Dear Azami: Who’s The Esper Beatdown?

This week Cassidy fine-tunes Michael’s Sen Triplets Commander deck with his hands-on approach. Check out the changes he suggests!

Dear Azami,

I’ve been working on my Sen Triplets deck for quite a while now. This is hard work because apparently there are very very few articles on the Commander; in fact, it’s a commander you guys have yet to cover. So I hope you will give me some much-needed advice on really fine-tuning my list.

The deck tries to shy away from the aspects that make Triplets so unfun to play against—namely the inability to interact with me. Instead, I want to play a control deck that relies on Triplets as the win condition, forcing people to choose whether to risk playing good threats now or have me still it next turn.

I’ve taken out most bombs. There is no Omniscience, no combo, no infinite anything and not even many Esper staples; Rites of Replication, Consecrated Sphinx, Exsanguinate, Mindslaver, Disc / Lattice, and others are not in here. Rather, I tried to create a deck that uses synergy and a decent degree of recursion to create a solid board state from which Triplets can work its magic. Counterspells and board wipes feature here mainly because Triplets draw hate just from being the commander.

I’d love your help fine-tuning the deck in a way that keeps up this spirit but really refines the synergy between cards so that I end up with a fun deck capable of handling the hate players throw at it without resorting to being the bigger bully.


Sen Triplets


Sharuum the Hegemon
Sun Titan
Master Transmuter
Draining Whelk
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Trinket Mage
Treasure Mage
Hanna, Ship’s Navigator
Wurmcoil Engine
Snapcaster Mage
Phyrexian Metamorph


Dispeller’s Capsule
Executioner’s Capsule
Crystal Shard
Aether Spellbomb
Armillary Sphere
Expedition Map
Forge[/author]“]Darksteel [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
Mycosynth Lattice
Lightning Greaves
Sol Ring
Staff of Nin
Gilded Lotus
Sensei’s Divining Top
Darksteel Ingot
Coalition Relic


Seal of Cleansing
Rhystic Study
Oblivion Ring
Detention Sphere
Leyline of Anticipation
Soul Snare
No Mercy
Paradox Haze
Celestial Dawn


Mana Drain
Cryptic Command
Spell Crumple
Word of Command
Sphinx’s Revelation
Vampiric Tutor
Enlightened Tutor
Mystical Tutor
Demonic Tutor
Idyllic Tutor
Unburial Rites
Wrath of God
Cyclonic Rift
Decree of Pain
Pact of Negation
Obzedat’s Aid
Supreme Verdict


Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Tezzeret the Seeker
Jace Beleren


Tolaria West
Academy Ruins
Volrath’s Stronghold
Maze of Ith
Reliquary Tower
Cabal Coffers
Mystifying Maze
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Command Tower
Hallowed Fountain
Watery Grave
Godless Shrine
Azorius Chancery
Dimir Aqueduct
Orzhov Basilica
Arcane Sanctum
Glacial Fortress
Drowned Catacomb
Caves of Koilos
Adarkar Wastes
Ancient Den
Seat of the Synod
Vault of Whispers
Isolated Chapel
4 Island
3 Swamp
3 Plains

Thanks for your time.



This really all started with golf clubs.

Not real clubs (although now that I think about it, mine are dangerously within reach), but a plastic set we picked up for my two-year-old son Declan at the grocery store for $5.99. My father and I both play, so we figured he’d be incredibly excited to get his hands on a set so he could be just like daddy and grandpa. (That’s the phase he’s in right now). He even wanders off with my size 12 shoes on and leaves them hidden around the house, usually right before I need them to leave for work on time. It’s fantastic. Really.)

Sadly, this proved to be all-too-true. We got home, and I sat down with my iPad to look at Dear Azami submissions for the week when *WHACK* 7-iron to the back of the head.

