(Editor’s note: I really wanted to name this “Teach me how to durdle” but I was told not to by the author. So there.)
Hi. I’m burgleburgle. I’ve been playing Diamond-Sapphire control in Hex since somebody first played Silver Talon Adjudicator against me on the ladder and I realized what a messed-up card it is. I’ve played a dozen variants of it, and recently top-4’d the first Hex Bash with my latest. I have been called a filthy netdecker, accused of making the game no fun, and being lucky: these are all true, but mostly I am just a simple man who likes to draw cards and have the most fun in every match. Diamond-Sapphire is the deck for me.
Champion: Dreaming Fox
6x Sapphire Shard
4x Diamond Shard
4x Arcane Focus
3x Lanupaw’s Sight
4x Silver Talon Adjudicator
4x Dark Heart of Nulzann – Gems: 4x Major Sapphire of Clarity, 4x Minor Diamond of Protection
4x Well of Purpose
3x Eldurathan’s Glory
2x Psychic Ascension
3x Into the Unknown
1x Weave into Nothing
2x Clash of Steel
4x Diamond Ice
4x Sapphire Ice
2x Tribunal Magistrate
2x Totem Trap
1x Mad Robomancer
1x Diamond’s Favor
1x Lanupaw’s Sight
2x Verdict of the Ancient Kings
1x Dread End
1x Weave into Nothing
2x Pride’s Fall
2x Confounding Ire
Why DS Control?
Traditionally, control decks in TCGs have run into the “Wrong Half of the Deck” problem: you have answers for all kinds of problems, but sometimes your answers don’t line up with the threats your opponent is presenting. Totem Trap is a great card against Redlings…except when they go Emperor’s Lackey into Underworld Crusader. Frostheart changes this, by giving Diamond-Sapphire decks 12 new ways to filter their deck: Guidance and 8 Ice Shards, in addition to the 4 arcane focus already in the deck. It can be easy to look at cards like Culmination of Blood, Lazgar’s Vengeance, and Underworld Crusader and ask “how can we do anything more powerful than that?” – the answer is that we can’t, but we can do something almost as powerful every single game.
The Game Plan:
The Diamond-Sapphire game plan unfolds in 3 stages: Slow them down, Stabilize the board, and Bury them in a barrow of card advantage. Let’s go over each step, and how it manifests in our decklist:
Slow them down. In the first 3 turns, we’re looking to accomplish 2 things – prevent the opponent from progressing their game plan too much, and use our abundant filtering to set up a good turn 4 or 5 play that will stabilize the board. Our primary main deck tools for this are Runebind and Transmogrifade, and to a lesser extent, Into the Unknown. Note that our best tools, as well as our cantrips, are all 1-resource. This is convenient because it means that playing tapped shards (our 8 ice) rarely prevents us from using our resources on a given turn. In general, try to play your tapped shards on 1 and 2, to have 3 resources open for a turn 3 weave into nothing, or into the unknown. Your goal during this point is just to keep the board under control – don’t worry about getting a ton of value out of your cards, just spend your resources efficiently.
Stabilize the board: The reason that Diamond-Sapphire control far surpasses other sapphire variants is that it can stabilize the board far more consistently. It relies on 4 cards for this: Clash of Steel, Dark Heart of Nulzann, Silver Talon Adjudicator and Eldurathan’s Glory. These cards are all important enough to warrant their own bits:
Clash of Steel: Clash of Steel punishes decks that go wide. For 3 resources, it leaves an opponent with only their best threat. Generally, we have a lot of ways (Dark Heart, Into the Unknown, Transmogrifade, Runebind) to deal with 1 threat efficiently. Particularly, as a follow up to a dark heart, this card is brutal. Most importantly, unlike a lot of our cards, Clash of Steel hits all permanent types, including constants and artifacts, which can help DS Control deal with cards it normally has trouble with.
