Esper with Journey

U/W Control has seen success lately, but Shaheen says “Don’t Stop Believing” in Esper! Get his latest list and his thoughts on the control-oriented two-drops of Standard ahead of #SCGSTATES.

Spring 2014 State Championships

With the Pro Tour, finals week, and the standardized tests for my students quickly approaching, I’ve had little time to work on Standard. Even with the
onslaught of deadlines and events at my doorstep, though, I’ve got a few ideas for Esper and some opinions on its place in the metagame. Journey into Nyx
has brought us better removal spells, powerful sideboard options, and a two-drop that may receive an increased workload after it has proven itself. All of
my block preparation has taught me a few things about Standard, which is the silver lining of spending my free time on a format I’ll never look at again.

I want to first and foremost give a big shout out to my testing team. There are quite a few members, but the big hitters include Chris Fennell, Christian
Calcano, Craig Wescoe, Ari Lax, David Sharfman, and Conley Woods. They’ve really helped me fine-tune the typical jank you’ll see me run at any big event
and I promise I won’t disappoint at this Pro Tour. I head to Atlanta this coming Thursday for the big event and I hope this old spell book has a few more
wins left in it.

Wall of Omens, Augur of Bolas, Something!

The first thing I look for in an upcoming set is the mythical two-drop that control yearns for. It’s all well and good to use removal in the early turns,
but a card that replaces itself and provides some defense is much more valuable. There’s no better play for a control player than a Wall of Omens into a
Planeswalker (which happened to be Jace, the Mind Sculptor back then). Even in the days of Augur of Bolas, not too long ago, we had the ability to defend
our powerful Planeswalkers with ease. The other advantages of an early drop that replaces itself are endless. They provide life, pressure, card advantage,
and flow to the game when they are played properly. Disciple of Deceit is one of those cards that caught my eye at the beginning, and I think it can be
used in that special role that I’ve discussed. At this point it can’t be a four-of because it doesn’t replace itself and a hand overloaded with them would
be pretty terrible.

Disciple of Deceit is the right power and toughness for the job. A 1/3 gives the defense necessary to stop creatures with two power as well as make attacks
with one toughness creatures pretty disadvantageous for the enemy. The ability to stop Mutavault is huge for any creature in the control list, and falling
on Turn 2 is optimal. I feel that control is at its best when there’s something in the format that can serve as a bump in the road and prevent aggro plans
from taking full advantage of an open board. The presence of a creature also draws a more “all in” strategy from blitz players, as they feel they have to
continue to add pressure to the board and not get blocked, then have spot removal halt their aggression. The key question is the power level of Disciple of
Deceit and if its tutor ability is worth the card used to do it.

Being able to tutor up a variety of powerful control cards is nothing to scoff at. The first thing I thought of when I saw Disciple is the ability to pitch
a Detention Sphere or Hero’s Downfall for additional Sphinx’s Revelations in the control matchup. There are a few other scenarios I see being problematic
for control opponents that include a tossed Far // Away for a Blood Baron of Vizkopa later in the game, a dead Devour Flesh for a backup Disciple of Deceit
if one falls to a removal spell later in the game, but the best scenario is a pitched Supreme Verdict for a Jace, Architect of Thought. There are a lot of
sweet ways that Disciple of Deceit can provide card quality, but the weaknesses of the card are the inherent card disadvantage and the lack of targets in
the control deck for opponent’s Bile Blights and worthless removal. If an opponent uses a Devour Flesh or a damage spell to take care of the Disciple,
that’s a win, but more often than not, Game 1 you’ll see him fall to something that would typically be dead. In my experiences against decks like
Mono-Black Devotion, I’ve had a few games where I lost to a Bile Blight because I thought my Elspeth, Sun’s Champion’s tokens would protect me and I was
very wrong. This situation is much more of a fluke than most, and if an opponent ever leaves in answers to Disciple of Deceit, then that gets chalked up in
the win column as well.

