The Flavours of Esper in Standard by Thomas Harle

How to Get Better at Magic The Gathering by Tom Harle


The many flavours of UWb

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who been following Standard recently that Blue and White, possibly with a hint of Black, are the best colours in Standard at the moment.  Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage have been a terrible twosome for months now and Geist of Saint Traft along with Restoration Angel have fully cemented the deck as being the best. 

Now for the double header event in Nottingham last weekend I knew I didnt really want to play Delver – I hate the randomness that the card itself entails and I didnt’ want to be playing an endless sea of mirror matches without any great sideboard mirror tech or huge amounts of practice.  I’m also not really a fan of the way the deck plays out either to be honest – in games of Magic I like to always have live outs, which is why I usually play control or combo, Delver is very good at getting a fast start and closing out a game before it ever really starts but it’s pretty bad at coming from behind since it doenst usually run any very individually powerful cards – just lots of good tempo cards and synergies.

So my testing for the weekend started with the Esper Solar Flare deck that had top 8’d the GP in Minneapolis. I liked the game plan of the deck and LSV had commented that the Blade Splicers should be a huge help against Sword of War and Peace which had been the cause of most of his losses in that tournament.  Not to mention that it was a deck that supposedly had a decent matchup against Delver which seemed like a good place to be. 

The first thing I tried was to swap out the Day of Judgments for Restoration Angels – now I’m a huge fan of the Angel and I still dont think it’s getting the respect it deserves.  Even if you take away the blink ability a 3/4 flying flash man for 4 is just so difficult for aggro decks to attack into, and when you start blinking Blade Splicers, Snapcasters, Sun Titans or just in responce to removal then it just becomes ridiculous!  Day’s are obviously good spells in the right metagame but I was finding I was drawing too many hands that curved Splicer or Lingering Souls into Day when I’d much rather be making an Angel on t4 and being more proactive.  This deck tested pretty well and a friend played this deck in both events to the win-and-in round but sadly didnt top 8 either time.

Now the combination of Angels and Splicers got me thinking and I really wanted to find room for some Snapcasters and Mana Leaks – both cards which make the Angels even better.  Mana leak forces your opponents to consider counterspells and instant flying blockers at the same time which can cause real problems – I found in the tap out flare deck the Angel was always so obvious that people never walked into it. 

So what could I cut to make room for these things? 

Well the Titan+ Phantasmal Image plan was very powerful but pretty expensive and I figured if I replaced them with cheap Snapcasters, Leaks and some Swords could win the late game with the power of Feast and Famine.  It would also mean I could get rid of some of the Forbidden Alchemys that I always found were too expensive to be useful early game and also too expensive to be flashbacked late game.  I tried out the following list:

3 x Tragic Slip
3 x Doom Blade
4 x Mana Leak
4 x Snapcaster Mage
4 x Blade Splicer
3 x Restoration Angel
1 x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
2 x Gideon Jura
4 x Ponder
2 x Sword of Feast and Famine
2 x Oblivion Ring
3 x Lingering Souls

1 x Vault of the Archangel
4 x Isolated Chapel
4 x Seachrome Coast
2 x Darkslick Shores
4 x Glacial Fortress
3 x Evolving Wilds
3 x Plains
3 x Island
1 x Swamp

And to be honest I was pretty impressed – the deck played a lot like Delver and Caw Blade but with individually more powerful spells like Planeswalkers and Lingering Souls and actual removal spells instead of Vapor Snags.  There wasnt quite enough spells to make Snapcaster amazing but he was still awesome at flashing back Ponders, counters and removal most of the time and carries a Sword as well as any. 

The Sword and Angel interaction was very sweet – being able to go into combat with all your mana untapped and then respond to the sword trigger by casting Angel, blinking Snapcaster and flashing back a spell, was very powerful.  Another nice interaction is Gideon and Angel – activate Gideon and attack for 6, then after combat blink him with the angel and use the +2 or -2 ability to get double duty out of him and possibly increase the loyality on him.  In one instance I +2’d, got hit for 7, going to 1 loyalty, then attacked blinked and +2’d again getting hit back to 1 and untapped and killed him with the 9 damage from Angel and Gideon, very sweet. 

