Is There Any Stopping Esper At SCG Syracuse?

Esper Control and Esper Midrange are both near the top of the Standard metagame heading into SCG Syracuse, but they’re hardly the only picks! Get lists and explanations from eight SCG content creators!

Welcome to What We’d Play! With SCG Syracuse this weekend, many are unsure what they’d play in such a high-profile tournament, especially one with new cards from War of the Spark. That’s where we come in and let you know what we’d play and why we’d play it. Hopefully this last-minute advice aids in your decision making! Be sure to vote for who you agree with in the poll at the end!

Brad Nelson – Bant Nexus

I’m a firm believer that Simic Nexus does not have what it takes to get the job done in the current Standard metagame. The deck is weak to Mono-Red Aggro; struggles against Teferi, Time Raveler; and has a whole slew of other problems. That’s why I started working on Bant Nexus, and since then have had decent results on Magic Arena (nothing amazing, though, so don’t abandon everything you’ve done to play this “hot off the presses” deck). It’s just something I enjoy and think you might as well.

Casting Nexus of Fate isn’t “fun,” but I do have to say the newer versions with Tamiyo, Collector of Tales at least make the deterministic kill come way more quickly than previous versions before War of the Spark. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to the deck, as the strategy got more powerful and quicker.

Well, that is, if an opponent chooses to concede…

I’ll be doing a primer on this deck tomorrow, so if you’re interested in hearing more about Bant Nexus, including a sideboard guide, be sure to find me then!

Emma Handy – Izzet Phoenix

Izzet Phoenix is the best deck that nobody is talking about. Why?

I’ll be honest with you – the Nexus matchup is firmly “not good.”

Now that people aren’t as likely to be registering Simic Nexus in the Standard Open, Izzet Phoenix is exactly the place to be. I’ve been winning fairly consistently over the weekend with Esper Control, but the least winnable games of Standard Magic in years were against Izzet Phoenix after sideboarding. After trying the deck out for myself, I can confidently say it’s the real deal, and with the deck winning both Magic Online Mythic Championship Qualifiers, there’s some data to back up this claim.

The biggest note for my list is that Augur of Bolas is one of the only real ways to try to shore up anything aggressive. Izzet colors aren’t exactly great at countering burn spells, but Augur both provides an early wall, and digs towards the more important cards in a given matchup.

The notable omission from the list is Niv-Mizzet, Parun. Despite normally being a powerful card, the biggest place that Niv tends to shine is against the blue decks. Against these decks, the biggest strength of Izzet Phoenix is the fact that its cantrips help it never flood and constantly keep the gas flowing. Niv doesn’t play to this plan very well, as he demands that you hit all your land drops, and for that reason, he’s been completely cut from the list. Arclight Phoenix and Saheeli, Sublime Artificer will generally be good enough at killing people without big, clunky six-mana card.

The best thing about this deck that needs to be spelled out sometimes is just how good it is at pressuring planeswalkers. Remember that Snare Thopter is a perfectly serviceable card sometimes. You don’t need Faithless Looting to make Arclight Phoenix playable; it’ll out-grind all of the opponent’s removal spells eventually.

Sam Black – Simic Mass Manipulation

If you expect SCG Syracuse to look like the MPL Weekly, where everyone plays white aggro, red aggro, or control, this deck might not be the best choice, but I personally don’t expect that. I expect the format will look a lot more like Standard on Arena, where people still play midrange decks and green cards sometimes.

Simic Mass Manipulation really beats up on midrange green decks, midrange Grixis decks, or really anything that’s looking to spend five or more mana on a permanent. This is exactly what a broken deck should look like – virtual byes against 30-50% of the field and a close matchup against the rest, with great nut draws and a gameplan against everyone.

While other people are distracted with figuring out exactly which planeswalkers best let you get some free mana out of Mox Amber, you can just be happy to beat them with whichever planeswalkers they settle on after moving all of them to your side of the battlefield. It’s a great feeling and you shouldn’t miss the opportunity.

Dylan Hand – Esper Midrange

My deck suggestion for SCG Syracuse comes with a caveat. As many of you who read my content regularly know, I’m historically high on Nexus of Fate decks, and have been doing my own work, as well as collaborating and discussing the deck’s evolution with others. However, at this stage, the resistance to the deck is at an all-time high, in no small part to the huge spike in popularity due to the deck above, Esper Midrange, a deck that I myself had been closely monitoring to see how the deck fleshed itself out in War of the Spark Standard. Thanks to the hard work of my Team BCW teammate Ross Merriam as well as Gerry Thompson’s, the deck has finally been able to trim away the cards that ultimately were not good enough (I’m looking at you, Seraph of the Scales and Discovery // Dispersal) and stir in additions from the newest set to formulate a powerful 75-card deck.

