Esper Primer (Standard) – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge by Graeme McIntyre

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Esper Primer (Standard) – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge by Graeme McIntyre

Esper Primer (Standard) – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge by Graeme McIntyre

Given a choice between their world view and the facts, it’s always interesting how many people will toss the facts.” – Rebecca Solnit

My second to last article was a primer on Jeskai, and the reasons I thought it was the best deck in the format. That weekend I played an Esper list very similar to the one which Patrick Chapin played at the Pro Tour, but failed to make land. The next week I considered just playing Jeskai again, but I thought I’d give the Esper deck another week to produce as the same things were true of the format that week as they were the week before, and the deck plays 27 land – had I played a red deck with 20 land and not made any, there would have been better reason to go back to the drawing board.

The following week I played this list and lost a mirror to Matt Light in the finals at the Birmingham PPTQ.

Esper Control

(75)
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Silkwrap
Ultimate Price
Languish
Dig Through Time
Utter End
Ruinous Path
Duress
Negate
Clash of Wills
Ojutai’s Command
Scatter to the winds
Secure the Wastes
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Bloodstained Mire
Sunken Hollow
Prairie Stream
Shambling Vents
Blighted Fen
Island
Plains
Swamp
Disdainful Stroke
Scatter to the winds
Ultimate Price
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Painful Truths
Planar Outburst
Erase
Surge of Righteousness
Arashin Cleric
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Dragonlord Silumgar
Silumgar’s Command

 

The cards and what they do

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy wallpaper

The Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy are really powerful in general, as anyone who has played much Standard recently will attest to. In this deck they particularly good for getting rid of cards like Negate and Duress when these cards won’t be at their best, and because it flashes back Duress which is excellent in a format where the best way to kill planeswalkers is a 3 casting cost sorcery, and because of the critical mass that can be attained by casting Secure the Wastes at end of turn the flashing it back main phase.

Silkwrap is in a difficult place in that it is an enchantment in a format full of Dromoka’s Command, but it also deals with so many cards, and even removes them from the game. Den Protector, Hangarback Walker and tokens are all excellent targets as they either don’t come back at all, come back and immediately die to state-based effects or are just a 2/1 man with marginal evasion. I’ve yet to be blown out by a command on a silk wrap in a pretty large sample of games, and the advantages of a universal early game removal spell are very high.

Ultimate Price is just a reasonable instant speed removal spell which will do well against most of the decks, but isn’t good against Mantis Rider, Siege Rhino or Anafenza, the Foremost. I’m pretty happy to play one main as it is excellent against red and strong against Green/White Megamorph, and it can normally find some use against Abzan and Jeskai.

Languish is something of a powerhouse at the moment because for the first time in years wrath effects are actually good against the most aggressive deck in the format while also being good against the green based decks.

Dig Through Time is good for looking for specific cards in a deck that already has raw card advantage sorted out. Being able to find a counterspell when you need one, or a wrath, or a threat is an excellent thing to have access to especially in a deck which is already set up to fill it’s grave yard relatively quickly with, and for, Jace. After side boarding the card is even better, as the cards in your deck are both generally more suitable for the match up, but also seeing seven cards allows you quite a lot of opportunity to find the specific backbreaking card you want in the match up.

Utter End tends to find its way into almost every deck I play which can cast it (virtually every deck I’ve played since it was released, as it happens). Being able to deal with virtually any permanent, particularly with cards like dig through time to help find it, makes the card a very high value singleton, even if it is quite expensive. Having this sort of card means you can actually kill an enchantment or artefact main deck in this deck for example, which is pretty good as normally those sort of card are instrumental to the decks that play them.

Ruinous PathRuinous Path is no Hero’s Downfall but being able to kill a planeswalker is very important, and it also deals with big monsters like Anafenza, the Foremost and Siege Rhino fairly efficiently. The drawbacks of being sorcery speed are high, particularly in a deck with countermagic, but in the long game it *is* powerful being able to cast it with awaken. This is quite a powerful effect to flashback with Jace, allowing you to kill one threat, and block another, or potentially kill a blocker, and attack a planeswalker; this interaction combined with languish is particularly strong against the green decks.

