Since the last time I wrote
, I’ve been playing a lot of the new Standard format in local Invitational Qualifiers. IQs aren’t going to award Open Series points next year, but they
still do for the rest of this season, so they are extremely important for players that are trying to qualify for the Players’ Championship at the end of
the year. I was lucky enough to play last year, and that’s certainly an opportunity I want to have again in a few months. The deck that I’ve been playing
the past couple weeks is Esper Dragons. I’ve been testing both this and a Sultai Control list that I posted a couple weeks ago, but I think that this is
the deck that I prefer right now. I was able to top 8 all three of the Opens I played it in: winning one and making the finals in another. I’ve been very
busy with my full-time job as a teacher lately, so I’m not going to be using my player’s club invitation to compete at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. If I
was playing this weekend though, this is 100% the decklist that I would be playing;
I’ve discussed this deck before, including one of the recent StarCityGames Newsletters, so rather than repeating myself, here’s ten things that I think you
should know about it:
10. The Deck Becomes Much Better After Sideboarding
This might sound obvious, but the deck becomes much better for games 2 and 3. In addition to being able to bring in specific cards that are great in an
individual matchup, the curve also becomes much better. A lot of the cards that are only good against either aggro or control have cheap mana costs. During
game 1, Esper Dragons has a relatively high curve, which is not unusual for a control deck running 26 lands. After we’re able to bring in our sideboard
answers, however, the deck becomes both faster and more efficient. This is an important boon for the deck that a lot of people seem to overlook. In your
Magic career, you’re going to play many more games with sideboarding than without. Having your deck being able to upgrade in most matchups is very
important for tournament success.
9. Sometimes You Switch a Lot of Cards After Game 1
The sideboard for this deck is really good, which means that you’re constantly bringing in cards in different matchups. Esper Dragons also has the
opportunity to switch up the gameplan against certain decks. If I suspect that my opponent is playing a lot of cards like Self-Inflicted Wound or Crackling
Doom, I will sometimes just bring in my planeswalker package to try to find an alternate route to victory. Ruinous Path is proving to be much worse than a
lot of people thought, myself included, which means that it won’t be as omnipresent in the format as Hero’s Downfall was. This style of card is the most
efficient way for a control deck to take care of an opposing planeswalker and with less copies in the format, it makes planeswalkers that much better.
Unlike Jace, the planeswalkers that I am bringing in can’t be answered with regular creature removal. Narset Transcendent specifically is very powerful
against other control decks, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of this card if control strategies pick up in the future.
8. The Deck Mulligans Very Well
You might be surprised to know that I actually do mulligan from time to time. I’ve cultivated a reputation of keeping seven card hands, but it is
important to mulligan correctly if you want to do well in an event. One of the benefits of this deck is that it mulligans very well, and in saying that I
mean that a mulligan to six or even five cards doesn’t cripple your chances of winning a particular game. One reason for why that might be is that the
manabase is much better now that we have fetchlands + Battle lands. Another reason is that Jace is very efficient in smoothing out your draws in the
earlygame. Dig Through Time is also huge at helping to recover the lost card advantage from an early mulligan. People seem to think that Dig Through Time
is retired now that it’s been restricted and banned in other formats, but it still has plenty of months of Standard legality left, and I expect it to be a
key control card for the entire time.
7. Atarka Red is Your Worst Matchup
This shouldn’t be too surprising, but a deck like the one that Brian DeMars used to win #SCGINDY is likely the matchup we fear the most Game 1. Our chances
get a lot better after sideboarding since we get to bring in Surge of Righteousness and another copy of Languish. Surge of Righteousness is the perfect
card against aggressive strategies since it answers their early threat while also gaining us life. Surge is also great since it give you the opportunity to
two-for-one an opponent that doesn’t play around. Atarka Red is currently playing Titan’s Strength, Temur Battle Rage, and Become Immense, all of which
need a target to be effective. Languish might just be a bad impression of Damnation, but it’s exactly what we want against these strategies. As a board
sweeper, it may even be better than it normally would be since the aggro decks of current Standard are relying much more on creatures than on burn.
6. The Manabase is Good, Not Great
The main reason that I’m choosing to play only one copy of Haven of the Spirit Dragon is because I don’t think the manabase can support more colorless
lands. Esper has the best overlap of allied colors, but this deck is still a three-color deck with heavy requirements. We want to consistently have UU
early while still producing BBW within a few turns. White is only a splash, but we still need to take our colored mana seriously, and I don’t think that we
can support more than one colorless land right now, even though Haven of the Spirit Dragon is a very powerful effect. I’ve done a lot of testing and played
a lot of games with this configuration, as well as others, and I think that this layout is the best. I also think that Shambling Vent is also better than
people are giving it credit for.
