Esper Midrange Post M13 – Shared Discovery by Rob Wagner

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Hi all, I hope you’ve all had a good Prerelease and Launch Party pair of weekends. Today I’m talking about my favourite deck in Standard, it being my favourite because I can’t stop winning with it and I like winning 🙂

A few weekends ago was the Manchester WMCQ and I couldn’t sleep the night before for a helluva cold, which I was gutted about. Rob Catton took the deck and made top 8 before losing to one of our few bad matchups (4 colour pod, in the hands of Andy Devine) which is not really a large part of the metagame. I got the cards together on Magic Online and played a bunch of 2-mans, plus 2 dailies. 7-0 in daily matches and eventually being $65 up on the weekend later and I knew I had the deck I wanted to play this season.

The deck is still in some flux as we get absolutely used to the new cards but some of the sticking points are fairly major and I’ll explain them below:

4 Ponder
3 Thought Scour
2 Gut Shot
1 Doom Blade
3 Go for the Throat
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Phantasmal Image
4 Blade Splicer
3 Lingering Souls
1 Forbidden Alchemy
4 Restoration Angel
2 Gideon Jura
2 Sun Titan
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Darkslick Shores
3 Glacial Fortress
1 Drowned Catacomb
1 Isolated Chapel
3 Island

2 Plains
1 Swamp
2 Evolving Wilds
1 Cavern of Souls
2 Vault of the Archangel


2 Dissipate
1 Negate
1 Timely Reinforcements
1 Batterskull
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
2 Celestial Purge
1 Oblivion Ring
2 Day of Judgment
2 Divine Offering
2 Nihil Spellbomb


The strategy

Generally it is to make individually good and powerful cards which work extremely well together. Whether it’s blinking Blade Splicer with Restoration Angel, copying Blade Splicer with Phantasmal Image, returning Blade Splicer to play using Sun Titan, or even forcing the opponent to attack into your Blade Splicer using Gideon Jura!

Sometimes all you end up doing is using Snapcaster Mage to draw a card or kill a guy, then re-using it later on with Angel or Titan and doing it all over again. There is so much value in this deck though, as most spells you cast generate more than a card’s worth of value.

The cards work together not just in combination but also in combined strategy. You want to be developing your board and your hand in partnership (but please don’t get so obsessed with value that you fall too far behind on board), but you have the potential for aggressive starts and overwhelming late game. Ponder goes a long way towards holding this deck together, giving you the opportunity to really find the missing pieces as you go.

Notable cards:

0 Mana Leak – this really isn’t the deck for it, despite all the blue mana. We neither have the early pressure we need to keep up, nor quite enough to do at instant speed to be happy to continue keeping up the mana. I would still play 2-3 if it weren’t for the printing of Cavern of Souls since you used to be able to just catch random things when your draw was such that you wanted to spend a turn trading a card for a card and a turn for a turn. These days if you play the Mana Leak you may find yourself just passing a turn and being down a card when the other guy makes their land and casts their uncounterable creature. This isn’t a plan I can get behind so I’d rather just avoid it by not playing what was a mediocre card that wasn’t integral to the plan.

3 Thought Scour – Now, I kind of want the last one as well but can’t really find room for it. As a rule I hate casting this if I’m not doing more than drawing a card, and simply milling yourself 2 doesn’t count. I love this if I’ve set myself up with a Ponder, and I’m okay with just using it to draw a card off a Snapcaster when I’m low on gas. But if I’ve got plenty of gas then I’m not letting this thing leave my hand for a while. The exception is when I have a hand that would quite like to find a Lingering Souls e.g. when I’m against Zombies and I have some good late game but would want to buy a bit of time to get there.

It sickens me when people just cast this to draw card with the justification that they could at some point flash back a potential milled spell or return a potential milled creature with Sun Titan, it’s rarely the case that what you could mill is the only card you could possibly return via either of those two methods. It’s different in the Yuuya Delver deck as you’re actively fuelling Runechanter’s Pike and desperately trying to find your 2nd and 3rd land.

