Keeper/Control Primer 1.0 by Exeter June 8, 2000

Beyond Dominia: Type One Primers: Keeper/Control Primer 1.0 by Exeter

Control decks have existed since the beginning of Magic. Duelist #2 had an article called "Winning Combinations: Two approaches to Tournament- Legal Magic Decks," [1] detailing the "denial" strategy, which is Summer 1994 talk for "control." Legends had just come out, and the Dark was just around the corner. Thus, available to the deckbuilder of the era were all the classic components of "The Deck," as versatile control decks became known.

There are several key strategies behind "The Deck", which makes it much more difficult to play than any of the more single-minded strategies out there. Broadly stated, the strategy behind "The Deck" is to simply stay alive and accumulate resources until you have an overwhelming advantage over your opponent. Then, kill them with some random card from your deck, such as Braingeyser, Fireball, or a creature.
The earliest deck listing for "The Deck" style control is one I found on the Dojo ( [2] This listing postdates the previously cited Duelist article by one year, but contained only three cards produced after that writing, and those were in the sideboard. Here is the listing:

Weissman's "The Deck", Dec '95

2 Serra Angel
4 Mana Drain
2 Counterspell
1 Time Walk
1 Timetwister
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Braingeyser
1 Recall
4 Disenchant
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Moat
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Mind Twist
1 Regrowth
2 Red Elemental Blast
2 Disrupting Scepter
1 Jayemdae Tome
1 Ivory Tower
5 Moxen
1 Black Lotus
1 Sol Ring
2 Strip Mine
1 Library of Alexandria
3 City of Brass
1 Plateau
1 Underground Sea
2 Volcanic Island
4 Tundra
3 Plains
4 Island

1 Plains
1 Disrupting Scepter
1 Jayemdae Tome
1 Tormod's Crypt
2 Control Magic
1 Counterspell
2 Blood Moon
3 COP:Red
2 Divine Offering
1 Moat

Note that this version is the last to use Mind Twist, and even then it was restricted due to the power of a first turn Mind Twist for 7. There was no Force of Will back then to prevent it, so that play alone usually meant the game.

A detailed commentary on playing this version, and indeed almost all versions of "The Deck," can be seen at:

Some of the highlights of this deck include:

1. Only seven counters between deck and sideboard. There is so much removal that you don't actually need to counter a whole lot. There is so much card drawing that you draw your removal very quickly. The main deck REB I do not count as counterspell ability, but rather as an anti- control measure. They can be sided out versus someone not playing blue.

2. Massive card denial. It's very hard for an opponent to do anything if he has no cards in hand. Versus this deck, he should have no cards a large percentage of the time.

3. Sideboarded Blood Moon. By replacing a Tundra with a Plains, this brings the basic land count up to 8. Since all the critical white except Moat requires only one white, Blood Moon has almost no effect on "The Deck." As Weissman himself put it, "The Deck's sideboard generates a lock I call the "Triple Threat" This lock consisting of blood moon/COP Red/Moat will reduce probably 80% of type I decks to nothing but moxes." [2]

4. Only 3 main deck kill options. The two Serras are the primary kill in this deck, with the Braingeyser serving a secondary role. The goal of "The Deck," is first and foremost to survive, and secondly to reduce its opponent to helplessness by removing all his key permanents and strip- ping his hand of cards. The deck is designed primarily as a fortress in which its player sits until he is able to win the game.
Later versions of "The Deck" remained largely the same, so I won't comment in detail on them. When Mind Twist was banned, Amnesia became the default replacement in the heavily blue deck. Mirror Universe later replaced the Ivory Tower, and a Fireball was added to the sideboard as an additional kill option that was totally unaffected by Blood Moon. "The Deck"'s tweaks which enabled it to beat Necro more consistently included 4 Mystical Tutor, Abyss in place of Moat, and the removal of the Angels in place of 2 Fire- balls. I believe this is the weakest version of "The Deck," since it can be overwhelmed much more easily by an aggressive deck sporting DD and effective creatures, such as Zoo. One Force of Will was also added to deal with Prosperity/Vice/Mana Crypt decks. Blood Moon disappeared from the sideboard, along with the main deck Moat, since it could no longer generate the total lock and was somewhat ineffective versus Necro.

The modern version of "The Deck," differs insignificantly from the deck Azhrei posts here periodically as "The Keeper," so I will repost the Keeper decklist instead.

Azhrei's Keeper

3 underground sea
2 island
2 tropical island
4 tundra
4 city of brass
2 wasteland
1 tolarian academy
1 strip mine
1 library of Alexandria

1 black lotus -- no puny savannah here.
1 mox sapphire
1 mox pearl
1 mox jet
1 mox ruby
1 sol ring
1 zuran orb
1 mirror universe
1 jayemdae tome
1 tormod's crypt
1 jester's cap

1 kaervek's torch

1 demonic tutor
1 vampiric tutor
1 the abyss

1 regrowth
2 gaea's blessing
1 sylvan library

1 moat
1 balance
2 swords to plowshares
2 disenchant

4 mana drain
2 counterspell
2 force of will
1 mystical tutor
1 ancestral recall
1 timetwister
1 braingeyser
1 amnesia
1 stroke of genius

Some things to note about the Keeper:

1. More win options. Main deck Tormod's Crypt/Timetwister can slowly remove an opponent's entire deck from the game. Combined with a Jester's Cap (which by itself can cause a concession), the Keeper attacks its opponent's best resource, the library. The Gaea's Blessings also represent a win option, since they can keep the deck's cards recurring long enough to run the opponent out of cards. Kaervek's Torch is an obvious "win" card, but also serves as emergency creature removal. Stroke and Braingeyser are used, preferably in combination with a Mana Drain the previous turn, to draw lots of cards and run through the deck quickly, but later in the game can kill the opponent too.

