Esper Mid-Range by Tom Harle
So it’s been a while since I last wrote an article – I could say it was to do with due to the poor state of Standard etc. etc. But the truth is I was pretty overdosed on AVR limited after Barcelona and couldnt make the first few Standard PTQs due to personal reasons, and just haven’t really played much Magic. That and Diablo 3 came out and someone had to destroy the Lords of Hell didn’t they? You can thank me later for saving all creation.
But there was a PTQ yesterday in Chesham which I did a fair bit of preparation for and came an agonising 9th at so it’s time to get back in the saddle and play some Magic.
Here’s the list I played:
You may recognise it as being very similar to the deck Rob Wagner has been writing about on here and top 8’d with last weekend in Manchester and you’d be right – he blatantly stole the list from me and then made a few changes that made it worse! :P
I’m joking of course, I’ve been talking with Rob on and off about Standard since the Nottingham double header and we’d been discussing the evolution of Solar Flare then to include Angels to go with the Splicers and he did a great job of tuning the list to where it was last week. I’ll try not to cover too much of what Rob’s already said but in case you missed his article I’ll quickly run down the list and the changes I’ve made:
Angel, Splicer and Snapcaster being good shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, each individually is very powerful and when you start blinking Splicer and Snapcasters for a second use it just becomes foolish. Image doubles up as a removal spell for legends, very important against Geist of St Traft and to a lesser extent Thrun, The Last Troll and as more copies of the 3 main guys. Plus there’s always the choice of stealing their men – over the last weeks testing I’ve copied heavy hitters like Titans and Wurmcoil Engine, but also just lowly things as Elvish Visionary and Birds of Paradise.
The 2 Lingering Souls are tricky as they’re very good in some matchups, such as against Delver and control decks, but they’re really underwhelming against some of the Green and Bonfire decks. They do give your Thought Scours a little extra value, which is nice, but not really the core theme of the deck anymore.
The removal suite is the main reason I like this deck over Delver. Being able to Image then Doom Blade a Primeval Titan is such a sweet play. Gut Shot is great in the current metagame, killing all the 1 drop accelerants and Delvers people are playing and also being good against the Splicer Angel combo without having to keep mana up.
Dismember usually gets cast for 1 or 2 and some life due to the speed of Standard and how much this deck uses its mana but it’s nice to have the option of playing it without losing life. The Oblivion Ring is a little slow and sorcery speed but it’s an answer to everything from Birthing Pod’s to Planeswalkers and although I did try without it for a while I think it’s always good to have one in the main to dig for with Ponders when you need to.
Ponder and Scour
These are the grease that makes the engine run, drawing one of these means your Snapcasters always have something to do and when you’re running Angels and Images you can easily start running out of spells to flashback if you don’t have access to these. Ponder also works nicely with Scour or Evolving Wilds to just take 1-2 spells of the 3 you see and mill the rest away.
This is the big change I made to the deck and I’m very happy with it. Sun Titan is good but he’s a bit of a hangover from when the deck was more Solar Flare and now that you don’t have things like Dead Weight, Ratchet Bomb or Ghost Quarter to return he’s lost a lot of value. Sure he still works really well with Image, Splicer and Snapcaster but I was finding him underwhelming vs the control decks with sweepers who could just clear the board after you make him.
Tamiyo has been amazing for me and there maybe should be 2 of them – she takes care of the biggest threat, taps blockers to let you race with Angels and draws lots of cards when you’re hitting them with Spirit tokens, plus costs a mana less then Titan which can be huge.
Sphinx is another tried and tested bomb who’s slightly worse than Titan at stabilising the board when you’re behind but so much more of a must kill threat vs control.
Finally the 2 Gideon’s are pretty standard and very powerful and versatile – either forcing them into bad attacks against your wall of Golems and Angels, Assasinating their creatures or presenting and difficult to kill 6/6 threat. Don’t overlook the play of attacking with Gideon and then blinking him and forcing them to attack him back – useful just to get two uses out of him but really golden when they’ve been beating him down to 1-2 loyalty to reset him back to full.
Obviously the duals allow you to cast your spells and generally are very good. The deck doesnt have many double coloured requirements and the split of Scars duals to base set duals usually means you can arrange so your first 4 lands come into play untapped which is more than enough for most of the spells in the deck. Vault is the real hero of the deck though and I fully believe it wouldnt be playable without it – against all the creature based decks it gives you so much life and allows you to trade up Souls tokens for anything. Decks like Delver are very tempo orientated and just gaining 3-6 life can easily be enough to let your better card advantage take over.
