[Primer] Esper Draw-Go Control

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Post by TheAnnihilator » 3 months ago

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Modern Esper Draw-Go Control



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Table of Contents



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Introduction

Esper Draw-Go is a deck that is built to be as close to pure control as possible in modern. Originally inspired by a deck used by Guillaume Wafo-Tapa at Grand Prix Boston-Worcester 2014, it has grown a following in devout control players. The goal of the deck is to navigate the game into a state where you have everything and your opponent has nothing. With a legitimate source of raw card advantage and high impact sideboard options, Esper allows you to always have the right answers in your 75 for any given match with enough card draw to find them on time.

Here's the original list, time warped here from 2014:




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Color Analysis/Why Play Esper?

Why play Esper over UW, Jeskai, or Grixis?
Lightning Bolt has been touted as the best card in modern, so it's certainly a reasonable question to ask why one would forego it. The answer speaks to the ideological differences between the color combinations — Jeskai has always been about card velocity — chaining Snapcaster Mages, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria upticks, and Electrolyzes, all while trading 1 for 1 with most opposing creatures. The downside is that Jeskai has trouble against unfair decks that are resilient to spot removal — it has an almost impossible matchup with Dredge outside of Rest in Peace (which doesn't often see play in Jeskai), it can have great difficulty grinding through BGx decks such as Jund, and it has difficulty effectively stopping Ad Nauseum and various other combo decks.

Grixis Control traditionally has many of the same issues, sacrificing the white sideboard haymakers and access to Celestial Colonnade for more raw card advantage via Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Kolaghan's Command, access to discard spells for unfair matchups, and better answers to both resolved planeswalkers and midrange creatures. It sacrifices some (but certainly not all!) of the power against aggressive creature decks in favor of a more stable long game when things come down to an attrition war.

Esper draw-go takes things to the complete end of the spectrum—by sacrificing access to Lightning Bolt, we give up a lot of potential strategic positions: the end of turn Bolt-Snap-bolt sequence to turn the corner quickly in unfavorable matchups, the expanded suite of 8+ spot removal spells, the ability to easily deal with resolved planeswalkers via burn spells, and the ability to rapidly abuse the delve mechanic to gain tempo. In exchange for these sacrifices, however, Esper gains a lot of raw power. By removing our reliance on red, and on playing an even split of three colors in game one, the manabase becomes less painful in practice than a typical 3-color strategy. By having access to both black and white, our post-board games UNIVERSALLY improve after sideboarding — there seldom are matchups that become worse post board. In a format for which swingy sideboard cards are a key component of metagaming and for which aggressive use of hate cards to win a specific matchup is the norm, this is an often underestimated advantage. By going almost entirely without creatures, we blank the most common form of interaction in a format defined by powerful creature based interactions. And finally, perhaps most importantly, we get access to Esper Charm. While Jeskai and Grixis control may have ways of gaining card advantage, once the midgame gets going there is no other deck in the format that can compete with the typical Esper suite of Esper Charm, Snapcaster Mage, Cryptic Command, and universal answers.



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Theory

Many players coming to this thread in their explorations of modern will be familiar with traditional control styles from standard metagames, and therefore the functioning of a more tap-out style control deck.

The first, and primary, difference between Modern Draw-Go and the Standard tap-out approach to control is what "stabilization" means. We talk a lot in control circles about "stabilizing" before winning (or having things go terribly wrong), but that can mean very different things. In standards past, it could be slamming a Baneslayer Angel against your opponents board of 8 power (across three creatures). It could have been a Wrath of God or Supreme Verdict followed up with a removal spell and countermagic held up for the next threat. It could be a grave titan hitting the table on your side.

For Esper Draw-Go, stabilization generally refers to setting up so that your opponent no longer has any active threats on-board (or in-hand in the case of combo). Unlike Grixis, Jeskai, or Blue Moon, Esper Draw-Go almost never has the option to race an opposing board state. By foregoing burn spells, we're almost exclusively forced into answering the threats presented by our opponents as they arise, rather than answering early threats and transitioning to a favorable beatdown gameplan, as is typical with the red-splash control builds. On the other hand, this means we rarely run out of steam—you will not hear as many bad-beats stories from Esper players about multiple topdecked Lightning Helix changing the race math and costing a player a game, because for Esper, the raw amount of card draw involved in stabilizing the game means we rarely lose once we stabilize.

On the other hand, the emphasis on generating an extreme late-game advantage means that certain properties that are extremely common in modern are nonexistent in Esper draw-go. If you ask any serious modern player what the most important attribute for a deck to be "good" is, you will often hear some kind of explanation that boils down to "be proactive". In general, this is good advice in modern. Even Jeskai has the option to proactively start smashing face with Colonnades after a flurry of bolts and Snapcaster Mages. Esper Draw-Go is not that deck, is not on that gameplan, and simply cannot effectively execute that gameplan.

Many years ago, Jeskai was considered a tier one deck in modern, and a lot of that was on the back of effective use of Celestial Colonnade trumping the majority of other creatures that saw play in fair decks at the time. Think about this for a second — Serra Angel was effectively trumping everything that saw heavy play in mainboards of the format. Serra Angel. Looking forward to the metagame at the time of this current iteration of the primer, Jeskai control is now a tier 2 deck — frequently played, but hardly the best. The dominant "fair" cards of the format are Arclight Pheonix, Death's Shadow, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Gurmag Angler, Tarmogoyf, and Thought-Knot Seer. With the printing of the delve creatures in Khans of Tarkir block, and the resulting trend towards 5+ toughness creatures being the "efficient beaters" of choice, Colonnade was no longer a sufficient mana sink to ensure late game dominance.

For the longest time, Esper's solution to this problem was White Sun's Zenith, a card that provided a late game mana sink that could repeatedly go way over the top of most board states, but at the cost of investing a huge amount of mana. Since then, multiple printings and unbannings have shaped the way Control seeks to end the game. Now that planeswalkers such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria are staples, control actually rarely seeks to truly win, instead gunning for a prison-style lockout. You don't need to kill your opponent, simply make a Teferi emblem and the game is over, in practice. However, especially online, this is not always how games tend to end. Thus, several alternate win conditions are available, including the tried-and-true Colonnade+Snapcaster beatdown, a Jace, the Mind Sculptor ultimate, and perhaps even a Kaya, Orzhov Usurper ultimate.



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Suggested Decklist

Keep in mind that Esper is in no way a solved deck, this is just one of many possible configurations.






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Card Choice Discussion

A few (too many) words about Esper Charm:

The marquee card of the deck has three modes which seem fairly simple to understand: Divination, Mind Rot, or Demystify; all at instant speed. The mind rot effect is not-so-secretly the best effect that the charm has, and knowing when it is correct to use it as a discard spell takes some experience to get right.
Don't believe me? Click here.
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Using your primary draw spell as a mind rot instead of draw power is a very odd thing to do in a control deck, and noticing when it's correct is difficult. The best way to determine when to use the mind rot mode to anticipate what your opponent would typically be discarding. In game 1 against fair decks it's rarely correct to mind rot, as there's going to be a bunch of dead removal clogging up their hand, so clearing it effectively does nothing. But sometimes Charming them is a home run.

One example is Affinity. They dump their hand early, you answer their first power card and suddenly they have 2 cards left in hand. Mind rot them. You're going to tag bare minimum one more super dangerous card that might be difficult to deal with based on what you have in hand. If it's a plating and you don't have an answer, you might not draw an answer with a divination from the charm before the plating just kills you. If they just drop 2 extra Mox Opals that they can't play, that's fine. They weren't going to win that game in the first place.

Sometimes it can be used against burn just to force them to dump their spells. If they're tapped out or low, mind rot just gained you 6-8 life by taking two burn spells they couldn't cast. No combination of two cards on the top will do that for the low price of three lowly mana.

The big deal with the discard mode, though, is against combo decks. The best example of this is against Storm, a deck that needs every card it has to combo off all in one turn. Once you have the ability to mind rot them, a single counterspell is likely all you need to stop them while your ambush vipers keep pecking away. Snap-Charm them, and you've probably won that game.

