Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North
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SCG Indianapolis Reflections


Hey everyone!

I'm back from SCG Indianapolis with disappointing results. Max McVety, fellow R.I.W. teammate, and I prepared last week to play Mono-Red with high expectations. Today I'm going to talk about the card choices, why things fell apart, and where to go from here.

I was originally going to play Esper Control, but got skittish in the new format. It's gutsy to play control in week one so I put it on the shelf, but still want to play it in upcoming events. I'll talk about my current list as well.


Here's what I registered at SCG Indy:

Light Up the Stage
Max preferred the fourth Skewer the Critics while I went with the second Rekindling Phoenix. Both are fine in this version, but I wanted an additional creature to deal more repeated damage.

The big draw to playing this deck in the first week of a new format is the brutal speed of Red in the face of three color piles. While decks are being tuned I can smash face. At least that was the theory...

Light Up the Stage was very impressive for me as it's reminiscent to Thoughtcast. It costs a single Red mana assuming things are going to plan. I found it easy play the two revealed cards as I made sure to cast it before making my land drop.

There's a cool trick with Light Up the Stage while Experimental Frenzy is in play. When casting Light Up the Stage hold priority to check for a castable instant on top of your deck. By doing this you can get two different cards to play off of the Light Up the Stage so it's free damage.

Skewer the Critics was great in Game 1 as I was a focused Burn deck. I decided to play three because casting it for the spectacle cost could lead to me to make awkward plays. It was exacerbated in the post board games as I would board in Lava Coil that don't deal damage to the opponent.

Most of my losses came from large amounts of mulligans. This is because I couldn't keep one-land hands despite spectacle cards looking cheap on the surface. Twenty-one lands is not a lot of lands and I felt pressured to draw exactly four lands for the top of the curve.

Runaway Steam-Kin underperformed for me. It didn't immediately deal damage and would often eat a removal spell. The combo with Experimental Frenzy feels overstated since untapping with the enchantment is already very powerful. It's also an elemental which doesn't make Wizard's Lightning cheaper.

Julian John finished in 13th place in the main event with Max's decklist (4 Skewer). Max finished 6-2 in the Classic the next day as well. Red is not broken, but still a viable strategy.

I had a conversation with Patrick Sullivan between rounds and he strongly favored the approach taken by Caleb Scherer who finished in tenth place on tiebreakers in the main event:

This was the highest finishing Red deck in the tournament and I'm not surprised. I imagine this is how to win with Mountains moving forward.

Runaway Steam-Kin is cut for Fanatical Firebrand because it deals damage immediately. This is key to enable spectacle on Skewer the Critics early.

Risk Factor instead of Experimental Frenzy removes the burden of needing to draw a lot of lands on time. Since Mortify can kill Experimental Frenzy I am the most afraid of Risk Factor as a control deck.

Electrostatic Field was a card I found myself wanting in the middle of the tournament. It's an 0/4 so I don't have to worry about Goblin Chainwhirler. I also like that it enables spectacle while I'm Lava Coiling creatures. This is one wall I can get behind.

This Standard format is great. I've already seen successful control, midrange, aggro, and combo decks. Nothing appears too broken at the moment so I would advise playing whatever strategy makes you most comfortable. Do what you feel.

Esper Control

Speaking of doing what you feel...

The RPTQ for London will be soon underway and Teferi has already brought me great tournament finishes. Esper Control should give me a good chance to run back the RPTQ wins in Chicago in a few weeks.

Here's my current list:

Thought Erasure
On the surface this deck looks fairly stock, but I have some key differences.

I play 26 lands combined with the library manipulation of Thought Erasure. The powerful discard spell speeds up flipping Search for Azcanta and discards scary Green threats like Carnage Tyrant and Hydroid Krasis.

There are five 2-mana removal spells: three Moment of Craving and two Cast Down. Cast Down doesn't kill Judith, the Scourge Diva due to her legendary status. I only play two Cast Down because Mortify, Vraska's Contempt, and Kaya's Wrath kill big creatures already. Moment of Craving is a unique effect due to it gaining life. I'll have a good target with Moment against each aggro deck as well as Green midrange. It doesn't kill Wildgrowth Walker, but those can be cleaned up with Kaya's Wrath.

The counterspell suite is due to the mana constraints of Absorb. I have just three copies, but will reconsider if Red becomes more popular. Syncopate has been a great addition to my other two-mana interaction. The exile clause is relevant when it comes to countering Nexus of Fate and Risk Factor.

Speaking of Nexus of Fate...

Many of the Esper Control decks I see play Chromium, the Mutable as their win condition. I think Chromium isn't good in the current Standard format. It's not great in the Esper Control mirror because it dies to Kaya's Wrath that have been rotting in hand for the entire game. I need win conditions that don't line up against their removal.

Other win conditions I have seen to pair with Teferi include enchantments such as Dawn of Hope, The Eldest Reborn, and Ethereal Absolution. This would be fine except there are 2-4 Mortify in your typical Esper Control deck list. The Eldest Reborn isn't able to kill your opponent if each player only has Teferi as a threat which is a strike against it.