The sideboard is generally set up to make the deck into a more controlling one with counterspells, specific answers like Spellbomb and Offering, and a bit of mass removal. This is a testment to how fast the format can be – against Delver and the new Elf decks you dont have time to mess around so all the fastest spells make it into the main deck. Against the slower trading post and flare decks you can afford to lose some of the removal spells for proper counterspells and play a slower more controlling game.
One of the key strengths of this deck is its versatility – it can play a great long attrition game with all the card advantage the come into play creatures and angels generates but it can also come out the gates very fast with Splicer into Angel and play a great tempo game, knowing when to switch gears from defence to offence is a key part of playing this deck.
So on to the tourney – after a relatively painless drive down to Chesham and a rather large wait for the tourney to begin we got started :
R1 – Tom playing Esper
Tom’s Esper deck was a more traditional Forbidden Alchemy-Sun Titan version and I think the top end cards I was playing gave me an edge. Game 1 was all about Lingering Souls as we traded Splicer and Angels and my 4-1 token making spell ground him out.
Game 2 I drew 3 of my big spells – Tamiyo, Sphinx and Gideon, while he only had a Tamiyo which traded and the power of the top end I drew easily dispatched him.
R2 – Alan playing Mono Green Dungrove
Alan mulligans to a draw containing 1 Forest and lots of mana guys so even though I Gut Shot then Snapcaster Gut Shot on the first two he still ends up with a Forest and 3 Birds in play and can cast his spells. Sadly he’s too slow at that point to deal with the Gideon I’ve made and I take an easy game 1.
Game 2 is more awkward as I keep a 1 land Ponder Scour on 6 and fail to find lands and have to shuffle with the Ponder. Not that it would have mattered probably as Alan starts 1 drop into Dungrove Elder into Sword of War and Peace and kills me in two quick attacks.
Game 3 he’s off to a mulligan again and we both develop our boards with Angels and Splicers vs Thrun Dungrove and a Rancored birds. He makes a play where he Beast Within‘s my Vault during my upkeep to stop me attacking with the Beast token it makes but allowing me to activate in response and gain 6 life which probably wasn’t the best outcome – I drew the second Vault a few turns later though and he wasnt able to race my flyers with lifelink.
Rules Tip – One thing that came up in this match that’s worth mentioning is that if you kill an Image with a Rancor it doesnt return to hand as it never gets a chance to resolve – still a useful tool to have but good to be aware of how the interaction works.
R3 Rob playing UR control
Rob’s deck is a bit rogue and basically just a bunch of sweepers and Frost Titan and Inferno Titans. Sadly for him I’m running quite a bit of proper removal for his guys and my creatures generate so much card advantage that this matchup just seemed a little one sided.
R4 Charlie Grover playing Elves
Unfortunately for Charlie we were chatting before the round began so I sat down knowing what he was playing. Looking at my opening 7 of Souls, Angel, Tamiyo and 4 lands, which would normally be a keep against a random opponent, I knew I had to mulligan and kept a 6 with Gut Shot and Pondered into the second on t1. This slowed him right down to a crawl and when he eventually Primeval Titaned I Imaged it twice and found some Vaults and beat him down in the air. He had a few turns to draw into Craterhoof Behemoth or Green Sun’s Zenith but luckily for me he didn’t.
Game 2 was similar as I Gut Shot Snapcaster his first two elves and then Image Doom Blade’d his Titan and quickly overwhelmed his little men.
R5 Aaron Biddle playing Delver
All three of these games were very tight and Aaron played very well and went on to win the whole thing so congrats to him.
Game 1 he makes 3 early Delver of secrets and I’m forced to use the 2 Images I’ve draw to try and copy the Insectile Abberations and trade. He has a Vapor Snag for one and trades for the second but that still leaves him hitting me with 2. I stabilise with a Souls but he makes a Geist of St Traft and is able to kill me with Angel tokens now that I’m out of Clone effects.
Game 2 his draw isnt as explosive and I make some Souls and Angels to pressure him. He makes a great play when I attack 2 Spirits into his open mana (expecting Angel but having Vault to trade if he blocks) where he Gut Shots one then Angels a Snapcaster targeting the Gut Shot but not casting it. He blocks and if I Vault he Gut Shots and if not I just have to let the token die. Luckily for me I have a Snapcaster for my Dismember and can kill the Angel.
