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Esper Control in Standard

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Hey everyone!

It has been a while since I wrote an article due to my busy work schedule, but a new set of awesome planeswalkers have reignited my spark. See what I did there?

Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils will be in many of my decks going forward; they have not disappointed so far. In fact, Teferi is my pick for the best card in the set for Standard and Narset for Legacy.

Today I’m going to talk about Esper Control in Standard and provide a bonus Esper Stoneblade list for Legacy where both of these new walkers can shine.

Let’s get started!

I played Esper Control in a Standard MCQ a couple weeks ago at my LGS and sponsor, R.I.W. Hobbies, and had a great time. Brian Demars and Max McVety did coverage of feature matches and there was free food. The promo Arcbound Ravager was a nice touch as it made the tournament effectively free. As an old school player who grinded the old PTQ circuit I can confidently say this is a huge upgrade.

My preparation for the event included a Google hangout with R.I.W teammate, Zach Allen as well as Kazu Negri. As they were playing the SCG in Richmond the same weekend it made sense for all of us to try and break week one Standard. Both Zach and Kazu are great players so I did a lot more listening than talking and it paid off.

There was a little over 130 players in the MCQ which meant eight rounds. I began the event 4-0 and then lost two in a row to be eliminated from Top 8 contention. Esper performed well in the tournament featuring two copies in the Top 8 headlined by Daniel Fournier. Like SCG Richmond, the finals featured a Mono-Red mirror.

Despite not winning the invite or making the Top 8 it’s clear Esper is clearly here to stay in Standard. Even as I’m writing this article Esper is adapting to the new metagame. I’ve seen many great ideas from Magic Online leagues.

Rather than dissect the list I played in the MCQ I wanted to talk about my current take on the deck:


While this is a traditional take I’ve made some topical changes to adapt to the evolving metagame.

The major decks I expect to face are Esper Control, Mono-Red, and Azorius Aggro. Midrange is shifting from Sultai to Esper due to the power level of Teferi, Time Raveler. That’s a key shift to fight the other top dog of the format in Simic Nexus.

Teferi, Time Raveler and his other three-mana planeswalker friends means I want to lean on damage-based removal. Oath of Kaya has been continually impressing me and I now maindeck two copies. The oath is powerful with Teferi because it represents a good target of mine to bounce. I can also let the oath drain when my planeswalkers are attacked and then defend with instant-speed removal. Good value.

It also technically represents a way to win that doesn’t involve decking against decks with four Nexus of Fate. My opponents always concede to a Teferi emblem so the only reason I tout this advantage is to highlight that it probably comes up in less than 1% of the games.

The power of Oath of Kaya helps me play less two-mana removal spells like Cast Down or Moment of Craving. A Cry of the Carnarium is another high impact removal spell that helps me catch up. I’m also testing out a version of Esper with two Cries and two Kaya’s Wraths to help my Game 1 percentage against Azorius Aggro.

I’m moving down to three Absorb because of Teferi, Time Raveler. Absorb is also very powerful against Mono-Red due to it effectively countering multiple spells with the three life, but requiring two Blue mana is also a big cost. I can’t Absorb Teferi on the draw and I can’t cast it with the powerful walker on the battlefield. There’s a new tapout style of Esper Control that plays zero Absorb and three Dovin’s Veto; it might be an interesting choice if Teferi continues to dominate.

Vraska’s Contempt is expensive, but I like this removal against all of the Teferis running around. I’m very happy to see so many new War of the Spark planeswalkers already seeing play in Standard, but I need to be prepared.

I’ve been doing a lot of talking about Teferi, Time Raveler and I’m playing it myself. It serves as a way to answer enchantments so I went to two Mortify. The reason I tried Teferi in the maindeck is because I wanted more early ways to draw cards to hit later land drops. It’s such a powerful card versus Blue decks I want a third copy in the sideboard over a Thief of Sanity.

Narset, Parter of Veils is more difficult to cast and protect so I only maindeck a single copy. The static effect of opponents only drawing a single card per turn maximum is great in the mirror and Simic Nexus. It’s another walker I add an additional copy in the sideboard.

I prefer Ugin to Liliana because a 2/2 zombie token will be all that’s left when she is placed on top from opposing Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. The -3 from Ugin has an immediate effect on the battlefield which is important against midrange and control decks. Ugin is only inching out Liliana by a narrow margin so I might go back to Liliana in the future if aggressive decks become more popular.

Sideboard Plans

No article is complete without a sideboard guide. I’m going to cover the five big Standard decks.

