Esper Control At Pro Tour Dominaria

Amid a sea of Goblin Chainwhirlers, Autumn Burchett posted a solid 7-3 record with Esper Control! Get her insights ahead of the Standard events at SCG CON!

The thought processes that would lead me to play Esper Control at Pro Tour Dominaria began soon after reading
an excellent article
by SCG’s own Jadine Klomparens where, soon after the deck’s impressive
showing in Week 1 of this Standard format, she talked about how people
would have to readjust in order to fight U/W Control.

People did readjust, and quickly. It wasn’t long until we saw aggressive
white or red decks rise, either variety splashing black for access to
(among other things) discard spells. As Jadine said, discard effects are
much better against U/W than the U/B Control decks we were used to from
previous Standard formats earlier this year. People recognized this, and
reacted accordingly.

And I thought to myself, if people are leaning on cards like Duress and
Doomfall that are excellent against U/W Control’s reliance on Settle the
Wreckage but mediocre against U/B’s largely interchangeable kill spells and
generic counterspells – not to mention Duress often not even cutting off
access to the discarded instants, thanks to Torrential Gearhulk – and if
people are moving away from cards like Essence Scatter, Supreme Will, and
Scavenger Grounds that were traditionally well-positioned against U/B
Control’s reliance on swingy Torrential Gearhulk turns to pull ahead in
games, then why wouldn’t U/B Control be good again?

Clearly the above list is not quite U/B Control but rather Esper. The deck
is U/B at heart, though, developing from the old U/B shells but now
splashing white for two specific tools. One is Teferi, Hero of Dominaria,
one of the best planeswalkers ever printed and a way to win the game in
control mirrors without having to lean entirely on creatures.

This is helpful specifically against U/W Control, where leaning entirely on
Torrential Gearhulk and The Scarab God can make it hard to win Game 1
against the copies of Settle the Wreckages and Essence Scatter that U/W
brings to the battle. Adding this powerful planeswalker as a different
angle of attack swings things a lot though due to him not caring about
U/W’s pile of creature-answers, and this leaves you a comfortable favorite
in the matchup.

The other tool that the light white splash grants Esper Control is Forsake
the Worldly out of the sideboard. This seems like a tame addition, but
artifacts and enchantments like Lifecrafter’s Bestiary and Arguel’s Blood
Fast have long been nightmares for these control shells, historically
forcing U/B Control to play niche cards like Consign // Oblivion. While
Esper Control is already more insulated against these sorts of cards in
general, with Blink of an Eye and Teferi both helping to combat troublesome
permanents, having a cheap answer you can sideboard in – and especially one
that you can recast with Torrential Gearhulks – is a huge boon.

I ended up getting a respectable 7-3 record in the Standard portion of Pro
Tour Dominaria with this list and was very pleased with it in
general. It’s powerful and resilient and felt favored against a decent
chunk the Standard metagame. I’m likely to run something similar this
coming weekend.

If you’re comfortable playing aggressive red decks, you should be playing
some Goblin Chainwhirlers for the time being. Even after that deck’s
dominant performance at GP Birmingham, people couldn’t find a way to truly
fight that deck for the Pro Tour, allowing seven red decks into the Top 8.
That said, aggressive red decks aren’t for everyone, and if that’s the
case, for you then I can happily recommend Esper Control. I don’t think
it’s a coincidence that the deck had a 75% conversion rate for Day 2
(roughly on par with the R/B Aggro decks and better than anything else with
a significant metagame share), nor that it was the lone deck in the Top 8
not to feature a large pile of Mountains.

If you’re looking for an additional supporting statistic, the conversion
rate for Esper Control from the Day 1 metagame into the
seven-wins-or-better decklists was 20%. Overall the major Goblin
Chainwhirler decks managed a 21% conversion rate here, but nothing else
with any significant metagame share gets this high a conversion rate.


Day 1 Count

21+ Points Count

Conversion Rate

R/B Aggro / Mono-Red Aggro




U/W Control




Mono-Green Aggro




B/G Constrictor




W/B Aggro




Esper Control




B/U Midrange




U/G Karn




U/B Control




Mono-Black Control




Niche Decks




With that in mind, let’s look at the other three Esper Control lists that
performed well at the Pro Tour.