I’ve tried to incorporate bullets into the main deck and sideboard, but it was absolutely terrible. The reason why cards like Elixir of Immortality,
Divination, Rest in Peace, Nullify, and a few other gems aren’t in the deck already is because they’re simply unnecessary. Disciple of Deceit isn’t a
Vampiric Tutor that guarantees the bullets, but it is a situational blocker in the early turns that has the possibility of turning a matchup’s weak cards
into strong ones. When you check the deck out and see the Deicide in the main, don’t consider that a bullet. The Deicide is a reaction to the increased
number of Detention Sphere-style cards being played, another group of gods printed, and the fact that it is never going to be a dead card in any particular
matchup. I think Disciple of Deceit is going to be a good card in Standard, and until the day that Wizards reprints a cantripping early drop, we don’t have
much of a choice but to try whatever they give us.

New Set Contributions

Journey into Nyx has provided Esper some tools that will help lead us to victory! Deicide is one of the most exciting cards of the set in my opinion.
Instant-speed enchantment removal is something that I’ve always thought was powerful in a sideboard, which was why I was reluctant to run more than one
Revoke Existence in the sideboard. Deicide has that instant-speed exile power to it, and luckily for us, most of the problematic cards in the format are
enchantments. The only target that will be tougher to remove now is Pithing Needle, but any experienced control player will tell you that they rarely have
had issues with that card. Control players, and Esper more specifically, can attack you from many different angles and shutting down a one-of Aetherling is
simply not going to cut it. We still have Detention Sphere and Banishing Light to deal with it in a worst-case scenario board where it must be removed.

Deicide is a great Game 1 card in this format. From Whip of Erebos and Hammer of Purphoros to opposing Detention Spheres and Banishing Lights, Deicide has
the instant speed power to help the reactive and proactive play styles alike. I have lost more games to enemy Planeswalkers and enchantments in the form of
win conditions like gods or legendary enchantment artifacts than anything else. Deicide punishes a Mono-Black Devotion strategy of bringing in three
Erebos, God of the Dead. After it is cast and all copies of the god are removed, it’s almost smooth sailing with the only real threat of card advantage
being Underworld Connections. Against green decks, you have the power to dispatch a Courser of Kruphix, which is also a source of card advantage and the
key for an opponent victory over the control mage across the table. I have never been big on playing enchantment/artifact removal main, but this format has
the feel of Mirrodin where you either came prepared for that type of card or be punished for underestimating their power.

“I love golddddddd!” was a quote and reference I made to opponents in the last Invitational, and finally, in the last round, someone understood it. This
came after a resolved Gild, of course, and if my Austin Powers voice didn’t make you laugh then at least the card choice would. I think Gild is a sweet
card and I would still play it without hesitation if they hadn’t printed a strict upgrade.

Silence the Believers will be played as a one- or two-of for its duration in Standard. Silence the Believers has the same exile text as Gild but can turn
into a Supreme Verdict later in the game. There will be multiple situations where it is not necessary on Turn 4 and you can sandbag it for a few turns to
knock an opponent out for the count. There are very few decks that have a bestow strategy to make the second part of that card relevant, but it has
officially made the GW strategy against us even weaker. Gild as an instant might have been too good due to the ramp attachment, but an instant-speed
Silence the Believers is perfect for any Esper deck. At this point I’m only running one copy of it, but I can see it going to two very easily. I think
Hero’s Downfall is still much better and that is the reason for the three/one split. I’m going to miss making gold tokens, but this card is just better and
needs to replace Gilds everywhere.

Banishing Light is a card that has excited other people much more than me. I love Oblivion Ring as much as the next guy, but I feel that Detention Sphere
is still just too good. I have seen a lot of mutterings about UW Control and the popularity continues to grow, so that’s the reason why I have dropped it
to three Detention Sphere and one Banishing Light. There are a lot of control decks out there that are running six total instead of four, and the reason
why I’m not jumping on the bandwagon is because I love Hero’s Downfall in that slot. There are very few cards that Hero’s Downfall doesn’t deal with that
Detention Sphere does and that one copy of Deicide in the main should help those rare situations out.

