Hero of Precinct One was almost resurrected by my good pal Alexander Hayne at Mythic Championship VII. He was confident that his build of Esper Control, utilizing a single copy of the renowned two-drop, was enough to take down a field containing the best in the world. I had similar success with Esper Hero prior to that Mythic Championship, but I was running a few more copies of the namesake token producer.
There has been something missing to put Hero back to its former glory; Teferi, Hero of Dominaria venturing off created a huge deficit in the late-game. Bolas’s Citadel is still powerful enough to destroy worlds with a bit of lifegain and now Gray Merchant of Asphodel is back, but it all boils down to hitting land drops while applying a touch of early-game pressure.
Hero of Precinct One is the total package for a control deck early on. I find myself wishing for an opponent response that isn’t Stomp, and if it’s avoided, the game immediately gets difficult for the opponent. Other removal spells can handle Hero of Precinct One easily, but it is the threat attached that makes it much more painful. Even if our Hero is taken out right away, often the opponent must use resources on their own turn to make that happen.
The lacking piece of true control is the weakness of counterspells in Standard, which can be mitigated by producing must-answer threats. Thought Erasure is still one of the best early plays in the format and Dovin’s Veto is not too shabby either. When you start to toy with more expensive counters, a truly punishing Teferi, Time Raveler swoops in to teach you the ultimate lesson. Between the weakness of recent counterspells and the existence of a shutdown planeswalker, it is best to lead off with proactive disruption.
Hero of Precinct One requires a little help from the deckbuilding side to achieve maximum strength. Multicolored cards are a must and that does hinder the design room control enthusiasts have when building around it. Luckily for us, Ashiok, Nightmare Muse and Gray Merchant of Asphodel have arrived to save us from the Teferi, Hero of Dominaria void that can finally be filled.
I wrote an article on the potential of Ashiok, Nightmare Muse and that was all well and good until Gray Merchant of Asphodel was previewed. This will completely change how I build a deck around Bolas’s Citadel, which is the perfect combination for an Esper Hero deck. With cards like Oath of Kaya and Basilica Bell-Haunt, Gray Merchant of Asphodel has the requisite black symbols to come on in and save the day. The amount of life drawn from the returning King of Devotion can propel Bolas’s Citadel to a new tier of power. Outside of the Basilica Bell-Haunt option, another four-drop has arrived to make things interesting.
Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths is one of those cards that immediately piques my interest. It’s a multicolored spell in the Esper shard that produces card advantage and a threat. These benefits all stacked into one card is strong enough and it also fits perfectly into the mana curve of the newly forming Esper Hero deck of the future.
Black mana symbols that stay on the battlefield are going to be huge for this deck devoted to the Bolas’s Citadel gods. Atris contains one of those coveted symbols and the rest of the cost is easy on the manabase. Basilica Bell-Haunt and Artis will be simple to summon together, so that makes deckbuilding that much easier. Due to it being a legendary creature, I do not plan on running more than a complementary two. Regardless of the direction of Esper Hero, Atris will have a role to play for many more reasons than its castability.
There are plenty of card advantage options that can be used in the four-drop slot, but they lack some of the power that Atris has. Hitting land drops is very important in Esper Hero and snagging a cantrip off an Elite Guardmage can be a bit of a gamble. Atris gives you three looks at necessary land, and it will often be provided to you in the two-card pile.
I have played hundreds of matches with Fact or Fiction and I’ve learned a few things about this effect. Opponents are often going to overvalue the most damaging spell in the bunch, when really the control player just wants to pocket more lands. This was the case with Jace, Architect of Thought as well. The potent planeswalker of old might as well have produced two land as its first ability, because that was the common effect on the first turn. As games get longer and the mana situation is solved, the desired effect of Atris will be a tad closer to Elite Guardmage.
Digging three cards deep for a threatening spell is quite the mind game with this creature. Depending on the opponent’s confidence in their bluff, they may produce a face-up bombshell, accompanied by a decent spell, but drop a complete dud face-down. This scenario could come up when there are one or two spells that would decimate the opponent. If the opponent is familiar with your deck, or this is a sideboarded game, then the mind games are in full swing. This play can happen; however, I think it will be rarer. Often, the opponent will toss a face-up card by itself that kind of hurts, with less threatening options face down. I’m very excited to see the gameplay on Atris and how much gamble the opponents will have in them.
A significant result of the card advantage engine is the impact on the graveyard. Having cards go into the graveyard, instead of the bottom of the library, allows for additional synergies that Esper Hero rarely had before. Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord was entertaining in the deck, but I’m thinking big here. With the escape mechanic on the horizon, it is time to keep a mental record of cards that will fuel it with ease. Atris effortlessly fills the graveyard with one or two cards that were not selected when cast. There are other graveyard-based cards that could find a role in control decks with the help of cards like this that require no additional work in graveyard preparation.
Not only does Atris provide a mini-game as its card advantage engine, it’s a powerful threat on its own. The menace attached allows for Atris to pressure planeswalkers at a better rate than Elite Guardmage on most battlefields. Menace is an ability that control folks don’t get to wield often, but here it is for the purpose of taking away enemy loyalty. The two toughness is kind of a bummer, but at least Artis will have provided valuable card advantage before it gets easily killed. It, and the other creatures in the deck, are just target fodder for the opponent prior to the resolution of Bolas’s Citadel.
The final attribute that could come up big, depending on future previews, is the “enters the battlefield” trigger. Instants and sorceries come and go, but these types of effects can be harnessed for additional power. Returning them from the graveyard, removing and returning them from the battlefield, and tossing it off a Bolas’s Citadel with the knowledge of the next card gives Atris an edge on a typical spell.
As previously mentioned, Gray Merchant Asphodel is likely the direction that Esper Hero is headed. Permanents are more valuable than spells in a deck based on devotion, making Atris the best option for hitting the fifth and sixth land drops. As more previews come out of Theros Beyond Death, we should consider items that would enhance this new Esper Hero deck. Having Tyrant’s Scorn / Oath of Kaya as removal, Thought Erasure / Dovin’s Veto as disruption, and now all these great new permanents to add to the old, Esper Hero should be considered one of the decks to beat.
If counterspells are flimsy and Teferi, Time Raveler exists, I recommend my control colleagues stay aggressive. Even if you’re not a fan of Hero of Precinct One, Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths can produce the cards and pressure required to be competitive. Worst case scenario, drop it onto the battlefield, draw some cards, return it with Teferi, Time Raveler, and have a great time. The available synergies that exist with Atris are already abundant and I can’t wait for the new Standard to try it!