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The Archetypes of Artifact: Control

April 5th, 2019 | jscaliseok


This week, we finish the big three. Though there are several archetypes scattered throughout different card games (including Artifact) the three constants are aggro, midrange, and control. We’ve covered the first two, which means control is up this week. This is perhaps the most polarizing archetype of all because some people love it and some people absolutely hate it.

Control is an archetype that focuses on...well, control. That typically manifests itself in killing units and limiting what your opponent can do, but there are a few different routes to take. Some control decks play only to late game finishers, while others just grind their opponent until their heroes can take over the board. Others use swarm tactics to clog up lanes, and some go big on gold to get powerful items. All routes, though different, are completely viable. We’ll break them all down below.

The Goal of Control

Before getting into the nitty gritty, we first need to understand what type of game control wants. Aggro wants to get things over quickly, while midrange likes to play the board and adapt. In contrast, control wants games to last a long, long time.

No matter which flavor of control you prefer, you're in it for the long haul. Control decks operate in two stages. First, they spend the early turns removing the board and keeping their opponent off the game plan. Then, once their opponent stalls, they take over the game with big finishers. That blueprint is extremely important to understand because it is how you want to pace and pilot this archetype.

Take your time. It is easy to try to push too hard when playing control, but remember that nothing needs to happen right away. As long as your towers are protected and you are not in immediate danger of losing the game you’ll be fine.

This archetype is about getting the most from your cards. To do that, you need to ensure you’re getting full value (or as much value as you can afford) at all times. Pulling the trigger too early or jumping the gun is the best way to lose a match. Don’t panic, understand that you need the game to drag on, and never get nervous. Patience truly is a virtue here.

Removal, Removal, Removal

All control decks differ in the way they pace the game. However, the most common link you’ll find when exploring different builds is in the removal. As both aggro and midrange depend on pushing the board to win, control decks achieve victory by taking that board presence away. Keeping your opponent from ever getting a proper threshold is a critical part to piloting control.

Efficient removal can be broken down into two categories: spot removal and AOE. Spot removal is any single kill spell that targets one unit (creep or hero). Cards like Gank, Hip Fire, and Duel are all examples of strong targeted removal. Though those three cards act differently in practice, they work towards the same goal.

On the other side of removal is AOE. These are the big clear spells that can kill off multiple units in one hit. Blue is the king of these (more on that in a bit) as you can see with cards like At Any Cost, Annihilation, and Thundergod’s Wrath. These spells are an incredibly important part of card advantage because they do not just take one unit with them. Being able to kill multiple units with one card is what control decks are all about.

Some slower builds lean heavily on AOE, while others try to get the most out of targeted removal. Though most control lists in Artifact goes the sweeper route, that is not the mold you have to follow in order to find success. Efficient removal around solid heroes can go a long way, as can an efficient mix.

What you choose to go with is largely a meta call. It depends on what colors you’re playing, how those colors interact, and the most efficient way to utilize your cards.

Beyond the Kill

As important as removal is, there are some versions of control that get by without it. That may seem odd (especially to those coming from card games outside of Artifact) but there are more than a few slow decks that get by locking cards or gumming up the board with bodies.

Most control decks rely on removal to get to their end game, but the two are not synonymous. There are gaps, and you should be aware of them. Control does not necessarily mean “killing everything your opponent plays.” It certainly can mean that (in fact, it often does), but mostly it means stalling the game until you get to your big finishers or powerful cards.

When putting together a control deck, first ask yourself the question of how you want to win. Once you know your goal, you can then decide how you want to get to and enact that goal. Some decks do it by killing units, but there are numerous paths to tread. How you stall is up to personal preference and, as with removal, a meta call.

A Question of Finishers

As mentioned, no matter how control decks play the early game, they all need finishers. Luckily, there are plenty to choose from in Artifact. Sometimes finishers are strong one-off cards like Time of Triumph, sometimes they are big sweeping creep plays like Spring the Trap, and sometimes they are flashy items like Vestige of the Tyrant. Finishers do not look one certain way. They simply need to be something that your opponent cannot answer once they are out of cards.

Another important note about finishers is that they do not always need to be cards in your deck. Heroes, especially once equipped with items, do a great job of getting in pressure at your opponent’s tower. There is nothing wrong with a control deck that steadily breaks down the opponent and then wins with a few melee creeps backed by solid bodies.

Choosing a finisher, unlike picking your removal package, is mainly based on your deck rather than the meta. You need to figure out how you want to win games, and what card is the best to get to that end. Thunderhide Alpha and [[Bolt of Damocles] are both incredible for decks that want to get down an opponent’s tower right away, but Time of Triumph is much better for a hero-based list.

The Colors of Control

Though all four colors can work towards control, the main color for the archetype will always be blue. Not only does it come with a lot of card draw, but it is also chock full of removal and plenty of ways to slow the opponent down. The AOE options are also fantastic. Being able to consistently clear the board at all times of the game is incredible.

Blue also has the best control heroes. Ogre Magi gives card advantage, Kanna helps gum up the board, while both Zeus and Luna provide you with sweepers. Choosing heroes for a control deck is interesting because you need to hyper focus on the signature cards. The bodies and abilities are important, but the cards that go into your deck need to push your game plan more than anything else.

Black comes in right behind blue for control. Where Blue gives you big sweepers and card advantage, black excels at removal. Black comes with every type of spot removal you would ever need, including phenomenal signature options like Coup de Grace and Assassinate. That flexibility makes them one of the best control support colors in the game.

The color also has a strong gold-theme, which some control lists use to pump out powerful items in the shop. Those finishers are harder to interact with than traditional routes, which pushes them over the top for certain lists. Bounty Hunter is the gold hero, and support like Iron Fog Goldmine or Payday give him that extra punch.

Moving down the list, we have red and green. Red is not nearly as common in control as Blue or Black, but it does have strong plays. Axe and Legion Commander come with great removal in their signature cards, while Time of Triumph is one of the best finishers in the game. Red will never be a primary color, but it gives fantastic support due to how well its heroes and creeps can lock down the board.

As you may have guessed by now, the color least associated with control is green. The heroes, while strong in many ways, don’t push the control agenda as hard as they could. Even so, some decks utilize it as a support color. The big creeps make great finishers, and there are different sources of removal or card advantage sprinkled throughout the cards. Ramp (which we’ll cover next week) can also be used to get to your finishers faster.


Control is one of the hardest archetypes to pilot. Though all of the play styles in Artifact are tricky, control takes a certain amount of planning and patience that many players may not be familiar with. The goal of the archetype is to slow things down. Always remember that. If you find yourself speeding ahead or jumping the gun, sit back, analyze the board state, and reevaluate your plays. That is the key to victory with this one.
(Last Updated: January 15th, 2020)

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