Nexus of Fate
Nexus of Fate is my answer to the inability to win the first game of the Esper mirror. As the game wears on there will be a time where I can protect a Teferi and take an extra turn. Search for Azcanta and Teferi will help me find the Nexus over and over again.

Eventually I will get a Teferi emblem to exile all of their permanents after taking many turns. The way to end the game can be either a Karnstruct or repeatedly tuck my Teferi on top. It's important to tuck Teferi because I eventually need to let my opponent take many turns in order to deck them.

If all of my Teferi are exiled I can prevent myself from decking by discarding Nexus of Fate to hand size in order to keep the same number of cards in deck. This outcome is also likely in a long game.

If your opponent has four Nexus of Fate in their deck it's not possible for them to deck. Some of this can be alleviated by holding Thought Erasure's you accrue through the game to make them discard other cards in hand after they have drawn the other cards in their deck. This isn't a huge problem because Nexus of Fate decks won't kill your Karn so you will have a damage-based win condition remaining.

Nexus is also great against Green midrange decks because they are capable of drawing so many cards. Hydroid Krasis draws cards as a cast trigger so it's quite the slog. I can take all of the turns in the middle of the game and leave them with nothing where most other win conditions cannot compete.

Instead of Mortify invalidating many of the enchantment win conditions against Green midrange I have to worry about Vivien Reid. I may opt to hold onto Search for Azcanta until the coast is clear to flip on a Nexus of Fate turn. Enchantments are vulnerable, but lands only die to Assassin's Trophy which isn't in the stock list.

I prefer Chemister's Insight to Precognitive Perception. It's important to get your fifth land on time to cast Teferi. There are only 26 lands in this deck so this can be a valid concern. I also run into having too many cards in hand so I like that all of the cards aren't drawn at once.

Karn, Scion of Urza
Karn, Scion of Urza is my other draw engine because it also helps me find the fifth land for Teferi. This planeswalker can also double as my win condition when I'm taking all of the turns. I was afraid of playing a single Karn because exiling Nexus of Fate could be dangerous if I didn't have another one to pick up the silver counter cards.

I can make Karnstructs and then tuck the Karn with Teferi to avoid exiling the top cards of my deck to recharge. This allows me to attack through a Carnage Tyrant should I exhaust all of my Kaya's Wrath in a long game. This is key because Carney T is one of the few permanents to get around the Teferi's emblem and run them out of cards strategy.

The +1 ability exiles two cards from my deck which can also be great at times. I want to thin my deck as much as possible to make drawing Nexus of Fate more likely. When I'm taking extra turns in the mid-game I get to activate another planeswalker, too.

I also have an issue with the card draw spells in the mid-game after I have flipped Search for Azcanta. After Search is flipped it's usually better value to activate the land rather than cast a draw spell. It's free real estate. Karn doesn't constrain my mana so I can have my cake and eat it too.

Mortify was a great upgrade for control decks. I can destroy Search for Azcanta and other win conditions in the mirror. Wilderness Reclamation had a rocky start at SCG Indianapolis, but will clearly be back for more. I still expect most of the Red decks to be playing Experimental Frenzy for now. The fact that they are so powerful against Search for Azcanta and Wilderness Reclamation is what makes me justify three copies.

There are some interesting cards in the sideboard, too.

The overall strategy is to transform into a creature deck after board since even the White Weenie deck is splashing for Negate and Spell Pierce. I need to keep opponents on their toes and make it costly to pass the turn with a counterspell at the ready.

Hostage Taker
I was convinced of the power of Hostage Taker by another R.I.W. teammate, Raja Sulaiman. Mortify is great at destroying enchantments, but I didn't have a way to deal with a problematic artifact such as Sorcerous Spyglass or The Immortal Sun.

It's also an elegant way of dealing with Hydroid Krasis. Should the Hostage Taker die the Krasis will return as a 0/0. Untapping with the Hostage Taker allows you to cast it for full value.

The other non-stock creature in my sideboard is Seraph of the Scales. This was also pushed on me by Raja as well as Zach Allen, another R.I.W. teammate. I like the Seraph against Mono-Blue Aggro because she gets around Spell Pierce and Dive Down. It's a nice clock against Mono-Red because they won't be boarding in Lava Coil which leaves you with two Spirit tokens. I also like Seraph against Green midrange because she trades with Hydroid Krasis and Vivien Reid profitably.

Both Raja and Zach made the Top 8 of the SCG Classic with Esper Control and each had their own spin. Neither of them played Chromium which made me happy.

Cry of the Carnarium looked mediocre in the first week of this Standard format. It would be good against White Weenie, but Judith was shy around the top tables. Luckily there's a creature that does the same thing- Deputy of Detention. I can exile all of the Growth-Chamber Guardians or History of Benalia tokens. The ? body can block early aggression, too.

Basilica Bell-Haunt is better than Lyra against the pure Burn strategy. It was played against me and I have never felt so demoralized. We weren't even playing the same game it felt like such a hateful card. Lyra can be raced with Burn since you don't start turning the corner until turn six.

It appears Esper Control has what it takes to compete with the powerful Green midrange decks that have emerged as a frontrunner at SCG Indianapolis. This makes me happy as I love nothing more in this game than to get value.

Thanks for reading!