There are some major differences between each of these three lists, and
even bigger differences when compared to mine. Guillaume leans hard on card
advantage with the full four copies of Glimmer of Genius and dismisses Cast
Down from the maindeck in favor of Essence Scatter, a card that has largely
fallen out of favour due to its weakness against U/W Control, but that may
become appealing against if Esper Control becomes the primary control shell
moving forward.

Kihara has a much more haymaker-focused approach with no less than ten big
threats, and yet none of the card advantage offered by a card like Glimmer
of Genius. His list is looking to overwhelm opponents with sheer power,
rather than just trading resources and pulling ahead with draw-twos.

Finally, Ernest’s list moves away from Search for Azcanta entirely, perhaps
out of respect for the prevalence of Field of Ruin in control mirrors
(though personally I think a protected Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin is so
crushing in those matchups that I can’t get on board with this decision,
especially as Disallow is great and preventing Field of Ruin activations).

I’m curious to try out Kihara’s list and see how it feels, and if I had to
guess at a glance, I’d imagine it is the best-positioned list against the
various pile-of-Mountains decks that occupy the top spot of the metagame.

The notable idiosyncrasies of my list:

  • The maindeck copies of Duress, which I added to fight U/W Control,
    mirror-matches, and W/B Aggro (I am, however, tempted to move one of these
    to the sideboard, considering that they’re fairly weak against any R/B
    Aggro builds that aren’t running Karn, Scion of Urza).
  • The inclusion of Hieroglyphic Illumination (a spell I personally adore
    for its ability to smooth out draws, transform Search For Azcanta faster,
    and fuel Gearhulks easily; I wish could fit more copies of Illumination
    into the deck).
  • The presence of Blink of an Eye.

Only one of the other three decklists played Blink of an Eye, but having a
versatile two-mana spell really helps to protect early Teferis with the
extra mana he grants you, and Blink is just generally a great card for
helping smooth out your draw (notice the running theme here: alongside the
aforementioned Hieroglyphic Illumination, I value draw-smoothing effects
highly in lists like these) by giving something to do on Turn 2 when you
really need it while also helping you hit your land drops via the velocity
the card offers in the mid-game. You often trim on Blink of an Eye for
different cheap interaction after sideboarding, but it’s a great tool to
have access to in Game 1.


A quick sideboarding guide for my list, for those looking to give it a try.

R/B Aggro and Mono-Red Aggro



R/B Midrange



I define the difference between R/B Aggro and R/B Midrange as the presence
or absence of Bomat Courier, and that card specifically swings things
massively. I think Esper is maybe even a slight favorite against midrange
builds of R/B and a bit of an underdog against the Bomat Courier builds.
Note that you’re trimming on Search for Azcanta against aggressive builds
due to Knight of Malice making the flip-side’s spell-hunting ability less
consistent, which isn’t too relevant against control decks where you have
plenty of mana to spare but is a highly relevant consideration against
aggressive matchups.

U/W Control



Vraska’s Contempt seems good because it kills Teferi, but you’d much rather
answer Teferi via discard or countermagic, since straight-up Contempting
him is an exchange that leaves your opponent up a card. Knight of Malice
makes History of Benalia look laughable and checks opposing Teferis well.

W/B Aggro



I could see the fourth Knight of Malice being reasonable as they are great
against W/B’s aggressive draws, often outright shutting down combat for
three or more turns, but they can look pretty unimpressive against the
slower, grindier draws due to their weakness against Ifnir Deadlands. I
lean into Duress and Negate a reasonable amount in this matchup, as if you
can make it out of the first few turns alive, often your opponent’s
noncreature spells end up mattering the most.

G/B Constrictor



U/B Midrange



I’m excited at the prospect of playing Esper Control again this weekend. I
think it’s easily the best control strategy you can be playing in Standard
at present, and that there’s a very good chance it’s just straight-up the
best non-Chainwhirler deck too.