The Right Way To Start Esper Control In Guilds Of Ravnica Standard

The control mages have had to wait two whole days for Shaheen to analyze the entirety of Standard and bring them the Esper Control list they so desire!

We now have all the cards from Guilds of Ravnica to properly
prepare for the upcoming Standard. I tend to be cautious with prototype
decklists before sets are fully released, because a lot can change with
even a simple removal spell. Grasp of Darkness is a glorious reprint that
I’ve been rooting for the most as previews were released, but it won’t be
joining the team this time around. Dead Weight is the last removal spell
that popped up in the Esper shard world, and it won’t see much play from
yours truly. There are plenty of conditional removal spells that rest in
the two-cost column and we received a great one that happens to fall in the
wrong color.

Lava Coil is easily the best option for control decks if we’re ignoring the
color associated with the spell. Red gained the most assistance from Guilds of Ravnica in the manabase department, but will be losing
most of its control edge with rotation. A killer removal spell and Nicol
Bolas, the Ravager are the only powerful options in a color that I tend to
shy away from when building a control masterpiece. Dimir is the ideal base
of control after rotation and has received a great deal of help through
multicolor cards. Surveil is the new scry and helps make each of the new
multicolor cards fit right into control’s gameplan of incidentally hitting
land drops. The lack of a two-mana removal spell that answers everything
does sting, but the Dimir base can survive it by getting slightly creative.

Moment of Craving, Cast Down, Price of Fame, Essence Scatter, and Syncopate
are our best options on turn 2 at keeping the creatures at bay. We all knew
that Essence Scatter and Syncopate would rule the blue universe after
rotation, but many of us were hoping to have the power to slay two or
three-drops when falling behind on the draw. It’s not an accident that
-2/-2 from Moment of Craving isn’t quite enough to regularly bail us out,
but -3/-3 would have been great. As a result, the removal suite must
include a few copies of cards that many control enthusiasts aren’t very
happy with having in their maindeck.

Cast Down gained a great deal of control real-estate with the rotation of Kaladesh and Amonkhet, as the barrage of legendary and
indestructible creatures has slowed down to a point of disbelief. For so
long we were under the thumb of creatures that were just too tough to kill.
but it seems like those threats have passed. And though green still has a
few nightmarish hexproof creatures, we’ll be sure to pack some heat for
those corner case monsters. Cast Down can nab most early creatures across
the color wheel now and that makes me confidently add three to all my
maindeck black-based control decks. I ran two copies in the past, but I was
never excited about drawing them in many scenarios. Wizards of the Coast
typically knocks the design game ball out of the park with their
conditional removal spells, and this is no different. Cast Down started off
weak and gained power, just like Ultimate Price did years ago. Use it with

Although the legends have died down some, there are still a few scary ones
running around out there. Some multicolor legends from Guilds of Ravnica give me night terrors when the thought of their
survival for a few unopposed turns pops into my head. Boros is the pushed
aggressive deck from the Seattle-based R&D team, so we need to plan
accordingly. Price of Fame is a removal spell that has caught my eye, but
not many others. It has the mana cost that sends control players running to
the hills, but not me. Most of you know my love for expensive sorceries,
but I can’t turn my back on a costly instant. Price of Fame has a nifty
clause that makes it the best removal spell on the planet against opposing
legendary creatures. Two mana to destroy it and surveil 2?! That’s the
bargain of the century, but goes against the validation of Cast Down as our
staple removal spell. This is a metagame call and will live or die by the
threats around us. If Boros picks up steam as I suspect, Price of Fame will
gain some playability. Even at four mana, it isn’t the worst spell to draw
against most decks out there. The biggest issue with its mana cost drawback
is the slot being shared with Vraska’s Contempt. Our four-mana, exiling,
lifegain savior is still the top dog for the Dimir loyalists, so every list
will have to contain the maximum amount of copies.

Counterintuitive as it may be, lucky for us, Glimmer of Genius rotates, and
the four-mana slot frees up slightly. This is the justification I used to
toss a copy into my maindeck and punish aggressive opponents in the early
game and slay other creatures for full retail with a slightly bad taste in
my mouth.

We’re drowning in card draw options for all Dimir-based control decks. I
thought losing Glimmer of Genius would deal a killer blow to the control
caucus, but that isn’t the case. Read the Bones is one of the best control
draw spells that we’ve had in Standard in recent history and the printing
of Notion Rain comes at the perfect time. Although Glimmer of Genius is
amazing, I really enjoyed drawing cards on turn 3 instead of turn 4.
Surveil 2 followed by Divination is well worth the two life, and I will be
playing four copies in my initial control launch. The biggest deck building
struggle with Guilds of Ravnica is determining what other card
advantage outlets to utilize.