Dark Heart of Nulzann: Socketed with Minor Diamond of Protection and Major Sapphire of Clarity, Dark Heart is a 4/6 for 4 that causes each player to sacrifice a non-socketed permanent at the beginning of their upkeep. A 4/6 for 4 doesn’t die to Lazgar’s vengeance, it can block almost anything profitably, and, most importantly, every turn it’s on the board is another creature your opponent has to sacrifice. If you ready and have the ability to protect your Dark Heart, you’re probably winning the game.
Silver Talon Adjudicator (STA): This card is the ultimate come-from-behind card. Are you down cards? It draws 2. Are you down health? It gains 5. And it’s a perfectly acceptable 3/2 flier who is willing to be roadkill for the nearest Mortartrike Driver. While it will not take over the game, it will often tax your opponent’s resources to the point where the next bomb can take it over.
Eldurathan’s Glory: A 5/5 for 5 that voids all troops with toughness 3 or less, Eldurathan’s glory usually comes down, gets rid of the opponent’s board, and puts a real clock on the table that’s difficult to remove. The set of main deck cards that deal efficiently with this card are…slim, and 5 damage a turn while blocking almost everything profitably is tough for decks to race.
Bury them: Congratulations! You didn’t die, and you stabilized the board. You’re now overwhelmingly favored to win any given match. Protect your cards on the board. Hit your resource drops with cantrips. Use your hero power. Draw to Psychic Ascension and eventually win, if beating them up with dark hearts, glories and adjudicators doesn’t get you there.
The important thing to consider, at this point in the game, is not how you win…but how you could possibly lose. Maybe this means you need to gain some extra life with an adjudicator…maybe it means you should leave a dark heart back to block. But understand that, at this point, you can probably mathematically eliminate the opponent by making conservative decisions, so do that.
There are two primary differentiators between my deck and the most common builds of DS Control: Our main deck draw spell of choice, and our sideboard.
To the first, they play dreamcall, and I play Lanupaw’s sight. Lanupaw’s sight draws me 3 more cards from my deck. Dreamcall draws them X random cards. I want to draw cards from my deck – I put the best cards in it on purpose. Those random cards that weren’t in my deck? They’re worse. Nobody wants them. I’m not really sure why this is an argument.
A more interesting discussion is in sideboarding strategy. Hex doesn’t lend itself well to specific hate cards, because it has a diverse metagame with a lot of different threats. So I wanted my sideboard to be equally diverse, so I could tailor it every game.
Totem Trap, Pride’s Fall, Diamond’s Favor: These are conditional removal spells – if they’ll work more often than not against the deck you’re playing, in they go. With a few notable exceptions, you’d rather see a creature dead than transmogrified. Remember that Diamond’s Favor doesn’t target, so it can get around spellshielded cards like gargalith.
Confounding Ire, Verdict of the Ancient Kings, and Weave Into Nothing: Situational counterspells. Bring confounding ire in if it will hit important spells, bring Verdict of the Ancient Kings into control matchups, and bring Weave into Nothing in if the opponent has some medium, slow cards that you can’t afford to allow onto the battlefield.
Dread End: A pretty unconditional board wipe – the only one currently in Hex.
Lanupaw’s Sight, Tribunal Magistrate, Mad Robomancer: This is the primary place where my board will differ from other boards. While other people slot in multiple copies of halt, or 4 verdicts of the ancient kings for control matchups, I want additional threats. Many people see sapphire control mirrors as a race to see who can psychic ascension first, and thus stock up on interrupts. But all of these cards are perfectly capable of taking over games on their own, and your opponent will frequently have to spend resources he’d rather spend fighting over psychic ascension to deal with these other cards.
A core idea to remember is this: Threats are better than conditional answers, because conditional answers trade 1-1 with threats only when one player has the threat and the other has the answer. In the other situations, the threat resolves…or the answer sits in hand. This doesn’t become less true just because we’re playing No Rush 10 Hex.
