence midrange deck. The two losses were, as expected, both against Intelligence midrange decks. I even played really poorly in game two, against the Undying Dragon deck, as I could have saved my Arrest and remembered that Divine Fervor makes it so my Ice Storms don’t kill any Supreme Atromancers, but still managed the win. The final loss against Midrange Mage felt super winnable and I felt my deck did its thing. Just needed a few more cards to lock up that game. The alterations I made to the list with Dres Renegades and Paarthurnax felt good, but I will continue editing this list. The first thing that comes to mind would be shaving both Dres Renegade and Arrests to two slots and remove the Paarthurnax for three Elusive Schemers to help in the Intelligence mirrors, but that might be overkill. Paarthurnax did do his job at “I’m big and I’m here to end the game” and we only got to get value off his other hits once with the Dragon’s Breath against Blood Magic Lord. I’m still not convinced Paarthurnax should just be the third Supreme Atromancer, but that would be something that will reveal the correct answer over a ton of games. Playing both of the 12-magicka dragons seems incorrect, but they both seem good in tandem with the two Atromacers. As always, if you have any comments about this Control Mage list or requests for future decks, hit me up on twitter! This has been the Deck Spotlight Series, thank you all for reading~~