The most satisfying trick with Esper Charm, however, can be used if they have just 1 card left. You can cast Esper Charm in their draw step, the same as you would cast a Vendilion Clique, to make sure to not only get full value from the discard mode, but also take away their entire turn. You can also do this in combination with bounce effects, such as with Cryptic Command and Teferi, Time Raveler. You send the card back to their hand and then force them to discard it.

It's much more of an art than a science, but those are some of the things that you can use to guide yourself as to when to empty their hand or when you should really just dig for more business.



The Tools:
Get ready for a long list. Sorry.
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Spot Removal Options:
The lack of Lightning Bolt and Electrolyze reduces our total number of premium removal spells. Instead we have to turn to the classic color of black for additional removal options and some more obscure white spells. Primary maindeck considerations: Path to Exile, Fatal Push, Kaya's Guile, Detention Sphere, Cast Down.
Spot Removal
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Path to Exile – The best removal spell in the format. It hits everything and keeps them dead and the extra land is mostly irrelevant. You want 4.

Fatal Push – While unable to remove anything with a greater CMC than 4, this efficient piece of interaction is an excellent choice. It can handle turn 1 mana dorks, Dark Confidant, Goyf, pretty much any creature against Affinity, Hardened Scales, GW Creature decks. It also can hit manlands. This is another of those cards that defines the advantage to playing black, however, because of the inability for it to deal with recurrent threats such as Bloodghast, Path usually gets the playset. After all, you can't play too many removal spells and ignore the combo and control decks of the format.

Blessed Alliance— This benign card solves a lot of the minor issues with the deck, having utility against Infect and Burn while also being relevant against midrange decks and even Snap-Bolt decks. It gives outs to hexproof/indestructible threats, and it has scalability into the late game. However, it's generally overshadowed by other options and often relegated to the sideboard if played.

Detention Sphere—The most flexible removal option for typical mainboardable threats. It is a 3-mana sorcery-speed spell, and doesn't exactly match up well against ETB/value creatures or enchantment hate, but it DOES kill Liliana of the Veil, for example. You might choose to play one.

Kaya's Guile— Yet another modal card. Kaya's Guile is similar to Cryptic Command in that it does a little bit of it all. It's a 3 mana escalated Blessed Alliance against Burn, a grave nuke against Dredge, a Snapcaster counter against control, and a clock with slight advantage against combo. It also pairs very well with Snapcaster Mage to do a decent Lingering Souls impression at instant speed. In the late game, it does all of the above due to the entwine. Many have begun to sing the praises of this card, and it does what it does very well. 2 is an easy include, with the 3rd often found in the sideboard.

Anguished Unmaking—A neat trick, but the life loss is a very relevant concern. Another sideboard spell at most.

Cast Down– And other 2 mana black removal spells like Smother and Go for the Throat . All of these have their own merits and can fit into most any list. Of the options, Cast Down is the best because it can hit delve threats and other creatures that GftT and Smother can't. Usually another removal spell past Path and Push isn't necessary.
Counter Suite:
Every control deck needs some form of counter magic to answer threats that absolutely cannot resolve. Primary maindeck consideration: Cryptic Command, Spell Snare, Logic Knot, Dovin's Veto, and Force of Negation. Honorable mention to Negate for being relevant for a little while.
Permission
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Cryptic Command – This is one of the main reasons to play blue in modern. Super powerful and super flexible, you'll want at least 3 in your list with some players opting for the full set. It is expensive at 4 mana and can clutter up your opening hands, but the power level and flexibility makes it well worth the price. Also, as mentioned before, the bounce/draw mode combines especially well with Esper Charm's mind rot effect to handle problem permanents that resolved before Cryptic came online. Note that this is not the best card postboard in fast matchups, and many shave copies postboard against Burn, Delver decks, et cetera. Mainboard, the synergy with grinding out timewalks via the tap/bounce Snapcaster mode is obscene, you can often buy three or four extra turns by repeatedly time walking using a single Snapcaster Mage and already-cast Cryptics.

Spell Snare – Two mana is the most common casting cost for threats in modern with things like Goyf, Stoneforge Mystic, Bob (i.e. Dark Confidant), Wrenn and Six, Cranial Plating, Snapcaster, Cathartic Reunion, Thing in the Ice, etc. A one mana hard counter for some of the most common cards in the format is a great thing to have access to, but against some decks it can be dead. It is at its worst against Living End and is excellent against Affinity and Burn. One is most often the number in the main, some playing as many as two, as it can be the most frustration late-game topdeck.

Negate – You were great, but Dovin's Veto is better.

Dovin's Veto – Often a sideboard all star, coming in against control strategies, combo decks such as Storm and Ad Nauseam, Tron (must counter that T3 Karn, Liberated, eh?), Dovin's Veto is occassionally seen as a 1-of in the main. You have to manage your slots well, because this card competes with Force of Negation.

Force of Negation -- A "free" counterspell, letting you tap out for planeswalkers without fear of terrifying noncreatures coming down on your opponent's side. It's also good for fighting counter wars on the opponent's turn. Most lists play 2.

Logic Knot – This deck is the origin of the multiple mainboard Logic Knots in control decks, so this one should come as no surprise. It has anti-synergy with Snapcaster and it does very little with an empty graveyard, which are certainly strikes against it. What it does add to the deck, however, is a 2 mana unconditional counter that is still relevant in the late game and effectively only costs UU, which is a big deal. The more Knots and Snapcaster Mages that you play the worse, the worse Logic Knots get. Two is generally the correct number, three is the maximum. Because of how the delve works, we really don't want to play more than two without careful consideration for how we stock the graveyard. (Well, I personally want to play 3, since I'm greedy, but most others won't.)

Ceremonious Rejection—Excellent sideboard tool for Tron, as it answers every spell they can cast that we care about. Very good against Affinity, Eldrazi, etc. A sideboard card.

Dispel—Once an excellent sideboard card for blue mirrors, now that Dovin's Veto ends counterwars, Dispel isn't quite as good. Sees occasional 1 of sideboard play, since it hits Cryptic Commands, Collected Company/Chord of Calling/Eldamri's Call, and also plays cheaply against Burn.

Flusterstorm—Another good cheap answer, very good against Storm for obvious reasons. In other matchups it tends to do a Spell Pierce impression. Not bad for the cost, especially considering that when Flusterstorm is truly good, it's unbeatable. You might play this over a sideboard Dispel if you're feeling spicy.
Draw Power:
Typical mainboard considerations are Esper Charm, Narset, Parter of Veils, and a hold-over from the olden days, Think Twice.
Gimme Those Cards
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Esper Charm – The reason to play the deck in the first place, the card is amazing and always gives you value. 4 is often correct, though 3 is serviceable if your meta is degenerate with graveyard strategies.

Narset, Parter of Veils – A very solid card advantage option. Though sorcery speed, Narset is a slow Dig Through Time that happens to hose opposing draw spells, Manamorphoses, Jaces, and Teferi, Heros. Often played as a 2-of when included.

Sphinx's Revelation – A standard powerhouse that occasionally sees play in modern, revelation acts as a finisher in most games as casting one for X=5+ typically ends the game. That being said it is very expensive, and planeswakers tend to pull more weight, this card doesn't see much play any more.

Think Twice – Once the sacred cow of Esper, Think Twice was regarded as simultaneously the worst and most necessary card in the deck. In fact, it is the combination of Esper Charm and Think Twice that game Esper Draw-Go it's true "draw-go" roots. Think Twice has always been a fine early game cantrip to help hit land drops while providing positive card advantage later in the game. It also remains to be one of the best cards against the BGx decks, as pitching it to Liliana is nearly free. With the advent of the planeswalker package, most lists no longer include Think Twice. However, if you choose to go with a truly draw-go list, you will always want some number of them, especially in matches where the primary mode of Esper Charm will be mind rot.