There are a few people packing enchantment hate these days as well, which makes me cautious about the number of targets I want them to have. The reason for
the one Banishing Light instead of a fourth Detention Sphere is the ability to remove an enemy Detention Sphere if the situation ever arises, and you all
should expect it to from time to time. I want you guys to picture matches you’ve played a Detention Sphere and scooped up two cards, and then calculate how
many of those games you have lost. I bet your numbers are close to mine and the zero percent mark. The random ability on Detention Sphere can be too good
to pass up, but after rotation this year I’ll be happy Wizards printed us a suitable replacement.

Say Goodbye to Azorius Charm

I consider myself a bit stubborn in the Magic world, and if I like a card a lot, I’ll try to keep it in the list somewhere. It is time to say goodbye to
Azorius Charm for the foreseeable future. With all of the Temples and midrange decks, Azorius Charm has become more than an inconvenient cycler. It’s now a
pricey waste of deck space needed for more powerful cards. I remember putting a lot of cards on top of my opponent’s deck in the past, but lately that
number has dropped drastically. It’s not bad by any means, but it is also not very good. I could have left one in the main for spice, but I’ve decided to
go the four Sphinx’s Revelation and 27 land route. I’m sure this will result in some teasing by my pro buddies, the readers, my parents, and anyone else
who knows my prior opinion on capping the life gaining Stroke of Genius to the max…and that’s fine.

I still hold my ground on the optimal amount being three in a perfect world where opponents don’t have Thoughtseize and Disciple of Deceit was actually
Wall of Omens, but we don’t live in that utopia. The two Sphinx’s Revelation hand still causes some losses for me on Magic Online, but the trade-off is
worth it. Against decks with Thoughtseize you can’t afford to run three anymore, and more games are lost with the inability to redraw a Sphinx’s Revelation
to refill the hand. If Mono Black Devotion somehow falls off the face of the planet and dies, I’ll be back to running three, but I don’t see that happening
anytime soon. The side effect of running four Sphinx’s Revelation is having to play an additional land. I’m not a huge fan of playing more than 26 land in
a control deck, but the benefit here is playing more Temples. Temples are so good that having to play an additional one over a spell isn’t too punishing in
the long game. Once Temples are gone and we are back to land flooding I’ll revert back to 26 in a heartbeat, but in the meantime, enjoy the card selection
and the plentiful resources to continue to draw cards, remove creatures, and slam haymakers.

Esper Is Still Strong

The only other change I made to Esper is the removal of Obzedat, Ghost Council. The popularity of UW Control may require his presence again, but in the
meantime, just jam Aetherling as the big finisher. Obzedat, Ghost Council was performing well against all decks that didn’t have instant-speed removal but
was still worse than Blood Baron of Vizkopa in almost every situation. The four Blood Baron of Vizkopas after board has been phenomenal before the new set
came out and will continue to be great. Gaining life against half the field has a high impact and I can’t imagine playing a match against the devotion
decks or any aggro deck without having him as a part of the team. Don’t be distracted by those fancy players that think an Aetherling and a few Elspeth,
Sun’s Champions are enough to get the job done. Blood Baron of Vizkopa can just steal games against many opponents and will continue to until rotation.

UW Control is gaining popularity by the day, and even though I love me some control in any shell, I think that Thoughtseize is still the best card in
Standard. This is the reason why I’m still packing four in the main and haven’t looked back. Counterspells are still too slow with all of the tapped lands
and with the proactive style game I play, but luckily Thoughtseize serves the same purpose. You rip the difficult-to-deal-with spell from their hand early
on and just slam spell after spell until it’s time to Sphinx’s Revelation it all back. This game plan has worked for me for quite some time, and from your
feedback, it has been good for you too.

That’s it for this week. It’s time for me to finish preparing for Atlanta. And with any luck, I’ll have something great to write about in a few weeks!

Spring 2014 State Championships