I should have kept Declan in my line of sight in retrospect. (Or, you know, not given a two-year-old things to swing at other things, but hindsight is 20/20.) Instead, I was now stumbling to the freezer for one of his Elmo-shaped soft ice packs to put on the growing lump on the back of my skull. (And yes, they’re plastic, but they can still do some serious damage. Also, Elmo-shaped soft ice packs are awesome. Don’t judge me.)

I was a little woozy when my GeneralDamageControl.com cowriter Mr P (@thingsMrPthinks if you’re down with Twitter) called to see what I was working on. Before I knew what was happening, I was working on one of the most dreaded archetypes in Commander:

Esper Aggro.

Black And White And Blue All Over  

Michael, thanks for the submission. I appreciate it. You’ve also (albeit unknowingly) stumbled into a conversation that has been raging in my playgroup for a while: how to make Esper Aggro decks that actually stand up to the green and white-base token armies that simply do it better. Part of this whole thing is my conviction behind the idea of playing Sphinx of the Steel Wind and having it be good, but I think really it’s a two-tiered problem.

First, as mentioned, green and white just do aggro better. Esper colors really lend themselves to control decks, of which this is one, and also combo decks, of which this one is thankfully not. The printings of Avenger of Zendikar and Cathars’ Crusade pretty much changed the aggro game, and the value you can get from token generators and pump effects just trumps playing big guys and turning them sideways one by one every time. (Of course, it doesn’t help that green also corners the market on big guys as well, but it is what it is.)

The second part is that the commanders available in Esper colors don’t particularly lend themselves to aggro strategies. Sharuum the Hegemon is only to the extent that she’s a 5/5 flyer, and it goes downhill from there. Dakkon Blackblade is as close as it gets, and he’s missing a crucial component to really shine in this area: evasion of any kind. Instead, you get big, flashy abilities that are either aligned with artifacts and just scream "play Disciple of the Vault!" or are Sen Triplets and scream "prison decks for life!"

The problem with trying to buck that trend is implied perception. Play Sharuum aggro all you want; people will still expect a combo and be overly aggressive in removing your commander and targeting you. The same goes for Sen Triplets; no one will believe you when you say, "But it’s not that deck!"

Not the effect I want to deal with.

I’ve tried tons of builds that try to address this. Token builds focused on Pentavus and Coat of Arms or Eldrazi Monument, generators like Riptide Replicator and Prototype Portal, Clone effects . . . you name it and I’ve tried to make it work against the Green Menace. At the end of the day, it just doesn’t seem to get there. Someone sandbags Avenger until Beastmaster Ascension and In the Web of War are on the battlefield, and before I know it Plants are laughing at my Pentavites and Sphinxes while they’re ripping me to pieces.

Esper Aggro needs a good shot in the arm. Until it gets it, I’m going to stick with the tried-and-true control route that you started with and work on upgrading it. This does raise another point that should be addressed before we get going however.

When It’s Good, It’s Good

Good stuff. I love rallying against it, as any regular readers know. The thing is that not many of us stop and think about what really qualifies these days. We love to snap react to certain cards with the label because of the stigma that has been built up over the last few years of format popularity.

"Oh hey, nice Akroma’s Memorial. Never seen that thing played before."

"Living Death. Wow. Come up with that one on your own?"

"Insurrection? Really? Hold on . . . let me go get my puppy so you can kick him while you’re at it."

And I get this. It’s not fun to lose to the same old thing week in and week out. The trick is in identifying where good stuff is just that and where it makes sense and transcends the moniker.

Let’s look at Forge[/author]“]Darksteel [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]. A huge number of you are instantly thinking about Nevinyrral’s Disk. In a deck like the one listed, however, it’s not just a tool but a lifeline in many ways. Token decks shrug off sweeper effects and usually have a new army rebuilt a turn or two later, but decks that rely on actual creature cards can’t handle sweepers as clearly. To stand up to Avenger.dec, Forge[/author]“]Darksteel [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] is necessary for artifact aggro decks.