2. The Keeper is difficult to Cap. Once I had an opponent cap me 4 times before I was forced to concede the game. This is because he Capped the wrong cards, but in any case, the Keeper can be capped at least twice before having to concede. The two Cap solution is as follows: With the first Cap, I would remove Jester's Cap, Tormod's Crypt, and Stroke of Genius. With the second Cap, I would remove a Gaea's Blessing, the Torch, and Braingeyser. However, if the Keeper allows itself to be capped twice like this, it likely has already lost. A better solution might be to Cap out 3 Mana Drains the first time, which forces it to use its own mana to play those big Strokes, Torches, and misc. artifacts, and also makes getting off the second Cap that much easier.

3. The Keeper is rock solid versus creature decks. Moat and Abyss together shut down everything except flying artifact creatures, or flying pro-Black creatures. These can be dealt with via Balance or Swords to Plowshares.

4. The Keeper still focuses on discard. While Disrupting Scepter is not a strong main deck option due to Necro, Amnesia recursion can devastate just about any deck.

5. The Keeper recurses much faster than "The Deck," due to Gaea's Blessing. The only card I miss in the Keeper is Recall.

6. No Time Walk. I have not had the chance to ask Azhrei about this, but I believe it to be a deliberate and strong design decision not to include Time Walk in this deck. It does virtually nothing and there are other, stronger cards available. However, I wonder if a 61-card version which simply tosses Time Walk in might be moderately better, since there are some occasions where it would be nice to have. Even if the Walk gets countered, you've baited your opponent into blowing a counter on an unimportant spell, which is nearly as good as countering their own spell. I'm going to test this.

7. Vulnerable to Blood Moon. This is one of two glaring weaknesses I can see in the deck. Blood Moon does reduce it to nothing but a pile of Moxes and a Torch.

8. Opponent can side out anti-creature cards in game 2. This is easily solved by putting a Morphling or Palinchron or both in the sideboard. With Palinchron, you also have the ability to go combo with the Academy and a Torch, Stroke, or Braingeyser. With Morphling, you have another brick in your already formidable anti-creature wall.

Playing the Keeper:
In some ways, playing this deck is incredibly hard, and in others it is incredibly easy.
If you are gonna die, tutor for something that will keep you alive. When facing a creature rush, hold them off with Swords and Balance until you can put up a Moat and/or Abyss. Then protect your Moat/Abyss. Don't be afraid to Mana Drain a moderate-sized spell (say, 4cc or so) early on, especially if you have Stroke, Braingeyser, Jayemdae Tome, or Mirror Universe in your hand. There is a reason why WOTC won't reprint this card, after all.

Strip your opponent's Academies and Libraries, but don't worry too much about other stuff. Most lands can't do much to hurt you. If your opponent is running man lands, recurse your Strip Mine and Wastelands with your Gaea's Blessings, or Plow them. Remember, you have only one Strip Mine and two Wasteland, so make them count. Usually I will let one sit on the table in preparation to strip an Academy or Library.
Strip Islands when preparing to cast something that will break the game. This is somewhat counter to what I just wrote, but that is what makes playing this deck a matter of skill. If you want to cast something you don't want countered, hold counters, then strip your opponent's blue at an opportune time. This is especially effective with the Torch.

Use the Jester's Cap immediately, if you are going to use it at all. Do not give an opponent an opportunity to Disenchant it. Treat it as a 6cc drop, and use it with a Mana Drain if at all possible.  Learn to use the Cap effectively. It's incredibly hard to use the Jester's Cap effectively, but when it is used right, it is absolutely devastating. Play a land every turn, if possible. Hold land if your opponent is running Armageddon, or if you need to get up to 7 cards to use the Library. Use the Library every turn. Draw a card either in your opponent's upkeep, or at the end of their turn. Drawing during upkeep gives you a possible counter to use on something, while still letting you keep 7 cards in hand. Drawing at the end of your opponent's turn allows you to use the Library for mana during their turn if you need. Note that with 6E rules, waiting until end of turn is probably the best option, since you can draw in response to a spell you want to counter anyway, and either pull a counter if you didn't have one, or be able to counter the spell and remain at 7 cards.

Use the 2 blue bluff. Keep at least 2 blue mana untapped at all times. Discard if you have to in order to maintain the 2 blue bluff. Your life total is irrelevant. Only the number of cards in your hand, the number of cards you have in play, and the number of cards left in your library are truly important. Your goal is to outdraw your opponent by at least 2:1 and probably 2.5:1.

Use the Blessings quickly. As long as you have 4 or 5 mana on the board, including one green, and you draw a Blessing, USE IT. Put a couple more Mana Drains and an Ancestral Recall back into your library. It's just like playing with 6 Mana Drains and 2 Ancestral Recalls. Damn, they should ban Gaea's Blessing! =)

The Keeper is excellent at accumulating card advantage. What it does not like is to lose that card advantage due to discard. It is very strong against creatures, but has no built-in defense against SRB other than Mirror Universe.

With this in mind, and considering that Blood Moon is not an option, I would suggest the following cards as sideboard cards for the Keeper:

And probably many more. :-)