Ancestral Vision—Once a resident of the banlist, testing by the majority of the members in the thread has found it to be ineffective for what our deck seeks to accomplish. For the most part, it just leads to clunky midgames for us, the time when we most want to be smoothly chaining draw spells into interaction and powering into the lategame -- certainly not to be sitting around and waiting for a burst of cards that forces us to have to stabilize yet again.
Cantrip Options:
Modern control decks depend on maintaining a relatively high velocity in order to compete with the fast linear decks, and cheap cantrips help power through our deck, generate card advantage with Snapcaster Mage, fuel delve for Logic Knot, and in some cases form a key component of Esper Draw-Go. Ideally, we want to select cantrips that can generate card advantage in appropriate matchups while cycling in others. Run between 0 and 6 cantrips, meta dependent. Currently, Opt is the poison of choice. Serum Visions has also seen some play, as well as Nihil Spellbomb in metas where graveyard decks dominate. Past mainboard inclusions are Remand with honorable mention to Shadow of Doubt.
Value!
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Opt—An inclusion first popularized by its use in UW builds with Terminus, this cantrip has become almost as ubiquitous as playing 4 Path to Exile. Its inclusion feeds delve and smooths out the early game, and plays excellently with Snapcaster Mage and counterspells. Most lists run 3-4.

Serum Visions—This is a controversial candidate for draw-go builds. Its inclusion feeds delve and smooths out the early game. However, it's use has all but disappeared since Narset, Parter of Veils began seeing wide play, as Narset prevents the card draw.

Nihil Spellbomb– A move first popularized by Zach Allen, who placed 2nd with Esper at SCG Cleveland 2019, Nihil Spellbomb is a card of narrow purpose, but it's impact is obvious in the matchups where it matters. As far as mainboard grave hate goes, Spellbomb is a very solid option for Esper for a multitude of reasons. Chiefly, the card doesn't interact poorly with our own copies of Snapcaster Mage and Logic Knot. In addition, the card triggers revolt for Fatal Push, and can be activated at no mana cost in a pinch. If you play a T1 spellbomb and your Dredge opponent happens to flip all four Bloodghasts into the yard off of a Stinkweed Imp dredge, activate Spellbomb while still in their draw step. Who cares that you lost a card out of the deal?

Remand – Firstly, Remand is, in fact, merely a cantrip -- not a counterspell by any means. If you want to run them you should consider them a part of your card draw section and not counter magic. It is at it's best against other counterspells (i.e. Remanding your own spells in response to their counter) and decks with a heavy emphasis on either flashback or 3+ mana bombs. Thus, Remand is usually at a premium against Titanshift, BGx, and opposing control opponents.

Peek—Deserves consideration as it is a 1 mana instant speed cantrip. In general this effect isn't worth it, but some have had success with it.

Shadow of Doubt – This quirky card can counter a Scapeshift or Chord of Calling, or can kill a fetch land. Whether or not this is what the deck wants is up for debate, but it is an option when it comes to "cantrips that might do stuff".
Sweepers:
Even in modern, midrange decks can build up a very impressive board presence so we need a few panic buttons that we can push against the beatdown decks. Primary mainboard consideration: Supreme Verdict and Wrath of God. Engineered Explosives for sideboard play].
Creatures, be gone!
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Supreme Verdict – Simple and pure, this is the go-to wrath as the cannot-be-countered clause does come up oftentimes, and regeneration usually isn't present in modern mainboards. Run at least two, pretty much without question.

Wrath of God/Damnation – Because Meddling Mage is played in Humans, and because regeneration is very seldom, but sometimes, relevant. More specifically though, Thrun, the Last Troll is a somewhat common sideboard card, and at least a consideration in any deck with green mana. There's also Ezuri, Renegade Leader, which can otherwise be very annoying. Wrath is one way to ensure that you won't just scoop to these cards. Be careful with selecting the appropriate one for your mana base, as 2WW is more reliable for the UW shell than 2BB. Remember that Blessed Alliance or Kaya's Guile are probably better outs for just thrun.

Terminus–A high price at 6 mana... Fooled you there! (Unlikely.) You'll hopefully be casting this one for its miracle cost of one white mana. This option ensures that nothing will be on the battlefield after it resolves. A decent option if you're afraid of Dredge, Collected Company decks, etc. It can be absolutely backbreaking against aggro decks in the format. It is also great against Bogles as a way to get around totem armor (see Spider Umbra). The miracle is supported by 2 cards: Opt, to cast it during your opponent's turn, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor to set it up, even if you had the misfortune of keeping a Terminus in your opener. If you choose this as your wrath, play 4, and play no less than all 4 Opts and 3 Jaces.

Settle the Wreckage-- You want a blowout? Put a few of these in your sideboard. Your unsuspecting opponent may serve in with the whole squad. Settle is a very relevant sideboard choice against the likes of Dredge for its exiling clause. Be wary, as some threats seldom attack, such as Grim Lavamancer, Endbringer, mana dorks, and Stoneforge Mystic.
Finishers and Threats:
Eventually, we need to actually kill our opponent. Celestial colonnade, while amazing, sometimes needs a little bit of help. Primary mainboard consideration: Snapcaster Mage, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Celestial Colonnade, Creeping Tar Pit, and Kaya, Orzhov Usurper. Honorable Mentions to Vendilion Clique and White Sun's Zenith.
FINISH THEM
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Planeswalkers
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This section isn't new to control. You'll need to invest in it, though. Do you still have both of your kidneys?

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria – The man himself. The "three" mana planeswalker. Get an emblem and you win! Get to untap with him uncontested, and you probably win. Teferi represents card advantage, an answer to problematic permanents with his -3 (the Teferi tuck, as we call it), and a wincon, all rolled into one. He also allows you to hold up a counterspell or removal spell the same turn that you play him (assuming you +1). He even lets you beat infinite life, since you can have him -3 targeting himself to have infinite deck size, thus decking your opponent 1 card at a time. At 5 mana, the cost is a little hefty, though. Play 2.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor– Another card once banned, now Jace roams modern's slowest decks. His ultimate is still as game winning as ever, his -1 is some weak protection, and his 0 is the bread-and-butter. His Brainstorm is great in combination with fetchlands and Field of Ruin. Jace is one of the best haymakers. Most play 2, but 3 is necessary for Terminus builds.

Teferi, Time Raveler– Affectionately (or rather, unaffectionately) know as T3feri, this small planeswalker packs a punch in the right matchups. T3feri turns all of our counterspells into Last Word and prevents them from countering our threats. T3feri is also a great card for combo decks that use instants to protect their strategy, such as Infect and Ad Nauseam. T3feri also turns off cascade, making him nuts against Living End and sometimes stranding a Rift Bolt in exile. He also prevents the opponent from interacting with our manlands, making for free swings with Celestial Colonnade or Creeping Tar-Pit. In fact, T3feri is the main reason Tar Pit is run in the main at all – so you can attack opposing T3feris. At worst, T3feri can bounce a threat, cantrip, and take a hit for you. At best he wins the game on the spot. Keep in mind, you can -3 him with no targets just to draw a card in a pinch.

Kaya, Orzhov Usurper – A great option to have. Since she is at the sweet spot of 3 mana, she can come down early enough to swing the graveyard matchups. Her -1 is great against Aether Vials, Noble Hierarchs, Glistener Elfs, and even the odd Amulet of Vigors of the world. Her ultimate, when supported, can win the game. The downside of her is that she is still another 3 drop, sorcery speed, and can be dead in some matchups, such as the BGx matchup.

Elspeth, Sun's Champion-- Excellent against most midrange decks, "big" Elspeth provides a faster clock with much more pressure than her cheaper counterparts, but is more expensive and harder to resolve. General consensus is that big Elspeth is better for the sideboard.

Gideon Jura – Another massive 5 drop. Gideon is king in fair matches and is able to provide card advantage by either picking off attackers or forcing opponents to swing into our waiting Colonnades. The planeswalker spots are already tight, though, so Gideon usually gets the boot.

