Final Esper Updates And A Look at M15

Shaheen has a highly polarized look of M15 to share from the extreme view of a dedicated control mage for life, and shares his updates to Esper Control for the new Standard metagame!

Base sets do not typically excite my Spike-y, competitive core. I do the same routine, which involves a quick look through for an exciting one- or two-of addition to Team Control. There are always some cards that get put on the watch list and may one day be a big player in the metagame. This set doesn’t have a Mutavault, a huge mistake in my opinion, but it does have a few gems that deserve some recognition and possible future planning. The glaring absence of a Wrath of God effect hurts me to the core once again, but I’m fairly certain they will print that love in the next major expansion set. Supreme Verdict was a better version of the beloved board sweeper of past days, and I’m actually excited to see a new, creative way to kill all of the creatures with extreme prejudice. Mass Calcify is a card that they stuck in to never see a day of play in constructed Magic, and ditto for In Garruk’s Wake. Can we cap off the board sweepers at five mana and stay in the real world please, Wizards? I mean, let’s be real here! I have played Magic for some time and I understand the need to print stinkers, but even the pushed-aside Wrath of last year, Planar Cleansing, saw a decent amount of play throughout the season. All Wraths aside, I think M15 is not a terrible Core Set and besides a few gripes concerning all of the mythic slots taken up by those terrible Avatars, I’m not too distraught over it. We have a few exciting additions for a few different builds of controls, scary cards to guard against from the green decks, a plethora of little red dorky creatures to entice people to pick up the low-yield aggressive strategy, and the return of Liliana Vess! Yes… I am excited for the hefty-priced planeswalker, but for good reason. Let’s start off with my current Esper build in Standard that has been doing quite well online.

As you can see, I have included the Mutavaults in my current arsenal. After reaching Day Two of GP Chicago, I have played enough competitive matches to know that Hero’s Downfall has pulled Esper down into the manascrew depths. Double black is just not supportable in a fifteen-round tournament, or a string of tournaments that you wish to do well in. Sure, you have your mana cooperate in 80% of your matches, but are you willing to lose games just for the shot of taking down a stupid creature? That was the biggest reason for the switch in manabases. The second-biggest reason is that Mutavault is just too good not to play. Many of you remember that I had a singleton Mutavault running around in a few lists not too long ago, and it was fantastic. After upping the man-land count to three, there is no way I’m ever going back to zero or even just the one. “I play four Mutavaults to kill other Mutavaults,” said Harry Corverse at GP Chicago, and I couldn’t agree more. They obviously serve other purposes, which include threatening and killing enemy planeswalkers, applying pressure on opponents in order to finish them off with the extensive (for control anyway) creature package, protection for Blood Baron of Vizkopa against Devour Flesh, targets for removal to clear the way for other win conditions, and my favorite aspect of a Mutavault is just that it comes into play untapped. There was a time that Mutavault wasn’t necessary and Hero’s Downfall was worth the risk, but those days have concluded. Jund Monsters has been on the decline for quite some time now, and devotion variants are everywhere. This current reality makes Esper a force to be reckoned with.

I want to thank all of you who tuned into my stream last week. For those who missed it, we did three 8-mans (victory in all three) and two daily events (3-1 and 4-0). The deck really shined with the new manabase, the replacement of Hero’s Downfall with Banishing Light and Brimaz, King of Oreskos. I stole games left and right with a silly aggro onslaught backed with spot removal. The Cat King was also an all-star on the play in nearly every matchup. Brimaz was especially effective in the control mirror, putting pressure on the enemy in the sideboarded games along with Sin Collector, Mutavault, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Fiendslayer Paladin, and Aetherling. My version of Esper, pre- and post-sideboard, resembles a Control Zoo deck that contains a full cast of characters that shocks none of you when I summon the army. Brimaz, King of Oreskos was an experimental addition a few weeks ago, and he has fit the mold very well. During the last daily that I streamed, I battled against Mono-Black Devotion, BW Devotion, and Mono-Blue Devotion twice. It was evident in those matches, as well as the other streamed evidence, that this version of Esper isn’t afraid of devotion of any variety. Having access to four copies of Blood Baron of Vizkopa provides a threat of destruction for both blue and black devotion players and cannot be as easily dispatched with the addition of other threats. There were a few great questions during the stream that I’d like bring here for discussion in regards to these matchups.

Why don’t you board out Blood Baron of Vizkopa against Mono-Blue Devotion? What?! You board in two more and cap at four? Why?!