This deck has fairly good matchups with all of the best decks, which tend to be aggressive at the moment. I’ll go over what I consider to be the 4 best other decks (Redlings, Ruby Deck Wins, Blood-Wild Deathcry, and Empress of Ice):
Redlings: Redlings is an aggressive deck that relies on scrounge. Look to hold up resources on turn 3 to transmogrifade or runebind their turn 3 threat (it’s usually a lot better than their turn 1-2 threats), and deny them a dreadling from Ivan Slagpot’s hero power. Mulligan 7-card hands that don’t have both a way to slow and a way to stabilize…or significant ability to filter your deck.
In: +2 Totem Trap, +2 Pride’s Fall, +2 Confounding Ire
Out: -1 Weave into Nothing, -1 Lanupaw’s Sight, -2 Psychic Ascension, -2 Clash of Steel
Note that clash of steel is not actually great in this matchup – this deck usually has 1 big threat that’s pounding you for 4-6 every turn, as opposed to a go-wide board. This matchup is marginally favored for us.
Ruby Deck Wins: This deck is just aiming to do as much damage as it can. The cards that are really scary are Escape Goat, Righteous Outlaw, Matriarch of Flames and Mama Yeti – everything else is just pretty adorable. Try to make sure these cards don’t stick on the table: Good news, you have 25 life. This matchup is great.
In: +2 Totem Trap, +2 Pride’s Fall, +1 Weave into Nothing
Out: -2 Clash of Steel, -1 Lanupaw’s Sight, -2 Psychic Ascension
Clash is mediocre against most RDW variants, again, because they don’t have any innate go-wide mechanics. We bring in conditional removal because it hits a lot of their important cards, and because we want cards that affect the board. We already have plenty of card advantage. This matchup is very favored for us, because we have 25 starting life and and ample maindeck lifegain.
Blood-Wild Deathcry: This is a synergy deck that also gets to play a bunch of independently good cards. They’re looking to put two things together: A deathcry-enabler, and a card with a sweet deathcry. Their best deathcry-enabler is Lord Blightbark. Their best targets are Underworld Crusader and Rune-ear Heirophant. If you can Into the Unknown any of those 3 cards, you should do it. Our game plan here is to keep their board under control and wipe it with Clash of Steel or Eldurathan’s Glory. Pay careful attention to how many cards are in the crypt – try to play around Culmination in Blood by either caching draws on the top of your deck with Lanupaw’s sight, not using your hero power, holding up countermagic, or keeping cards out of the crypt using Clash of Steel and Eldurathan’s Glory.
In: +1 Dread End, +2 Confounding Ire, +1 Lanupaw’s Sight
Out: -1 Dark Heart, -1 Weave Into Nothing, -2 Runebind
We board in some unconditional counterspells against their deck (Ires), card advantage, and board wipes. We board out some cards that are not card advantage (runebind), some more expensive counterspells, and a card that makes them sacrifice things…which they already wanted to do. This matchup is also pretty good – if you can play around culmination in blood, you should be favored.
Empress of Ice:
Empress is a weird deck. It has draws that are very aggressive, but can also board up and be controlling. Into the Unknown is your best card in this matchup – you will generally fight a lot over Tribunal Magistrates and Commander Prompts.
In: +2 Pride’s Fall, +1 Diamond’s Favor
Out: -3 Eldurathan’s Glory
If you see that your opponent has gone super-late game, you can bring in some of your control mirror cards, such as verdict of the ancient kings. However, because our mainboard can fight that control mirror just fine, I like to hedge against their more aggressive draws.
Diamond-Sapphire Mirror: My favorite matchup. In this MU, you want to hit your resources, draw cards, and protect a threat. Because we play two maindeck psychic ascensions, we tend to be favored in game 1s. Chill. Hit your resources. Don’t play threats without protection. Sit down and get ready for a long game with a lot of play on both sides.
In: +1 Weave into Nothing, +2 Verdict of the Ancient Kings, +2 Tribunal Magistrate, +1 Lanupaw’s Sight, +2 Pride’s Fall, +1 Mad Robomancer
Out: -3 Eldurathan’s Glory, -4 Transmogrifade, -2 Clash of Steel
We’re bringing in 3 threats that matter (2 magistrates and 1 robomancer), more card advantage, and more countermagic. We’re shaving threats that don’t do anything (Glory), and clash of steel. We basically swamp the last 2 transmogrifade for pride’s fall, because pride’s fall hits everything important and doesn’t leave a lingering body.