Jace, Architect of Thought—Excellent against Lingering Souls and Young Pyromancer. Provides grindy card advantage in many matchups. Fine sideboard material.
Creatures. Wait, why would you play those?
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Vendilion Clique – Hand disruption and card filtering attached to a 3/1 flying body is always nice to have. As I like to say, it dies to a "slight breeze". Clique may be very weak to Electrolyze and die to Bolt, but it has flash and allows us reasonable main deck hand disruption and a legitimate clock against combo, which makes it a serious contender for a slot. In fact, in control matchups you don't care whether Clique dies or not – the information of their hand is what matters. Play 0-1 in the mainboard and 1-2 in the sideboard. Two should be in every 75.

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir – See T3feri. This one's more fragile and more expensive, but still worth consideration.

Geist of Saint Traft – The faerie god-father of UW decks everywhere. If you're especially worried about your combo match up and want a big-time threat, then Geist is your man. Very few decks will be willing to leave in an answer to him on the off chance that you might have it. He also comes in against control and other decks that are light on creatures to catch them off guard. Keep in mind that being on the draw makes Geist significantly worse, but, when backed up with discard, Geist is nearly unstoppable. Running a few Geists in the board is a high risk, high reward gamble that can either pay dividends or end up burning you.

Snapcaster Mage: In general, this is one of the best tools blue has in modern. It both enables a fast clock and allows us to efficiently match our answers to our opponents threats without leaving ourselves crippled in game one against one matchup or another. Two has long been touted as the optimal number, though recently most lists play 4. In Esper, Snapcaster Mage is occasionally stranded in hand with no targets for his ability, thus high numbers must be accommodated with a grater number of cheap spells such as Path, Push, Snare, and Opt.

Baneslayer Angel and Lyra Dawnbringer--One of the most powerful stabilizing creature stats available to Esper Control. More glass-cannon than other options, it dodges Abrupt Decay, Fatal Push, and Lightning Bolt while thoroughly trumping Lingering Souls. A resolved Baneslayer Angel stalls out most board states immediately. Controlling the sky is extremely important in stopping the grindy abzan decks and their Lingering Souls, while the first strike and lifelink ensure that you win the fight against Dredge, Affinity, and Burn. Another high-risk, high-reward sideboard card, but often perfectly fine with a mix of similar threats.
Others
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White Sun's Zenith – Once our ultimate form of inevitability, instant speed kitties isn't really the standard anymore. It is expensive as a finisher, but casting it for just 3-4 is more than most decks are able to handle. Since it shuffles back into the deck we are able to fire it off for a relatively low amount when needed without worrying about "wasting" our finisher. If you choose to play it, play 1.

Secure the Wastes—This card usually sees play as a 2 of, because it pairs with Snapcaster Mage for use in chump blockers in the earlier stages of the game if necessary, while being rebought later on with Snapcaster Mage to close things out. It falls short of Zenith's power in more controlling or midrange metagames, or any metagame with a large presence of collected company. However, like Zenith, it is not frequently played.

Celestial Colonnade—Technically this is a win con. Really, every Esper build should just have some of these and it shouldn't have to be mentioned, but we do things the correct way here because we're control players. Recent lists play less than four, so do consider the cost of it coming into play tapped.

Creeping Tar Pit—The planeswalker slayer. If your metagame somehow has too many planeswalkers appearing, this is your pit. Also reasonable for clocking in a control mirror due to the cheaper activation cost. This card has become increasingly more relevant given the appearance of T3feri.

Lingering Souls—Though not the best in most mainboards, it especially shines in tap-out style decks and can be an excellent sideboard component for matchups in which the draw-go builds wish to morph into a tap out style of gameplan. Another example of a card that happens to be very good in the BGx matchup.
Mana Base:
As anyone who's played control in standard for any length of time can tell you, one of the most important aspects of a control deck is having rock-solid mana. Click below for a bit of a primer on Esper mana bases. With that said, if you copy one from any of the lists in the forum you'll find that it serves reasonably well, in part because the mana is so stringent that it would take tectonic shifts in your mainboard to have the manabase not be within 1-2 sources of your needs for a given configuration.
The Manabase
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A few notes and suggestions on how to build an Esper mana base while keeping in mind the mana requirements of Esper Charm being triple colored:

With the bevy of fetchlands available to us here, there is a lot of flexibility. A rule of thumb to follow is that the ideal count of mana sources is 22 blue, 18 white, and 12 black. This allows you to (usually) have triple blue on time for Cryptic Command, double white on turn 4 for Wrath of God, and at least 1 black early for various removal spells and Esper Charms.

The triple color requirement on Esper Charm makes it so that we cannot run as many Field of Ruins or other colorless utility lands as UW lists do, but we can afford at least a couple. The deciding factors on how many to run include how many basic lands you want, how much removal you have for animated man lands, and whether you have Lingering Souls or not. If you are heavy on spot removal then you can get away with just one perfectly fine. If you have a lot of wrath effects then you can ease up on them as well without too much fear of Gavony Township taking over a game. It completely depends on the specific composition of your 75.

In general, a stock manabase looks something like this: With primary considerations being Field of Ruin or Ghost Quarter for utility lands, and Glacial Fortress, Drowned Catacomb, or sometimes Reflecting Pool for non-island blue sources. Mystic Gate and Sunken Ruins are also options, however, they pair poorly with Field, so can exacerbate the mana issues if you play more copies of Field.

It is relevant that you have at least two Watery Grave in your list, because if your first Grave gets destroyed by an opportunistic opponent, without a second one in your list you suddenly might be in the position of only having three or four black sources left to hit in your deck, since only half of your fetches can grab that basic swamp. Similarly, it is also relevant to have at least a total of six non-island blue sources and one non-island black source in order to effectively fight through a Choke or Boil.




.
Matchups

Sideboarding Guidelines:

BGx (i.e. Jund, Abzan, The Rock):
BGx
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The focal points of the BGx matchup are efficiency and card advantage. Generally speaking, Esper tends to be favored in this matchup, unlike other control decks, because we can start playing multiple spells as early as turn 2 (Snare+removal), and can easily gain card advantage to keep the flow of cards moving. In fact, Esper can often win the game through a Liliana of the Veil -6, so some BGx players will plus Lili to 7 first -- this is especially true if you can manage to keep a clean board. However, in game one control has a few deficiencies in the matchup. Let's take a look at some sideboard suggestions:

In:
Celestial Purge
Fatal Push
Kaya's Guile
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Rest in Peace
Cataclysmic Gearhulk
Monastery Mentor
Baneslayer Angel/Lyra Dawnbringer

Out:
Dovin's Veto
Force of Negation
Supreme Verdict (except vs. Abzan with Lingering Souls, instead shave on spot removal)
Shave on copies of Logic Knot

Firstly, counterspells actually tend to be at their worst in this matchup because you can't afford to topdeck them when you're already behind. What's already resolved is more than capable of killing you. Knot is the most versatile of our counterspells and Snare is the most efficient, so they tend to somewhat pass the playability test. Knot can certainly be shaved if you encounter (or bring in) graveyard hate or simply have more to cards bring in. In a similar light, the best card here is by-and-far Celestial Purge. It's a super versatile answer to some of the more problematic permanents, including Wrenn and Six, Dark Confidant, Liliana of the Veil, Raging Ravine, and the odd Bitterblossom or such, and can also be Snapped back, so it's fine versus discard as well. In addition to wide answers, heavy-hitter threats pull great weight in this matchup. Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Monastery Mentor, and Cataclysmic Gearhulk are the best in this category, as they still generate value if answered. Banselayer and Lyra are great threats, outside of a Lili -2 or an Assasin's Trophy, since they can't be hit by Fatal Push. Other cards, such as extra removal spells, tend to be worth the slot, and cards such as Kaya's Guile simply do enough to be worth a slot or two (especially against Thrun the Last Troll). The most controversial inclusion here is Rest in Peace, but it's recently become a valuable card in the matchup as an answer to Wrenn and Six+Barren Moor, Tarmogoyf, Kolaghan's Command (somewhat), and Liliana the Last Hope's -2. Feel free to bring in RiP if you play fewer copies of Snapcaster Mage, but you may choose not to, as it is disasterous to draw multiples or dead Snappies after playing it.