4 Terror, the split is because sometimes you just want to kill a Blade Splicer token or get a 3rd way of killing an Inkmoth Nexus, but you don’t care too much about killing Wurmcoil Engine and you do care about killing Blood Artist. This is partly making up for the lack or Mana Leaks, but really are quite important. They form an integral part of a few plans. Against Delver we have such late game power that the main way we lose is a turn 1 Delver which gets flipped, or two quick Delvers. With 6 ways of killing an unflipped one and 4 Ponders you can make it your number one priority to stopping this and easily do so.

Their Geist of Saint Trafts are fairly easily answered either directly with a Phantasmal Image or indirectly with any of your other creatures.

2 Vault of the Archangel – the real secret of the deck. Watching Michael Jacob’s stream he always won if he drew this card. He also had a sideboard Ghost Quarter that a lot of people still play for pedagogical reasons, but Catton and I realised that any time we wanted a Ghost Quarter we were at least as well off with a Vault.

So we started playing a second Vault in the sideboard, and then every single game kept siding it in for one of the Mana Leaks. I got to the point where I just cut the Leaks entirely and started playing the land main and I have not regretted it. You can’t afford another colourless land in the deck, but these two do a lot of work. Often you can just completely undo the game so far against the Zombies deck, and it means you just don’t care about Gavony Township against the Naya deck because your land trumps theirs (you trade creatures and gain a bunch of life).

2 Gideon Jura. I mention these because they may have got a bit worse with Magic 2013. Whatever the name of the new Dragon is, he’s really strong and you only have one counter to play with when you add 2 and then get hit by the thing. That’s still good because you’re trading 5’s but then you have a Gideon still.



Delver: Well, discussed this above (seriously, take a minute) but if you can kill the first Delver then they’re not getting off the ground. You have a great Angel advantage in that you can kill theirs while they can… bounce yours? Strap together Gut Shots and Snapcaster Mages? It’s not easy or anything but I’ve won far more often than I’ve lost, and ironing out the statistics for skill ( 😉 ) it’s probably at least 50:50.

Zombies: Veeeeeery happy with this matchup, their biggest threat is Blood Artist, so despite siding the card out you really want to be copying this card with your Phantasmal Images since you’re only returning a Blade Splicer with your Sun Titan anyway. This always looks close and then you make a Blade Splicer, and then you make an Angel, and then you make a Gideon or a Titan, and then you make a Vault of the Archangel. It’s never really close, and the only time I lose was when he went extremely deep with Gravecrawler + Mortarpod, and Manabarbs.

Wolf Run Ramp: Any other non-white Titan decks really fall under this mantle, they’re so easy to win. You have the Image + White Titan combo which means you always have the best creatures, and you have all these Terrors that mean you can kill theirs. You never fall behind in Titan advantage, and you still have the Blade Splicer + Restoration Angel combo to just blow them out of the water if they think it’s only about going big. You also don’t care too much about Huntmaster as Blade Splicer trumps it when you can control the flipping and have Terrors and Angels to mess with them. It’s also a lovely feeling making a Gideon and having the Gut Shot for when they only have an Inkmoth Nexus left on the table (plus 100 regular lands, obviously).

Naya: Another good one, a mirror where you have Sun Titans, Terrors and Vault of the Archangel but they have Mana guys. Strangleroot Geist is basically irrelevant as either the damage adds up too slowly or they just can’t attack succesfully. The only time they really get you is when they quickly accelerate into Splicer + Angel and Gavony Township, but you didn’t know they were Naya and kept a dodgy hand. This is probably the closest of the decks I’ve mentioned so far but I’m still always happy to face it.


Weaker Matchups

Before you accuse me of being too in love with the deck, it does have some decks it struggles to beat. As mentioned 1,500 words ago we struggle with Andy’s 4 colour Birthing Pod deck because he has just as much of the Sun Titan plus Phantasmal Image combo as we do but can tutor them better and can find an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite for basically free at that point, which means we need to keep a Vault of the Archangel around while jockeying for position and hoping they aren’t playing an Acidic Slime.

I also wouldn’t want to face Tempered Steel every round in the slightest, they’re just way too quick for us. We do have a few draws where we can compete quite well with their plan but it’s not going to happen reliably and winning two games is a bit of a wish.

Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing.


@DrRobWagner on Twitter



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