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Esper Stoneblade and Land Denial

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Hey everyone!

While Modern Horizons 2 has not officially been released in paper, it has been on Magic Online for a couple weeks. The format has evolved quickly so I wanted to share an updated take on Stoneblade that is able to fight a more defined metagame. It's one thing to talk about new cards in a vacuum, but now we have some actual guardrails.

I also wanted to share a different take on Esper that takes advantage of the land denial available in the form of Spreading Seas and Vindicate.

We have moved past the initial hype of Grief and on to the actual broken cards such as Urza's Saga and Asmoimnotgoingtoeventryandpronoucetherest. There currently aren't enough cards to make a Grief Blink deck work, but maybe it's worth revisiting in a year. Urza's Saga was clearly a great card, but it would take some work to find the right synergies. Now we know it's able to revitalize old archetypes and fits into just about any deck that plays a cheap artifact.

I was high on Azorius Stoneblade in the past, but adding Black gives the deck more flexibility to interact in the early game. Counterspell is still a great addition to any Blue Stoneblade deck, but Urza's Saga is able to create a threatening battlefield without casting a single spell.

Since Urza's Saga has encouraged players to reduce their mana costs, I can interact with the pitch spells or just be more nimble. I'm currently choosing the latter.

Esper Stoneblade is highly customizable as each color can be played to varying degrees. Hand disruption curves well into Stoneforge Mystic, but does not play well with Archmage's Charm as an example.

Let's begin with my current list:


Kaldra Compleat
If you are considering Stoneblade the first question to ask yourself is why Mystic is the optimal threat. I believe it's better to assemble a quick threat when facing Urza's Saga instead of hiding behind a wall of interaction. While the opponent is busy spending their entire turn to make a Karnstruct I want to be doing something even scarier.

Kaldra Compleat doesn't have much synergy in Azorius Stoneblade, but I'm able to take advantage of the raw power in Esper. Hand disruption is able to pave the way for Stoneforge Mystic; this version is more interested in keeping her around.

Another way to take advantage of Kaldra Compleat is Dakkon, Shadow Slayer. I'm not the only one who is impressed with this new planeswalker. It's able to exile any creature regardless of mana value, which is a great compliment to my more nimble removal spells in Fatal Push and Prismatic Ending.

Dakkon's +1 loyalty ability plays out better than expected as putting lands in the graveyard is helpful after a Jace Brainstorm or just as the game goes long. Since I'm able to draw an impactful spell more often the loyalty will tick up as I interact with each threat. Every three turns I bank another exile with the -3 ability.

I can also pitch Dakkon to Force of Negation against decks without creatures; removal is the main point of the card.

The ultimate of Dakkon comes into play during the mid game if Stoneforge Mystic is unable to put Kaldra Compleat on the battlefield. This is more relevant than it sounds since many Modern decks can win the game the turn you spend seven mana for Kaldra Compleat.

You can theoretically surveil away the Kaldra Compleat or Batterskull and return it to the battlefield with Dakkon's ultimate, but that rarely happens. It can serve as a hedge against hand disruption and counters to return equipment from the graveyard. There are also more artifact hate spells being played thanks to Urza's Saga which makes Batterskull more vulnerable.

Kaldra Compleat's Germ token is relatively safe because the equipment as well as the equipped creature is indestructible.

Here are some interactions and cards to watch out for when you have Kaldra Compleat:

Teferi, Time Raveler
I'm moving away from playing Sword of Feast and Famine in the maindeck because there are fewer counters compared to Azorius Stoneblade. Against unfair strategies I will present a quick clock with Kaldra and back it up with interaction.

Feast and Famine is in the sideboard against control and combo when there are fewer creature removal spells in the deck. I only play seven creatures so it's not favorable to fetch sword only to have the Mystic die to a removal spell. The risk is similar to fetch Kaldra, but the payoff is higher.

I don't want to maindeck three equipment because I'm playing a small number of creatures and instead focusing on the insane planeswalker quality available to Esper.

Teferi, Time Raveler was already great in Modern, but picked up some nice interactions after the release of MH2. It's currently in fashion to cascade into Crashing Footfalls which makes the static relevant. Counterspell is currently living up to the hype so I expect it to also be relevant in a good amount of mirrors.

Teferi's +1 ability has plenty of utility in Esper compared to Azorius because it's less focused on casting every spell at instant speed. Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize are typically weaker as the game goes on, but not if it can be cast in the opponent's draw step.

The -3 ability is able to bounce specifically artifacts, creatures, or enchantments which means he can target Urza's Saga as well as the Karnstructs. Affinity is also picking up in popularity thanks to Urza's Saga which means I can bounce artifact lands. Kaldra Compleat can also be bounced by Teferi in case the Germ is removed.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Teferi, Time Raveler bouncing threats can also give more staying power to the hand disruption. I don't want to play more than one Thoughtseize in the maindeck because it can be painful to flash back with Snapcaster Mage against a potentially aggressive opponent.

Opt
Inquisition of Kozilek is similar to Thoughtseize, but isn't able to discard many payoffs in the format such as Primeval Titan. Counterspell and Cryptic Command will be able to interact with the top end making it less of a concern. Both discard spells hit a majority of the removal in the format to protect Stoneforge Mystic.