The Essential Sideboard Cards

Esper Control has a few public enemies and a few distinct deficiencies in the mainboard, thus several sideboard cards are usually seen in just about every Esper list, and several in perhaps every control list. These are the tools that are considered essential to Esper's gameplan:

Before going into specific detail about what I would consider to be the "essential" Esper sideboard cards, you can find what you're probably really looking for -- the aggregate sideboard -- below. Keep in mind that this is only my suggestion, and your success may vary with the inclusion and exclusion of certain cards, especially given your local metagame. The explanations for these card choices, as well as possible alternates, can be found in the spoiler sections below.

Suggested Baseline Sideboard
1x Ceremonious Rejection
1x Dovin's Veto
2x Timely Reinforcements
2x Celestial Purge
2x Vendilion Clique
7x other

Alright, game two?
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Matchups Requiring Specific Attention
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This section is dedicated to a few very unique matchups, each having its own quirk that demands attention for gaining strategic advantage in gameplay. Here are the cards that I might recommend sideboarding for these specific matchups:

For Dredge and other graveyard-oriented matchups:
1-2 Kaya's Guile, 0-3 Surgical Extraction, 0-2 Nihil Spellbomb, 0-3 Rest in Peace, 0-2 Ashiok, Dream Render, 0-1 Grafdigger's Cage, or 0-2 Extirpate

Graveyard strategies are the premier example of decks that you simply will not beat without dedicated sideboard hate. The most prevalent example of a deck like this is Dredge (see Stinkweed Imp). There are other more fringe options for graveyard decks, such as Vengevine strategies, and Arclight Phoenix decks, and Goryo's Vengeance decks, but many of these have fallen out of favor with the banning of Faithless Looting. Any and all of these decks will be affected by the sideboard cards above, ranging from minor road-blocks to game ending deciders.

For Tron:
0-3 Surgical Extraction, 0-2 Unmoored Egos, 0-2 Thoughtseizes, 0-1 Disdainful Stroke, 0-2 Ceremonious Rejection, 0-2 Stony Silence

Tron is a deck that relies on Urza's Tower, Urza's Mine, and Urza's Power Plant to cast big spells such as Karn Liberated, Karn, the Great Creator + Mycosynth Lattice, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. By-and-far, the easiest way to gain control in this matchup is to completely neutralize the threat of "assembling Tron". In other words, preventing the three Urza lands from being in play together. Thus, using Field of Ruin + Surgical Extraction on a Tron land, or casting Unmoored Ego naming a Tron land turns the deck into a ~20 land deck full of 7+ cost cards. Failing that, the number one issue is facing down a turn three Karn Liberated, which is often unbeatable without a counterspell. Thus, a reasonable matchup can still be crafted around the inclusion of Logic Knot, Force of Negation, Dovin's Veto, Ceremonious Rejection, Disdainful Stroke, and the like. Stony Silence can be very good against Tron, preventing the activation of Expedition Map, Chrmatic Star and Chromatic Sphere, and Oblivion Stone, but Tron players happen to be very conscious of this fact and often bring in anywhere from 3-4 Nature's Claim to hedge against Stony, thus most Esper lists do not play Stony Silence.

For Burn:
2-3 Timely Reinforcements, 0-2 Kaya's Guile, 0-2 Blessed Alliance, 0-1 Lyra Dawnbringer and 0-1 Baneslayer Angel

Burn is Esper's worst matchup. Without real pressure to close out the game, Esper simply flounders around long enough to lose to topdecked Lightning Bolts or unanswered creatures. Thus, we need some cards to prevent this while we stabilize with a wincon in play. The best options are cards like Timely Reinforcements and Kitchen Finks that give us bursts of life while also presenting a threat, though Finks tends not to serve as well in other matchups. Untapping with a Baneslayer Angel in play against Burn will certainly be a win, which is also true in other matchups like Affinity, Hardened Scales, Death's Shadow decks, et cetera. Without any tools dedicated to Burn in the sideboard, this matchup becomes nearly unwinnable. Thus, Esper should always address this matchup in the sideboard in some capacity, with at least 2 Timely Reinforcements being the optimal starting tech.
Powerful Answer Cards
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While some matchups demand that you address them in your sideboard, some cards individually hold their own merit based simply on their raw power and crossover into many matchups. Here is a list of some of those cards:

Celestial Purge
This card is a house against a number of cards that demand a specific answer. Some such cards are Blood Moon, Liliana of the Veil, Liliana of the Last Hope, Dark Confidant, Wrenn and Six, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Bitterblossom, Keranos, God of Storms, Nahiri, Harbinger, Cindervines, Koth of the Hammer, Arclight Phoenix, Bloodghast, Prized Amalgam, etc. It also hits some of your "average" threats, such as Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Gurmag Angler, Death's Shadow, any creature in Burn, Goblin Electromancer, Mantis Rider, Kitesail Freebooter, Creeping Tar Pit, etc. Honestly, the list just goes on and on, thus this card is a complete mainstay in most every control sideboard, especially Esper. Never play a list without 2 Purge in the sideboard, though I personally suggest 3. If you REALLY need a catchall to hit other-colored permanents, a Detention Sphere can be worth a sideboard spot over a Purge, but Sphere can't be snapped back and it is vulnerable to enchantment hate. An Anguished Unmaking may also do the trick, but Lightning Bolting yourself for a 3 mana play is not a very enticing price to pay.

Dovin's Veto
This is one of those mirror-breaking cards, and is definitely one of the draws to playing blue and white in your control decks. It isn't the best at protecting your own threats, but it definitively stops your opponent's threats. Pointing it at a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, an Ad Nauseam, a Through the Breach, a Scapeshift, a Past in Flames, a Neoform or Eldritch Evolution, a Karn Liberated, or anything else in that realm of "game ending noncreature spell" will feel amazing. Against the decks that plan to win all in one turn by forcing their win through with Pact of Negation (such as Ad Nauseam combo, Amulet Titan decks that plan to resolve a Hive Mind or Summoner's Pact to get their namesake Primeval Titan, and NeoBrand decks that plan to Neoform an Allosaurus Rider into a game-winning Griselbrand), Veto is the absolute trump. It also happens to be a simple Negate against a number of other things, such as Boros Charm. Some even play a Veto in the main. You want at least 2 in your 75.

Extra Wrath of God Effects
The polar opposite of Veto, the sideboard is home to additional copies of Supreme Verdict, Wrath of God, and Engineered Explosives. In the right matchups, these cards range from backbreaking to absolutely necessary if you plan to win the matchup. Against a deck like Goblins, Abzan Company, Merfolk, Humans, Bogles, and a few others, you simply MUST find a sweeper effect or you will likely lose. However, in some other matchups, drawing Supreme Verdict is akin to drawing a Wood Elemental. Control and combo opponents hope you draw every Wrath effect in your deck against them. Thus, the 4th or 5th Wraths tend to find their home in the sideboard. Because of their necessity in some matchups, however, 3-4 in the 75 is usually correct.
Flash Threats
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Despite the claim that Esper control is nearly creatureless, the truth is that some number of flash threats are always present in the sideboard. These cards are for matchups that require us to constantly hold up interaction or risk a game loss, such as Infect, control opponents with must-counter planeswalkers, Storm opponents, Scapeshift or Primeval Titan opponents, Ad Nauseam opponents, etc. Without flash threats, Esper simply has no way to pressure the opponent while they wait to build the perfect hand. In addition, these flash creatures also double as suprise blockers for attacking creatures. Snapcaster Mage is great, but many lists play as few as 2 Snapcaster Mage. Therefore...