Duress and Negate are both strange main deck cards, but this quite a strange standard format. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has really taken off recently partly because the card is objectively powerful, partly because of Jeskai’s weakness to planewalkers making the card contextually powerful. Being able to Duress or Negate to get rid of Gideon can decide whole games. Beyond this, Duress accelerates the flip on an early Jace, and both Duress and Negate serve to protect Jace once he does flip.

Clash of Wills is the sort of card that people normally just talk about playing, but it never really makes it. The last time a card like this saw extensive play was in Cruel Control during shards lorwynn Standard in the form of Broken Ambitions. With threats like Gideon and Wingmate Roc provide residual value if they resolve and the removal being awkward or inefficient a catch all card like this, which is good in the early game and reasonable vs everything but red in the late game, makes it. You shouldn’t feel bad about playing it, even though it looks like maybe it’s really mediocre, because what you’re doing in the end game is so powerful that you just need to get there.

Ojutai’s Command counterspells Rocs, Rhinos, Den Protectors, Anafenzas, Jaces and mantis riders which we’ve already discussed as being quite relevant, but also Dragonmaster Outcast and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. It gains life against red decks, and it returns jace making it super relevant in the late game. A lot of general purpose usefulness, none of which is don’t exceptionally well, and for that reason the card is often sided out for more specialist cards in game 2 and 3.

Scatter to the Winds was a late inclusion because I wanted a nice value card for the Jeskai match up, but it was pretty bad. I’d cut it for a Murderous Cut (hah!, see what I did there!?).

Secure the Wastes is very good against Jeskai as they don’t really have good ways to deal with multi part threats like this. it’s also decent as a removal spell when that’s an option. The synergy with both Jace and Gideon is also appealing, and all those chump blockers are excellent at protecting your planeswalkers from other people’s ground creatures. It’s not as good as you might expect at doing this, though, as all the decks have evasion or the potential for trample.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has already been mentioned in relation to every other card in the deck, and is an important defining feature of the current standard format. Naturally it is better in more aggressive decks, where the emblem is better, and where it will often be part of the plan to force the other deck to tap out to deal with your threats (either by making their own or through removal spells), and then attack with Gideon. In this deck, he is great at hunting their planeswalkers on the play, and making blockers followed by a wrath (as the infinite chain of 2/2s means they’ll likely need to commit more creatures to the board, leaving them exposed to wraths). Back when Jace, the Mind Sculptor bemoaned in standard, I often thought Elspeth, Knight Errant might have actually been more important, and oddly for the same reasons that I think Gideon’s might be now, too.

Ob Nixilis Reignited is pretty decent as a late game control match up type card, but not insane, largely because of (unsurprisingly…) Gideon. When you can set him up, he will go on to dominate the game, but when they can threaten him with recursive, persistent or evasive threats, it will be more difficult. He’s at his best against Jeskai, good against Abzan, reasonable against green/white and poor against Atarka Red.

 

The match-ups

Silumgar’s Command

Jeskai

In:

(7)
Scatter to the Winds
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Surge of Righteousness
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Silumgar’s Command

Out:

(7)
Ultimate Price
Languish
Ojutai’s Command
Silkwrap

This is a fairly standard control match up, in which you want to resolve and protect a planeswalker. Games where they make mantis rider can get away from you, and if they make 2 it will be hard, especially if you don’t have instant speed removal. Duress, flip Jace, flash back duress is a pretty strong sequence of plays in this match up, especially afterboards when they will likely have removed some amount of burnspells. Remember to play round their commands as these can blow you out somewhat.

 

Abzan Aggro

In:

(7)
Disdainful Stroke
Painful Truths
Planar Outburst
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Dragonlord Silumgar
Silumgar’s Command

Out:

(7)
Ultimate Price
Ojutai’s Command
Negate
Dig Through Time
Scatter to the Winds
Silkwrap

This is much the same as it was when I discussed it in respect to Jeskai two weeks ago. They have some good draws with Warden of the First Tree which mean that you will want some early removal. They have some good draws with Wingmate Roc and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the middle. Den Protectors are decent for looping back Gideons and Rocs later. Generally if you stop it all going to hell early game, everything from the midgame onwards is considerably less formidable.

