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Testing Esper Delver And Esper Control

GerryT has been trying out both Esper Delver and Esper Control in Standard for this weekend’s SCG Open Series: Baltimore featuring the Invitational. He also takes a look at G/R Tron in Modern.

Glenn Jones asked me if I thought Delver had been dethroned after its semi-poor performance at the SCG Open Series in Sacramento. I laughed in his face. It’s now my responsibility to make sure that everyone knows that Delver is back on top.

While testing for SCG Open Series: Baltimore featuring the Invitational this weekend, I happened to find a few Delver-based ideas I want to share. First and foremost, you have to realize that I’m more deathly afraid of G/R Aggro and B/X Zombies than anything. Going into the Invitational, I want to beat those mopey mid-range decks!

Removal sucks right now. You’re going to find yourself in a deep hole if you’re trying to one-for-one a bunch of decks with undying creatures, things that produce multiple threats like Huntmaster of the Fells, or things that come back like Gravecrawler.

I’ve been trying to find a way for Delver to sideboard in such a way that goes over the top of the mid-range decks like Zombies and R/G Aggro. Cards like Blade Splicer, Dungeon Geists, Batterskull, and Sun Titan do things that none of your other “smaller” cards can accomplish. In one fell swoop, any of the above cards can turn a game around.


You probably have some questions, such as: “Why Blade Splicer over Geist of Saint Traft?”

Well, one of them is good on offense and defense, while the other is miserable on defense. With my sideboard plan one of them is clearly better. Blade Splicer is very good against the aggro decks while still being passable against control. It’s also very good with your Images and against any opposing Image or Metamorph; you can take out the Golem with a Vapor Snag.

The second question is likely: “Why so many weird one-ofs in your maindeck?”

I like one-ofs, especially with a bunch of library manipulation. They have a Gideon holding the fort? Thankfully, I’m not drawing dead and can find my Oblivion Ring! Do I have no board, facing down three creatures? Maybe I can find my Batterskull.

Any number of one-ofs is probably fine in your deck if you can justify wanting it in a number of spots but not enough to risk drawing multiples. On top of that, most of my one-ofs work very well with my Sun Titan sideboard plan. I might have kept some of the one-ofs in the sideboard but didn’t have space. It all just works out better this way.

Another question might be: “Why Lingering Souls and no Drogskol Captains?”

Captain is bad once they can kill it or double copy it. It’s also not entirely relevant. Does Lingering Souls even need the help? It’s a good card on its own, and I didn’t feel like I needed Lords to make it better.

Against Zombies, I might sideboard like this:

In: 2 Sun Titan, 1 Batterskull, 1 Oblivion Ring, 1 Moorland Haunt, 1 Phantasmal Image, 3 Celestial Purge, 1 Unburial Rites

Out: 4 Delver of Secrets, 1 Vapor Snag, 1 Ratchet Bomb, 1 Gitaxian Probe, 1 Runechanter’s Pike, 2 Mana Leak

While Sun Titan can be risky against their Phantasmal Images, most of the time they won’t be expecting it. It’s not like the Zombie deck is going to hold their Images waiting for something better to come along. If both your boards are clear, I don’t see any reason not to run out a Sun Titan.

My plan against U/B Control involved tapping out on turn four, accomplishing very little, and baiting them into playing a Curse. If I had a Jace for a follow-up, they’d die.

Little known fact #1: I have literally never lost a game in which Jace, Batterskull, or Sun Titan resolved and didn’t die immediately.

Little known fact #2: Blade Splicer helps you get to that point. If Geist of Saint Traft dies, or hell, even when it lives sometimes, you won’t get to that point.

The next deck I tried was this:


Michael Jacob was overly scared of Image and Metamorph versus Sun Titan, and although I wasn’t convinced, I decided to give this a shot. He also said that Dungeon Geists didn’t do enough, and I mostly agreed.

It seemed like going “medium” instead of “bigger” or “smaller” might be fine. It felt like a normal Delver deck, except with more medium power level cards instead of higher variance awesome ones like Geist of Saint Traft. I was prolonging the game with my Blade Splicers, but they often had the better late game.

I was caught somewhere in the middle and didn’t like where I was. If I wanted to be hyper aggro, I probably should’ve been playing Geists and Spectral Flights, and if I wanted to be controlling, I could’ve built my deck like the first one.

From there, I tried Esper Control.


This is kind of a mix of my and MJ’s Five-Color Control deck from the last Invitational, Michael Hetrick take on the same archetype, Jeremy Neeman take on the archetype, and my experiences with Delver decks. I like Lingering Souls and I like Sun Titan, so it seemed natural for me to want to fill my graveyard. Faithless Looting is where I want to be. I’m not a maniac; I won’t force five colors if I don’t think I have to. Thought Scour and Forbidden Alchemy are good enough.

Once my graveyard is filled, Runechanter’s Pike seems like a decent way to kill them. Lingering Souls can be a slow clock depending on what they’re playing, so having a singular Pike seemed pretty nice. Again, you don’t want to draw too many, but having one seemed great. In practice, it was pretty good, but it would draw fire to my Batterskulls post-board that they might not have seen coming otherwise.