Great question! The creature has protection against the colors that you aren’t playing against, this is true, but Blood Baron is a 4/4. A creature of that size trumps the majority of creatures that blue devotion players can summon on their side. There are additional spot removal spells that come in that control Frostburn Weird and Master of Waves, but powerful blue mages will board out a few Master of Waves if not all of them. Most blue devotion players shift into a control deck that depends on Jace, Memory Adept and a plethora of countermagic to defeat their control foe. This leaves Frostburn Weird as the one obstacle for the lifelinked Vampire, along with a couple copies of Rapid Hybridization that maybe they left in. Mono-Blue Devotion players bring in Dispel, Negate, Gainsay, and Dissolve in some combination to defeat us… and luckily Blood Baron of Vizkopa only falls to one of those spells. Aetherling is too expensive and can get Gainsayed, so I take out the blue warrior for this matchup. Besides being hard to deal with, Blood Baron has protection from getting chumped or double-blocked by Nightveil Specter and Judge’s Familiar, which has been strangely relevant more than once. The last perk of Blood Baron of Vizkopa is density. The answers that they have for him will run out before you run out of Vampires. Bring all of them in and make this already easy matchup even easier.

Why don’t you stream more?

Full time employment, writing for StarCityGames, traveling for Magic, grad school, and life responsibilities prevent me from doing what I love the most. You guys that heard me on stream can hear the love I have for the cardboard, especially in the school of control. I will be streaming a couple more times next week and try to do it at least twice a week until work kicks back up, so be sure to stay updated via my Twitter.

Is this really better than U/W Control?

This is the question I get asked the most both on and off the stream. Magic is too complicated for the “better” question regarding two competitive decks, in my opinion. I think my deck is “better” than Maze’s End, but when comparing it to a tier-one powerhouse, I think it goes to the pros and cons argument. I refuse to play a deck without Thoughtseize in this format. Period. Until the counterspells get better, we have to bank on the proactive one-mana version that can decimate an entire strategy starting on turn one. I hate that Syncopate and Dissolve are the flagship staples of control, and until we get back Miscalculation or something similar, I will be on Team Tapout. This could all change if the format changes, of course. If the format slows down to a snail’s pace, becomes saturated with control, or people stop Thoughtseizing me so much, I’ll be glad to jam four Cancels back in my deck. I think the U/W Control deck piloted by Adrian Sullivan is an example of a great guy playing a deck that he has mastered over the years. It reminds me of the similar success I’ve had with Esper in large tournaments, which is rooted in practice and repetition. The SCG Players’ Championship commercial that has a brief clip of me with the slogan “Persistence” isn’t lying, my friends. If you stay with your art and master it, you’ll witness success first-hand.

If you decide to play U/W Control over Esper, just know a few things. Your matchup against aggressive decks worsens. The power of Devour Flesh, Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, and Blood Baron of Vizkopa is irreplaceable. Have you ever battled against White Weenie and dropped a Blood Baron of Vizkopa? It doesn’t work out well for your opponent. Cards like Celestial Flare and Azorious Charm are not the most effective against creatures these days, and the alternatives from black are just better. The one benefit is that your lands hurt you less, but the new manabase of Esper is much more forgiving than it has been in past incarnations.

Your control matchup gets better. U/W Control is nearly impossible to beat game one for Esper. The combination of the counterspell package and Elixir of Immortality provides a wall against Esper that seems insurmountable. Games two and three are easily in Esper’s favor, but being down a game is never where you want to be. The beauty is the skill that this matchup takes, so practice up and you’ll be fine.

You become predictable and linear. The U/W Control strategy isn’t tricky to play against for enemy mages, and the answers are much narrower. The beauty of Esper is the possibility of killing early with a combination of creatures that U/W doesn’t have full access to. People are also taken back by rogue decks, typically play worse and make costly mistakes that put the advantage in your court. I don’t have the luxury these days of fooling opponents, but back in my day I would sit down and cast a Decree of Justice off of Urzatron lands and bamboozle the opposition. I still shock about 2% of my opponents, but if you sleeve up my deck people will assume and fall for it.

An M15 Chat

M15 has a few winners and losers after a full review. Let’s discuss the cards that I am excited to see and not excited to play against.


