For the recent November Zendikar Rising League Weekend, the testing team I was a part of for this event (Emma Handy, Matt Sperling, Jess Estephan, Allison Warfield) all ended up playing Esper Doom Foretold (Yorion). Whilst my own personal result was not great, thanks to some misplays on Day 1 and some run-bads on Day 2, the team overall did very well, making me feel good about the work we put into the list.
For the most part I was very happy with this list, though there are some changes I would advocate for. The first big question, though, is why we played Esper Doom Foretold.
In testing we found that Doom Foretold decks with Yorion, Sky Nomad in general felt quite favoured against Gruul Adventures, which was very much the deck to beat going into last weekend. This is because sweepers and an array of cheap removal are great at slowing down Gruul’s aggressive draws, whilst Doom Foretold and Elspeth Conquers Death help clean up the expensive permanents they try and pivot into when games get grindy. Provided The Great Henge is kept off the table, nothing they do can really compete with Yorion blinking a couple of permanents on your side of the battlefield.
Esper gets the nod over Mardu and Orzhov here for a few reasons. Omen of the Sea is huge for helping make your 80-card deck as consistent as possible, whilst Mystical Dispute and Shark Typhoon help a lot against Dimir Rogues in particular. Having access to countermagic is also just quite powerful in Yorion pseudo-mirrors, and whilst I suspect you can build the nonblue Doom Foretold decks to be able to compete despite lacking countermagic (something I’d like to explore in the coming weeks), ultimately Esper just has a lot going for it over other colour combinations, such that it’s understandable to be drawn towards it.
Esper Doom Foretold is a control deck built around being able to take advantage of building up a battlefield of various permanents that provide their value to you upfront and then can be sacrificed to Doom Foretold or blinked with Yorion. To this end, having Yorion as your companion is incredibly powerful as your deck is built to take advantage of the card and, being a control deck, all your cards feel quite redundant, making the increased deck size not feel like it’s hurting you too much.
These are your best tools to be blinking with Yorion, and whilst I had the fourth copy of Elspeth Conquers Death in my sideboard for the League Weekend, I now believe that playing fewer than four copies of any of these in your maindeck is just a mistake. Omen of the Sea provides you with consistency and longevity, Elspeth’s Nightmare is good against almost everyone even at its floor of being a delayed Duress that can be rebought with a blink, and Elspeth Conquers Death answers many scary permanents whilst threatening to bring back Yorion if games go long.
Keep the timing on your Sagas in mind when you’re deciding when to cast them. If you’re not hugely invested in getting the Saga’s third mode, then ideally you want to be casting a Saga the turn before you’d cast a Doom Foretold or Yorion in order that the Saga can either be blinked or sacrificed before it would leave the battlefield.
These blink targets are all a bit more awkward in some ways, though high-upside in the right spots. Treacherous Blessing’s life-loss effect is scary enough that you don’t want to draw multiple copies of the card, but Doom Foretold gives you a way to get rid of the card once it’s on the battlefield, and the fact that Yorion is allowed to blink Blessing feels obscene when you do it.
Mazemind Tome is very slow, yet very powerful in long, drawn-out games, especially with Yorion resetting counters on it; that said, be aware that sometimes working towards the lifegain may actually be worth more to you than getting those extra scrys or draws that resetting the counters provides.
Meanwhile Skyclave Apparition is borderline obnoxious in how it strips opposing permanents of their text boxes as it gets blinked, and leaves behind tokens that won’t help your opponent pay the Doom Foretold tax, but the card’s weakness to Stomp and Elspeth’s Nightmare is unfortunate, so whilst I wouldn’t play fewer than four copies, I’m not surprised to see people who do.
These options are all more suspect. There’s no matchup I’m truly excited about Omen of the Sun in, but you kind of just need some lifegain to offset the pain from Treacherous Blessing and to help claw you out of Stomp range in the late-game. Glass Casket is fine to blink, especially when you’ve been gifting your opponent Illusion tokens to target with the Casket, but its weakness to Disenchant effects and opposing Apparitions is unfortunate.
Whilst I’m willing to apologise for these two cards, and intend to keep playing them for the time being, The Birth of Meletis is just bad and I don’t want that card in my deck anymore. The 0/4 Wall token it provides lines up poorly against both Gruul Adventures and Dimir Rogues, you have to slow-roll the card if you want it to line up with Doom Foretold or Yorion, and it just feels underpowered and awkward in general.
