Meticulous Strategy: The Control Playstyle

As a third piece to my playstyle series, today we’re going to explore the last of the major three playstyles, Control. We’ll look at warband choice, the factors that allow for the style and cards that fit in. I feel that this is the hardest style to both define and play, as it’s really nebulous while also being specific. Dating this article, it’s written just as Kainan’s Reapers are being released.

Control, You Must Have Control…

Is counterplay your bread and butter? Do you laugh maniacally when you play Distraction immediately after your opponent’s Sidestep? Is going on Guard your favourite action? Do you enjoy standing at the back of a board? Does making an attack make you throw up a little in your mouth? If so, the Control style may be for you.

Let’s start with some definition as I believe Control in this game has been known at times to carry some negative connotations, which I want to break down. To me, Control play is a style in which you are attempting to disrupt your opponent’s game plan and score glory from that play. I’ve heard it referred to as “Defensive” play as well, which is one style of Control (specifically the anti-Aggro play). Boosting defence stats, going on Guard, adding extra wounds and healing are all ways to stop an Aggro player from getting kills. There’s also the branch of anti-Objective play, including pushing or flipping Objective tokens and enemy pushes. There’s a last subset of Control style effects which are ones that manipulate your cards and deck by allowing you extra draw or searching for a specific card.

All of these together make the term Control one that can be very different depending on who you’re speaking to. But they all share one major goal; edit the board state in such a way that it benefits you, hurts your opponent and denies them scoring. A well timed Restless Prize can deny Supremacy. Going on Guard reduces the enemy’s chance of making a kill or changing your positioning. Having more cards in hand gives you better options and more chances to react than your opponent.

There’s a part of me that is hesistant to discuss the history of the playstyle, as I think there’s been negativity around times that Control has been the dominant playstyle. So, to start, I want to lay out a big thesis statement for this article. Control does not have to mean Passive. When I set up my rating scales, I was very specific about separating out playstyle from interactivity. I strongly believe that there are ways each playstyle can be Passive and Interactive.

Passive cards are ones that don’t involve your opponent or are very hard for them to disrupt. Let’s take a look at a card that I would define as Aggro/Control and Passive, Show of Force. It’s got an Aggro slant as the first condition requires three friendly fighters in enemy territory. Yes, that’s about positioning, but generally those would be charges. Past making an early kill or pushing a fighter out of the territory, it’s really hard to deny. It’s Control side, having three upgrades on one fighter, can be telegraphed, but is also very hard to deny. Usually, you’ll find your opponent will place multiple upgrades on before their activation and then just receive a glory for surviving through their own action.

Interactive Control comes down to strong counterplay. The ubiquitous Interactive Control ploy is Distraction, as it’s not just a passive bonus but forcing you to make a choice as to how to disrupt your opponent. I’ve gone through a lot of skills you need to play this way in my “Proactive Play” article, as you have to understand what your opponent is trying to do. Sometimes you’ll use that card to push someone off a token, other times you’ll push them closer to you so you have range for an attack and in another circumstance you might push them away so they are out of range of a charge. Any of these moves (even the one that fuels an Aggro-style attack action) are Control at its core.

I will say than an anti-Aggro style of Control definitely seems more passive most of the time. Full offset, running away, going on guard and reducing interaction by trying to prevent attacks. But overall, it’s something you have to plan for as an Aggro player. Being caught out because your fighters can’t reach the opponent for two rounds simply means you have to tech into movement cards.

I will skip the history of the playstyle in this article as I have a future article that I believe will cover most of it in greater detail and analysis. The takeaway from the history is that when Control is strong, players are needing to tech heavily into movement, dice or damage to ensure the key kills are happening before the tooled up fighter can score loads of glory for simply staying alive.

Stats to Pay the Rats

The relationships between what makes a warband suitable for the different playstyles is really interesting to me. For Aggro, I’ve said it’s fighter stats. Objective is warband attributes. And Control really comes down to the card pool most of the time. However, fighter stats also make a large effect on the selection of a Control warband.

Wounds

Control builds are focused around keeping fighters alive, so that they can either stack upgrades that allow them to score glory or score trivial cards for just existing. So, more wounds is strictly better. Mollog, Hrothgorn and the Krushas have all been strong warbands for this playstyle simply because the key fighters have high wounds. It’s always harder to justify stacking upgrades (even defensive ones) on a two or three wound fighter as your entire game could sit on a knife’s edge.

Defence

Take as much of this as you can! Most key fighters have been two block in the past, but two dodge and on guard is also a strong defensive characteristic. If your opponent can’t hit you, they can’t kill you! That’s part of this because you’re also ensuring Aggro isn’t scoring their surges for kills, getting seed glory, etc.

Models

Most builds will want to ensure that the opponent cannot easily reach their key fighter or alternatively, their weaker fighters. Gitz can’t play the style effectively, as they have to deploy on every starting hex so there’s no way to hide. In the past, there was never a reason to play Control with any warband that had more than three fighters, but Hrothgorn and Myari specifically have given alternate ways to play around that.