After playing around with this deck myself and examining different strategies against the format’s top brass, I’ve been impressed with what the tuned lists have to offer, and will likely take a temporary break from taking the vast majority of turns in a given game of Magic in favor of trading turns fairly with my opponent, as well as resources, until I emerge victorious.

Kevin Jones – Izzet Phoenix

Most of the time, when I sit down to write about Standard, I have to convince myself not to write about Izzet Phoenix. Usually, this is because the deck sees relatively little play and it makes more sense to write about good decks. However, the past two weeks have changed this drastically because Izzet Phoenix has been dominating online. It won two Magic Online MCQs in two weeks and also won a real life MCQ on Saturday in Maryland.

Simic Nexus is a tough matchup, but the deck has seen a marked decrease in popularity, mostly due to the dominance of Mono-Red Aggro at SCG Richmond. Mono-Red is a fine matchup for Izzet Phoenix and its prevalence is one of the reasons why the deck is in a great spot. Esper Control is a matchup that’s basically unwinnable in Game 1, but your sideboard is filled with great cards and you’re ahead in the sideboarded games. If I had to submit my deck for SCG Syracuse right now, this is 100% what I’d play.

Shaheen Soorani – Esper Control

Although Esper Midrange has been a blast to play these last few weeks, my heart will always belong to the control deities of the game. Esper Control has all the tools to be great, with a card advantage engine that’s making waves in Modern and Legacy. Narset, Parter of Veils is an absolute powerhouse, making fellow blue decks cower in fear when facing it down on Turn 3. Not only is it a bombshell in the slower matchups, it’s also fantastic against aggro decks. The only change I may make to this list is the removal of the Chemister’s Insight for an additional Dovin’s Veto, as further card advantage options are not needed.

I never sideboard out more than one Narset in any matchup. This is because it does the job of Search for Azcanta and Chemister’s Insight in those matchups, but better. The obvious drawback is hitting land drops, but that’s why Teferi, Time Raveler; Search for Azcanta; and Thought Erasure are in the deck.

Esper Control can defeat any deck in Standard with ease. Do not let the victory of Mono-Red Aggro at SCG Richmond deter you, my friends. Anyone who has tried this deck out intimately knows how easy that matchup truly is.

Todd Anderson – Izzet Phoenix

I’ve been playing a ton of Magic Arena lately, and this deck has had my attention all week. After it won back-to-back MCQs on Magic Online, regarded as very difficult fields, I had to know what all the fuss was about. And let me tell you, this is one heck of a Magic card:

I like to think of Finale of Promise the same way I think of Bloodbraid Elf. It’s card advantage built into tempo, often acting as a removal spell that draws cards. And when your opponent isn’t casting creatures of their own, Finale of Promise becomes an extra way to discard Arclight Phoenix while acting as a proxy for all three spells cast to bring it back. In Modern, we don’t have much trouble returning Arclight Phoenix to the battlefield, but that becomes much more difficult in Standard.

Finale of Promise and two different three-mana planeswalkers give the deck some much-needed breathing room against control, offering significantly different problems for them as the game progresses. Narset helps dig for more gasoline while also keeping their Teferi and Chemister’s Insight in check. These planeswalkers just overload their Vraska’s Contempts while generating some amount of card or battlefield advantage.

I like being flexible, but not at the expense of reducing the overall power level of my deck. Izzet Phoenix has a lot of wiggle room to play aggro or control, depending on the opponent, and this configuration is built to give you the ability to become the control or aggro deck depending on the matchup.

I’ll be getting pretty deep on this archetype in my article this week, so make sure to check it out.

Cedric Phillips – Azorius Aggro

It’s a bit unfair that I get to pick my deck after seeing what the other seven people wrote for this week’s column, but being the Online Content Coordinator of this here website has its privileges. That said, I played the same Mono-White Aggro deck twice at the Mythic Invitational earlier this year and have loved aggressive white decks for basically my entire life, so while I might be accused of cherrypicking, it’s not like I’d pick anything else.

The truth of the matter is this – the metagame has shaped up in such a way that Azorius Aggro has a ton of favorable matchups. Let’s hit ’em one by one quickly:

  • Bant Nexus? Yes please!
  • Simic Nexus? Yes please!
  • Izzet Phoenix? Yes please!
  • Simic Mass Manipulation? Yes please!
  • Bant Midrange? Yes please!
  • Gruul Aggro? Yes please!
  • Mono-Red Aggro? An incredibly close matchup that can go either way.
  • Esper Midrange? It depends on their build, but I won’t call it favorable because if they want to beat you, they certainly can.
  • Esper Control? Same thing as Esper Midrange, but most builds are skimping on sweepers (down to three Kaya’s Wrath and one to two Cry of the Carnarium) and we get to gas up with awesome countermagic after sideboard.

Here’s my final hard sell. William Jensen, Reid Duke, and Brad Nelson played it in the first week of MPL Weekly. Those three are better than all of us at Magic, and if they’re willing to play an aggressive white deck, so am I!