Lastly the Vault of the Archangels and Sword is nice, although do you have to commit to using it before the damage is dealt – vault is a card that was doing a lot of work for me actually as that and a Souls is very hard for delver to beat, as their Geists and Angels no longer trump your spirits and they cant really afford to sit around and let you play a let game else your more powerful spells with just take over the game.

The deck’s main problem was the mana – needing black early for removal but also blue for Ponder, double blue for Snapcaster on a blue spell and also double white for Gideon was causing problems – when it all came together nicely it was great but too often it was stumbling on a colour or amount and wasn’t quite powerful enough to bring it back – lots of come into play tapped lands weren’t really helping either.  Sadly thats where I left that deck as I didnt really have enough time to test it further and in the end I just played a pretty standard list of solar flare at the ptq. 

I did run Mana Leaks which I think are very important in that deck – firstly to give you something to do in the first few turns and secondly to keep the Delver players honest – being able to fight counter Sword of Wars and also Leak their Angels is pretty important and not that hard now that they’re playing 4 mana spells in a 22 land deck.

So what could be the future of the UW delverless deck – well yesterday on SCG Sam Black posted the following decklist:

4 Blade Splicer
1 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Phantasmal Image
4 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage

1 Dismember
1 Gut Shot
4 Mana Leak
1 Thought Scour
3 Vapor Snag

2 Gideon Jura
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

1 Day of Judgment
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Ponder

8 Island
5 Plains
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Moorland Haunt
4 Seachrome Coast


1 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Phantasmal Image
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Celestial Purge
1 Dissipate
1 Gut Shot
1 Negate
1 Steel Sabotage
1 Surgical Extraction
1 Vapor Snag
1 Jace, Memory Adept
3 Day of Judgment
1 Timely Reinforcements

Which looks awfully familiar!  He’s straight two colours which sorts the mana base problems out and he’s playing Probes which make his Snapcasters better.  He mentions that Swords arent really needed with the powerful late game he has from his spells and basically he’s  just running another Tamiyo and a Sphinx as his finishers instead which seems very reasonable. 

The only thing he’s really lost is Lingering Souls and the Vault of the Archangel but for the improvement in the mana base I can definitely live with that.  I’m definitely going to be testing this and maybe try fitting the Souls back in but for now this seems like a great place to be against the metagame – doing what Delver is doing but with a bigger late game, while not giving up the good cards in the other matchups, and seriously who really feels like they’ve earned the win when they just make a t1 Delver and flip it every game, that’s not real Magic, is it?

Bonus untested decklist!

4Vapor Snag
3Phantasmal Image
4Favourable Winds
3Honor the Pure
4Mana Leak
4Lingering Souls
4Midnight Haunting
4Drogskol Captain
3Dungeon Geists

4Seachrome Coast
4Glacial Fortress
4Isolated Chapel
2Evolving Wilds
1Vault of the Archangel
1Moorland Haunt

So a few people have been trying to get an advantage in the Delver mirror by playing Lingering Souls and then either Favourable Winds to pump things (Delver but not Geist) or Honor the Pure (Geist but not Delver) which got me to thinking:

Why not go the whole hog and play a UW spirit tokens with lots of Lord effects?

Image and Drogskol Captain are as good a combo as they ever were and you should be able to just make bigger creatures than delver can handle.  There’s a lot of redundancy so Mana Leak shouldnt be an issue and you’ve got plenty of 2-1’s, or better, built in Souls and Haunting.

Against ramp and GR etc. you are just trying to race and with so many Crusade effects (or anthem effects for our younger viewers) you should be able to get a pretty fast clock.  t1 Ponder, t2 Winds, t3 Souls, t4 Honor attack for 6 flashback souls; is a pretty powerful start not to mention if you make Captain + Image on turn 5!  The pump effects should help against red sweepers too and you’ve plenty of ways of making sure you dont overextend into Day of Judgment or Corrosive Gale in Souls and Haunting.  Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing.

Tom Harle

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