Really, good stuff becomes good stuff when a card is overrepresented, overpowered, and out of place in a deck. I’m thinking about stuff like throwing Crucible of Worlds into a deck that doesn’t play to a lands theme or fetchland / Strip Mine strategy for example. It’s expensive, it sees lots of play, and it makes no sense.

But in a Borborygmos Enraged deck that wants to get down with Exploration and toss around real estate like Lightning Bolts, it’s the first card that gets put into the deck.

Now, I point this out because there are a lot of cards on this list that might get people screaming and pointing in this area, and I’m probably going to actually embrace that and slot a few more. My reasoning is very simple; I really feel like Esper colors have a ton of powerful synergy and also really struggle to keep up in multiplayer games without combo.

In short, the cards are in here, and they really fit the bill, especially in light of the stated goal of the deck. Michael, you want this to stand up and be able to hold its own against strong decks without going over the top and to really embrace the synergies the deck can provide, and I want to try to focus on that.

Whether I’m ultimately successful or not is up to you; you wanted to focus on the commander as a constant threat as well, and I’m taking the deck in the other direction completely. Yeah, it’s not a perfect strategy implementation, but again, Esper suffers once you get rid of instant wins.

The Setup

We went hands on again with this deck. Much like last time, my colleague Mr P built the deck himself, brought it to some of the local games he plays in for feedback and experience, and from there we made a first wave of changes.

At that point, the deck got another week of play, culminating with an opportunity to play with the deck myself and to also play against it at the Wednesday Night Commander League at Worlds Apart in Amherst, MA. This allowed Mr P and I to do a final post mortem and make a few other changes.

I will say this—it won quite a bit. It also thrived when it was ignored for a while and allowed to set up and flopped when it took early heat. And while it is strong, it lacks in some very clear areas and tries to do too many things that simply don’t work in this format. (Or at least in our metagame.) As a result, the changes I will make are few in number but should help out in some critical areas.

I also should point out that while I feared playing this deck due to my history of failures in these colors, I actually enjoyed this thing quite a bit.

On to the game notes!

Wave One: Mr P’s Initial Impressions

– Played a game against Animar, Thromok, Drana, and Brion Stoutarm.

– The deck does not have enough lands.

– Decent opening hand with Tolaria West and Treasure Mage. This deck runs a lot of tutors. I am almost positive Treasure Mage is going to find Staff of Nin.

Staff of Nin immediately got Sylvan Primordialed. Seriously, screw that card.

– Brion found Serra Avatar. This should be over quickly.

– Aaaaaand Top into Terminus for the gosh-darn win.

– This deck CANNOT go aggro.

– Overall, I did pretty much nothing. I was Sorined and then lost to Brion when Drana cast Pestilence Demon and activated it during his own turn to kill my team. Brion had just recurred three creatures with Angel of Serenity, untapped, cast two creatures, and killed me. Nothing I could do.

– The deck is very, very reactive. Puts no pressure on. Wants to be ignored until the late game.

-Didn’t play the commander.

Celestial Dawn is a pretty serious nonbo with lands that do anything. Turns off Reliquary Tower, Academy Ruins, Volrath’s Stronghold, etc. I understand Lattice and Dawn are there to support the general, but they seem terrible. As does Paradox Haze.

– Playing Lattice against players with Vandalblast seems really, really terrible.

Wave Two: My Time In The Driver’s Seat

– Doran, Slobad, and Agrus Kos. It’s funny how worthless Sen Triples is in this game.

– Found a win condition. When the dude next to me plays Alliance of Arms, invest. Heavily.

– Boss play: Enlightened Tutor for Sphinx of the Steel Wind, draw with Top, Master Transmuter puts it in to block Doran. That was exciting.

– Needs more enchantment hate. Slobad just played Blood Moon, and Doran and I are now checking email on our phones.

– And that’s a Teferi’s Puzzle Box.

– And that’s a Mindslaver. Ugh.

– Slobad sacrifices Mindslaver in response to my Phyrexian Metamorph. Guess what? That’s another Puzzle Box. Have fun.