5. Good Matchups Against G/W Megamorph and Jeskai Black
The top 8 at #SCGATL was all G/W Megamorph and Jeskai Black. I think that our matchup against both of these decks should be very good. Against G/W
Megamorph, the deck doesn’t have too many ways to gain card advantage and it has no way to accelerate their plays; this allows us to fight them on a one
for one basis, which certainly favors Esper Dragons. Cards like Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector can slowly gain card advantage, but they still lack a
card that can deliver a huge punch in the matchup. Jeskai Black is forced to play a lot of removal spells that aren’t very good against our creatures
outside of Jace. Their cards are similar to us, however Esper Dragons can easily gain both a mana and card advantage against them. Cards like Crackling
Doom are solid against us, however, which is why I often bring in the planeswalker package in these types of matchups. In addition, there is usually no
rush for us to play a Dragon card, so often, their Crackling Dooms are trapped in their hand until we can both play a Dragon and protect it. Their copies
of Crackling Dooms are really a dead card in the earlygame, when what they really want is another threat against us. Overall, I think that both decks that
were very successful at #SCGATL should be great matchups for Esper Dragons.
4. It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
If you’re new to playing Esper Dragons, or control in general, don’t beat yourself up too much over mistakes. The goal for any Magic player should be to
get better every time they play. The best way to improve is to learn from your own mistakes. Control strategies have a reputation of being harder to play
than other strategies and that’s largely because of the number of gameplay decisions you have to make. The more you play the deck, the more accustomed
you’ll become to the different lines of play: practice really does make perfect here. My best advice for playing this deck would be to continue playing
games, even if you aren’t doing well. The more you play this deck, the more it will reward you, as I think this is one of the better decks in the new
3. If You Feel Obligated to Change the Deck, Then Improve the Aggro Matchup
Whenever you play a new deck, I would recommend playing the exact original list before making any changes. This doesn’t just go for my decklists, but any
decks that you see online including those from Open Series events as well as Magic Online. A lot of times players will immediately make changes based on
their own personal preferences, but that doesn’t give enough credit to the original pilot who may have included some cards for a particular reason. Before
making any changes to my list of Esper Dragons, I would at least play a few matches, but if you still feel a need to change anything, I would at least try
to add cards that are good in the aggro matchups. This decklist is tuned for what I expect at the Pro Tour where there are traditionally less aggro decks.
If you’re playing at States this weekend, however, you might expect a much higher percentage of aggro. I think that the aggro matchups are winnable now,
but if you feel obligated to cut some of the cards currently in the list, then I would make sure to add cards for those matchups first.
2. Be Careful When You Delve
When exiling cards from your graveyard to cast your delve spells, you want to be careful to leave yourself the most opportunistic draws moving forward. In
Esper Dragons specifically, there are three cards that you need to consider when delving cards away: Ojutai’s Command, Haven of the Spirit Dragon, and
Jace. You want to keep Jace in your graveyard in case you draw Ojutai’s Command, Dragons in case you draw Haven of the Spirit Dragon, and instants or
sorceries for the Flashback ability of Jace, Telepath Unbound. When delving, you want to first prioritize the cards you have in play and in your hand, but
then consider your gameplan for the game and which card you might need to draw. If your best chance of winning a game includes leaving a particular card in
your graveyard, then you want to make sure that you don’t delve away your chances of winning a game. Luckily the deck also runs ten fetchlands, so you
should have plenty of cards to exile.
1. Why Esper Dragons Instead of Jeskai Black?
I think that the Esper Dragons deck is a better choice than Jeskai Black right now for a few different reasons. Esper Dragons has more synergy and a better
curve. In addition, the manabase in our deck is better since we’re only trying to play three colors instead of four. The Esper Dragons deck is also more
controlling than Jeskai Black, and I think that’s a better position to be in. I would rather play a more consistent deck with less raw power than a
potentially more powerful deck that’s less consistent.
BONUS: Make Sure to Get Your Fetchlands!
If you read my last article, you may remember my prediction about Jace hitting $80 soon. I knew the card was good, but even I didn’t expect it to jump so
fast! Since a few people in the comments were thankful that I convinced them to purchase their playset before it jumped, I’m going to give my readers some
more card advice this week: get your playsets of fetchlands quick! I’ve had my playsets for a while, but a lot of people didn’t yet have their copies of
the allied fetchlands when they were reprinted in Khans of Tarkir. All five allied fetchlands have been relatively cheap since last year, but they
started picking up in price at the beginning of the summer, and it’s only going to get worse in the next couple of weeks. Almost all of the decks in the
new format are playing 8-10 copies of the allied fetchlands, so the demand is going to skyrocket once people start building decks that did well at the Pro
Tour. Unlike Jace and other Standard cards, the fetchlands will not go back down in price since they are major staples in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage.
So that’s it for this week. I really hope some of you choose to play my Esper Dragons decklist at SCG States this weekend. The deck has been performing
very well for me the past few weeks, and I think it could be just as good for all of you. I hope some of you choose to play it this weekend, and as always,
I would love to hear your thoughts on the decklist!