War of the Spark Standard is finally starting to settle down, but there remain a few weeks to play it. While there are still many unique archetypes and variants of those decks, some of them are just not as good as others. Today I’m going to go down the list and discuss each deck and its variations to tell you which ones should stay, and which ones should sashay away.
Keep in mind the order will not matter, as I’m going to group each deck along with its variants.
Esper has taken on many forms throughout this format, but currently there seem to be three unique takes on the deck that are still relatively powerful.
- 4 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- 1 Liliana, Dreadhorde General
- 4 Teferi, Time Raveler
- 3 Narset, Parter of Veils
Pretty much it comes down to whether you want to play with Hero of Precinct One and/or Thief of Sanity. The easiest way to understand whether you want these cards is to ask yourself how good you want to be against other Esper decks. Esper Control is by far the best deck in the “Esper Mirror,” as it has so many of the important cards for the mirror already in the maindeck like The Elderspell and Command the Dreadhorde. On top of that, the deck also runs Search for Azcanta, which has become amazing in Esper mirrors now that Mortify is rarely played.
These changes come at the cost of other matchups where these cards aren’t at their best. For example, Mono-White Aggro is a good matchup for Esper Hero Game 1, but effectively Kaya’s Wrath-or-bust when it comes to Esper Control. That said, Game 2 is much better once Esper Control gets a chance to sideboard, but giving up Game 1 in any matchup makes things more difficult.
Esper Control was a great deck for the past couple of weeks, but I’m really unsure what the future holds for it. The metagame will continue to react to it, which makes me think playing Esper Superheroes will again be the best place for Esper variants to be, as it’s good against the field, and also beats up on Esper Hero.
Below is the version of the deck I registered for Mythic Championship III, which I strongly believe only has two bad matchups: Sultai Dreadhorde and Esper Control. It’s slightly behind against stock Esper Control and slightly ahead against stock Esper Hero.
Everyone seems to ask about the merits of Elite Guardmage over Basilica Bell-Haunt, so I will do my best to answer that now. Basilica Bell-Haunt is better in the Esper mirrors, as Elite Guardmage can be killed by Oath of Kaya and gets hit by Narset’s static ability. Basilica Bell-Haunt is also better against Nissa decks, but the difference isn’t usually relevant since they win by miles, not inches.
Elite Guardmage shines brightest against Mono-Red Aggro, Mono-White Aggro, Gruul Aggro, Izzet Phoenix, and Grixis Midrange. In all of these matchups velocity is key, as the main gameplan is to deal with the battlefield while finding your next answers to problematic permanents.
Here’s the wrap-up of the Esper portion of this article:
- Continue playing Esper Control if you’re seeing good results but abandon for Esper Superheroes once the metagame fully reacts to Esper Control.
- Don’t play stock Esper Hero unless Nissa-based Command the Dreadhorde decks once again take over the format.
It might seem strange to lump all the Nissa, Who Shakes the World decks together as there are many of them, but it’s the way I do it, so here we are. To do this correctly, we must first break down the ways you can build them, and then the variants associated with them.
There are many different ways to build around Nissa, which is why we have to first look at the payoffs to see if they are worth it. Mass Manipulation popped up a while back in Simic Ramp, which allowed the deck to steal all the permanents from the first generation of Esper Control strategies, and it honestly worked like gangbusters. Since then, the card has been most successful at dealing with Gruul’s powerful permanents, but outside of that, the card hasn’t been that great. It’s still amazing against Sultai Dreadhorde, but that’s another Nissa deck that sees sporadic play.
There are two variants associated with Mass Manipulation – one is just stock Simic, which Team Lotus Box’s Collins Mullen used to Top 8 the Season One Invitational a few weeks back.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 4 Hydroid Krasis
- 2 Frilled Mystic
- 4 Incubation Druid
- 4 Paradise Druid
- 2 Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves
The white splash helps against the more aggressive decks in the format, but Christopher Johnson did something I don’t like that many have seemed to adopt. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to play cheap white removal like Baffling End in the sideboard of this deck with only twelve white sources in the maindeck. I say this knowing Paradise Druid is sources thirteen through sixteen, but it’s also a card I want to take out against Mono-Red Aggro, a matchup where you want Baffling End.
I’ve spent a long time trying to make Bant Mass Manipulation work, but in the end I just found it worse than just playing either Simic Mass Manipulation or Bant Ramp. On the subject, I don’t think Simic Mass Manipulation is an impressive deck anymore, as Mono-White Aggro is becoming more popular day by day.
This is the deck I’d play if I wanted to do something similar to what these decks are trying to do.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 3 Jadelight Ranger
- 2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 2 Trostani Discordant
- 4 Hydroid Krasis
- 4 Incubation Druid
- 4 Paradise Druid
This variant of Bant Ramp gives up some equity against Gruul Aggro and specific Esper variants, but in exchange does much better against the other decks in the metagame. The sideboard should always be changing depending on the expected metagame, and if there’s a lot of Esper Control in your area, I’d try finding room for two or three copies of Vine Mare, as Esper Control really can’t beat the card without a sweeper. The problem is the card can’t really be brought in against any other deck or variant of Esper, but it’s fantastic against that one deck!
The reason I like this deck so much is that most of the top-end spells scale well enough to be fine on their own when Nissa isn’t a part of the equation. Cards like Mass Manipulation and Entrancing Melody not only have to be in matchups where they are good, but also when you have tons of mana. This deck uses cards like Shalai and X-spells as sinks which can still be played in the early stages of the game.
I also really like River’s Rebuke for Nissa mirrors and against Mono-White Aggro. If you expect both decks to be popular, I’d suggest trimming on something else to add a second copy. Maybe the third The Immortal Sun? It’s just that good in these matchups!
Sultai Dreadhorde is a weird deck to me. I know it’s good against most Esper variants and is the best Command the Dreadhorde deck against aggressive strategies, but I just don’t like it. There’s something to be said about playing a graveyard strategy that also tries to use Nissa to ramp out a giant Hydroid Krasis. Again, I know it’s a fine deck, but there’s just something that keeps me from playing the “best” Sultai deck in this format and I can’t put my finger on what it exactly is.
That said, I do think I can say with confidence that this deck is a fine choice if you know it very well, but other than that I would steer clear of it for the rest of the format. It’s just okay and is lacking the “it” factor that will get you to where you want to go.
Arclight Phoenix Decks
There are two ways to build Izzet Phoenix right now. One way is to play Goblin Electromancer to fuel out copies of Radical Idea, Tormenting Voice, and Chart a Course. The other uses Augur of Bolas and four copies of Finale of Promise to fuel your firebirds.
It took me a very long time to come around to Augur of Bolas, but with the increase in Esper Control I believe that’s the route to take right now. Goblin Electromancer variants are much stronger in matchups where the little Goblin isn’t dying, and those matchups are becoming few and far between as Izzet Phoenix and Esper variants grow in popularity.
It might seem counterintuitive to lean harder on Finale of Promise against decks that play four Teferi, Time Raveler, but Augur of Bolas does a lot of good work in these matchups, as it’s nice chip damage against these planeswalkers. It’s also easier to justify dumping resources into killing these planeswalkers when you have more cards in hand.
All that said, I’d find a way to improve the Mono-White Aggro matchup, as it seems like that deck is on a very big upswing as of late.
- 3 Adanto Vanguard
- 4 Skymarcher Aspirant
- 4 Snubhorn Sentry
- 4 Benalish Marshal
- 4 Dauntless Bodyguard
- 4 Venerated Loxodon
- 4 Law-Rune Enforcer
- 1 Tomik, Distinguished Advokist
- 20 Plains
I’ve been playing this deck a lot on stream lately, and absolutely destroying people. It’s also worth noting that most of my higher-ranked opponents are also on this deck. I couldn’t think of a better suggestion for this week than this deck. It’s not the most difficult deck to hate against, but right now the decks are ignoring it the most than they ever have. It’s also true that Mono-Red Aggro is barely playable, which was one of the deck’s worst matchups. I don’t know if people will be prepared for this deck by the time it takes for me to write this article and get it to you, but if they haven’t, this is “the” deck to play right now.
I also highly suggest not splashing in this deck. Experimental Frenzy is great and all against Esper decks, but that’s really only in theory. When I see the red splash I know it’s safe to overload on Despark, as there’s now up to twelve targets for the spell in Venerated Loxodon, Experimental Frenzy, and some other odds and ends. This is huge, as there’s a big cost of splashing this card in other matchups when your mana is worse, and just the fact that you’ve slowed down your strategy by so much. Maybe I’ve just always adjusted correctly, but I have yet to see this red splash impress me.
Too Long; Didn’t Read
My top picks for this week:
1. Mono-White Aggro. I’m 21-3 in Ranked play with this deck, but rarely played versus Esper Hero variants.
2. Izzet Phoenix with Augur of Bolas and dedicated hate for Mono-White Aggro.
3. Stock Esper Hero, as I’m predicting that the Esper Control hype is just that.
4. Esper Control. I’m probably just wrong, and my bias towards not wanting to lose to this deck in Mythic Championship III is making me just hope it’s not the actual blade.
5. Bant Ramp. It’s the best Nissa deck right now, not close.
I wouldn’t play any other deck, as I believe they are all just a step behind these strategies. Again, I’d slam Sultai Dreadhorde if I knew I was against a sea of Esper, but I’m just not sold that’s the case anymore, even if the deck is being played by a lot of people in Mythic Championship III.
Remember, we MPL competitors love our Esper!
I hope this War of the Spark Standard analysis helped you out, but this will be my last article on this specific format. I’ll be back next week to talk about Mythic Championship III itself, but I’ll then have to shift my focus onto Mythic Championship IV and the new Standard format once Core Set 2020 drops. I loved this format for the longest time, but I’m really looking forward to some changes.
Wish me luck this weekend in Vegas! You won’t see me on Friday, as I’ve already moved on to the Top 16 thanks to my 7-0 record in League Play, but I will be a part of all the action in chat or on social media!