The Synergy Control Archetype in Highlander

Welcome to the Synergy Control deck archetype for 7 Point Highlander! On this page you will find all the content related to this play style.

A Summary of the Synergy Control Archetype

Synergy Control decks often look strange on the surface because in comparison to the Good-stuff Control archetype their individual cards tend to look somewhat weak in a vacuum. However, dig a little deeper beneath the surface and you’ll realise that every card plays a specific role, and many of them work in concert to create very powerful synergies. Synergy Control decks are typically built around one of two things: a specific card, or a specific mechanic. Cards in the former will seek out their important card, whilst the latter will set up a board or hand that can leverage equity from the game mechanic. Regardless, both fundamentally play the Control role, reacting to their opponent and managing the board to ensure that they have time to set up a scenario that flips the game dramatically in their favour.

Synergy Control Deck Lists and Variations

One of the best examples of a Synergy Control deck built around a specific card is ‘Balance’. Pound-for-pound, Balance pulls a lot of weight and in the right board state can completely swing the game in your favour. It can potentially destroy all creatures, destroy many of your opponent’s lands, discard their hand, or some combination of the above all for just 2 mana. The synergy in the deck comes from skewing Balance’s scales in your favour, whether it is returning your lands to hand via Gush and then destroying your opponent’s, or storing all your hypothetical ‘cards in hand’ in artifacts and enchantments that don’t get destroyed. By committing to the board with Search for Azcanta and Scrabbling Claws, you are able to empty your hand before Balancing away your opponent’s hand, then re-drawing those cards again. Planeswalkers are also integral in committing to the board with permanents that aren’t destroyed by Balance. Given the importance of the namesake card, Balance Control decks will search out the spell via Mystical Tutor, or find it by churning through the deck with cheap card draw like Mishra’s Bauble effects. Balance can also be re-cast from the graveyard via Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Mission Briefing, and the deck also has powerful sideboard options to lower its mana curve and play a Tempo role too.

Deck ListBalance Control

In addition there is a video primer available, which covers the key groupings of cards and touches on the fundamental aspects of the Balance Control playstyle in only 7 minutes. You can watch it here:

One of the best examples of a Synergy Control deck built around a specific mechanic is ‘Miracles’. The Miracle mechanic allows you to cast a card at a significantly reduced mana cost, and this version of the Synergy Control archetype seeks to play a 1-mana destroy all creatures (Terminus), and effectively zero-Point Time Walk (Temporal Mastery), among others. If you’re always casting these spells for their Miracle cost you are effectively gaining hypothetical ‘Points’ in a suite of dramatically overpowered cards that only you can leverage. Enablers for these Miracles come in the form of one-shot set-up spells like Mystical Tutor, Brainstorm, and Portent, however the most powerful are the repeatable ‘top of deck’ effects. Permanents like Sensei’s Divining Top, Jace the Mind Sculptor, and Aminatou the Fateshifter let you continually set up your Miracle cards whilst also being able to just help sculpt your hand itself. If all of these lines fail, you can also just enact a traditional Control game plan and cast the cards for their regular mana cost via your high land count or Mana Drain.

Deck ListMiracles

In addition there is a video primer available, which covers the key groupings of cards and touches on the fundamental aspects of the Miracles playstyle in only 7 minutes. You can watch it here:

Another example of the Synergy Control archetype is a deck build around both a specific card (Ancestral Recall) and a mechanic (‘cantrips’, i.e. one mana ‘draw a card’ spells). Whilst most Control decks play three cantrips (Brainstorm, Ponder and Preordain), this version takes it to a whole new level by playing 8+ pseudo-cantrips or zero-to-one mana ‘Cycling’ cards. This classic magic principle is nicknamed ‘Turbo Xerox’, which refers to the ability to play a dramatically lower land count than other Control Decks and use cantrips to help curve out in the early game and always draw relevant spells in the late game. Of course the greatest cantrip of them all is Ancestral Recall, so this ‘Cantrip Control’ deck also looks to find the spell consistently via Spellseeker, Merchant Scroll, and Gifts Ungiven. On its surface, tutoring to cast Ancestral Recall seems lackluster because you are spending a large number of points to cast the equivalent of Concentrate or Painful Truths. However once Ancestral Recall is in the graveyard, Cantrip Control seeks to profit on multiple re-casting via Mystic Sanctuary, Gush and Daze to replay the Sanctuary, Regrowth, Snapcaster Mage, and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. The Cantrip Control player has late game inevitability, and when left to their own devices can even flashback their Regrowth to return the key card, ensuring that the Ancestral Recall itself is only exiled as a last resort. Therefore unlike Control decks with higher mana-cost payoff cards, Cantrip Control focuses on the lower-end like Ice-fang Coatl and Spell Pierce to ensure that it can survive long enough to take over via looping Ancestral Recall.  