I love Liliana Vess! In the days of U/B Control, I remember casting this card with great success and missing a win-and-in at GP Philly against Yuuya Wantanabe. That success was on the back of this card as the control “finisher” along with Mana Leak, Grave Titan, and Black Sun’s Zenith. Liliana Vess is a nightmare for control and aggro opponents. Casting a turn-four Supreme Verdict and then untapping with this ‘Walker provides a conundrum for any aggressive opponent. I often used the second ability to find a card that would further along the stabilization process. Liliana Vess is a card that is a nightmare for control opponents with a continuous flow of hand disruption, a relevant ultimate, and able to snag any card you need throughout her tenure. If the format is slow enough, you’ll see a few of these in my maindeck, but in the current metagame there will be one in the sideboard. I can promise you that.

Never have I been this excited for a Cranial Extraction effect like this. This is another tool that can be used to put the nail in the coffin for non-black control opponents. Forcing this through on a U/W Control player with Thoughtseize, Sin Collector, and countermagic will ensure that you defeat your foe. U/W Control players that get in our way beware, because things are about to get real ugly.

Can you say value? I’m not sure about this guy, but I always liked Lorescale Coatl and this card is even better. If there are more cantrip opportunities in the future for a control deck, then I can totally see this card being useful. Anything that dies and leaves creatures back at a cost like this catches my attention.

A fantastic auto-add to Esper! Pick one up and toss it right in and don’t look back, friends.

After Mutavault rotates and people want to keep the two-color strategy is when this card will shine. The lands that gained life in prior sets tapped for colored mana, but this card comes into play untapped and the two life gained is a fantastic freebie. This card will see play in control decks that don’t go after the third color.

I stopped playing Pithing Needle not long ago and this card is worse in control decks. The decks you want to Needle typically have situations that require a board sweeper, but this card will still see play in all types of decks nonetheless.

This card is quite powerful, but it’s also expensive to use. The activation jump from one to five makes me a little disheartened, but it does come into play untapped unlike Nevinyrral’s Disk. This is another one of those cards that would fit a control shell with fewer creatures, which could be the case post-rotation. Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Aetherling are rotating, so keep your eyes open for the next win condition. Let’s all hope for the sake of the game that they print us a good sweeper, otherwise get ready for Prognostic Sphinx mirror matches all day long.

Good God. This card is one of the scariest printed for a control mage to witness resolve in front of them since Karn Liberated. All of the abilities, with the last being the worst, are very powerful and petrifying. The first ability that nukes a planeswalker can bring tears to my eyes. The second ability is the threat production that makes planeswalkers so powerful to begin with, and the third ability gives the G/B planeswalker the ability to fully control the battlefield. The ultimate I wouldn’t worry about too much from the control perspective, but the others should scare you. Let’s hope it’s like Sire of Insanity, Rakdos’s Return, and other cards that have an odd mana combination and it never sees a great deal of play.

Another scary card from left field for control to keep an eye on. Lucky for us, this planeswalker makes board-sweepers more effective, but the longer it stays out the more doomed we become. It reminds me of a slightly weaker Koth of the Hammer, but deserves a small bit of attention just in case.


I know this will cause some discussion. I’m not a fan in the slightest, and from observing social media I’ve noticed that the opinion is split. Jace, Memory Adept was a strictly-better planeswalker, and he was the worst of all the Jaces. I understand that Jace, the Mind Sculptor was too good, Jace Beleren was busted, Jace, Architect of Thought is overpowered, and now Jace, Memory Adept was unfair. I am being quite facetious, because we all know that the other incarnations of Jace have been fair and balanced minus one. The explanation that Wizards should give is that we are due for a bad one, so here he is.

The mana cost and starting loyalty of Jace, the Living Guildpact is fantastic. The art of the planeswalker is pretty cool for those who care about that sort of thing, and even the flavor tickles the fancy of some. But the issue is that the card doesn’t do anything. The first ability allows some card selection, but tapping four mana to scry once isn’t a good deal. The second ability allows for some protection of the new planeswalker, but if you use it the turn he comes down then don’t expect to ever ultimate him. The ultimate on Jace, the Living Guildpact is the only powerful ability, and it is just worse than using the mill ability on Jace, Memory Adept. The card barely protects itself, the sorcery-speed bounce of a permanent is a huge deduction of loyalty, and the ultimate is great only against certain decks. If you somehow ultimate it against aggro decks the last turn prior to defeat, you aren’t even guaranteed victory! I have whiffed more times than I want to admit on a Sphinx’s Revelation for six or seven, but the lifegain is the true benefit on the most recent Blue Sun’s Zenith effect. This card will rot in the sideboard of control decks to “help” against the mirror match. I would rather have Liliana Vess nine times out of ten in the matchups where Jace, the Living Guildpact would be relevant.

Jace, you broke my heart. See you next year.