 

Green/White MegaMorph

In:

(8)
Disdainful Stroke
Ultimate Price
Painful Truths
Planar Outburst
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Dragonlord Silumgar
Silumgar’s Command

Out:

(8)
Scatter to the Winds
Dig Through Time
Ojutai's Command
Negate
Ruinous Path
Silkwrap

This deck is a bit like Abzan aggro, but with less early game, and sometimes no Gideons, and a better late game because of Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Deathmist Raptor. The important thing about this is how you use your Jaces and Delve cards, because you will want access to late game cards like Dig in your hand to find ways to go over their recurring Morphs, and you will want access to the same cards in your graveyard. Silkwrap gets rid of Raptors at least for a reasonable chunk of time, which will buy you time to find planeswalkers and Dragonlord Silumgar.

Look for windows to start putting the game away if you can, there will be a reasonable amount of the time when they will grind you out if you’re not careful because virtually all the cards in their deck are decent throughout the game.

 

Atarka Red

In:

(8)
Ultimate Price
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Surge of Righteousness
Arashin Cleric
Sorin, Solemn Visitor

Out:

(8)
Dig Through Time
Jace, Vyrn's Prodigy
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Scatter to the winds
Clash of wills
Ruinous Path
Silkwrap

This deck wins in two ways. Firstly through going wide with creatures supported by dash men and burn spells. They’ll get you if your draw isn’t mana efficient, or they draw loads of their burn. They can also kill you by casting Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage on one of their creatures and dealing you loads of damage.

Game 1 isn’t a bed of roses but it’s not terrible either, while game 2 and 3 like game 1 but with cheaper threats, more instant speed removal, and quite a lot of life gain. Don’t tap out and get killed for no good reason, and don’t get your life gain spells Atarka’s Commanded and you’ll probably take this in 3 games.

As is often the case with control decks you don’t have a myriad of Extreme match ups – it comes down to trying to match up your spells well against their spells. I think if you are comfortable in doing this that this is an excellent deck choice for the remaining PPTQs of the season as it will allow you to leverage your skill well, and has the tools to beat anything. I had to think things through a lot when I played it last, to make certain I was sure in making my plays, but ultimately I felt that my deck was a great choice for the day. There seems to be more and more Gideons around which is unfortunate, but not the end of the world.

 

So what next?

Going forward, I would cut a Ruinous Path for a Murderous Cut and a Scatter to the Winds for a Broken Ambitions to ease up the tempo aspects of the green match ups. I might also make some space for an Infinite Obliteration or two in the board, for against this Green Ramp deck which seems to be picking up a bit of steam.

That’s it for this week, all the best in the remaining PPTQs. If I don’t win Mansfield, I’ll be playing the Manaleak event on Sunday (Pre-register here – PPTQ Standard – Sunday 15th November) – maybe I’ll see some of you there!

Thanks for reading and good luck at your next PPTQ,

Graeme McIntyre

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Graeme McIntyre
I've been playing magic since the end of Rath Block, and I've been a tournament regular since Invasion Block. I started studying for a PhD in Sociology at University of Liecester in 2017. I was born In Scotland, but moved to Nottingham three years ago, seeking new oppertunities both academic and magical. I play regularly with David Inglis, Alastair Rees and Neil Rigby. I've been on 5 Pro Tours the 2016 English World Cup Team, and Scottish 2003 European Championship Team, but what I really bring to the table is experience. I've played 136 Pro Tour Qualifiers, 18 Grand Prixs, 11 National Championships, 13 World Magic Cup Qualifers, 51 Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers and more little tournaments than I can remember. More than anything else, my articles are intended to convey the lessons of this lived experience. Likes - robust decks, be they control, midrange, beatdown or combo. Cryptic Commands, Kird Apes and Abzan Charms. Dislikes - decks that draw hot and cold. Urza's Tower, Life From the Loam and Taigam's Scheming.