Lingering with Esper

Shaheen Soorani has been nothing short of stellar at SCG Invitationals. His method works for him and he sees no reason to deviate. Let him help prepare you for the #SCGINVI!

The Season Two Invitational is this weekend and many of you know that it is my favorite tournament to attend. The “outdated” Esper Stoneblade list and my
persistence with Esper Control in Standard has yielded successful results repeatedly. The masterful construction of decks, hours of play testing, or
research into the metagame of Standard and Legacy are not factors I use for winning at the Invitational. The key to winning rounds in these professional
level tournaments is understanding your enemy at the core. The players at the Invitational will be more skilled, on average, than those at lesser
tournaments.This generalization is the best way to understand the type of deck that will be used more frequently than others. Historically, players that
are at higher level tournaments play control, but that is simply not the case anymore. With the frequency of tournaments these days in the form of GPs,
Invitationals, Open Series events, and even Pro Tours, you’ll see a new style of play from the average player. The new generalized metagame has shifted
from a control world to a saturation of the “best deck” of the week.For quite some time now, the best deck typically is of the midrange variety. Decks
like Mono-Black Devotion, Mono-Blue Devotion, Jund Monsters, and various Junk decks have solidified their place in Standard. There are a few of us diehards
that refuse to lay down Sphinx’s Revelation or Firedrinker Satyr, but the majority of players that have qualified for Invitationals of the past were
rocking the midrange colors.

The biggest minority of the Invitational tournament scene is definitely pure aggro. On average, I have played against one true
aggressive deck once per tournament (eight rounds). You’ll notice the Top 8 of these tournaments are filled with midrange, followed by a couple control
decks, and maybe one aggro deck might sneak its way in. This doesn’t necessarily mean that midrange is the way to go, but instead focus on the density over
the quality.

During the Affinity era with Skullclamp, 6 out of the top 8 decks of that Regionals were claimed by the robotic menace. Don’t get me wrong – Affinity was a
very powerful deck, but the most likely explanation for the amount in the top 8 was that two-thirds of the room was rocking it. I happened to sneak into
that top 8 with a G/W Control deck that contained Exalted Angel, Solemn Simulacrum, Decree of Justice, and of course, Skullclamp. I also played against
Affinity seven times and defeated it six of those, which pretty much sums up my Grand Prix Richmond experience as well. The point is you must prepare
yourself for what decks will be more popular, rather than solely prepare to beat the “best” deck.

I want to also chat with you guys about the Legacy portion of the Invitational and why I’m going back to my old friend.

Understanding the Power of Esper in Standard

Devotion is still the powerhouse mechanic of the format. I’ve seen U/W Control take a tournament here and Junk do well there, but at the end of the day,
you’re more likely to face up against some style of devotion deck. I would argue that U/W or Esper Control are better decks than the devotion variety and
that the matchup is pretty good. For those who have been battling with Esper in the current format, you understand that the tough matchups reside in the
decks with a lot of one drops. When my opponent drops a Pack Rat on turn 2, I’m usually pretty happy about the match altogether. This is a huge reason why
control is a perfect choice for the Invitational and explains why I’ve done fairly well. Control has a pretty good game against all the midrange decks in
the current Standard format except for Jund Monsters. Any deck with both Domri Rade and Xenagos, God of Revels of is going to be a tough hurdle to leap
over. This is the reason I’ve desperately held on to Esper over U/W Control and the power of Thoughtseize and Hero’s Downfall. The addition of Brimaz, King
of Oreskos has helped slightly as well, putting some pressure behind the force of spot removal and keeping smaller creatures in check for an eventual
Supreme Verdict. Jund Monsters isn’t an unbeatable matchup with some practice and a little luck relating to your opponent’s draw step.

The most popular devotion deck may be Mono-Black Devotion, but the recent victory of Mono-Blue Devotion in the Open last weekend, and the constant presence
of R/W Devotion will keep us on our toes. All three of these matchups are favorable for Esper Control even to my surprise. Believe it or not, it is tough
for red decks to defeat Esper mages when they don’t play any one drops. The deathly slow creep of Boros Reckoner and Frostburn Weird is almost laughable.
Most of the cards in the R/W Devotion deck are duds and their sideboard plan of Assemble the Legion is not the best plan versus the four Jace, Architect of
Thought and four Detention Sphere deck. There are cards that some run like Burning Earth which are scary, but even their best card, Stormbreath Dragon, is
not that scary with proper preparation. The R/W Devotion deck is one of those popular choices that shouldn’t scare a control mage.

Mono-Blue Devotion has been relatively unchanged since its creation. The only card Journey into Nyx has provided the mainstream list is Hall of Triumph,
which doesn’t pose a threat to Esper’s stranglehold on the matchup. It still plays out the same against us, playing a bunch of little dorks that need
battlefield density in order to become threatening, then automatically losing to a Supreme Verdict. If the Mono-Blue Devotion deck does not come out of the
gates swinging, it becomes an even easier matchup in the one for one race. The only problem cards game 1 are Mutavaults and Bident of Thassa. When those
two threats are kept under control, the first game nearly falls to Esper Control each time. In the sideboarded games, the only cards that need attention
are the different Jaces they bring in. Planeswalkers are bad news for us no matter which ones are deployed on the opposing battlefield. Matches where I
don’t see a planeswalker stick for multiple turns typically turn into victories for me and that is a huge reason why I don’t board out Thoughtseize against
any deck without heavy red.