Vendilion Clique
Clique has been here since the early 2000's and is unlikely to be going anywhere, yet players still reveal their hand to it before you declare who you're targeting! Clique is the go-to threat, as it provides a number of advantages for three mana. Firstly, Clique is a flash threat with flying. As discussed, this can be key in a number of matchups, while the evasion allows you to fly over ground blockers to clock the opponent anyways. Secondly, it allows you to Peek at the opponent's hand. This is valuable in control matchups, where your opponent may be bluffing counterspells, and in combo matchups, where you need to know what spells to counter and now have perfect information to make the optimal choice. Thirdly, Clique also allows you to cycle a card, allowing you to trade their most threatening card for another random card off of the top of their deck. This is fantastic against any decks that require a specific subset of cards, thus working well against combo opponents and Tron opponents (for cycling their threats away). Finally, in the most desperate of situations, Clique can target yourself to pitch a redundant card and dig for answers.

Spell Queller
A card played mainly by myself and noone else, Spell Queller has different advantages than Clique. For example, Queller can profitably block attacking creatures from Burn, such as Goblin Guide, and from other aggro decks. Queller also trades with the card it exiles until they answer Queller, rather than giving them an immediate replacement such as Clique does. Finally, Queller can also "counter" uncounterable spells such as Abrupt Decay or, more importantly, those spells that that you might find on the stack via a Cavern of Souls. Queller only hits setup spells against Tron, such as Ancient Stirrings and Oblivion Stone. However, the early play against combo decks and the utility against Burn can sometimes be worth the tradeoff.

Restoration Angel
This flash flyer is much more of a dedicated threat than the other two, sacrificing strategic diversity for a bigger butt. Resto doesn't die to much (especially after the opponent has taken out their dead removal spells for games 2 and 3), but current Esper lists don't really take advantage of the flicker ability of Resto. It does pair well with Snapcasters, Cliques, Lyra Dawnbringer, potentially Cataclysmic Gearhulk from the side, or mainboard Wall of Omens if you're into that. More midrangey lists might even include Kitchen Finks, and man-oh-man does Resto pair well with Finks in a pretty unfair way. All that said, the Angel is not really the most popular sideboard choice.




Last edited by TheAnnihilator 1 month ago, edited 33 times in total.
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Post by TheAnnihilator » 3 months ago

I'm here to sling some Esper Charms! I was TheAnnihilator0798 back on MTGS.
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Post by TheAnnihilator » 3 months ago

So my current list looks like this (I think), what are your opinions on it and what would you say a "stock list" looks like?


I find myself less interested in JtMS when the meta is so fast, since we're not setting up Terminus, and instead, I'm back to Think Twice again to see how it goes. I haven't played TT in a long time, but I still can't see myself wanting to tap out for Narset, Parter of Veils, which isn't a card I've ever really liked anyways. I'm afraid this list has too much air in it now, though, with Spellbombs too.
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Post by Amalek0 » 3 months ago

I'm Amalek0 from mtgsalvation.

I maintained the primer for this archetype on salvation for a few years.

If we want to do a primer, I still have an upcoming vacation during which I'm willing to recompile and re-assemble most of the key pieces of the mtgsalvation primer and major thread discussions. I hope all of our discord folks will return here for long-form discussion.

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Post by TheAnnihilator » 3 months ago

Amalek0 wrote:
3 months ago
I'm Amalek0 from mtgsalvation.

I maintained the primer for this archetype on salvation for a few years.

If we want to do a primer, I still have an upcoming vacation during which I'm willing to recompile and re-assemble most of the key pieces of the mtgsalvation primer and major thread discussions. I hope all of our discord folks will return here for long-form discussion.
If you want to do stuff with the primer, you'll have to direct message ktkenshinx or another mod. I'm pretty sure you already know that, but I'm leaving this here just in case. (I also want to see what replies look like here, so there's that.)
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Post by TheAnnihilator » 3 months ago

So I finally used Karsten's manabase math article to look over my manabase and this is what I've settled on:

So not counting Field as a mana source, it has 20 U sources for UU on T2 and 1UUU on T4, 16 W for 2WW on T4, and 11 B sources for 2B on T3, all working out to the exact number required according to Karsten. It looks really wierd to be on so many Glacial Fortress in Esper, but the math doesn't lie. I suppose I could play the 4th Delta, but I really prefer not to play so many fetches. Due to recent discussions on the discord, I wanted to play another Tar Pit over the second Colonnade, but that messes up the numbers.
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Post by Hesperos » 3 months ago

TheAnnihilator wrote:
3 months ago
I find myself less interested in JtMS when the meta is so fast, since we're not setting up Terminus, and instead, I'm back to Think Twice again to see how it goes.
I run a fairly similar list, but with a bigger walker package (2 Jace, 2 Teferi, HOD, 2 Kaya).
I still really like Jace, as I think he offers several useful options for all stages of the game, and almost all positions we can find ourselves in. When we're ahead, Jace essentially wins the game on the spot. Other than that, I feel the card filtering from brainstorm is super valuable, especially in a blind first game. The body is also relevant, as very few decks can afford to let a Jace stay on the board. This is probably even more true in esper than in UW, since we can run more creature removal in the form of push and protect Jace when we get to untap with him. To me, this means the floor of a Jace is Brainstorm + gain 3 life.
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Post by TheAnnihilator » 3 months ago

Hesperos wrote:
3 months ago
TheAnnihilator wrote:
3 months ago
I find myself less interested in JtMS when the meta is so fast, since we're not setting up Terminus, and instead, I'm back to Think Twice again to see how it goes.
I run a fairly similar list, but with a bigger walker package (2 Jace, 2 Teferi, HOD, 2 Kaya).
I still really like Jace, as I think he offers several useful options for all stages of the game, and almost all positions we can find ourselves in. When we're ahead, Jace essentially wins the game on the spot. Other than that, I feel the card filtering from brainstorm is super valuable, especially in a blind first game. The body is also relevant, as very few decks can afford to let a Jace stay on the board. This is probably even more true in esper than in UW, since we can run more creature removal in the form of push and protect Jace when we get to untap with him. To me, this means the floor of a Jace is Brainstorm + gain 3 life.
While it's true that that's Jace's floor, I find that it's often not good enough. It's a 4 mana sorcery. If I wanted to play him as an alt wincon/close-the-door card, I'd just play 1 and slam him late game.

How do you feel about the 2nd Kaya?
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Post by Hesperos » 3 months ago

The second Kaya is a new thing I'm trying, but so far I really like it. Kaya has been great in almost every game I've played recently. Having the second one should ensure I get her out more regularly. I'm taking that six walker package to FNM tomorrow again, and will share how that goes.
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Post by Amalek0 » 3 months ago

TheAnnihilator wrote:
3 months ago
Amalek0 wrote:
3 months ago
I'm Amalek0 from mtgsalvation.

I maintained the primer for this archetype on salvation for a few years.

If we want to do a primer, I still have an upcoming vacation during which I'm willing to recompile and re-assemble most of the key pieces of the mtgsalvation primer and major thread discussions. I hope all of our discord folks will return here for long-form discussion.
If you want to do stuff with the primer, you'll have to direct message ktkenshinx or another mod. I'm pretty sure you already know that, but I'm leaving this here just in case. (I also want to see what replies look like here, so there's that.)
I mean, I don't necessarily want to make a unilateral grab for power. But I never had many people offer to help with the salvation thread, while simultaneously complaining that sections of it were pretty out-of-date. I have the ability to put together a decent-ish primer faster than most people because I have all the pieces, but I don't have the time to stay as on-top of updating the primer now that I'm not a student anymore.

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Post by Hesperos » 3 months ago

Quick rundown of last night's FNM with the 2 Kaya, 2 HoD, 2 JtmS package. Overall, I was super happy with both Kaya and Jace, they each won me multiple games. I was, again, really impressed with Kaya's Guile. That card is a definite powerhouse, and seems underrated for what it does.

Match 1: GDS, 2 - 1
Game 1: I can keep him off of his threats, and trade for the first couple of turns. At some point I land a Kaya and a Jace. Fateseal keeps the game under control while Kaya's ultimate wins the game.
Game 2: GDS does what it does. Rips my hand apart, and then lands threats before I can find enough answers.
Game 3: I keep a hand with Jace, Supreme Verdict and Cryptic. Turn 1 IoK bricks because of it. Game goes very long, where we keep trading resources and threats. I ultimately land Jace, and can protect him to ultimate.

