Building Esper Control in Standard – Phenax Reloaded by Mario Ludwinski

Building Esper Control in Standard – Phenax Reloaded by Mario Ludwinski

Phenax is back, in a way he loves the most: orchestrating wins from behind curtains.

After the previous article on Phenax deck (you can find it here) I played a lot of Magic. I did three marathons – two-win matches against Top 8 decks of StarCityGames’ Minneapolis tournament – looking for clues to solve the deck’s weak spots. You can find results on Twitter, #PhenaxRising.

Some cards proved good. Some cards turned out dead draws too often. There were many learning moments. In the end I pretty much homed in on cards that should be in the deck. It’s still a fun deck, but this version is more capable of winning games and matches. Also, I feel W/U/B (White/Blue/Black, Esper) is better equipped to deal with current metagame than U/B (Blue/Black, Dimir).

Here is my current decklist and sideboard:

Dawnbringer Charioteers
Resolute Archangel
Avacyn, Guardian Angel
Hero’s Downfall
Mind Rot
Dig Through Time
Rakshasa’s Secret
Meditation Puzzle
Nightmarish End
Bile Blight
Perilous Vault
Temple of Deceit
Temple of Silence
Temple of Enlightenment
Scoured Barrens
Dismal Backwater
Nomad Outpost
Radiant Fountain


Phenax, God of Deception
Colossus of Akros
Drown in Sorrow
Glare of Heresy

The plan is simple: keep the board clear and your life points high, discard the last two-three cards from an opponent’s hand, then play a win condition and finish off the game. The implementation is tricky, however. Opponents’ threats come in all shapes and sizes: Mantis Rider flies and is 3/3, Siege Rhino is 4/5 trampler, Sorin, Solemn Visitor‘s token is a 2/2 flier, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion‘s token is a 1/1 ground creature. The removal is not that flexible, so you need to switch it heavily and accordingly after first games.


Meditation Puzzle

Going Esper provides a big edge against current metagame: life gain. It gives you a Time Walk-ish effect to find proper removal or Dig Through Time. It also blanks Jeskai burn spells, making it an easy matchup.

Meditation Puzzle is an absolute blast. 8 life is huge: it airbags two attacks from Stormbreath Dragon, one Stoke the Flames plus one Jeskai Charm, a full package of Siege Rhino (3 life from enter-the-battlefield effect, 4 from combat the next turn). Five mana seems like a lot, but on turns 3 and 4 you play some removal, so loss of life isn’t big. Puzzle is at best, when you cast it off of a freshly played Radiant Fountain: it’s 10 life back for you.

Dawnbringer CharioteersDawnbringer Charioteers is a sweet, though not that powerful, reminder of Blood Baron of Viskopa from before the last rotation. While not protected from black or white removal, while hold 2 points of power less, they can block flying creatures. The opponent must use a solid removal to deal with it, or risks spending two cards (for example, Lightning Strike and Seeker of the Way) to get rid of a single card of yours. This is not a great deal for them.

If you don’t attack (and I often do just that in early game), Charioteers’ lifelink translates into blocking at least one creature more. An attack with three Goblin tokens from Mardu’s Hordeling Outburst is pointless: you don’t lose any life, one token bites the dust. The same math occurs for Jeskai: Seeker of the Way plus Mantis Rider do nothing, because you block Rider, than lifelink back damage from Seeker. Or you block and kill Seeker, buy back 2 life, lose just 1 point from Rider. Goblin Rabblemaster doesn’t come to the board at all, since you block-kill token and gain 2 life points over and over and over…

Two Dawnbringer Charioteers blank attacks by Stormbreath Dragon and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, as well as guide Butcher of the Horde to a graveyard, at the expense of 1 life point and one copy of them.

All this blocking, lifelinking, and stalling, mean Charioteers are fast to be destroyed. That’s okay, because you have three copies of them, and because on the next turn you can play an even better card.

Avacyn, Guardian Angel is the latest addition to the deck. A powerful addition. She needs to be answered even faster than Charioteers, because a 5 power creature needs just four turns to close the game. Her 1W ability cloaks her and/or any other creature from colored, burn or combat damage. This Guardian Angel is the reason I moved Colossus of Akros and Phenax, God of Deception to sideboard.