Reforge the Soul finds Seal of Cleansing. Bounce the Metamorph to make it a Pithing Needle naming Bosh, Iron Golem. Wurmcoil Engine . . . finally some threats.

– Or not. People still play Shatterstorm?

Merciless Eviction pretty much takes Slobad out of this one. I’ve got Draining Whelk and Crystal Shard. Nice.

– Doran goes for the extreme Treefolk alpha strike. Five nine-toughness Treefolk coming at me with Doran in play and Samite Elder. My Sphinx is worthless.

– But Snapcaster Mage blocks through that. I go to six and can counterattack for exactly lethal. Momentous Fall is met with Shard bouncing Whelk, and Doran is out. (Sorry, Shawn!)

– And Agrus Kos has Worship. Again with the enchantments. Hope there’s an out left in this thing.

Obzedat’s Aid on Seal will work. Sphinx of the Steel Wind takes it down.

The Post Mortem

Michael, this deck really does love to be ignored. It has some nice synergies in it, but it simply can’t stand up to multiple aggressive decks at once. The game I won was mostly because Slobad jumped out to a hugely threatening board state and people started to gang pile him out.

I also agree on the reactive nature of the deck. It loves to play draw-go. The problem is that when it needs to get its foot on the gas, there isn’t a huge threat density, and it seems like you have lots of tutors but a decided lack of specific answers to some things.

I also don’t care at all for the Sen Triplets route. I didn’t play the Triplets, and neither did Mr P. It seemed hard to come to terms with tapping down a large chunk of mana for a threatening permanent that only serves to make people want to kill it before you get to untap in the process losing the ability to protect it with enough countermagic. And while I like the idea of using cards that allow the Triplets to hit any player and get value; it makes for some very dead cards when they’re not in play.

The plan moving forward here is to focus on increasing the overall functionality of the deck via "packages": groupings of synergistic cards that will let the deck be more dynamic in its ability to control and manage certain threats and board states. If it is going to get a leg up on the aggro out there, the name of the game is card advantage.

Last but not least, I really want more threats. I know this is a control deck, but I absolutely felt like I was at the end of my rope towards the end of my game after graveyard hate took care of Sharuum and Wurmcoil Engine.

The First Wave Of Changes

After Mr P took the first stab at playing the deck, we discussed his notes and made some changes that were in effect when I played the deck this past week.


Out: Mystical Tutor, Idyllic Tutor

The tutor package is too heavy in this deck. It wants to start off under the radar, and tutoring every turn does not help with that; people will start to take notice and apply pressure when you’re tinkering around in your library every turn and can see what you’re doing. Also, taking out a few of the weaker tutors makes for more variance, and that’s going to make the games a little more interesting overall.


In: Thirst for Knowledge

The draw package here needs some help. I normally don’t like Jace, but here he gets to stay because this deck wants to seem altruistic early on and his +2 ability helps with that. Leveraging in more draw seems key, so Thirst for Knowledge goes in because it has synergy with the counters package and the heavy artifacts package. This deck also has a decent number of ways to recur artifacts, and sometimes it wants to discard artifacts to reanimate them with Sharuum or Unburial Rites.

Making Sen Triplets Work

Out: Word of Command, Mycosynth Lattice, Celestial Dawn

Mr P called this the "too cute for its own good" package, and it feels that way to me as well. Word is cute but pretty bad overall. Dawn and Lattice are both cute ways to play off-color things with Sen Triplets, but they nonbo pretty hard with the rest of the deck. Lattice because Austere Command and Vandalblast are things, and Dawn because it turns off all of your utility lands (and this deck runs a lot of utility lands).


Out: Pact of Negation

There is a decent amount of permission in this deck, and there’s more on the way. Pact of Negation seems pretty bad, as you are always going to have to pay full retail next turn and this deck wants to keep mana open during other player’s turns. I think it can go without really hurting things all that much.