Match 2: Esper Control, 1 - 2
Control mirrors are what they are. I win one game with Kaya's ultimate and creepy beats. In the third game, my opponent lands a baby Teferi, which essentially ends the game, even though we still had to play through many, many turns to actually resolve the game.

Match 3: Bant infect, 2 - 0
Game 1: I start with a hand with a little bit of everything. My opponents starts with t1 elf, that I immediately path. He gets a baby teferi that takes some time to work around. I later get Jace on the board and can keep him off of threats with fateseal, and win the game.
Game 2: I mull to 6 for a hand with only 1 land, but 2 path and a push. I aggressively play a snapcaster on turn 3. On turn four I resolve Unmoored Ego for Blighted Agent, and the snapcaster beats win the game.

Match 4; Phoenix, 2 - 0
Game 1: The only early threat my opponent deploys is a TiTi, that I only have a verdict for. I land a Jace, and trade some resources. He manages to resurrect two birds, I path them, Jace ultimates for the game.
Game 2: Game starts somewhat slow, as he looks for resources. I try Unmoored Ego on turn three, but get spell pierced. Find another on turn four, cast to grab all four phoenixes from his deck. I ultimately land a Kaya, and get her to ultimate for the win.
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Post by cfusionpm » 3 months ago

As someone who spent a lot of time playing UW, what's the draw for adding black? Is the more painful manabase worth it?
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Post by Hesperos » 3 months ago

Personal preference for me. But black also opens up a lot of cool new angles (and usually a more proactive approach to control) to approach the game from, and gives you access to numerous great cards:
Esper charm (one of the biggest draws to the archetype for many)
Fatal push
Creeping tar pit
Kalitas
Tasigur
Thoughtseize/inquisition
Kaya
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Post by TheAnnihilator » 3 months ago

Amalek0 wrote:
3 months ago
Snip!
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TheAnnihilator wrote:
3 months ago
Amalek0 wrote:
3 months ago
I'm Amalek0 from mtgsalvation.

I maintained the primer for this archetype on salvation for a few years.

If we want to do a primer, I still have an upcoming vacation during which I'm willing to recompile and re-assemble most of the key pieces of the mtgsalvation primer and major thread discussions. I hope all of our discord folks will return here for long-form discussion.
If you want to do stuff with the primer, you'll have to direct message ktkenshinx or another mod. I'm pretty sure you already know that, but I'm leaving this here just in case. (I also want to see what replies look like here, so there's that.)
I mean, I don't necessarily want to make a unilateral grab for power. But I never had many people offer to help with the salvation thread, while simultaneously complaining that sections of it were pretty out-of-date. I have the ability to put together a decent-ish primer faster than most people because I have all the pieces, but I don't have the time to stay as on-top of updating the primer now that I'm not a student anymore.
I don't have even a skeleton for a primer. If you can set up just whatever you can put together quickly, I'd be willing to jump in and make updates. I don't always have the time, but I'm in between semesters at the moment until August, so yeah. If you need to email me a text doc with the pieces so I can make the post and edit, just pm me.
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Post by TheAnnihilator » 3 months ago

Primer, activate! I've got a little something going, with some parts copy-pasted-edited from the original.

Feel free to hit me up for any suggestions, as I am definitely open to them.
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Post by Kalladdin » 3 months ago

Hello! I used to play Esper control a long while back, and am looking to get back into it. I still have most of the cards from my old list, and the newer versions aren't too different.
New things to the deck:
-More planeswalkers: makes sense because there's better options than there were a few years ago.
-Force of Negation: this card seems super fun, and also really good in the right matchups, looking forward to testing it out.
-Kaya's Guile: I love me some utility, between this, Cryptic and Esper Charm we have an awesome suite of modal spells at our disposal, pretty cool!

Question about some changes to the average/stock lists these days:
-Two of the most important cards in the deck from my day are noticeably lacking in the more recent lists: Think Twice and Sphinx's Revelation.
What's the reasoning behind cutting these? Think Twice especially used to never be cut basically, so seeing that they aren't played as much is confusing me here.

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Post by TheAnnihilator » 3 months ago

Kalladdin wrote:
3 months ago
Hello! I used to play Esper control a long while back, and am looking to get back into it. I still have most of the cards from my old list, and the newer versions aren't too different.
New things to the deck:
-More planeswalkers: makes sense because there's better options than there were a few years ago.
-Force of Negation: this card seems super fun, and also really good in the right matchups, looking forward to testing it out.
-Kaya's Guile: I love me some utility, between this, Cryptic and Esper Charm we have an awesome suite of modal spells at our disposal, pretty cool!

Question about some changes to the average/stock lists these days:
-Two of the most important cards in the deck from my day are noticeably lacking in the more recent lists: Think Twice and Sphinx's Revelation.
What's the reasoning behind cutting these? Think Twice especially used to never be cut basically, so seeing that they aren't played as much is confusing me here.
I'm a long time player as well, so I can field these questions. The main reason for the exclusion of both cards really is twofold, including format speed and the printing of efficient counterparts.

Think Twice (while imo still good) is simply too slow and leads to hands that spin the gears too much. Tapland-TT-ECharm-Verdict simply is too slow. Combine that with the fact that Mana efficient CA engine planeswalkers Teferi Hero and Jace are available, and you'd rather play answers until you land a walker than spend mana on TT.

As for Rev, it's just not the most efficient option anymore. Why Rev for X=3 instead of slamming and protecting a Teferi in the same turn? The planeswalkers are honestly just better.

Most lists don't play it anymore, but Search for Azcanta is yet another option to supplant TT and Rev. There's also Narset, Parter of Veils.
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Post by TheAnnihilator » 3 months ago

cfusionpm wrote:
3 months ago
As someone who spent a lot of time playing UW, what's the draw for adding black? Is the more painful manabase worth it?
There are a few draws for playing black, imo.
1) Esper Charm. Yes, I know it seems overstated, but the ability to play Esper Charm dramatically impacts a number of matchups. I won a game a match against Tron in a league today off of eot Path Ballista + Mind Rot them, untap Snap Mind Rot them to 0 cards and only lands in play. That's not something UW can even come close to. This comes into play against Storm and Control as well, and the Divination is great against BGx. In addition, the weakness to Blood Moon is lessened by the fact that ECharm can actually kill Moon. Still, it's pretty much mandatory to play 2 Celestial Purge in the board because of Moon.
2) Fatal Push. This one's for Infect and Humans, matchups that reward non-ramping, unconditional removal.
3) Kaya's Guile. A mainboardable swiss army knife that UW can't play. Grave hate against Dredge, etc. life gain against Burn, a sac effect against Bogles/Eldrazi, etc. It usually does something.
4) Nihil Spellbomb. Mainboardable grave hate that doesn't require mana to activate, doesn't hit our grave, and cantrips when it can/needs to. Better than Relic, RiP, or Surg imo.
5) Creeping Tar Pit. Just a cheaper to activate manland, good against decks with blockers and against planeswalkers.

In other words, the main reason to play Esper over UW is the black cards. :)
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Post by EsperShardmage » 3 months ago

Hi everyone! Thanks to Annihilator for the link on Salvation.

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Post by themindsculptor » 3 months ago

Very nice primer! Will be staying here for a while for sure :)

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Post by A Cute Bunny » 3 months ago

I'm on a 9 card discard package right now (3 IoK, 3 TS, 2 CoBru and 1 Charm) and it's been doing great at my LGS. I haven't lost a match with it so far. Notably I've faced UR and Mono R Phoenix, Dredge, Bant Spirits, Tron, Amulet Titan, UW Control, Jeskai Saheeli, Jeskai Control, UMoon, Infect and Hardened Scales. Every time I've started with t1/2 discard I won the game. I know its not how the deck traditionally is built or plays but it feels great right now especially with things like T3feri making discard become instant speed. In order to run a list like that though I've cut back on the counter spells and board wipes a bit as well as cutting the colorless lands to ensure a smooth manabase. For Win Cons we have Dom Tef, 3 Snaps, Clique, 2 Colonnade and 2 Tar Pit with Tar Pit being the MVP (and a few more win cons out of the side). Other odd includes are 1 Azcanta, 1 Timely in the main. For a long time Discard was considered terrible in control, but over the past few months with the release of all the new sets discard made its way into the side of many Esper decks both online and at tournaments. Lately some lists have moved 2 Thoughtseize into the main and in recent leagues Discard is on the rise. So over the past month I've been working on my Esper Discard Control deck.