Game 3 he again draws all 4 of his Delvers and puts of under a lot of early pressure. I draw pretty well too and make Lingering Souls, Angels and the Tamiyo to try and survive but he gets a little lucky drawing Gitaxian Probe into Snapcaster to flash back a Snag to exactly kill me. I had drawn 3 Blade splicers at this point which are a bit underwhelming against his flyers so maybe I should have boarded them out and an extra relavent spell would have been enough to take it.
You can ready Aarons tournament winning report of here.
R6 David playing Solar Flare
Another more traditional Solar Flare list with Titans and a few unique tweaks such as Geist Honoured Monk who I could see being quite good in the right matchup.
Game 1 I just come out fast with Splicer into Angel and have the removal for his Angel when he tries to block.
Game 2 is a lot more drawn out as he makes an early Mimic Vat which makes me really not want to kill any of his creatures! Luckily I’ve drawn a Vault and a Gideon so I’m not really in any danger of dying and eventually I draw an Oblivion Ring for the Vat and can wipe his board. We then have a few turns of awesome topdecks as we’re both down to zero cards in hand as he draws Titan which I follow up with an Image of Titan. He swings and we trade a few things and I drop a Snapcaster on a Doom Blade then follow up with Angel Snapcaster and Angel Snapcaster again which he just cant deal with.
5-1 This is normally the point where I’d ID into top 8 but sadly this is a 157 player tourney so 8 rounds it is.
R7 JJ playing Naya
Game 1 starts pretty close as we both develop our boards. I possibly misplay by attempting to Doom Blade his Huntmaster of the Fells with the flip on the stack and get it Angel’d but I’m not sure it would have mattered as the turn before I make Gideon and force him to attack into my 2 first strike Golems he miracles a Bonfire of the Damned for 4 and wipes my board and bashes me for 11.
Game 2 is very awkward as I mulliganed to a 1 land & Ponder 6-card hand and struggle to find good lands and he curves out perfectly with Avacyn’s Pilgrim into Splicer into Angel into Township, which I think I would struggle with even with a good draw. The Pilgrim was his only white so a Gut Shot would have done it but sadly not this time.
5-2 I’m in 13th going into the last round which means I’m probably out of contention but with the new rules about top of the swiss playing first in the top 8 there’s a chance that the people above me play to try and finish higher and force out some of the people below.
R8 vs Stephen playing BW Control
Stephen is playing a bit of a homebrew that does similar things with Angels and Splicers but has Duress and Wurmcoil rather than the blue cards. It also means he can play Buried Ruin and Haunted Fengraf to get more value out of his lands which is pretty interesting.
Game 1 is very one sided as he makes 2 Splicers and an Angel and has a Tragic Slip for my Splicer meaning I can’t even trade Golems.
Game 2 is almost the exact opposite as I curve out Splicer Angel and he doesnt do very much.
Game 3 on the other hand is epic – We both start quite slow and our creatures and spells match each other. I get ahead in card advantage due to the Snapcasters and get a Tamiyo to 8 but he draws the Oblivion Ring to stop me ultimating and I flood out slightly.
Then he drops the haymaker that is Torpor Orb and sadly I cant find an O Ring or Karn to take it out so am reduced to making 2/1’s and 1/1s with no ability. We both have Vaults and although he’s making Batterskull tokens and Wurmcoil Engines I’m able to trade my crappy little men for them and drag the game out.
We go to time and I ask if he’ll concede to me since, although he was winning the game I have a fair number of outs like Karn and Sphinx and slightly better tiebreakers. He does (thanks again Stephen!) but sadly it’s not quite enough and I finish 9th.
So would I make any changes to the deck?
I’m not sure, I like the balance of threats, removal and card selection as it currently is and the sideboard is pretty good. The games I lost were very close or due to mulligans or perfect draws from the other side so nothing really stands out as being missing from the deck or needing improvement.
Will I play it again next week?
That remains to be seen, I’ve got a few ideas brewing and I think I fancy playing a rogue deck for the last ptq. Peter Dun top 8’d with a mono red deck playing Chronomaton yesterday so there’s a lot to be said for going rogue!
Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing,