Long Live Esper Dragons!

Any time Esper is at the top of the heap, Shaheen is a pretty happy guy. Here, Shaheen celebrates Esper’s latest incarnation, condemns a few of its card choices, and shows you how to sideboard for #SCGCLE!

The top 8 of Grand Prix Krakow was like a dream come true for me. I would have never thought that my early assessment and innovations of the format would
have taken off like they have in a million years, but I’m glad they have. The original Esper Dragons decklist that I put together with Narset Transcendent
and Utter End has evolved into the best deck in the format. Many have cut Narset and Utter End to smooth out the mana and have a better game against the
hyper aggressive decks of the format, and I find that to be a completely rational method to attack the metagame.

That said, it is time to defend my card choices and make a case for the white splash to be more involved. This article will give you all the reassurance
you need to continue to cast the powerful planeswalker, as well as keep the nine white sources for an opportunity to destroy any enchantments and artifacts
players bring to the table. I’ll also help you with sideboarding against some of the big decks in the metagame so that you’re prepared for your tournaments
this weekend. Sideboarding has always been an Achilles heel for many who adopt a deck from one of the talented writers here because they are crafted in a
way that best fits the needs of that writer’s specific metagame and playstyle, but I think I can be of assistance.

As usual, let’s start things off with the decklist:

Narset Transcendent is even more powerful now given the changes in the metagame. In a slow metagame full of mirror matches, I wouldn’t want to be the
control mage without the new planeswalker. For starters, Narset provides us with an additional win condition that must be answered. After sideboard, the
control mirror has to dump some of its removal, and that further increases her power level. Narset is at her best when she comes down with one or zero
threats on the opposing side of the table. The opponent has to then have a Hero’s Downfall or Utter End in order to stop her broken abilities from taking
over the game.

I’ve read the reviews, articles, and explanations of those that are against Narset as a contender for control, but those folks are simply incorrect. I
readily admit that Narset is terrible against Mono-Red on both the play and draw, and weak against other aggressive decks on the draw. To that I say…so
what?! I could give you a list of cards that are weak against the most aggressive decks historically and provide plenty of examples of how they were still
played. The critics are down on her ability to defend herself, but increasing her loyalty to seven is one of the strongest defenses anyone could ever hope

With a 50/50 split between non-lands and lands, she hits spells 60% of the time. Did that math sound funny to you? I’m glad it did, because now I get to
give a little spiel about the impact of the twelve Temples in conjunction with her plus ability. Scrying is amazing on its own, but when you add Narset to
the equation, it gets even better. With proper use of fetchlands and Temples, you’ll reap even more benefits from both Narset and your Dig Through
Times/Anticipates. I think one of the weaknesses of Narset has to be misuse, which I hope to help clear up today. Not every planeswalker can be Jace, the
Mind Sculptor and go brainstorming every turn until you bury them in card advantage. Narset requires tight play, calculated early land sequencing, well
thought out Anticipates, correct Dig Through Times, defensive rebounding, aggressive rebounding, and the eventual combo kill that involves two Dig Through
Times for the price of one.

I know many readers will side with the lists that spawned from GP Krakow and that’s okay. I don’t think mine is strictly better in comparison, but I do
believe I have the edge in the mirror match, which has been shown in testing. Even my buddy James Buckingham took my list, jammed some Bile Blights in it,
and had success at the Season One Invitational. This deck is adaptable for specific metagames and playstyles, but passing over Narset in a metagame full of
control and midrange decks is a huge mistake.

You may have noticed a slight change in the overall setup of the deck. I have toyed with one Haven of the Spirit Dragon in this list over a Flooded Strand
but found that I needed double blue more than the Dragon revival. I originally had one in my list when the set was still being spoiled, and I think it’s a
fabulous card still, especially in a deck that isn’t splashing anything other than Dragonlord Ojutai, but I haven’t been losing any matches due to dead

The key about this take on Esper Dragons is the ability to remove dangerous permanents that the other control decks cannot. Utter End is a wonderful answer
to Mastery of the Unseen, Outpost Siege, Ashcloud Phoenix, and permanent removal of planeswalkers and creatures for the game’s duration. It also just kills
anything important since the Ultimate Prices deal with Stormbreath Dragon for the cheap cost of two mana. I can’t remember the last time I was repeatedly
overwhelmed by Dragons, Hydras, or anything that was crafted to hose control because of the density of powerful control cards in Dragons of Tarkir

