EDIT: I'm going to leave the decklist as it is for now as I prefer to have testing behind my decks before advocating them. The current version though is -3 wild beastcaller, -1 stronghold eradicator, -1 black dragon, -1 dawnbreaker for +3 pillaging tribune and +3 shadow shift. It seems promising for now as control mage, ramp scout and the mirror appear to be declining in popularity for me (hence the reduction of the threat package).
Hey guys, those of you from my twitch channel will know I've been refining monk for a few days now and I think I'm at somewhere I'm comfortable sharing. I think some version of control monk is easily the best deck in the format and I expect drastic metagame shifts to come in response to balance things again, it's just taking a little time.
The first thing to note is that this deck is skewed heavily for the high legend metagame I play in where aggression comes in totally different forms than at the lower ranks. If you feel the need to be more defensive then shave some of the proactive package that I'll detail lower for knight of the hour or pillaging tribune. I believe that this sort of defence is a crutch though, and you can defend yourself through tighter play, aggro decks historically punish mistakes much harder than slower decks so we see an amplified effect where we over adjust for aggression in our deckbuilding rather than our gameplay.
Alright, onto the actual guide, lets start with the basics. At our core we are a standard mantikora control deck much like mage and spellsword before us. We delay the game however we can until we bury our opponent in an endless cascade of 2-1 and 3-1's. We run 12 prophecies which is high, although a little low for monk admittedly, but they are very high impact. Aside from simple prophecy count you need to account for how swingy each of those prophecies are. It's easy to shrug off a harpy or a cutpurse or a sharpshooter for example, but a brotherhood slayer or a cloudrest illusionist will completely shatter the tempo of the game off a prophecy.
Against aggressive and midrange decks our primary gameplan is to seize control of the field lane, execute, hive defender and sanctuary pet are particularly good at this. Once we do our our opponent struggles to retake it as we threaten completed contracts and illusionist blowouts. We then have strong shadow lane punishes, again with the contracts but particularly in the 3 dawns wrath. If we have control of the field we can force our opponent to stack shadow and walk right into it.
Against slower decks we have a much more proactive gameplan. People often view control matchups as a grind of resources and card advantage and that's only partially true. In reality what you're comparing is relevant cards, and ways to make your weak cards relevant again. By applying pressure we strengthen cards that would otherwise be considered blank. When your opponent is under pressure you can begin to force trades such as fighters guild recruit for hive defender, or force a mantikora hit onto your bruma profiteer, generating virtual card advantage and leaving you with your high impact cards still. The kill potential isn't irrelevant either.
For this next part I'd like to talk about the proactive shell as its what deviates the most from other lists. Monk is naturally somewhat proactive as all of our 3-drops are creatures and all of them support the turn 4 hive defender well. In addition I've added black dragon, dawnbreaker, stronghold eradicator and wild beastcaller. I'm still discovering new strengths of this sort of proactive "archer-ish" all the time but here are some I've discovered.
1. By having a curve we can legitimately race aggressive decks. A common reaction to big dumb creatures out of control decks is to run away from them to the other lane. This is true if you drop just a single threat or refuse to break runes but when you curve with them its no longer as viable as they could actually be raced.
2. We force high value reactive cards out of control decks. If we spend the early game developing and they spend their hard removal defending themselves we then enter a lategame where we still have our high value cards and they have cheaper creatures that missed their spot on the curve where they would have had more impact.
3. We punish missteps and greedy mulligans so much harder. If our opponent gets unlucky we just destroy them for it, whereas most control decks have to sit there and give their opponent time to draw out of their poor opening hand. It's a common tactic vs mantikora control decks to keep your eclipse baroness or bloodlord or supreme atromancer in your opening hand, after all the game is going long and you want maximum value. By threatening a curve we can force our opponent to make safer mulligans while we're still free to keep all the greed we like.
Whilst these upsides are of course strong, they do come with weaknesses. If I'm getting my face kicked in then a stronghold eradicator is going to do very little, whereas a knight of the hour would immediately impact the board and gain me some life to boot. I've talked a lot recently about how I think we're in a glacially slow meta and this doesn't just mean the number of expensive cards I can stuff into my deck. My cheaper cards are also quite greedy in that I don't actually need them to defend me, they can be higher value. If you want to improve your matchups vs aggro decks then this plan is where I would look to make changes, rather than simply lowering your curve or putting in more lifegain.
Next I think I'll talk about some of the inclusions I think are more controversial, and some cards I could see adding that were left out.
Stronghold Eradicator has to be the big sticking point. He has seen play in the past but never really in a tier 1 deck and definitely not in mantikora control decks. Sure we've identified the strengths of the proactive plan but why not something better? after all green has premium 5-drops, why are we turning to the weaker neutral one? hell pahmar-raht renegade seems to have great synergy with the deck. I'm going to credit i_nezz with the answer when I presented exactly these questions. The simple reason is that we can't really manipulate numbers. We don't run any damage, no curses, no buffs outside a single dawnbreaker, not even a damn crushing blow. This means our creature needs to beat our opponents creature in a fight. We can't be having tension on the board, we can't solve it and our opponent probably can. This means we need the biggest blunt stick we can find and eradicator solves it nicely. Don't forget about his ability to flush creatures out of cover or from behind guards too. Also remember to try to group him with your other creatures, the small ones protect him from lethal guys and he in turn protects them from big guards.