Mirror

The early planeswalkers change the dynamic of the mirror as I’m looking to tap out early and often. I dislike Absorb after sideboard which leads us to more of a tapout style of game. The mirror was previously about Thief of Sanity, but Teferi bouncing it on the third turn is a tempo nightmare. I don’t need to leave in narrow removal for Thief because Oath of Kaya also answers Teferi.

Mono-Red

Many players are choosing to play Enter the God-Eternals as their haymaker of choice against aggressive decks, but I’m going with the tried and true Lyra Dawnbringer. Fight with Fire is virtually non-existent in Red sideboards because the kicked ten damage is weaker when the popular control decks feature hand disruption.

I’m bringing in a fourth Vraska’s Contempt to fight Chandra, Fire Artisan as well as Tibalt, Rakish Instigator. While Tibalt is in play I can’t gain life, but contempt exiles the walker and then gains life. Lyra can attack Tibalt, but won’t gain life the first swing. Flying is important as Lyra kills planeswalkers with pesky devil tokens in play.

Cry of the Carnarium is good against Tibalt tokens as well as Legion Warboss out of the board. Red decks typically board out some Goblin Chainwhirlers and Runaway Steam-Kin which makes -2-2 stronger.

I trim Teferi, Hero of Dominaria because too many expensive spells drawn is the easiest way to lose. Lyra is able to win the game by herself; I can’t say the same about Teferi against a crowded battlefield. I expect the battlefield to be more jammed post board because Red brings in difficult to answer threats.

Narset doesn’t get cut because Red’s scariest card, Risk Factor, draws cards. She doesn’t defend herself so I don’t want the second copy out of the sideboard.

Azorius Aggro

I expect many Azorius Aggro decks to be playing Teferi, Time Raveler which makes the prospect of countering spells unexciting. The post board games will be more of a tapout style. I may also be facing opposing countermagic which makes Duress and Thought Erasure more potent than in the first game.

Cry of the Carnarium is my best threat, but planeswalkers will be more prevalent after sideboard so it won’t be a complete shutout. Gideon Blackblade and Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants are common threats to face after board.

Thief of Sanity is taking the place of Chemister’s Insight as a card advantage engine. I prefer the 2/2 flyer because the worst case scenario of Thief is trading off with a creature. The upside is worth the inclusion.

Simic Nexus

Finally a Blue deck that doesn’t have Teferi, Time Raveler! I get to keep Absorb in, but now I’m facing a planeswalker that hates on discard spells in Tamiyo, Collector of Tales. It’s important to keep Tamiyo at bay which is why I have so many Vraska’s Contempt.

Thief of Sanity is decent, but not as powerful as Teferi and Narset in the matchup. Watch out for Plummet effects as well as Arboreal Grazer. Kraul Harpooner will also be in the deck to kill opposing planeswalkers.

A key land in Blast Zone takes out Teferi, Narset, and Thief of Sanity simultaneously. Keep this in mind as you try and cement your victory using lock pieces. Wilderness Reclamation allows Blast Zone to be ramped up to three counters and blown up at the end of a single turn.

Esper Midrange

This is a classic midrange matchup where Game 1 is good for you, but it’s challenging after they board out the bad cards and add the good ones- Duress and Dovin’s Veto.

Expect to face Teferi, Time Raveler pre and post board; this means leaving up Dovin’s Veto as it’s the most likely 3-drop.

Midrange decks force you to strike the balance between interacting with early and late game threats. I want to have enough ways to kill tokens from Hero of Precinct One, but exile creatures so they can’t be reanimated from Sorin. Cry of the Carnarium is surprisingly strong against Esper Midrange. Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord is able to reanimate creatures who died early which makes the exiling important.

Oath of Kaya can kill early creatures as well as Teferi and Sorin. This is a good matchup for your Time Ravelers to bounce the oath. Narset is good in the matchup, too as she fights opposing Teferi activations.

I have a few more MCQs to battle this season and I’m excited to run them back with Esper Control. Esper currently has so many different options for each role allowing it to adapt easily.

Before I go here’s an update of my favorite Legacy deck, Esper Stoneblade:


Teferi, Time Raveler was pretty good in this deck, but Narset, Parter of Veils truly shines in Legacy and I can only play so many. Stoneforge Mystic is traditionally strong against creature decks, but could use some help at defeating combo.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang works very well alongside all of the hand disruption. A stocked graveyard makes this banana king come out quickly and pressure opponents doing unfair things.

That’s all for me this week. It’s safe to say it’s a great time to be a Blue mage.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle