I am an Esper guy. It was the first deck I tried after War of the Spark hit and the one I tried to tune the most.
Week one of the new expansion was very hopeful for Esper fans. Both Esper Control and Midrange showed dominance over the other archetypes, by a fair margin. Despite Monored winning most of the important tours, it was obvious to me that it could be easily dealt with and that the road is open for Teferi and his gang to retake Standard.
I was pretty sure that Esper Control was going to be the best deck moving forward. It had all the best cards. Kaya’s Wrath and a plethora of spot removals against midrange and aggro. Absorb, Though Erasure and Teferis against control. What could go wrong?
Except the new set brought a wide variety of new threats with it, in the form of planeswalkers. Planeswalkers that people slowly but steadily realized are not only playable but game-winning as well. Chandra, Domri, Sarkhan, Nissa, baby Vivien, baby Teferi, Narset, Tamiyo, Liliana, Ugin, Gideon are the ones that have seen solid play up to now and I could very well be forgetting some!
The result is, Esper Control had its work cut out for it. Esper was built in its core to be good against creatures. You demolish creatures, they do not stand a chance. Planeswalkers that affect the board before they go away (if they go) are a different beast. One not so easily dealt with. Just adding a couple more Vraska’s Contempts or Desparks or even Dovin’s Vetos in the mix is, sadly, not enough.
I was playing both Esper Control and Midrange in Magic Arena, trying to figure out what is the better Esper deck to bring to the Arena MCQ Weekend. I was changing opinions on a daily basis. My logic told me that Esper Control is a better deck, but my results and my gut told me that Esper Midrange is much, much better. I was in denial until I realized the true issue of the control deck.
You cannot just be reactive and expect them to run out of cards so that you win with big daddy Teferi anymore. They will not run out of cards so easily. You are more likely than ever to run out of answers and get buried fast if you keep trying to answer them rather than attack them. You need some sort of a proactive plan.
Enter this guy:
When that realization became apparent, I stopped playing Control and gave all my energy to Esper Midrange. The lists were all over the place, apparently, no one had a clue on what was a good Esper Midrange list. Was Seraph of the Scales good anymore? What about Discovery? The new Sorin? Any new 6 mana walkers? Does the deck need the 5 mana Teferi? A lot of questions had to be answered so I did what I knew would work: I tested all the versions.
During the same period, three pros which I respect very, very much released their own versions with an s/b plan attached to it: Gerry Thompson, Brian Braun-Duin and Ondrej Strasky. They all had different versions with different s/b plans. That is not a rare thing in Magic. Different versions of an archetype can be successful, which has happened countless times in the past. As with s/b plans and opinion differentials between renowned members of the MtG pro community. In the end, you play what makes more sense to you.
Here’s my current version:
A lot of the slots are customizable, but some aren’t. Let’s check out the cards that make this deck what it is, the flex spots and also the sb plan!
4x Hero of Precinct one
4x Thief of Sanity
3-4x Deputy of Detention
3-4x Teferi, Time Raveler
2-3x Teferi, Hero of dominaria
2-3x Sorin, Vengeful bloodlord
4x Thought Erasure
And, of course, some mix of removals, depending on the current metagame. Mortify is the best, so 2-4 should be the number. Tyrant’s Scorn is mostly a Cast Down that makes a token with Hero of precinct one so it also should be included, 1-3 copies I would say.
Hero of Precinct One is one of the two reasons to go the midrange route. The little guy builds up resources on a steady basis, with practically no cost. It used to be that you had to include bad versions of cards in your deck to get the upside of Hero, but not anymore. Instead, you run cards you would have anyway, so the token is just an upside without losing anything. No risk, low to medium reward, sign me up!
Thief of sanity and Teferi, Time Raveler are the other reason. I’m putting them together because they are the most iconic duo of the deck (ok, maybe Teferi plus Thought Erasure in their draw step is a more iconic duo). Thief of Sanity is a weird one. It’s a card that will win you the game within a couple of turns if not answered. It is a card that your opponent will most likely warp his game plan around killing. It is also a card that has become significantly worse with the printing of Teferi, Time Raveler. Against Teferi decks you are, a lot of times playing the Thief only to have it get bounced and here we go again. Even so, there’s no better alternative to the slot than Thief of Sanity. A lot of the deck’s free wins come against opponents that just don’t have an answer to Thief right away and then they get buried by their own cards. It is a good threat both early and also in the later stages of the game against midrange and control.
Baby Teferi is a pretty good card. It’s not crazy good like some people say, but it’s definitely pretty powerful. It changes the way you and your opponent interact with each other during a game of Magic when it has hit the battlefield. From the moment I saw the card, I wanted to put it in a tempo shell. Sure, it is good in control, but I wanted to make something out of the tempo it created, retake the board and keep pressing my advantage.
Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord and Deputy of Detention are a couple and you should be playing multiple copies of both. I am contemplating between the third copy of sorin or a Hostage Taker. For now, I am playing a sole copy of Hostage Taker but that may change any day. Keep in mind, this is a deck that rewards adapting A LOT. It also punished laziness and running the same list for multiple weeks a lot. You need to evolve and warp your answers and threats according to the metagame.
Deputy of Detention is one I stole from GerryT and I have been extremely happy to do so. There’s the argument of Deputy dying most of the times so in the grand scheme of things it does nothing. Also if it has a dude with an ETB trigger or a planeswalker beneath it, the opponent gets to re-use it. Theoretically, I would not argue, but one you play with the card you realize things are different. Here are the scenarios The Deputy plus sorin pair work incredibly well together:
- Your opponent played a big planeswalker like big Teferi, Liliana, Nissa etc. They use the +1 ability. Using Deputy on them is more than fine, and if they kill it, you get to rebuy it with Sorin. And then rebuy it a couple of turns later if Sorin survives. The loop is real!
- Your opponent used big Teferi to bounce one of your threats, or used Baby Teferi to do so, or has a Narset that has stuck on 1 loyalty, or even an Ugin. You shoot that down with Sorin. You kill that planeswalker for goo. Let me tell you, that scenario comes up more often than you think. So much so that my opponents start planning against it, even if no Sorin is on the battlefield. Denying your opponent of their options is, well, one of the sweetest feelings Magic provides.
Apart from the replayability with Sorin, Deputy is good against a wide variety of threats right now. Hydroid Krasis, Hero of Precinct One, Runaway Steam-Kin, History of Benalia tokens (the whole WW deck in general) , Oketra, Thief of Sanity and many more.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria as the top of the curve came out natural tome, though others have mentioned initially not wanting him in the deck. I sincerely believe that he is a better finisher than Liliana (who has failed me more than enough times to cut her), Ugin or something else. This is a deck with not that many ways to abuse his +1 mana wise but there’s still enough to make him the best finisher you could find. There’s a reason this card has been terrorizing Standard for so long.
I will not go into detail about the removal package, except stating that I dislike entering the god-Eternals more and more as the metagame evolves. Apart from that, Mortify and Tyrant’s scorn should be in the deck in healthy numbers. What that number is, depends very much on the threats you are facing. For now, the 2/2 split is the one that makes the most sense to me.
Cards that you should consider replacing:
Duress is a controversial addition, but my favorite one to this deck. I was always starting my deck with 4x Dovin’s Veto between my 75. But this is an age where discard is a lot better than counterspells. Teferi, Time Raveler is the sole reason. Not only does it shut down your counterspells should you be facing him, but he also makes discard spells much better by giving you the ability to cast them during your opponent’s draw step (if he does not have a Teferi of his own). I love the Duresses in this deck doe the moment. They are good against the top decks and can serve you well even against random opponents. Everyone plays planeswalkers and Duress gets all of them.
Should the Simic Nexus and Grixis numbers rise, however, I can see adding the Dovin’s Vetos back in the deck and cutting the Duresses, putting them in the sideboard.
Basilica Bell-Haunt and Oath of Kaya are a concession to Monored, as with a lot of other sideboard slots. You need some dedicated hate to make the matchup good. I was in denial for a long time, not wanting to have so many slots dedicated to one matchup that I thought was winnable anyways. After having played against it a lot, I can safely say that you do need so many cards to beat them. Should the deck fall from the spotlight, however, you can definitely cut the Bell Haunts. It is a card I like in general, but it is mediocre apart from the Red Matchup.
On to the sideboard plan:
vs Esper Control:
This is the only deck that you really lose percentage points against if you decide to make the switch from Esper control to esper midrange. For that reason, we have some dedicated slots for it:
+2 Narset +2 Search for Azcanta +2 Dovin’s Veto +1 Despark +1 The Elderspell
-1 Enter the God-Eternals -2 Tyrant’s Scorn -2 Basilica Bell-haunt -2 Deputy of Detention
vs Esper Midrange:
- 2 Narset +2 Search for Azcanta + 1 Hostage Taker +1 The Elderspell
-2 Basilica Bell-Haunt -2 Duress -1 enter the God-eternals -1 Despark
If they are running Liliana or Ugin or both, consider cutting 1 Mortify instead of the 1 Despark.
But then again, you have Deputy of Detention so maybe that is not necessary. That is also the reason I do not add Dovin’s Veto and cut Duress. Maybe that plan will foil me in the future, because, as much as I like it I can see fundamental issues with it. For now, it has served me well. I have not dropped a single match to the mirror.
You can also cut the Oath of Kaya but it has some replayability with Teferi bounces. I like it as it kills both creatures and Planeswalkers alike.
- 1 Oath of Kaya + 2 Basilica Bell-Haunt +1 Enter the God-Eternals
- 4 Thief of Sanity
vs Simic Nexus:
+1 Despark +1 Elderspell +2 Narset + 2 Dovin’s Veto +2 Search for Azcanta
-2 Basilica Bell-Haunt -2 Tyrant’s Scorn -1 Enter the god-eternals -2 Sorin -1 Oath of Kaya
Some cards solely come in because you have a lot of dead cards. Notice that Hostage Taker and Oath Of Kaya do not serve much of a purpose but are still better that the other cards we cut. If you see them running Hydroid Krasis, you can cut the Oath of Kaya and add the second Hostage Taker.
This is a matchup where Sorin does not shine so we cut him. Also beware of two things. One, you can not keep them on lock forever, aim to soft lock them for a time and start killing them because at some point they will find their multiple blast zones and force your hand. And two, be wary of their creatures, they may or may not be bringing them in.
vs White Weenie:
+1 Hostage Taker +1 Oath of Kaya +2 Time Wipe +1 Enter the God-Eternals
-2 Duress -1 Despark -2 Basilica Bell-Haunt
vs Green Midrange Decks:
+1 Hostage Taker +1 Enter the God-Eternals, +1 The Elderspell +2 Search for Azcanta
-2 Duress -1 Oath of Kaya -2 Basilica Bell-Haunt
Against Bant in particular you also want Time Wipe, they do wonders. If you want you can add them vs Sultai as well.
I’m not sure if Time Wipe is still worth it in a deck with 4x Deputy of Detention, but in the matchups where it is good, it is game-winning.
This is a deck that rewards planning and tuning. If what the deck presents is your thing, I would definitely give this a try. I did and I have to say I am very happy.
I can safely say this is the best-positioned deck right now. The number of angles it attacks and the card quality it provides can be compared to very few decks and surpasses them all in the end.
By Kratos or