Colossus of Akros was in the main, along with Phenax, for a long time. He blocked on ground, even in his statue mode he milled furiously, in active mode he was closing games in two turns. However, when the deck was losing, it was because I couldn’t stabilize the game fast enough, not because I didn’t draw a finisher after it got stabilized. Avacyn is far better at that, thanks to her lower mana cost, her flying and vigilance, and her 1W cloaking ability. I think Colossus would perform fantastic in a Green Ramp shell.

Resolute Archangel serves as a restart button, after beating in early turns.

Dig Through Time (DTT) is played as an answer finder. I can find whatever I need, whenever I need.

Now the trickiest of them all: the removal package, involving sideboarding.


Rakshasa's Secret banner

For a discard part of removal, I enjoy getting 2-for-1 deals. Mind Rot gets the job done. Rakshasa’s Secret does the same, while fuels down Dig Through Time‘s delve cost.

With seven discard cards in the main deck you usually get one in your opening hand, than draw another one by turn 4-5. You can then combo them together: play Secret on turn 5, build enough delve to play DTT at the opponent’s end of turn, draw Secret/Mind Rot, play it on your turn to strip last two cards from the opponent’s hand. Opponents’ decks are able operate in lucky draw mode, but players usually dislike it. It takes from them the feeling of using their skills to win. Which is very Phenax thing to do, I think.

For a destroy part of removal, only Hero’s Downfall is set in stone. The rest is up for sideboarding in certain matchups.

vs Jeskai

– 2 Perilous Vault, 3 Nightmarish End, 1 Rakshasa’s Secret, 1 Gild
+ 3 Drown in Sorrow, 4 Glare of Heresy

Bile Blight stays in the main, because it kills Mantis Riders.

Drown in Sorrow deals with the rest of small creatures or tokens.

Glare of Heresy cleans away Mantis Rider, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Banishing Light, freeing one of your fliers.

I save Hero’s Downfall for Stormbreath Dragons and planeswalkers.

vs Abzan

Glare of Heresy 3 Bile Blight, 3 Nightmarish End, 3 Rakshasa’s Secret
+ 4 Glare of Heresy, 1 Colossus of Akros, 1 Phenax, God of Deception, 3 Despise

Glare of Heresy kills everything, except Courser of Kruphix and Liliana Vess.

Nightmarish End kills everything. Siege Rhino included, just remember to play it first, and then play this turn’s land.

Gild kills everything, except planeswalkers, and ramps you to Resolute Archangel or playing and activating Perilous Vault on the same turn.

This matchup usually takes more time, so there may be an opportunity to win by milling: thus Colossus and Phenax come in.

vs Mardu

– 3 Gild, 3 Rakshasa’s Secret, 1 Avacyn, Guardian Angel, 2 Perilous Vault, 1 Meditation Puzzle, 1 Nightmarish End
+ 4 Drown in Sorrow, 4 Glare of Heresy, 3 Despise

I swap Rakshasa’s Secret with Despise, because I want to get rid of as many threats as I can before they come to battlefield.

Drown in Sorrow deals with all tokens from Hordeling Outburst, Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.

Glare of Heresy stops Elspeth, Sorin, Butcher, and frees your creature from Chained to the Rocks.

vs Temur

– 3 Nightmarish End
+ 3 Drown in Sorrow

Drown in Sorrow clears tokens from Xenagos, the Reveler and Hornet Queen.

vs GR Monsters

– 3 Bile Blight
+ 3 Drown in Sorrow

Again, Drown in Sorrow clears tokens.

vs UW Heroic

– 2 Perilous Vault, 1 Meditation Puzzle, 3 Rakshasa’s Secret
+ 4 Glare of Heresy, 2 Despise

All this deck’s creatures are white, so Glare of Heresy always hits something.

If you feel your metagame is crowded with a certain deck, switch removal accordingly before registering to a tournament.

Have fun with the deck. I invite you to put your results in #PhenaxRising discussion on Twitter. See you!

Community Question: What is your special tech for control in Standard right now?

What is your special tech for control in Standard right now

Mario Ludwiński

Please let us know what you think below...

Visit our Manaleak online store for the latest Magic: the Gathering singles, spoilers, exclusive reader offers, sales, freebies and more!

Magic The Gatherig Freebies Giveaways