Tips and Tricks: This deck likes to make plays. Here are some of them.
Sequencing your filtering spells is important. Arcane Focus/Guidance first. Then Fateweave. Then Lanupaw’s Sight. Then draw cards with Oracle’s Song or Silver Talon Adjudicator.
Runebind can be used to blank removal, by turning a creature into a rune. It can be used re-buy deploy effects like Silver Talon Adjudicator’s life gain or card draw. It can be used to save a creature, after blocks are declared. Try to think about these situations 1 turn in advance, so you can fateweave a resource to the top of your deck. Alternatively, turn 7 is a good time to do these tricks, because you have dreaming fox’s hero power to draw you into a resource. Remember that you don’t have to naturally draw the resource – you can arcane focus for it. Finally, it can just be used to delay an effect: If you don’t have a hard counter for culmination of blood, you can Runebind it and Into the Unknown the rune…or hope they don’t draw a resource.
Into the Unknown is a terrific card that allows sapphire decks to deal with constants and artifacts. In every matchup, you should have a mental list of what cards are core to the opposing deck’s strategy…and try to send them where they belong: the unknown. If you Into the Unknown your own dark heart in a DS mirror, all of their dark hearts get turned into random cards, your single dark heart gets turned into a random card but the rest of your hearts are safe. Remember that Into the Unknown does not revert: counters, prophesy effects, etc. will still be on the new card. Because it transforms into a card of the same shards, you can sometimes bounce a transmogrified card to hand that they can’t replay, because they don’t have the shards for it.
Silver Talon Adept should be used as a card-drawing spell in a control matchup. Don’t be afraid to use spells inefficiently to draw more cards with it.
Change your Sockets:
Is there a big difference between 6 toughness and 4 toughness? If your opponent doesn’t have Pyre Strike, Lazgar’s Vengeance or Strangle, and blocking isn’t too important, Dark Heart’s +2 toughness gem should change
Does the opponent rely heavily on a few key cards, or prophecy? Use the Minor Sapphire of Lunacy
Just want to hit your resource drops? Use the Minor Diamond of Fate
Psychic ascension board stalls are generally broken by evasive troops – give your Dark Heart flying and swiftstrike in PA mirrors.
Mad Robomancer should generally be a Major Sapphire of Sorcery and a Minor Sapphire of Lunacy. At two robomancers per turn, we can deck a control player in about 5 turns, while having a ton of blockers and free spells.
Updates for an Aggressive Metagame
You may have noticed that Lazgar’s Vengeance got placed on the watch list. Probably because Tork Slamstyx and Ivan Slagpot decks have been running rampant over the constructed scene. Don’t worry – this deck, like any powerful archetype, can be tuned to fight against any metagame. Here’s are the changes I’d make if I was playing the tournament this week:
1 Lanupaw’s Sight (From the main)
2 Pride’s Fall
Moved to the Side:
Weave into Nothing
1 Into the Unknown
Added to the Main:
4 Thunderfield Seer
Playing against aggressive decks requires consistency and the ability to efficiently spend your mana in early turns. Thunderfield Seer is a delayed cantrip – we’re eventually getting that card back, but it may take some time. However, it frequently uses resources that we weren’t going to use, and it is the bane of baby yetis, escape goats, boltspasms and righteous outlaws everywhere. Worst case, it’s a speedbump to throw in front of an underworld crusader.
In testing, I’ve found that adding the thunderfield dramatically improves our Tork matchup, and helps make our redlings matchup solidly favored. But this is the fun of having a thriving control deck in the standard format – there are always tweaks you can make to gain percentage points in matchups. I hope you guys have as much fun controlling the board, drawing cards, and grinding out that sweet v-owl-ue as I have.