Mono-Black Devotion is still the deck to beat in Standard and the deck you’ll see the most of in these higher level tournaments. The changes made to Esper
Control lately have been to improve the chances for victory against Mono-Black Devotion and to have a prayer against the random aggro deck you may face. I
will never change the list to dominate aggro game 1, because you simply have too many card slots used to dealing with the rest of the metagame that will
always leave you vulnerable to one drops. Game 2 is where the heat comes in to help regain control of the match against critters. The land increase to 27
and the fourth copy of Sphinx’s Revelation were a long time coming to the deck, but only to answer decks with Thougthseize in them. Against a few of the
midrange decks that don’t have Thoughtseize, I’ll board out a Sphinx’s Revelation to avoid the opening mulligan to five with duplicate copies. The
Mutavault was pretty sweet for a while, but an additional temple was much more effective in the matchups where hitting land drops and sculpting on the way
there was vital. Dealing with Underworld Connections and Mutavault are the keys to victory against Mono-Black Devotion and with this new list it allows you
to focus on those aspects and not worry so much about the other clunky threats.

Done with True-name Nemesis

True-Name Nemesis is a very powerful Magic card. It’s a creature that rocked the Legacy world upon its arrival and still forces players to change card
choices, colors, and even full archetypes in order to defeat it. The last Invitational in which I made the Top 8 was the first tournament where True-Name
Nemesis was legal, and it was everywhere. I was still lingering around with my souls and refused to adopt the new creature. I won a few matches against
decks with Liliana of the Veil and Diabolic Edict effects, and didn’t think anything of it, but knew that I was running outdated technology. I even
defeated the Stoneblade mirror twice, against two very good mages, running the new Merfolk. I eventually decided that I was running outdated technology and
it was time to conform to what was the accepted norm, which was a disastrous choice.

I started off 7-1 in the last Invitational, only to lose three out of four of my Legacy rounds Day 2. I played against Dave Shiels who easily peeled a
Liliana of the Veil off the top after I set up my True-Name Nemesis road to victory. I lost to two more Liliana of the Veil packing decks, and each time I
felt an odd feeling of confusion because I never used to lose to these slow BUG Control decks, Jund decks without Punishing Fire, or even the BUG Aggro
decks. A month or so ago, I thought back to my experiences in both the Legacy Open the day after the Invitational and to the big tournament itself and
realized what would have happened if I left my deck in its original form. It just so happens that Lingering Souls is pretty good against Diabolic Edict
effects and would have carried an Umezawa’s Jitte to victory in those very close losses. This is a perfect example of the article’s purpose. It isn’t that
Lingering Souls is better than True-Name Nemesis, but Lingering Souls delivers in some spots that True-Name Nemesis cannot.

This Invitational will be completely ready for True-Name Nemesis.

The non-combo decks that care about the Merfolk will have unique ways to deal with it, but will be unprepared for Lingering Souls. Lingering Souls has been
the premier win condition for me in Legacy for as long as I have been playing the deck and an easy card to drop to the sideboard against decks that don’t
play fair. If I were to play True-Name Nemesis, it would have to be in a deck with Deathrite Shaman and a higher creature count to combat Liliana of the
Veil and cards of similar nature. Otherwise, enjoy some souls while people are standing guard at the opposite gate.

The Legacy Metagame

I’ve written a few articles describing the unchanging metagame of Legacy. This rule holds true mainly in smaller tournaments, such as the normal Open
Series. The Legacy metagame in the Invitational will shift due to the resources of professional Magic players and their ability to build any deck of their
choosing easily. Even though there is more deck choice and freedom, it doesn’t mean we stray from the previous principle of Invitational metagaming. The
big shots will still play the “best” decks and saturate the room with the midrange flavor of the week. Legacy champions are usually packing fair decks with
Deathrite Shaman or combo decks like Sneak and Show. You can’t walk into a tournament and not have an answer for the powerful leaders of metagame and for
the purposes of this article, I’m going to provide a list. Let me preface this with the fact that a full list would be hundreds of cards, but I’m going to
jot down a few that fellow Stoneblade players should watch out for:

Deathrite Shaman

Good Creatures: Tarmogoyf, Delver of Secrets, Dark Confidant, Stoneforge Mystic


Grove of the Burnwillows/Punishing Fire

The Planeswalker Duo: Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Liliana of the Veil

Hand Disruption: Thoughtseize and Hymn to Torach

True-Name Nemesis

Good Counterspells: Force of Will, Daze, Spell Pierce, etc.

Combo Decks: Sneak and Show, Storm, Elves, Reanimator, Dredge, etc.

This list has helped me propel myself past some difficult opponents and tough matchups. There will always be that Mono-Red Burn opponent and that Death and
Taxes player that somehow won their first round, but you have to prepare yourself for the big dogs when attempting to mop up at the Invitational.

It is time I get ready, pack up, and prepare for battle. I hope to do well this weekend and I’ll keep you guys updated as always on Twitter. Until next
time my friends!