Deck ListCantrip Control

Whilst Cantrip Control uses Gifts Ungiven to find its value package, another perspective on the spell is to integrate a powerful Combo into an otherwise Control framework. Cards like Teferi, Time Raveler protect a Combo just as well as he protects your Control game plan. Akin to the Miracles variant, ‘Esper’ colours (Blue-Black-White) provide multi-purpose interaction and answers for opposing strategies, e.g., White removal for permanents; Black hand disruption, and; Blue counterspells. Although Esper decks typically want to be firmly in this ‘Control’ role, they retain a hidden gem in the interaction between Gifts Ungiven and Unburial Rites. In a traditional sense, this can provide card advantage by searching out Flashback or Jump-start spells like Lingering Souls or Chemister’s Insight, forcing the opponent to always provide you with more spells. However, Gifts Ungiven also affords these decks with a surprise end-of-turn Combo.

A popular option is to build a strong Esper Control deck that can stand alone, but then include Unburial Rites and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite (or Griselbrand) as a small two-card package. At any point in time when the Control plan would otherwise be too slow, whenever your opponent taps-out you can cast Gifts Ungiven at the end of their turn with impunity, searching out only these two cards. This forces both cards to go straight to the graveyard, and you can untap and Flashback Unburial Rites to dominate the game with your surprise monster. Another strategy is to actively build around this effective ‘end of turn, one-card combo’ by including Intuition, and a toolbox of graveyard packages that let you win under specific board-states. An example of this heavier Combo-Control style is a variant that builds around the spell Replenish, which allows you to return cycled enchantments like Lay Claim, Cast Out, and any discarded (or bonus from Gifts Ungiven) powerhouses like Overwhelming Splendor and Cruel Reality. Likewise, both Intuition and Gifts Ungiven can find a 3-card combination of Academy Rector, Unburial Rites, and Cabal Therapy, which in tandem lets you put an expensive enchantment like Omniscience directly onto the battlefield.

Deck ListUWR Breach Combo-Control

Deck ListGifts Combo-Control

In addition there is a video primer available, which covers the key groupings of cards and touches on the fundamental aspects of the Gifts Combo-Control playstyle in only 7 minutes. You can watch it here:

Building Synergy Control on a Budget

If you enjoy the sound of Synergy Control but you are on a budget, there are certainly budget alternatives to Balance and Miracles (although Cantrip Control does not have a viable alternative without Ancestral Recall). It is possible to cut the third colour (Red or Black) from both of these decks and retain the core Blue-White shell that powers both Balance and Miracles. The build-around cards themselves like Balance, Entreat the Angels, and Terminus are readily available, and most of the glue that sticks the decks together are reasonably priced. The only non-budget card is Tundra, however it is quite viable to cut the card entirely and focus on fetching basic Islands and Plains instead. This is not necessarily strictly worse than sleeving up Tundra because you are able to leverage an another game plan: Back to Basics. The addition of this card alone provides your budget alternative with a very real way to punish opposing decks by locking them out of the game entirely (easily making up for losing the ability to fetch a Tundra). If you go down this path, it is recommended to switch in Back to Basics for a low-mana cost double-white card (e.g. Gideon of the Trials), so that you aren’t forced to fetch your Irrigated Farmland too often. Any Red or Black cards can be replaced by White cards with similar functions (e.g. On Thin Ice does a good impersonation of Lightning Bolt on snow lands) or you can take some of the ‘cantrips’ from Cantrip Control and you’ll just be more consistently drawing into your more powerful versions of cards instead of diluting the card quality of the deck.

Playing 7 Point Highlander on a budget? Don’t forget to listen to listen to one of the 7 Point Highlander Cast’s seminal episodes on how to construct a good deck whilst on a shoestring!

Podcast – Building on a Budget

Highlander Synergy Control Video Content:

Compiled below are links to some excellent YouTube resources that can help you see versions of the Synergy Control deck archetype in action.

Watch this video to see Synergy Control in action, featuring Balance and the Miracle card Entreat the Angels:

Watch this video to see Synergy Control in action, featuring Monastery Mentor:

Watch this video to see Synergy Control in action, featuring Balance and its interaction with some ‘Adventure’ spells:

Watch this video to see Synergy Control in action, featuring the Replenish variant of Gifts Combo-Control:

Enjoy!

Where to next?

Did Synergy Control fit the kind of deck archetype you’re looking for? Want to know more about other Control decks? Visit the Control hub here.

The decks featured above also contain somewhat of a combo sub-theme as they attempt to win the game via powerful synergies between a selection of cards. If you’d like to know more about dedicated Combo decks or those that have a ‘combo finish’ element to them, visit the Combo hub here.

Although predominantly a Control deck, the Balance variant of the Synergy Control archetype sometimes involves a tempo sub-theme like ‘Protect the Queen’. If you’d like to know more about dedicated Tempo decks or those with a Tempo element to them, visit the Tempo hub here.

Dr Sarven McLinton

Sarven has been playing Magic the Gathering since Stronghold (1998) and is on The Highlander Points Committee. He is well-versed in a wide variety of deck archetypes but remains an avid student of the game. Sarven is a passionate writer and seeks to apply his extensive experience in research and statistics to gaming. By day, 'Dr McLinton' works as a Research Associate at the Centre for Workplace Excellence (CWeX) managing various projects investigating psychosocial factors at work, as well as lecturing Psychology Honours and supervising PhD candidates. By night, 'McLinton Sensei' teaches traditional Japanese Karate in South Australia's premiere sporting centre, the ARC Campbelltown. He holds a 4th-degree black belt and is a gold medalist, competing both nationally and internationally in Karate and Open-style contact tournaments.