To that end, I’m interested in The Birth of Meletis being replaced with more two-mana cantrips to compliment Omen of the Sea. A lot of people play Golden Egg to power up Dance of the Manse, but I personally don’t like Dance very much; it’s weak to opposing graveyard hate such as Scavenging Ooze and Elspeth’s Nightmare, it can be awkward to set up, and if you want to get 4/4s out of it, then you have to pay a colossal amount of mana in a deck that already just has great late-game without this extra assistance. The ceiling on Dance is incredible, but it comes with very real costs and a disappointing floor.
If I’m not playing Dance, I think Lithoform Blight may be slightly better than Golden Egg since it triggers Archon of Sun’s Grace, a card I want to add back into my deck, and has additional upside in being able to shut down opposing utility lands like Castle Locthwain and Crawling Barrens whilst not randomly dying to Embereth Shieldbreaker.
I don’t think Archon of Sun’s Grace is a particularly exciting card. It’s often a bit slow and rarely lines up well against the best draws from your opponents. That said, I think I underestimated its ability to help you pivot and attack from multiple angles, so I have a renewed interest in the card as a result. Having a couple more creatures is also just helpful for ensuring Elspeth Conquers Death has something to return. I don’t want a large number of Archons for now, but I do want some, and considering most of the removal spells that hit Archon would also kill Yorion anyway, I think it’s fine to maindeck them.
Dream Trawler was fine for me throughout the League Weekend, but it costs a lot of mana in the world of Mystical Dispute, so I think I’ve largely lost interest in the card as a result. I am much more excited about Baneslayer Angel due to how well it lines up against both Embercleave and Questing Beast, cleanly answering two of the scariest threats Gruul Adventures can pose, and me cutting it from the sideboard is more just an indication that the Gruul Adventures matchup is already quite good rather than any commentary on Baneslayer Angel itself.
Emeria’s Call is unbelievable in this deck and I firmly believe anyone playing fewer than four copies of this in Esper Doom Foretold is just incorrect, as the card helps you close games much more quickly in the late-game for fairly minimal cost. If you’re scared of paying life for it, you can usually find time to sneak it down as a tap-land. Hagra Mauling is much less impressive, and I think the rate on it is just a bit too bad to be including it in a deck like this that already has plenty of removal anyway.
With all this in mind, this is how I’d look to build Esper Doom Foretold moving forward:
VS Gruul Adventures
This matchup is quite favourable for you. Due to the deck’s popularity, we’re effectively pre-sideboarded for the Gruul Adventures matchup. Treacherous Blessing can be scary to cast against them, so swapping one out for a Negate is fine, and I might even go as far as to swap out a second Treacherous Blessing for the sideboard Mazemind Tome when I’m on the draw.
Priority number one, for the first few turns, is ensuring you have a plan for The Great Henge; if I don’t have the ability to swiftly remove it with Doom Foretold or Elspeth Conquers Death, I’ll put a lot of effort into killing creatures that would allow that card to resolve. Having a plan for Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate also matters, which can sometimes be as simple as resolving an early Yorion, Sky Nomad with a removal spell ready in hand to clear away the defensive reach 3/3 that a Vivien would bring along with her.
Beyond that point your focus is simply survival, which a lot of the time means having a plan for each of Embercleave, Questing Beast, and a Brushfire Elemental in tandem with a Fabled Passage should your opponent draw into any of these. Sometimes this means holding back creatures on defense, sometimes prioritising getting creatures onto the battlefield or trying to hold open a Heartless Act for as long as possible. In the late-game, even just using a Doom Foretold to discard your opponent’s final card can prevent them from assembling lethal combinations of cards, especially considering Gruul Adventures’s reliance on landfall triggers.
However, if you don’t think you can actually survive a few turns of your opponent getting to topdeck because your hand is weak and so many things will kill you, then be willing to expose yourself to risks by turning the corner and attacking with your Yorion a few times. Some games you’ll be able to lock your opponent out of the game with a plethora of card advantage, but other games will be scrappier and require you to end things quickly.
A common play pattern when you’re on the draw is to not use your Eliminate or Heartless Act on a Brushfire Elemental or Edgewall Innkeeper because of the Elspeth’s Nightmare in your hand, instead taking some damage or letting your opponent trigger the Innkeeper so that you can kill your opponent’s three-mana play instead. In exchange for some life points, your removal spells will line up better; meanwhile, when you tap out for your Elspeth’s Nightmare, you don’t risk your opponent untapping and resolving a copy of The Great Henge. Also of note, Elspeth’s Nightmare is a really key card in the matchup for its ability to answer Embercleave and The Great Henge ahead of schedule, since either of those cards resolving will often net your opponent meaningful advantage before you can untap and remove them.
VS Dimir Rogues
The details of your sideboarding will change a bit depending on what build of Dimir Rogues your opponent is on. In particular, I like Negate a lot against really counterspell-heavy Shark Typhoon builds, but think that the Lurrus builds force you to tap your mana low more often, which can make it harder to hold instants open reliably. Against a more counterspell-heavy version I’d look to be lighter on creature removal as a result in order to accommodate these. Just as your sideboarding will lightly shift depending on the details of your opponent’s list, so too will how favoured you are; I feel lightly ahead against Lurrus builds, lightly behind against Shark Typhoon builds, and a little further behind still if my opponent is playing Zareth San, the Trickster.
The gameplan here varies a lot. In games where your opponent doesn’t draw Into the Story or has more of a beatdown draw, you get to play the control role, removing your opponent’s threats, getting two-for-ones and setting up to be better positioned in the long-game. If your opponent resolves an Into the Story, despite your best attempts to discard it or counter it, then sometimes you just have to try to end the game. Whilst it’s not easy to accomplish this, I’ve certainly had Rogues opponents die after resolving two Into the Stories because I pivoted into attacking with Yorion, Archon, and Angel tokens a bit earlier than I might have otherwise.
Whilst Elspeth Conquers Death is a pretty bad card in the matchup in general, remember that in Game 1 it will often represent a Yorion or Archon, albeit after a two-turn wait, thanks to your opponent milling you so much. Also, whilst cycling the card is often good enough, don’t underestimate the power of hard-casting your Shark Typhoons in this matchup if you can find an opening. as your opponent’s deck will be very bad at removing this card from the battlefield.
VS Esper Doom Foretold (Yorion)
The final couple cuts are up for debate. Extinction Event starts to look a bit better if you opponent has Dream Trawler or is high on Archon. Glass Casket is helpful if your opponent is really high on Typhoon as you get to exile a token and then blink it later on.
I default to leaving Omen of the Sun in over these other options if I have no strong feelings on what is best, as if you blink it once or twice and your opponent doesn’t have sweepers in anymore, that sometimes works out to be quite threatening, though I could buy that maybe you’re meant to default to having Glimpse of Freedom in just as a cycler instead. Omen of the Sun is absolutely the card I’d trim if I’m looking towards having any of these other options instead.
Regardless of all this, I don’t want Doom Foretold in my deck; it will often hurt you just as much as your opponent since you’re both built to be able to withstand the card decently, and sometimes your Doom Foretold even helps your opponent by fueling their graveyard if they’re playing Dance of the Manse in their lists.
The mirror is a real grind. Priority number one is get as many two-for-ones as possible. Priority number two is keeping your opponent’s battlefield clean so as to make them resolving a Yorion as manageable as possible; I Skyclave Apparition opposing Omen of the Seas aggressively with this in mind. Priority number three is managing your Elspeth Conquers Deaths, which generally means being the last person to resolve theirs since the second Elspeth Conquers Death gets to exile the one that came before it; this management is important partially because Elspeth Conquers Death getting blinked by Yorion is so back-breaking, and partially because the threat of a Yorion being returned from your opponent’s graveyard is also terrifying.
Shark Typhoon is a weird card in the mirror, as unlike against Dimir Rogues resolving this enchantment isn’t always game over; in fact, resolving Typhoon only to have it exiled by an opposing Elspeth Conquers Death is a painful sequence. That said, these games go on a long time, and if you’ve made sure with a discard spell that your Typhoon won’t be rapidly removed, then resolving it is a great way to go far over the top of your opponent. If you think casting Typhoon is going to be too risky for the foreseeable future, then instead making a large Shark is very respectable since there’s so little removal left in on either side of the table.
VS Mono-Green Food
I hate this matchup, and think you’re clearly unfavoured thanks to all the hard-to-remove card advantage engines they have and how sticky their threats are. Between Trail of Crumbs; The Great Henge; Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate; Wicked Wolf; and Feasting Troll King, your various exile effects are extremely taxed, and Witch’s Oven even gets to be added to this list too due to its ability to protect the Troll.
This list is not really configured with this matchup in mind, so if the deck picks up popularity, some retooling might be necessary; this would likely involve more redundancy on answers for their sticky threats, some more exile-based removal, and possibly something Disenchant-esque. For now prioritise finding copies of Skyclave Apparition and Elspeth Conquers Death off your scrys and look to keep your opponent’s battlefield in check such that they can’t easily resolve The Great Henge, since that card is even scarier in their deck than it is in Gruul Adventures.
I hope this article serves you well, and good luck to anyone looking to Foretell some Doom and blink in some value!