The only thing I didn’t like about this deck was the removal suite. Vapor Snag was still pretty good after I transformed post-board with Delver, so I wanted to try it in a control deck. It was actually solid because I didn’t care too much about killing every single thing they played. Eventually, a Titan or Batterskull would invalidate everything they had. I just needed time.

I could’ve probably done better, though. Tokens exists and will probably make a comeback, so the one Ratchet Bomb is staying. A second Go for the Throat wouldn’t be entirely out of line. Going forward, I’m not sure what removal package I would run for sure, but I wasn’t completely happy with the above list.

The last problem I had with the deck was fewer Forbidden Alchemy than I wanted. Three would’ve been great, and would be able to dig me into the long game, but I had too many three-drops. In retrospect, I would’ve been better off playing 61 cards with three Alchemy rather than sticking with two.

You need to dig through a bunch of cards each game and since with Sun Titan your graveyard is an extension of your hand, Alchemy is even better. Alchemy finds Sun Titan, which you basically need to win every game, and I should’ve played a third copy of him as well.

I was trying to build a lean, velocity-driven machine. Honestly, the deck was pretty good. However, I like the fact that Delver of Secrets can give me free wins in the other decks, and then I can transform (and then transform back) if I want to from the sideboard.

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If I play Delver, and in all likelihood I will, then I still have some work to do. Going big is probably a fine plan, but I might be able to find something better. Maybe the Sun Titan plan is just good or maybe I should hop on the Spectral Flight bandwagon.

One thing that is worth noting is that while playing with these decks on Magic Online, I wasn’t losing very much. The occasional W/B Token deck might get me when I was playing the mono-Pike version, as that’s about as bad of a matchup as you could get, but I was doing well. My rating was hovering around 1830 for about a week and a half, which is a solid amount of winning.

Normally I wouldn’t be satisfied with that, but these were prototypes! If I could replicate that success and add a few more percentage points here and there, I’d win all the matches!

I might point out every single flaw I see with every single decklist I post, but that’s only because I’m incredibly hard on myself. I strive for perfection and so should you. For me, there’s no worse feeling than playing in a tournament when you know your deck is mis-built.

***

Former Pro Tour and National Champion Charles Gindy won a Modern PTQ last weekend by casting Karn Liberated on turn 3! The list, for those who haven’t seen it yet:


That deck definitely looks crazy, so I’ll break it down for you. Assembling all three Urza lands by turn 3 is actually pretty easy. Any time you have two different Tron lands in your opener, you can find the third one with turn 1 Expedition Map or turn 1 Chromatic Star/Sphere followed by turn 2 Sylvan Scrying.

Barring that, you have Ancient Stirrings as a third search card that can also find a threat. If everything has gone wrong and you can’t find Tron, at least you have a healthy amount of cantrips. After that, it’s pretty easy to win. Suddenly, you’re playing Karn and Wurmcoil Engine in the same turn followed by a Mindslaver, which buys you enough time to set up the lock with Academy Ruins.

I think this deck is beautifully designed, and my respect for the deck designer is even higher since this is the first time I’ve seen anything remotely similar to this concept and it still looks finely tuned. Naturally, there are some things I’d like to explore.

Oblivion Stone/Pyroclasm/Repeal: Most lists already have an All Is Dust or two maindeck, but I’d like something a little cheaper. The deck can come from behind if you have Tron, but what about when you’re still searching? Pyroclasm seems like the best choice, but Oblivion Stone isn’t that bad either. If it had the All Is Dust text I’d like it a lot more, as I don’t really want to blow up my Prisms and Talismans.

Thirst for Knowledge / Harmonize: I know that this deck’s main goal is to Tutor for missing pieces and then start dropping bombs, but sometimes you run out of gas. There are also matchups that can be very grindy, and you want something to recoup cards or dig deep.

Maybe that just means sideboarding some hard card drawing so that you don’t need a Tutor for every Spreading Seas or Ghost Quarter they have, but I’m fine with that.

The mana base: I think we might be able to do better, even by incorporating another color. Grove of the Burnwillows is fine if you’re straight G/R, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play things like Tendo Ice Bridge. I also like incorporating a basic land even if it means cutting a Grove.

Decks like these could easily include a Ghost Quarter to Map or Scry for in order to fight the mirror match. The fact that these lists don’t have a basic makes Ghost Quarter even more appealing, especially in aggressive decks like Boros.

A way to fight other Tron decks: A single Ghost Quarter to search for is a great start, but is it at the point where we need to start playing Spreading Seas, Fulminator Mages, and Molten Rains? I certainly hope not because I enjoy my Tron decks! However, this deck might prove to be a little too unfun for people to just let it exist in the format.

Even though U/W Tron didn’t cause a backlash of hate, maybe this deck will. I’m thinking about playing Reap and Sow again. People already have Sowing Salt and Annex in their sideboards. This doesn’t seem healthy to me. Maybe it’ll just take some time for the Modern format to flesh out a bit.

***

See you this weekend in Baltimore!

GerryT

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