Search for Azcanta and Arguel’s Blood Fast are both still here and just as
good as ever. Search for Azcanta still remains the best maindeck option;
however, Arguel’s Blood Fast is a powerhouse against all decks that don’t
blitz you in the early game. These choices are joined by Radical Idea and
Discovery. Radical Idea isn’t my first choice and won’t be in my prototype
list, but there are some Think Twice fans out there that are stoked for it.
I was initially happy to see it as one of the first previews out there, but
much better ones have arrived.

Discovery hasn’t received the love it deserves, and I’m sure I’ll get hit
with some snarky commentary when I dish out the praise. Preordain at one
mana is revered as one of the best card draw spells of all-time, and it’s
just fine at two mana. The synergy between this much surveil and Search for
Azcanta is quite attractive and will give some starts a Modern feel.
Additionally, getting an additional mana source earlier than the usual turn
7 transformation from Search for Azcanta is going to turn the control tide.

The second half of Discovery is also decent and can bail us out in a pinch.
Returning the highest mana cost threat is usually the best option, and
Dispersal does exactly that. Five mana is pricy, but it being an instant
makes it palatable. I see it used earlier with card draw, but options are
what makes some cards control staples.

The last card draw spell that almost stole my heart is Chemister’s Insight.
This is another one of those we look at and immediately compare it to
Glimmer of Genius. Glimmer of Genius is still a better card, but
Chemister’s Insight provides any control mage an immediate fresh hand in
the lategame. Pitching a land later, or a redundant spell early, is worth
drawing a couple new cards. Glimmer of Genius was an expert at getting us
our fifth land, where this is a much scarier gamble on turn 4. That’s why
I’m leaning heavily on Notion Rain, Search for Azcanta, and Discovery as my
go-to card draw spells moving forward. Let’s see how it all comes together!

This new Esper Control fills me with excitement, my friends. It has a
little of that Kaladesh Standard flavor, but half of the deck is
brand new Guilds of Ravnica! The loss of Fatal Push and Glimmer of
Genius hurt, but the archetype will survive and grow much stronger when the
Azorius and Orzhov guilds join us next year. Even with just Dimir’s help,
Esper Control survives the rotation with just a small question mark around
the removal package of the early game. Cast Down must carry the lion’s
share of responsibility at the beginning of each game, and I believe it can
do it.

Fatal Push will go down in history as the premier removal spell for black,
and that’s an impossible torch for Cast Down to carry. We just need it to
keep us alive long enough and allow Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to lock up
the battlefield for team control. Moment of Craving has moved from a
sideboard card to a maindeck support spell for the unexplored metagame
we’re about to face. The lifegain attached makes it much better than Dead
Weight and will help offset the life loss from Notion Rain. It can also be
discarded to Chemister’s Insight, which allows for some maindeck
flexibility when starting narrow spells.

The countermagic has only gotten stronger with Sinister Sabotage at the
helm. Disallow was great, but Sinister Sabotage is better. That, joined by
Essence Scatter and Syncopate, are the best we can hope for in these dark
days of a creature-centered style of Standard play. Disdainful Stroke is a
wonderful reprint that will make its way home in every blue sideboard of
Standard. Typically a spell that torches control players, Disdainful Stroke
comes in to assist us in stopping planeswalkers from midrange decks that
laugh when we’re forced to use Negate after sideboarding. It’s one of those
spells that I wasn’t expecting see in this set, but I’m very happy it
showed up!

The win conditions of Esper Control took a giant hit from rotation with the
loss of Torrential Gearhulk. This has forced us into a Teferi, Hero of
Dominaria corner, which isn’t the end of the world. Many players used only
the planeswalker as a win condition, which was very effective with
white-based removal. In a deck like this, I feel the need to summon a large
Dragon to assist us in crushing the control competition, as well as having
a clean way to win outside of decking. Chromium, the Mutable is just as
hard to kill now as it was before, and the loss of Torrential Gearhulk
drastically dropped the average converted mana cost in control decks,
making the Dragon inclusion possible. The sideboard also has an array of
new win conditions, which includes our new Nightveil Specter, Thief of
Sanity. This replaces Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and is much better against the
mirror in my opinion.

Esper Control is far from dead, and the removal package will evolve with
the metagame. The counterspells are great, the planeswalker is still the
strongest card in the format, and the card advantage is plentiful. I’ll
work on other control shells from different shards soon, but this deck has
the best shot at making a splash in the new, exciting format that is about
to arrive!