Fighter Abilities

There’s a few specific key abilities that can fuel Control. Myari’s Aetherquartz allowing a reroll that could mean an attack misses. The Wurmspat’s damage reduction which can throw the math off. Ammis and Rastus with their passive way to inspire. Glissete always on Guard.

Objectives

The set of cards that allow scoring have been nebulous depending on the season we’re in. I could spend a ton of time combing through each season, pointing to the cards that were strong at specific points. But I don’t think the Magic cards that made up strong Cursebreakers play in Nightvault matter at this moment in time. So, more than either of my previous articles, I will point to certain key faction specific cards as well as the universal pool.

Surges

Control surges generally reward you for playing within your warband’s strengths. Cards like Harness the Storm allow you to inspire Ammis or take a shot with Stormsire and get a glory for just doing it. Moment of Glory allows you to score off of surviving and inspiring. Abundance of Caution simply wants each of your fighters to have a guard token. Impending Doom is a card all about positioning and can be easily set up using power cards. Effectively, surges for Control play are ones that you’re going to be able to easily set up with cards too. Silver Lining is a card that rewards you for drawing into a bunch of cards as you’re playing your draw gambits.

End Phase

Most of the End Phase cards here are ones that are all about surviving and having a certain board state. There are even ones that don’t need you to survive! Cards like Formidable Prey or Avatar of Famine require you to have a fighter in a certain state, like a certain amount of hunger or a number of upgrades. Utter Isolation needs at least one surviving fighter and for no fighter to be adjacent to any other one. That’s something that you control by your positioning, the way you push and they way you drive back the enemy. It’s also eminently scoreable only with power cards. Promise of Destruction echoes that, where it’s all about simply playing the correct type of card at the right time. Other cards that have been popular are To the End, Avatar of the Ur-Grub and Feed the Beastgrave. Most of them reward the innate playstyle and cards you are taking. It’s something I really like about Control play. For each of these cards, you must take at least 3-5 cards in your to unlock the card and thus they become a core part of your play. Other callouts from Direchasm include Growing Hunger, Intimidating Display, Myriad Incantations, and Silent Sentinel.

Gambits

Ok, this list will be a quick round up on the effects I throw in the Control bucket. Enemy pushes (Hypnotic Buzz/Distraction), effects that put you on Guard (Bountiful Bait/Desperate Caution), healing effects (Spiritcomb/Ferocious Resistance), cards that draw more cards (Untapped Resources) and effects that mess with the board state (Great Tremors/Living Land). Now, there’s the flip of the coin here too which are effects that literally are there to simply screw with your opponent. Cards that reduce your opponent’s movement (Suffocating Heat), wounds (Jealous Hex), defence (Hopesink). Cards that give move or charge tokens (Energy Drain/Silence Descends), cards that destroy upgrades (Acidic Strike/Narrowing Passage), cards that give keywords to fighters (Hunting Season), cards that un-inspire fighters (Souljaws) and cards that prevent activation (Lost in Reflection). One of the most important pieces to discuss around Control gambits are that they are usually not directly tied to scoring. Where Aggro surges make your attacks more accurate and damaging to score your cards, Objective ones push your fighters onto tokens or keep them on, Control ones are powerful in their own right to attempt to deny your opponent’s glory. So, as much as you may load your deck up with these gambits, you’ll still have to ensure your deck can score.

Upgrades

A lot of the Upgrade tech mirror the Gambits. Bonus wounds and guard (Scavenged Armour does both!), bonus defence (Armour of Confidence/Hungry Armour), healing (Awesome Appetite), protection from damage (Inured by Hunger/Armour of Disdain), reducing enemy accuracy (Painful Brilliance), and prevention of enemy effects (Starvation’s Grip). In the Direchasm season, we’ve also seen nets and snares (Soultooth Net/Extruded Snare) which are Control weapons that give move or charge tokens. These can be very powerful ways to lock down important enemy fighters.

Summary

Control decks are those that are primarily going to score their glory by playing their cards right. Also, scoring only a few glory through the game with an alternate goal of denying your opponent’s glory by being on top of their moves, being more defensive and disrupting their plan.

I made a Purifier’s deck that’s focused on going on Guard, locking down the opponent and naturally scoring your glory as you defend and counter attack. Surges are scored by taking Guard actions (along with the ploys that give the same), equipping upgrades and defending. Scoring the end phase will come naturally with how you’re playing your cards. Ploys are all about staying alive, scoring your cards and manipulating the board state. And same with the Upgrades. Truly, this deck is all about staying in Control and denying your opponent kills.

What are your thoughts on Control play? How do you use Control cards to your advantage? Let me know your thoughts at setthetempoblog@gmail.com or on the Underworlds Discord channels as Matt ~ Set The Tempo. Thanks so much for reading! Take care and set your own tempo!

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