Wild Beastcaller hasn't changed much, it isn't suddenly magical because of new beasts in the expansion. Sanctuary pet is usually a great hit, shadowmere is usually a garbage one, that's about it. The determining factor for 6-drops these days is that they live on the belligerent giant turn. Playing a 6-drop without immediate impact and getting it flipped by a 7/4 is crushing and 3 belligerent giant is a staple in basically every red deck. Child of Hircine basically reads "when you attack, win the game" and even he doesn't see any play so the bar is set stupidly high. Wild beastcaller gives us a 6-drop that can't really be flipped and that's basically all there is to it. The RNG is kind of a bitch but it works in our favour. When you are making a proactive play in this deck you usually aren't under much pressure, otherwise you'd be making a reactive play instead. If we low-roll a mudcrab or something its no big deal, its not like we're going to be weak in the lategame and we weren't relying on beastcaller to keep us alive anyway. If we high-roll a swamp leviathan or the like its insane and can instantly win the game. This combines to mean that beastcaller is nowhere near as RNG as she looks (for us, our opponent can still hate it).
Dawnbreaker adds to the threat package in multiple ways. It threatens a punish for dropping a large guard in front of us, something our deck sucks at doing otherwise. This is especially true regarding hive defender, both on our side and our opponents. The other fun fact is that fall of the dark brotherhood added a bunch of strong undead. Dark guardian is in every purple deck, little girl see's some play and wrath of sithis has gained popularity in sorcerer (and is a strong card against us). Bloodlord, bone daddy and night shadow are still the common targets they've always been, practically guaranteeing every purple deck runs multiple undead.
Astrid raises some eyebrows and I'm not entirely sure why, perhaps people are focusing too much on her synergy with other lethal creatures? She's a 3-drop that eats many of the commonly played creatures for free, and trades with nearly everything else in the game. She does the brotherhood slayer trick of being both a field lane snowball and a shadow lane punish in the same card, she protects your big guys from guards in the way and ramps you into key stabilising cards. I guess you could run dawnstar healer or eastmarch crusader instead but neither of them fight as well as astrid.
3 Dawns Wrath has been somewhat controversial but I stand by it. If opponents start prioritising the field lane more I might shave the numbers but for now it lets us keep stacking creatures into the field lane without having to worry about our opponent changing to a race plan through the shadow. This card is insane vs sorcerer but wrath of sithis completely destroys it, making for a fun interaction in the matchup I have to investigate more.
No knight of the hour or pillaging tribune. Yes we only have profiteer for healing but I believe this meta rewards greed. Pillaging tribune is somewhat appealing as he can contest a lot of scouts creatures, a matchup where you really want to try to snowball a board. Knight of the hours is good vs aggro but is effectively blank in any slower matchup and that's something I can't stand right now. He comes right at a time where we'd love to begin a snowball and cripples our tempo.
Shadow Shift theoretically has a lot of synergy, chanter + ungolim shenanigans aside. Stronghold eradicator and his little brother barded guar have always had hidden synergy with movement effects as they allow you to control both lanes with a single creature. If you drop a creature into the shadow lane (say a brotherhood slayer or a hive defender) you eliminate your opponents options. If they develop field you move and punish, if they develop shadow you light them up with guard and punish, this is especially potent vs markath bannerman. I don't have shadow shift at the moment because I've never liked the damage it does to your curve. It's a card that sits in your hand and disrupts your consistency both early and late. It also denies you information, say your hand is bruma profiteer, brotherhood slayer, shadow shift. Theoretically a good hand but you just don't know what it looks like yet, do I have a lot of early game and should try to snowball? or do I have a lot of lategame and should try to trade? its a mystery card in your hand and that hurts your ability to plan.
Snake-Tooth Necklace, I don't understand the appeal of this card for control monk at all. It's basically a strictly worse healing potion. If you're looking to shut out your opponents reach and secure a game you have control in then use dawnstar healer and/or pillaging tribune. The card is awful at stabilising a board position, if you're looking to buy time with your lifegain then this won't help you as that 2 mana could have been spent on something like a kvatch soldier to better effect.
For those of you that have read this far thank you, I'm going to round things out with replacements and budget options. A fair few experience players have scrapped their eradicators and beastcallers and will be groaning at the thought of recrafting them but these can potentially be any of those various threats. I explained my logic above but pahmar-raht renegade and senche tiger could still be ok replacements.
For budget players I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that this deck is expensive, no two ways about it, and yes the dark brotherhood expansion is straight up mandatory. The good news is that if you're new you're probably still in the lower ranks for now and they tend to be much more aggro heavy. Adjusting to an aggro meta we want to cut cards like stronghold eradicator, wild beastcaller, dawnbreaker and miraak for commons like senche tiger and knight of the hour so that might help. Additionally you receive a wild beastcaller and stronghold eradicator from the story mode so you already have one of each (although eradicator levels up in the late level 40's from memory).
If you know you want to work toward this deck from the start unfortunately you get sort of screwed on portrait choice. Khajit is just a terrible pick and wood elf threatens to give you a useless allena. Miraak is a nord and that portrait is beyond terrible. I'd recommend picking something else entirely but if you're committed then either khajit or wood elf I suppose. Khajit can sort of help if you're interested in pilfer decks too and wood elf is a great choice if you have any interest in archer. None of the epics help either as cloudrest illusionist is a high elf which are mostly blue.
Alright, long and wordy but I wanted to get involved in some lengthy guides to share my thought processes properly beyond just "card x is good vs y." I'll finish up by plugging my stream and twitter and thanks for reading!