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Post by TheAnnihilator » 3 months ago

A Cute Bunny wrote:
3 months ago
I'm on a 9 card discard package right now (3 IoK, 3 TS, 2 CoBru and 1 Charm) and it's been doing great at my LGS. I haven't lost a match with it so far. Notably I've faced UR and Mono R Phoenix, Dredge, Bant Spirits, Tron, Amulet Titan, UW Control, Jeskai Saheeli, Jeskai Control, UMoon, Infect and Hardened Scales. Every time I've started with t1/2 discard I won the game. I know its not how the deck traditionally is built or plays but it feels great right now especially with things like T3feri making discard become instant speed. In order to run a list like that though I've cut back on the counter spells and board wipes a bit as well as cutting the colorless lands to ensure a smooth manabase. For Win Cons we have Dom Tef, 3 Snaps, Clique, 2 Colonnade and 2 Tar Pit with Tar Pit being the MVP (and a few more win cons out of the side). Other odd includes are 1 Azcanta, 1 Timely in the main. For a long time Discard was considered terrible in control, but over the past few months with the release of all the new sets discard made its way into the side of many Esper decks both online and at tournaments. Lately some lists have moved 2 Thoughtseize into the main and in recent leagues Discard is on the rise. So over the past month I've been working on my Esper Discard Control deck.

I have to admit, I've been thinking about discard a lot recently as well. I'll playtest it a bit.

I went 2-1-1 last Friday at FNM with a list similar to the one I posted above with 4 Think Twice, but I added a White Sun's Zenith for old times sake. It felt good. Not amazing. But good. Many people commented on how good Think Twice felt, especially a UW control opponent that I 2-0d despite a resolved T3feri game 2. Turns out that Think Twice is pretty good against Narset.
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Post by A Cute Bunny » 3 months ago

TheAnnihilator wrote:
3 months ago
I have to admit, I've been thinking about discard a lot recently as well. I'll playtest it a bit.
Discard feels great for me too. Being proactive and taking out threats that you don't have the answer to in hand feels great. Breaking up combos or taking looting is also great. I noticed a lot of players keep hands off of 1 or 2 cards so being able to snipe that card from them almost always wins the game since their plan is instantly worse. The downside is against things like Burn and Humans they can have a fast enough start and redundant enough cards that it doesn't matter all too much.

Not really sure on Think Twice or White Suns (I'd almost rather use Secure the Wastes) but it's nice to know that other strategies are working for Esper instead of the traditional draw go shell.

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Post by Hesperos » 3 months ago

I really like discard spells, and I've been thinking about running a number of them recently. They always feel really good in games after the bridge ban. Howeber, I always end up cutting most (if not all) from my control lists. Reason being I don't like the tension they create in the game plan in the early game. I feel discard is better in a more midrangy shell, where you rely mostly on discard and removal, with some counterspell backup, and play a proactive game. This requires the deck to be more heavy on threats than 'traditional' control lists tend to be.
I also prefer to not have to fetch/shock aggressively to be able to play discard spells early and still get to the rather ambitious mana needs esper has (to be able to cast Supreme Verdict or Cryptic Command on turn 4).
That said, the list looks pretty sweet, and I'll run something similar to it soon to test. My main concern with the list above is four manlands seems like a lot. I'm on two Tar Pits now, and I still run into plenty of situations where I don't want to draw a tapped land.

On a different note, I've been thinking about more traditional draw-go esper control lists. I feel that between W and B we have plenty of early game removal to control most matchups, and have enough counterspells to stall non-creature based game plans. In my experience, I mostly empty my hand by turn 4 or 5, and then get planeswalkers and Esper Charm online to restock and take over the game.
This leads me to think of two things: card advantage, and threats.
First, card advantage. While I like Opt and Serum Visions for setting up future turns, I almost always end up either casting them to try to dig myself out of a hole, or exile them to Force of Negation. I've been thinking (and haven't tried this recently yet) that I'd might want to run Ancestral Vision again instead. It seems like a great play on turn one if you don't have anything else to do, and also plays great along a Teferi emblem. It doesn't help dig for answers, but I kind of feel like esper should have the answers to not get to that spot to begin with. Usually, digging for that one answer to get you out of a bind is a lost cause anyway.
When it comes to threats, we need more finishers or need to establish a more credible threat to deal with opposing planeswalkers or present a board state other than our walkers. As such, I've been thinking about what I can slot into the deck to help out. Conventional wisdom holds we should stick to Baneslayer Angel, Geist of Saint Traft, Vendilion Clique, or maybe a Kalitas. I've always really liked Thing in the Ice and Torrential Gearhulk, but haven't played with either recently. I'm now thinking I might include a Chromium in the deck to stay with the draw-go style of the deck, and to have a very serious clock late game. Any thoughts on what else might work well?
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Post by TheAnnihilator » 3 months ago

Hesperos wrote:
3 months ago
I really like discard spells, and I've been thinking about running a number of them recently. They always feel really good in games after the bridge ban. Howeber, I always end up cutting most (if not all) from my control lists. Reason being I don't like the tension they create in the game plan in the early game. I feel discard is better in a more midrangy shell, where you rely mostly on discard and removal, with some counterspell backup, and play a proactive game. This requires the deck to be more heavy on threats than 'traditional' control lists tend to be.
I also prefer to not have to fetch/shock aggressively to be able to play discard spells early and still get to the rather ambitious mana needs esper has (to be able to cast Supreme Verdict or Cryptic Command on turn 4).
That said, the list looks pretty sweet, and I'll run something similar to it soon to test. My main concern with the list above is four manlands seems like a lot. I'm on two Tar Pits now, and I still run into plenty of situations where I don't want to draw a tapped land.

On a different note, I've been thinking about more traditional draw-go esper control lists. I feel that between W and B we have plenty of early game removal to control most matchups, and have enough counterspells to stall non-creature based game plans. In my experience, I mostly empty my hand by turn 4 or 5, and then get planeswalkers and Esper Charm online to restock and take over the game.
This leads me to think of two things: card advantage, and threats.
First, card advantage. While I like Opt and Serum Visions for setting up future turns, I almost always end up either casting them to try to dig myself out of a hole, or exile them to Force of Negation. I've been thinking (and haven't tried this recently yet) that I'd might want to run Ancestral Vision again instead. It seems like a great play on turn one if you don't have anything else to do, and also plays great along a Teferi emblem. It doesn't help dig for answers, but I kind of feel like esper should have the answers to not get to that spot to begin with. Usually, digging for that one answer to get you out of a bind is a lost cause anyway.
When it comes to threats, we need more finishers or need to establish a more credible threat to deal with opposing planeswalkers or present a board state other than our walkers. As such, I've been thinking about what I can slot into the deck to help out. Conventional wisdom holds we should stick to Baneslayer Angel, Geist of Saint Traft, Vendilion Clique, or maybe a Kalitas. I've always really liked Thing in the Ice and Torrential Gearhulk, but haven't played with either recently. I'm now thinking I might include a Chromium in the deck to stay with the draw-go style of the deck, and to have a very serious clock late game. Any thoughts on what else might work well?
I can't say I suggest playing AV, honestly. Those situations where you're casting Serum to find answers? You'll have AV dead on suspend if not in hand. AV really only sets you up for more situations where you need to stabilize even after it resolves anyways. Not really the ideal card, unfortunately.

As for threats, I like Gideon of the Trials and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar (or even Gideon Jura). All three are good. Batterskull too. Restoration Angel could work too.
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