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A Better, Smarter Esper

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Standard life for me has not been all that great since all the planeswalkers of War of the Spark ruined any chance of sustaining reasonable tempo with cards like Gate Colossus or Gatebreaker Ram. Gates were closed, ladies and gentlemen. Gates were closed.

When life closes a gate, it opens up...another thing. And as joyous as all that possibility is, I've been searching for a deck I like for weeks. And that's in a format with plenty of options!

God-Eternal Oketra
Scapeshift
Hydroid Krasis

Finally, I begrudgingly played a few games with Esper Hero as a forfeiture of interest in the other options, but though the power in the strategy - being able to present a snowballing clock in the tradition of Monastery Mentor while also gaining a ton of traction through planeswalkers - was obvious, it wasn't particularly subtle either. And when things start to lose subtlety, they start to lose my interest.

Hero of Precinct One
Teferi, Time Raveler

And what was even worse is that despite my ongoing practice and tweaking, I could not get the deck to win more than a game or two in a row before balancing it out with a loss. If you're going to go through the motions and just play one of the best decks - before very recently it had little competition at the top in my estimation - it had better, you know, win.

This Ain't That Arena

Well, context makes fools of us all, and Magic is, like most if not all things, all about context.

For most of the journey up the ladder, games are not Scapeshift mirrors or Bant versus Hero over and over; the kinds of cards people are willing to play and how much experience people have is vastly different on Arena than at a large paper tournament. That makes the Standard metagame much, much wider. If you think the format is healthy at competitive levels, try seeing what people are willing to go for when there's only one do or die game! Many more decks can "compete" because they can risk more linearity without the fear of format safety valve sideboard cards.

Let me be clear here: I don't mean to imply that Standard on Arena in best-of-one is a different format. It's not. The same strategies and the same decks appear all the same; the difference is that the decklists necessarily need to be different.

So What is Wrong Here? What Works in Paper That Doesn't in Arena?

Let's start with a few decklists from the real, flesh-and-blood Magic world:



These two lists both appear to be fairly "stock" and do a good job of what I imagine the deck to be by default. There are variations, but this is a great demonstration of the paper deck.

The first issue that jumps out is somewhat ironic given the mascot of the deck. That's right. It's the eponymous token birther herself: Hero of Precinct One.

She's at her best as a win con that can generate tokens immediately; however, it's hard to give her "haste" anywhere early in the game. In other words, in a lot of game scenarios, she's isn't just a pretty Grizzly Bears. She's a pretty Grizzly Bears that you have to treat exactly like Grizzly Bears.

See, as high as the paper game is on Teferi, Narset, and Nissa, an overwhelming amount of Standard players online are still on the quick ladder-climber aggro decks like Mono-Blue and Mono-Red. Hero of Precinct One is a bad blocker by the time it matters, and it often matters too soon.

Bolas's Citadel

Bolas's Citadel suffers from the problem on the higher end of the curve. While a Command the Dreadhorde will always do well because of how cheap the aggro threats are that are getting reanimated, Bolas's Citadel often comes too late for the payoff to matter. Anyone who has been at one or two life with only shocklands left in their deck and a turn to live knows this feeling.

Despark

A few copies of Despark are fairly pervasive in these archetypes, but again, they're at their worst against aggro decks.

For reference, using all the cards I find in a sample of three lists per archetype, here are the number of different targets for Despark in the following main decks (sideboard irrelevant because, again, Arena):

Orzhov Vampires: 3

Mono-Red Aggro: 2

Boros Feather: 0

Mono-Blue Aggro: 0

Get that garbage out of here.

The Smarter Esper

The best paper decklist I found at present that embodies what the better best-of-one decklist would be this one:


Extra credit to you, player!

This is a version that has no interest in screwing around with creatures (on either side of the battlefield), and thus, can ignore potential tension between Kaya's Wrath and the other creature-packed versions.

This is such an easier way to play Esper Magic in one-game matches. Wrath of God Magic. Day of Judgment Magic.

Stay alive, blow them out, Teferi them.

And the best part? Most people playing this deck online right now are playing loads of creatures! Just don't let them resolve their Command the Dreadhorde and you'll be peachy.

Command the Dreadhorde

It's a joyous occasion when your version of one of the best decks is both less played and better heads up. Life is good, folks.

Don't forget, though, this list is still a paper design. Though the strategy is better, the decklist could still be catered more to our specific needs. I recommend:


The wins are parading in now!

Oh, you thought I was done with Mastermind's Acquisition?

Please!

Mastermind's Acquisition

I desperately hope they continue to reprint "in-game sideboarding" cards in every Standard forever. The upside is 15 more cards to work with. The downside is a Diabolic Tutor. Ship that every single time.

Otherwise I've lowered the curve some and replaced those cut 2-drops for cantrips, one of which has been a lot of fun.

Contentious Plan

With Teferi, this card is instant speed anyway, so getting to throw down a bunch more loyalty on your peeps is pretty good action.

It's not the splashiest thing in the world, but this is now my only card slot debate:

Disfigure
Moment of Craving

You can get the effect for a mana cheaper or you can gain two life. Honestly, it's kind of the same thing, so Disfigure's re-entry into Standard via Core Set 2020 probably means it should have that slot. Then again, having the effect as early as possible means you're probably going to have to pay two life from shocklands anyway!

Magic is hard.

Easy to learn. Hard to master.

Hmmm... "Master..."

...I could forget about Moment of Craving and Disfigure and just play another Mastermind's Acquisition. That's a much easier thought process for me to wrestle with.

Keep this card in Standard for me, McDarby!

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