Two Opt look out of place in the deck, but they have been performing well. It's easy to lose sight of the raw number of Blue cards in the deck as Orzhov has some flashy spells; Opt helps keep me grounded to cast Force of Negation without mana. It helps fix my mana without having to play more than twenty-four lands and can be flashed back with Snapcaster Mage.

Every Stoneblade deck is at least three colors because of Field of Ruin. I don't want colorless to be a fourth Color in Esper Stoneblade to support Field of Ruin because there are so many cheap spells that require colored mana. It does not work well with Prismatic Ending and Dakkon.

Vindicate is a nice solution to playing Stoneblade without Field of Ruin. I wouldn't consider playing Esper Stoneblade if Vindicate wasn't in the format because interacting with lands is very important to have a good matchup against Tron, Urza's Saga, and Primeval Titan. I play one in the maindeck to alleviate some pressure from Dakkon to interact with expensive threats.

Rather than boarding in a series of counterspells against big mana decks I board up to four Vindicate that work well with three Snapcaster Mage and go for a land denial strategy.

Prismatic Ending is quickly becoming one of the best Modern removal spells. I have been experimenting with different splits of Prismatic Ending and Path to Exile. Urza's Saga has pushed many decks into playing cheap artifacts which provide many targets for just a single White mana.

Kaya's Guile
I'm a fan of playing a Zagoth Triome to provide a fourth color of mana to cast Prismatic Ending if needed. The tapped land isn't a steep cost in this deck as it can be fetched and allows Castle Vantress and the check lands to enter the battlefield untapped. If I'm playing a couple Prismatic Ending in the sideboard I wouldn't play the Triome, but maindecking four requires me to answer a wider range of threats.

Kaya's Guile is a big upgrade compared to other anti-Red options such as Timely Reinforcements and Blossoming Calm as they can be brought in against a variety of decks.

Supreme Verdict is much more powerful after Modern Horizons 2 because it's an uncounterable answer to a Shardless Agent and two Rhino tokens. It can also take out two constructs created from Urza's Saga alongside a board of cheap creatures against Affinity. If I was playing a different color combination, I would consider Engineered Explosives in this slot.

Esper Stoneblade is currently well positioned in the Modern metagame. It can keep up with the new decks enabled by Modern Horizons 2 and is very fun to play.

While I love Stoneforge Mystic there is another great 2-drop to build around thanks to the presence of Urza's Saga: Spreading Seas.

Spreading Seas, Blood Moon, Blood Sun, and Alpine Moon are able to kill Urza's Saga because it loses the chapter counters and will then be sacrificed to state based actions. There's a more technical answer about layers, but I'm not going there. Just know that putting a Spreading Seas on an Urza's Saga will cause it to no longer be a problem. Think Twisted Image when Noble Hierarch was popular.

Urza's Saga is strong against control and midrange decks because one land is able to generate two artifact creatures and a cheap artifact that synergizes with the rest of your deck. If you think using Path to Exile from your old Modern deck will suffice I have bad news for you. Adapt or die.

Vindicate is a way to interact with big mana decks, Urza's Saga, and creatures which creates a nice pairing alongside Spreading Seas. I put together an Esper land denial strategy that has been working well so far:


Spreading Seas fills many roles in this deck:

Spreading Seas
Teferi bouncing Spreading Seas is an important interaction against Urza's Saga. I can pick up a Spreading Seas I fired off in the early game to recast on Urza's Saga to get the 2-for-1.

If Urza's Saga becomes even more popular it isn't crazy to consider Esper Charm to destroy enchantments.

There are plenty of planeswalkers in the deck because I no longer have access to Stoneforge Mystic to close the game. Games take a while to close out and winning looks like having two Teferis and a Jace on the battlefield.

I would like to fit a second Kaya's Guile in the maindeck to replace the life gain lost from Batterskull. There's not many Burn or Prowess decks at the moment so it isn't my top priority, but something to consider as the metagame evolves.

Esper Sentinel out of the sideboard is strong against spell-based decks. The ability triggers only once each turn, but is yet another form of mana denial.

Supreme Verdict works well with Spreading Seas because the second turn is spent slightly disrupting the opponent. There will be games where you cannot answer all of the threats on a 1-for-1 basis and need a big spell to catch up. Verdict can be pitched to Force of Negation against non-creature decks so it has a high floor for a removal spell.

Damn out of the sideboard will likely be overloaded. Not being able to regenerate is relevant against Welding Jars from Affinity and Hardened Scales as well as Lotleth Troll in Asmo decks. Beware you cannot flash back Damn and overload it with Snapcaster Mage. It's in the sideboard because it cannot be pitched to Force of Negation.

Dispel is preferred to Mystical Dispute because Veil of Summer gives Spreading Seas and Vindicate trouble. I don't want to draw too many, but it's important to keep Veil in mind post board.

Shark Typhoon is a great additional threat against other midrange decks. I don't find room in Stoneblade decks, but I could use additional threats when games get grinder in games two and three.

As long as Urza's Saga is legal in Modern Spreading Seas will be a reasonable shell to build around in Azorius-based control decks. We're just scratching the surface as Urza's Saga asks for different ways to interact. I think Modern still has room to evolve before a best deck is found.

Thanks for reading!

-Kyle

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