Why Esper Control Can Stop The Monocolored Decks Of Core Set 2020 Standard

Shaheen Soorani hasn’t given up on Esper Control, even after the Week 1 results! If you’re brave enough to cast counterspells in the Standard seat at SCG Philadelphia, this is your last-minute must-read!

Mono-Red Aggro against Mono-Blue Aggro gives me a bit of old Standard nostalgia. The jokes flew at the beginning of the three-color fad, how the best decks ignored the sea of options and went with a twenty Mountain (or Island) strategy. The results of SCG Worcester don’t alarm me and Core Set 2020 Standard is in a better place than the vocal critics online think it is.

Mono-Red Aggro winning last weekend provides a huge advantage for the control fans out there. There weren’t many decks that control was beating prior to Core Set 2020 and that was due to the amount of Teferi, Time Raveler in each competitive deck. Control decks depend on countermagic to handle threats prior to them entering the battlefield because removing them often doesn’t undo the damage. With the amount of enters-the-battlefield triggers or immediate planeswalker activations, control has no choice but to counter nearly everything.

Teferi, Time Raveler made that deckbuilding path impossible, as counterspells became a liability in most matchups. The aggro decks were splashing the Azorius planeswalker, giving the edge back to the creatures yet again. Midrange decks became the most difficult to deal with because of their ability to hamstring our blue disruption with a cheap planeswalker and then follow up with deadly haymakers. Command the Dreadhorde was a common end-game card that brought back all the efficient planeswalkers from both graveyards, making the early-game struggle to deal with them irrelevant.

Control’s use of Teferi, Time Raveler goes without saying, but luckily that usually isn’t the end of the world. The mirror became a rush to resolve any number of planeswalkers, with each one being equally powerful. That is the reality we live in when two control powerhouses clash, but fortunately there aren’t many of us left in Core Set 2020 Standard. With the mirror out of sight and the metagame at its most aggressive level, control has a real shot to dominate in this new format.

All the successful decks outside of Esper Hero have ditched the Azorius colors, making Teferi, Time Raveler an afterthought. It will still exist in the metagame because of how powerful it is, but it will not be a dominant force for the new few weeks. Looking at the Top 25 lists from SCG Worcester, only a couple of Esper Hero and one Bant Ramp made it. Although control has struggled mightily these last few months, it has always maintained its strong matchup against the Hero of Precinct One version.

If the only deck with Teferi, Time Raveler to beat is Esper Hero, I’m ready to take on the format with control once again. I also switched to the midrange version as counterspells became unplayable, but now it’s time to return to Absorb and take on this aggressive rush of creatures that plagued the first week of Core Set 2020 Standard.

I told Cedric this week that I would try my best to delve into a non-Esper control deck and I failed. There are some sweet Jeskai Control brews that are floating in my head, but the Open results shoved me back into Oath of Kaya. After the Mythic Championship next week, every ounce of my being will be pushed into research and development at Control, Inc. Don’t worry, boss, a new one will hit the front pages soon.

In the meantime, a list like this is where I want to be in a hyper-aggressive field like we witnessed last weekend. The most obvious return we must address is Essence Scatter, which is still in Standard to help us out for a little while longer. Essence Scatter had become a thing of the past and unplayable in Standard with the wave of blue planeswalkers that hit us in War of the Spark. I went back and forth with Syncopate here, but Essence Scatter is better-suited to handle the workload ahead of us.

The powerful decks of Core Set 2020 Standard have returned to a creature-centered strategy, which allows us to dust off some of our weapons of the past. Essence Scatter gives us the power to dominate creature decks on the play, as well as have answers to the more problematic creatures that have enters-the-battlefield triggers. This centers on the entire Temur Elementals deck but also hits Champion of Dusk, preventing Orzhov Vampires from getting too far ahead to catch.

The rest of the top decks in Standard are all vulnerable to the two-mana hard counter, even though most of them pack some planeswalker backup. If that planeswalker isn’t Teferi, Time Raveler, I’m confident in the counterspell split in the list above. Absorb must remain as the glue that holds Esper Control together, as we have all seen what happens to the archetype when all counterspells are abandoned for a tap-out build.