In: Treasury Thrull

I count five guys, two of which have no evasion and one which is a clone. This deck is terrible at going aggro. I’m going to add Treasury Thrull because its ability adds recursion and this deck has a lot of things that sacrifice for value. His extort ability is a way to get some damage in on everyone at once as well.

This deck needs more ways to go aggro; this package is not good enough even with the Thrull in there.


In: Salvaging Station

There is a ton of one-drop artifacts in this deck, and Salvaging Station turns them into serious engines. Trinket Mage digs up the Capsules, and Station wrings them out indefinitely. Pricey, but worth it (and it only gets better further down.)


Out: Oblivion Ring, Detention Sphere

O-Ring effects only mean that your opponent is going to get back something nasty at exactly the time when every thing else goes away for good reason. This never ends well. I’d rather some better, more-permanent options end up in these slots instead.

Graveyard Hate

In: Nihil Spellbomb

Fantastic with Salvaging Station. Solid targeted hate and a draw engine.


In: Leonin Abunas, Swiftfoot Boots

Man, do I miss the days when Guardian Beast was a force to be reckoned with. In any case, this is a nice addition to keep you from folding to spot removal on the few beaters that are available.

Swiftfoot Boots does more of that as well, with a little bit of haste thrown in for good measure.


In: Buried Ruin, Bojuka Bog, Phyrexia’s Core

You only slotted 34 lands by my count, and in these colors with only six mana rocks, you need more plain and simple.

Buried Ruin is a nod to the recursion plan, and Phyrexia’s Core is a protective sacrifice outlet that gives you a little life in the process. Bojuka Bog rounds out your new graveyard hate package.

Odds And Ends

Out: Paradox Haze

Paradox Haze is cute, but it really seems unnecessary. How many spells of your opponents are you really going to be able to play each turn with Triplets in play and still be able to protect it? I can’t see this really working in actual practice. And we could use the slot.

The Second Wave Of Changes

Once I got a chance to get my hands on the deck—and then get trounced by Mr P playing it in a group game immediately afterward—I only had a few things to address.


Out: Wrath of God

In: Austere Command

At first, we were thinking about Rout for this slot. Then, I got to face down Slobad, who managed to throw out about a dozen important artifacts followed by that Blood Moon. And then the Worship from Agrus Kos after that. There was no question then that I wanted to see a little extra flexibility and a better answer to enchantments at the least. Austere Command is a little slower and loses the ability to handle regenerators, but the added utility is impossible to beat.


In: White Sun’s Zenith

A few counts seem to verify that you’re an overall card short, so this is exactly the ticket to fill the slot.

It’s a classic control card in the vein of Decree of Justice, allowing you to pump out an army at instant speed and then get the card back again later on, again leveraging that card advantage angle. I’m simply not sure where it goes as of yet, so I wanted to put it on the radar for consideration. Because it recurs itself in the long run, don’t be afraid to play it for a small amount of Cats early on. It’s all about the pressure.

The Deck

And with that, here’s what I would sleeve up today:

Sen Triplets
Cassidy McAuliffe
Test deck on 07-28-2013
Magic Card Back

It’s still a control deck to the core, and it still wants some more beaters. It also does away with the plan to leverage Sen Triplets, but that felt weak at best anyway. The new list tests out well, and the deck seems to do a wonderful job of hanging in games, playing the permission role, and getting in when the coast is clear. Again, I approached this list with a certain amount of trepidation, but in the end I really enjoyed playing it and felt like it was well equipped to handle anything that might get thrown at it.

Here’s the breakdown of what these changes will run you:  

If you go for the whole list, you’re only in for $12.91. That’ll leave you some spare change to play around with, which is a true rarity with me.

I blame the blow to the head. (Man, that kid is going to either make a lot of money in the PGA or end up in the principal’s office all the time. Fingers are crossed.)

See you all in two,


Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article, like Derek’s Maelstrom Wanderer deck or Jack’s Jacques le Vert deck . Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com!

Email us a deck submission using this link here!

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