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Author Topic: Esper Control in Standard  (Read 2583 times)
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« on: November 27, 2009, 10:06:53 am »


I've been trying a lot to make a decent "Draw/Go" control deck in Standard. Not tournament level, but something workable. It's hard, because the format is so fast. Smile

Here is my latest iteration.
Esper Control

Lands (25) :
4 Arcane Sanctum
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Island
2 Magosi, the Waterveil
4 Marsh Flats
3 Plains
1 Swamp
1 Reliquary Tower

Creatures (8) :
4 Wall of Denial
3 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
1 Sphinx of Lost Truths

Instants (21) :
3 Cancel
3 Countersquall
4 Into the Roil
4 Path to Exile
4 Punish Ignorance
3 Soul Manipulation

Enchantments (1) :
1 Quest for Ancient Secrets

Planeswalkers (2) :
2 Jace Beleren

Sorceries (4) :
2 Day of Judgment
2 Mind Spring

Total is 61 cards.

Some explanations, since posting deck lists without anything is bad form.

The deck works (or doesn't) in the old way of countering/boucing/removing threats, stabilizing board presence, then resolving and protecting a threat.

Counter suite :
According to Gatherer, the current Standard environment includes 17 instants with some kind of countering ability (16 straight counters plus Mindbreak Trap). But many of those are conditional counters :
- let an opportunity for the opponent to pay mana to resolve its spell
- can only counter a specific type of spell or color

Taking this into account, there are very few hard counters in Standard right now : Cancel, Punish Ignorance, Double Negative, Mindbreak Trap, Traumatic Vision. That's not to say other counters can't work, but they represent the risk of a dead card. My first version of the deck used Hindering Light, but it didn't interact well with so many of my creatures having Shroud.

As a result, I chose to go for 7 hard counters, 3 Cancel (relatively easy to cast) and 4 Punish Ignorance, which provides a powerful life swing effect. Considering the speed of the format, Punish Ignorance can help you race once you resolve a powerful creature. Double Negative is very powerful especially against Cascade decks, but 3 colors with lots of double blue is already hard for the mana base as is.

In addition, I went for 3 Countersquall (cheap to cast, secondary effect similar to Punish Ignorance) and 3 Soul Manipulation, which can double as instant-speed Raise Dead. The ideal line of play here is to cast Day of Judgment when the board starts to be a little bit crowded, then counter their next creature with Soul Manipulation, getting a Wall or Sphinx back from the graveyard (and thus some card advantage).

Creatures :

Not much to say here. Wall of Denial is probably the best wall ever for this kind of deck. It comes down fast, can block most non-deathtouch critters for a long time, and can't be removed easily. Similarly, Sphinx of Jwar Isle is very good. It's not Baneslayer-level, but the problem with the Queen of Crazy Mana Costs in a low-creature deck as this one is that your opponent is bound to have its hand full of removal, and as a result you need to cast it with counter backup.

Sphinx of Lost Truths provides card selection if you are in a hurry to drop a critter, or straight CA if you can kick it (which you should).

Tempo/Removal :

Into the Roil is a very powerful bounce spell, as its kicker reduces the worst problem of bounce spells : loss of CA, often deadly.
Path to Exile is card disadvantage, and as such should be used with parcimony, but is very powerful.
And DoJ (Wrath-lite) doesn't need an explanation.

Draw :

Jace doesn't need an explanation. He's pretty much one of the most powerful CA engines in the format.
Mind Spring is great when coupled with Magosi. The ideal line of play here is to wait for them to be in topdeck mode, then skip a turn to put a counter on Magosi (with counterspell backup), and on your next turn play a huge Mind Spring and get the extra turn from Magosi so you can untap with a fresh hand.

Quest for Ancients Secrets is not draw, but can help if you burn through your deck too quickly. Cracking it once you have landed a good amount of lands will definitely improve draw quality (recycle all your counters/removal/bounce).

Mana base :

The mana base includes 16 blue sources (4 triple lands, 8 dual lands including blue, 2 islands, 2 Magosi), 11 white sources (4 triple lands, 4 M10 duals, 3 plains), 9 black sources (4 triple lands, 4 M10 duals, 1 swamp) and 4 W/B fetchlands. Reliquary Tower provides one colorless (not too good in a deck with so many color requirements), but has some good synergy with the whole "draw/go" concept, and allows you to be greedy with Jace/Mind Spring.

What to improve ?

The deck can work well, but as usual with answers deck it can fizzle into dead hands or bad mana.

I feel the mana base is pretty good as is, but if people see some ways to improve it I would love some suggestions. I could see myself cutting one or two fetches for Terramorphic Expanse in case I'm blue-screwed (which can end in a loss very quickly if you can't bring your counterspells online), but Terramorphic is an horrible tempo loss. Similarly, the M10 duals could be replaced by the Zendikar duals considering I don't run many basic lands (the M10 duals often enter the battlefield tapped as is during the early game), but the loss of tempo mid-end game is hard considering the game is mana-hungry as is.

Regarding draw, Jace is excellent, but I'm torn on Mind Spring. It's a dead card early on (where an Esper Charm could work better), but it's more powerful end-game, especially when combined with Magosi.

The tempo/removal stuff works well enough, although I could see myself going down to 3 Paths and upping to 3 DoJ. Into the Roil is about the perfect bounce spell so I can't see running any less than that. I also don't have any answers to a resolved enchantment/artifact apart from a (costly) bounce/counter, but I don't know what to cut. Potential solutions to artifacts/enchantments would be Esper Charm (enchantments only), Solemn Offering and Dispeller's Capsule.

Regarding the counter suite, do people feel it would be better to move toward cheaper, conditional counterspells ? Perhaps go Meta (a decision I loathe for friendly play) with Flashfreeze which can answer around 80% of the biggest threats in the format ? Since I don't run that many counterspells (13 in the whole deck), I chose to go for powerful counters instead of cheap ones. Offering to Asha didn't work well when I tried it, whereas Punish Ignorance is extremely powerful if you can get the mana online.

I'm pretty pleased with my 8 creatures package, having tried Crazy Discount Angel in that kind of games already. If she sticks around it's a win, but she's more likely than not to end up on the wrong side of a Terminate/Path. You could technically play around including stuff like Silence or a Magosi trick when they are tapped out (summon Her Majesty then play another turn to untap and restore your counter backup), but I think Sphinx of Jwar Isle is the better alternative in a Control deck right now as it is much less conditional. Sphinx of Lost Truths dies to removal, but its additional effect is so powerful that the actual body is nearly a side effect. Smile

Two other powerful cards I would like to find room for are Scepter of Dominance (White Icy Manipulator) and Obelisk of Alara. In this deck Obelisk provides extra life which can help in a race, card selection (always good) and a small amount of removal/damage mitigation. I think maybe removing a Sphinx for Obelisk could be a good idea ?

Anyway, if other people have tried Esper control in Standard, I'm very interested in their feedback.
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