The spiciest new inclusion to my version of Esper Dragons is definitely Risen Executioner. This guy is the Bloodghast of old, returning from the graveyard
nonstop to annoy control decks. Since these updated Esper Dragons lists don’t have the ability to exile a creature, Risen Executioner is a constant thorn
in their side that makes winning very difficult. The control mirror thrives on the use of countermagic and hand disruption to force through threats, but
Risen Executioner doesn’t care about those effects. It allows you to play a tap out game to go with your planeswalkers and expendable Dragons, and you can
eventually kill them with Pearl Lake Ancient if need be. Threats that can’t be removed via conventional means are always good and remember: They don’t
played Utter End like we do!


VS Esper Dragons (without Narset)


Hero's Downfall Hero's Downfall Ultimate Price Ultimate Price Ultimate Price Crux of Fate Crux of Fate Crux of Fate


Dragonlord's Prerogative Foul-Tongue Invocation Foul-Tongue Invocation Negate Negate Dragonlord Silumgar Risen Executioner Risen Executioner

The control mirror is decided by the better sideboard. Game 1 has two directions. The first direction is running the opponent out of win conditions by
using countermagic and all of the dead kill spells to eventually deck your opponent. This is successful the vast majority of the time if your opponent
isn’t on the same plan and continues to draw cards, play draw-go, and use their seven counterspells in an attempt to save their Dragons. The second
direction is when you draw the blue half of your deck and can easily protect a Narset against their three Hero’s Downfall. You pack more counterspells
typically, but it’s still difficult to go down direction two for victory. After sideboard, this all changes. The variance of opening hands in the draw step
shrinks, giving you all of these live cards turn after turn. Game 2 and 3 are so good for us against the standard build because of all of the pressure we
cause. Hit land drops, apply pressure with counter backup, and proceed to victory against the best deck in the format. Yours.

VS Mono-Red Aggro


Dissolve Dissolve Dissolve Dissolve Crux of Fate Crux of Fate Crux of Fate Narset Transcendent Narset Transcendent


Foul-Tongue Invocation Foul-Tongue Invocation Drown in Sorrow Drown in Sorrow Drown in Sorrow Virulent Plague Bile Blight Bile Blight Dragonlord Silumgar

If I hear one more time that Drown in Sorrow is not that good against Mono-Red, I may lose my cool! I promise you all that whoever started this rumor is
secretly a Mono-Red infiltrator trying to get us to lose even more games. The argument that has spread across the Magic community is that the dash
creatures beat you, and they also sideboard out some of their token production. That is a ridiculous notion that needs to be squashed here and now.
Mono-Red still wins 99% of their games by early board saturation and then ultimately winning on the back of dash. A turn 3 Drown in Sorrow stops that
nonsense while giving you a healthy life total cushion to begin using the nine removal spells and four counterspells to put those knuckleheads to rest.

Most sideboarded games that I win have a Drown in Sorrow or Virulent Plague used somewhere in the earlygame, and if our opponents want to hold back
creatures and sideboard out all of their Dragon Fodders and Hordeling Outbursts, so be it! That will make victory that much easier! Remember when
Silumgar’s Scorn was criticized by the haters because Force Spike isn’t good? People can’t play around that effectively in the early turns, and they can’t
do it with Drown in Sorrow either. Sweep them with the scrying Infest or spot removal them into oblivion if they choose a different route.

Game 1 is sadly close to unwinnable due to the lack of early board sweeps, but games 2 and 3 are quite good for us. It’s still a matchup I’d prefer not to

VS Jeskai Tokens


Ultimate Price Ultimate Price Ultimate Price Hero's Downfall Hero's Downfall Hero's Downfall Hero's Downfall Crux of Fate Crux of Fate Narset Transcendent Narset Transcendent


Drown in Sorrow Drown in Sorrow Drown in Sorrow Virulent Plague Bile Blight Bile Blight Foul-Tongue Invocation Foul-Tongue Invocation Negate Negate Dragonlord's Prerogative

