How to Improve as a Control Player

Hello everyone! My name is Matt, better known as Blackfall on the ladder of TES: Legends. I have been playing this wonderful game since the early days of the open beta, not without taking a break in the end of last year. Furthermore, I have been playing Magic: The Gathering for the past 13 years, and at a fairly competitive level for the past 9 years. I am also known for being a Control-only player, both in MtG and TES: Legends. This is my first article, so let’s get right into it!

Practice makes perfect. If your goal is to improve at playing control, then the best thing to do is to play control decks. A lot. It is also important to understand your deck, knowing why it is built the way it is. Furthermore, a strong knowledge of some basic notions, such as “tempo” and “card advantage,” is mandatory.

What are Tempo and Card advantage?

Those terms are thrown around a lot, and while the veterans understand them, those terms might be hostile to new players. However, it is crucial for a control player to have a deep understanding of these notions, as they will be at the core of your plays.
“Tempo” is used to describe the pace at which a player deploys his threats on the board. Having the tempo means being in control of what is happening on the board (another common expression is “Tempo Swing;” it is used when the tempo goes abruptly from one player to another). For example, if Player A summons a creature on turns 1, 2, and 3 while Player B plays nothing, then Player A will have the tempo.

“Card Advantage,” or more commonly “CA,” is used to describe how efficiently a player is using his resources. It is all about killing two birds with one stone. Also, how much card draw you are getting. For example: using an Ice Storm to remove several creatures rather than using a combination of spells to achieve the same effect.

Getting to a place where you have the tempo and the card advantage over your opponent is not an easy task. However, there are three simple questions that you need to ask yourself every time you want to use a resource:

⦁ Do I need to use it right now?
⦁ Can I be more efficient with it?
⦁ Is there anything in his hand that could make this play terrible?

To properly answer those questions, you need to recognize the deck your opponent is playing. It is hard to outsmart a strategy you haven’t thought of. More importantly, you have to understand your own deck, and how a game with it should unfolds.

What is the game plan of my Control deck?

No matter the control deck you are playing (Mage, Monk, etc.), your game plan will always be divided in 3 different stages:

⦁ Survive the first few turns: By using cheap removals/creatures, your goal is to protect your life total, while fighting for the board control/tempo.

⦁ Building advantages: Toughest stage of them all because this is the one where you have to decide where you are going as the game progresses. You can also take risks, and try to capitalize on them.

⦁ Endgame lockdown: This is where your deck shines, where you lock your opponent out of the game. Whether it is by sheer card advantage, or multiple late game threats, you should be ahead of your opponent.

Now, let’s apply everything we’ve just established to the two most played control decks on the ladder right now.

Direct Applications: Control Mage & Control Monk

This is a very classic Control Mage list, let’s take a look at its game plan:

⦁ Survive: Execute and Firebolt excels as cheap removals. Wardcrafter is here to trade favorably. Shrieking Harpy is the perfect tool for early control.

⦁ Building advantages: Hive Defender allows you to set up a strong board control on one lane (tempo), while Elusive Schemer makes you draw (CA). Cunning ally can give you a free Firebolt while Daggerfall Mage can give you indirect card draw via Tome of Alteration. Finally, Ice Storm to wipe the board from creatures, effectively giving you huge amount of tempo.

⦁ Endgame lockdown: Pretty straightforward. Supreme Atromancer is here to decimate your opponent if you have the board control, while Mantikora will give it to you if you don’t have it. Dawn’s Wrath is here to reset a lane, and Odahviing and Miraak to make your opponent quit the game!

This is a fairly classic Control Monk list, let’s take a look at its game plan:

1. Survive: Execute is the only cheap removal Monk has. However, Monk has more 2-drops than Mage, in the form of Fighters Guild Recruit and Thieves Guild Recruit. Bruma Profiteer trades aggressively against agro decks.

2. Building advantages: Hive Defender allows you to set up a strong board control on one lane (tempo), while Territorial Viper is here to kill annoying things (CA). The Black Dragon is a powerhouse that will give you a strong board control on the lane you play him, same for Brotherhood Slayer. Sanctuary Pet and Astrid are here to help you get the control of the shadow lane (tempo). Finally, rolling high on a Wild Beastcaller can straight up give you the game.

3. Endgame lockdown: Monk has probably one of the strongest late game currently. Eclipse Baroness is a monster of tempo and CA. And the usual yellow endgame package: Mantikora, Miraak and Dawn’s Wrath. Tazkad is here to give you the extra reach (where Mage excels at).

That’s all for me! I sincerely hope you enjoyed reading this article, and it would be my pleasure to bring you more content.

If I could give you one last piece of advice: for those of you who like to deckbuild, keep at it. For those who don’t, try it. You should be willing to risk a hundred stupid ideas in pursuit of that rare brilliant idea. As Patrick Chapin would say: “Brilliant ideas are stupid ideas that worked.”

About Blackfall (1 Article)
Blackfall is a french Game Designer, widely known for popularizing and refining Control Mage since the early days of the open beta. Throughout the years, he became a CCG lover and his passion for it grew almost as much as his (made up ?) misfortune.

8 Comments on How to Improve as a Control Player

  1. Lateralus19 // May 14, 2017 at 5:29 am // Reply

    Always loved that quote by Chapin


    • It is a good quote. My second favorite has to be: “If you aren’t at least 25% brew, you’ve got no heart. But
      if you aren’t at least 25% netdeck, you’ve got no brain.”


  2. Great article. Do you stream? Just started TESL moving from L5R and Hearthstone.


  3. New player here but Execute is not the only cheap removal Monk has access to, no? Finish Off is a fairly cheap (although obviously conditional on a creature being wounded) removal as well and I see it used a lot (though not in the above deck which does not seem to need it to be honest).


    • Blackfall // June 3, 2017 at 9:47 am // Reply

      Finish Off can be considered as cheap removal, but since Monk has no “Ping effect” (except for Murkwater Witch), it’s very conditional and therefore not good enough. This is also why you almost never see Monk decks using Leaflurkers!


  4. Thanks for this! I tend to gravitate towards the control style of play, and you are a great guide. Also inspired to deckbuild on my own, now that I am more comfortable with TES Legends and its mechanics. Cheers.


    • I’m glad you enjoyed the article 😉 And yes, deckbuild as much as you possibly can, you will learn more by winning and losing with your own decks than with decks you copied off the internet 🙂


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