Boros Feather, Mono-Blue Aggro, Mono-Red Aggro, Orzhov Vampires, and Temur Elementals are the decks that this build of Esper Control has in its crosshairs. These matchups aren’t easy to take down by any means, but building a control deck with an anti-aggro mindset these days will have positive results. Esper Control will still be a favorite against Esper Hero and a dog to Simic Nexus; however, a world with one-drop creatures can be easily managed by the best control shard out there.

Unfortunately, the Kaya’s Wrath and Cry of the Carnarium split is a must in today’s Standard. For the metagame reasons mentioned earlier, Esper Control must be built to survive much earlier than in previous metagames. The benefit of Cry of the Carnarium is it hits more than it misses. The Gruul Aggro decks have been wiped out, leaving the toughness average of creatures quite low. Temur Elementals is where it’s at its most embarrassing, so a third Kaya’s Wrath for one of the Cry of the Carnarium could be a reasonable swap if your local metagame is filled with Risen Reef fans.

The rest of the main deck resembles the Esper Control of old, but you may notice my favorite card from Core Set 2020 snuck in there. Drawn from Dreams is the real deal for control decks and I wrote about this card extensively during preview season. The card is as awesome as I wanted it to be, even if control flops until rotation. After the loss of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, we’re all going to have to get creative on how we build control decks. Having a powerful card draw spell that avoids Narset, Parter of Veils will be a crucial piece to that puzzle. In the meantime, the card is great and deserves a spot in any control deck.

I have seen appearances here and there online as Drawn from Dreams makes its way through the Bant Midrange decks. The upside of having it and Teferi, Time Raveler together is too attractive to pass up. Decks that are built around flash are incentivized to give it a shot, as it would put most games away if cast at end of turn on a relatively clear battlefield. Taking the best two out of seven cards is something that I have yearned to do again for quite some time and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have.

The sideboard is where Esper Control really makes its mark in the Core Set 2020 Standard. I have hated Thief of Sanity for many months, only keeping it around because of its overwhelming support in the competitive community. I usually don’t stay in the mainstream, especially if I find a card abhorrent, but this was a tough one to cut.

There were some games it would run away with back in the day, but those games became fewer as time passed. Even with the surprise factor gone, I thought I was playing it incorrectly, since it ended up costing me matches more often than taking them down. It turns out Thief of Sanity became actively bad after the cheap planeswalkers took command and I’m glad they have been removed from the tournament scene.

What we have left is a sideboard of answers, which is reminiscent to older formats. These color hosers cards are very powerful instants, making them an easy inclusion moving forward. Aether Gust is everything I want in an answer to scary red and green cards, helping with planeswalker threats after sideboard. Even lights-out cards that are uncounterable can be dealt with by this premier answer.

Gruul colors have been the toughest for Esper Control to handle in the last few months. Aether Gust is more than a silver bullet for a few problematic cards, but instead a powerful three-of to fire off at any spell these decks can throw at you.

As much as I like Aether Gust, Noxious Grasp brings home the bacon on a regular basis. The most difficult planeswalkers to answer are usually white, which makes this instant-speed answer another great addition to a control sideboard. Having access to both gives you a broad array of sideboarding options in Core Set 2020 Standard, but the stars align against green enemies. Having all these cheap, powerful hate cards come in against the same deck has been very good. The sideboard is a bit removal-heavy as a reaction to the most recent competitive tournament, but the hate cards are here to stay.

The sideboard is rounded out by Commence the Endgame, which has filled the mandatory sideboard slot to help fight against grindy midrange and control decks. Even though decks of either style are tough to spot these days, you will encounter them a couple of times in a tournament. Bringing in an armada of one-for-ones can leave your hand light in the late-game. Commence the Endgame is a phenomenal punishment card for those who took out their removal. It gets around countermagic, occurs at the end of turn, and produces card advantage. We may not have Torrential Gearhulk in today’s Standard, but this spell gives a similar effect in the matchups that we desperately need it to.

This may be the last entry of Esper Control if I get my clock cleaned in testing these next few weeks. I have some big plans in the works for Jeskai Control, but I do think that this list can do some damage if the aggressive metagame continues for a few more weeks.

While there are one-drops everywhere, Esper Control is the better choice.