This matchup is a bit odd because they play creatures that can’t be dealt with via normal means. The spot removal is replaced by sweepers that affect only
the smallest of creatures, which Esper can do quite well after sideboard. The Foul-Tongue Invocations are capped simply for the lifegain, and Dragonlord’s
Prerogative keeps the countermagic and removal flowing. This is the only matchup where I don’t board in Dragonlord Silumgar, even though there is an
off-chance he steals an opponent’s sideboarded Dragonlord Ojutai. The four copies of Foul-Tongue Invocation allows us to stay safe when our opponent tries
to diversify their win conditions. Crux of Fate isn’t a bad card against Jeskai Tokens; however, it is a touch on the slow side. I have gone back and forth
between leaving out one of the Foul-Tongue Invocations and keeping the Crux of Fate count to two, but the lifegain is just too powerful for me to stick to
that plan. This is another matchup where I feel heavily favored after sideboard, but weak game 1.

VS Abzan Aggro

Out (on the play):

Ultimate Price Ultimate Price Ultimate Price Crux of Fate Crux of Fate

In (on the play):

Foul-Tongue Invocation Foul-Tongue Invocation Bile Blight Bile Blight Dragonlord Silumgar

Out (on the draw):

Ultimate Price Ultimate Price Ultimate Price Dissolve Dissolve

In (on the play):

Foul-Tongue Invocation Foul-Tongue Invocation Bile Blight Bile Blight Dragonlord Silumgar

This matchup has been so easy for me that I actually put it in the category as one of my best matchups. It used to be a bit scary because of my
overabundance of Ultimate Price, but a week after the Season One Invitational I played a ton of Foul-Tongue Invocations and stopped even coming close to
losing. Without the sacrifice effect, I still defeated it regularly, but with this many ways to kill any threat they have, the matchup has become a bit too
easy. Play against this with confidence.

VS G/R Devotion

Out (on the play):

Foul-Tongue Invocation Narset Transcendent

In (on the play):

Drown in Sorrow Dragonlord Silumgar

Out (on the draw):

Foul-Tongue Invocation Foul-Tongue Invocation Narset Transcendent Narset Transcendent Dissolve Dissolve

In (on the draw):

Drown in Sorrow Drown in Sorrow Drown in Sorrow Dragonlord Silumgar Bile Blight Bile Blight

This is one of the more difficult matchups to sideboard and play against. Drown in Sorrow is a card that is either fantastic against them, or very poor.
The devotion decks play far too many mana creatures to go unpunished, and that’s what Drown in Sorrow and Crux of Fate are hired to take care of. On the
draw, you have to attack those mana creatures early on. If you fail in reducing their resources, they can overwhelm the board and make winning very
difficult. Dissolve, Narset Transcendent, and Foul-Tongue Invocation all lose power when you’re going second for obvious reasons. The only reason why I
leave in a card like Foul-Tongue Invocation is to gain life, but it’s just too weak on the draw to effectively handle threats. This matchup isn’t too
shabby, and I’ve been pretty even with it in testing, but please keep your guard up and don’t let them sneak one of those green planeswalkers into play.

Abzan Control


Crux of Fate Crux of Fate Crux of Fate Ultimate Price Ultimate Price Ultimate Price


Negate Negate Risen Executioner Risen Executioner Dragonlord Silumgar Dragonlord's Prerogative

This is another matchup that is tough to lose to. U/B Control and now Esper Dragons have historically beaten up on Abzan strategies since the beginning of
Standard last year, so the sideboard doesn’t have much dedicated to it. Crux of Fate and Ultimate Price aren’t too bad against Abzan Control, but they
aren’t necessary. With the four Hero’s Downfall and two Utter Ends, you can easily deal with the threats they muster, and your Dragons outclass their win
conditions. For those who are on the conservative side, I don’t mind keeping one Crux of Fate in as insurance in place of a Risen Executioner. Risen
Executioner has provided control some early pressure, which has given us a new angle of attack on these already decent matchups. If they have Fleecemane
Lion, I would bring in the other two Foul-Tongue Invocation over Risen Executioner to ensure that their early pressure doesn’t overwhelm us though. I
confidently rate Abzan Control the easiest matchup for my take on Esper Dragons.

And with that, you are ready for #SCGCLE, Regionals, or whatever tournament you are playing in this weekend. Trust in the power of Narset and the mirror
match will be yours, my control aficionados!