The final class was attended and final exams have finished. The end result is a master's degree in Education, which didn't take me too long to add to my resume outside of the Magic world. Next up is a PhD if all goes well, but that is clearly going to have to be done in a way that doesn't affect my precious Magic playing. I am a driven man and I love to go after goals in life with full steam, unless it means all the fun gets pushed aside. Patrick Sullivan said it best when chatting with Cedric a while back on one of the older Open Series events when he declared that the pair will be playing Magic for life. "We are on the older side, both above thirty, but that doesn't faze me one bit. Magic is the greatest game in the world, and I look forward to beating up some 22 year old when I'm old (older) and gray." My playing time may decrease a little as I dive into the additional graduate courses, but my fantastic readers will still have the latest control brew and updates delivered to them on a regular basis.
More Open Series tournaments, Worlds, PPTQs, and various other tournaments have passed since we've chatted last. Inevitably, control decks have to adapt to the metagame in order to stay competitive. Esper Control is so easy to alter in response to the newest big decks that I'm sure many of you have already begun the process without my directives here on SCG. Jeskai Tokens has taken off as the premier aggro deck online and in live play, which happened to be my loss in the finals of the SCG Open in Richmond. For those who watched the match or read my last article, you know that the variance was not in my favor for that specific matchup. The aggro matchup for Esper Control is horrendous, and I'll be the first to admit it--except for Jeskai Tokens. Jeskai Ascendancy Combo, burn, and creature-heavy versions all fall fairly easily to Esper because of the power of countermagic against them. The reason why Mono-Red and decks in that clubhouse are so tough for us is because by the time a Dissolve is online, there are already two to three permanents out. Jeskai Tokens simply doesn't work that efficiently, and in return they receive powerful lategame reach from their burn toolbox.
Fighting Against Evil
As more people turn to Siege Rhino, Esper Control gains power. Siege Rhino and Butcher of the Horde are some of the scariest cards to face, but only when you're not packing as much heat as we are. Esper Control crushes these threats in such an efficient manner that I beg for the opportunity to play them each and every round. There are times where Abzan Midrange draws threat after threat to overload their control opponent, but the vast majority of the time they are one or two blank draws away from an instant loss.
I was listening to a little CEDTalks and they mentioned that I was playing four of the card I complained about on Twitter in End Hostilities. This is true. I'm not happy with End Hostilities, and I don't think that a four-mana sweeper would change the format drastically by destroying midrange, but I am more worried about a precedent going forward to be perfectly honest, because if this WOTC trend continues, then the days of cheap removal may be over. Control will survive using a more expensive board sweep, just like it did when Hallowed Burial was the only option. The concern of the future rests heavy with each new set, and I hope R&D doesn't abandon Wrath of God, Damnation, Supreme Verdict, Day of Judgment, or any other card that has a similar effect and mana cost. End Hostilities is fantastic against the midrange decks and the world knows it. The metagames will continue to be saturated with decks that take advantage of the powerful creatures that are available and clutter the board without any repercussion.
The Whip of Erebos decks are on the rise, but they're not scary at all. Their deck is just as weak to mass removal even with a card that uses the graveyard to claw back into a match. I upped the Utter End count to two to help battle the enchantment/artifact, which alone was enough to put me in the win column most of the time. The big issue for them is that Whip of Erebos and Pharika, God of Affliction are the only scary cards against us. With only two threats, Esper can be very liberal with the use of Thoughtseize/Despise, Dissolve, powerful planeswalkers, and if one of those sneaks in, Utter End handles business. Play this matchup with confidence and keep on sweeping my friends.
The first match I played when I returned from the Richmond Open was an Esper Control mirror online that was packing the same 75. I won that match luckily and had a proud chip on my shoulder, not from the victory in the match, but knowing that this control trend may pick up steam. I have seen Esper Control all over the place online, live play results in my local area, and even on a VS Video with BBD and CVM. I don't mind that CVM beat the tar out of BBD, but I do wish he was playing the newest version without old Ashiok, the Stinker in the maindeck.
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver was much better in the Sultai Walkers deck that had early blockers for defense, but in a control shell it's just not very good. There are some matchups where I want it still, which is the reason for its place in the sideboard. Decks like Abzan Midrange or control mirrors still warrant a little Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver to put early pressure on. Abzan has to use their precious Hero's Downfalls or Utter Ends that won't be killing the real planeswalker threats later. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver doesn't get it done against decks that play spells in the earlygame or decks that have a light creature package with burn. There are variants of Abzan, Mardu, Temur, and Jeskai that the early planeswalker can't take down. In my last article, I discussed some of the other weaknesses of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, but it can too powerful against Abzan to cut it completely. I did drop the number in the board to two, because it has become so matchup specific that I can't afford too many dedicated slots to the already good matchup.
There aren't too many updates to the deck besides a complete abandonment of cards only good against Mono-Red. Some matchup details can be found in my previous piece, but the gist is we get murdered pretty easily by aggressive red decks. I originally cut the Pharika's Cures from the sideboard, leaning solely on Bile Blight, Drown in Sorrow, and Sorin, Solemn Visitor to hopefully dig us from a deathbed life total. I've tried too long to make control beat everything, but the red decks are just too hard to sideboard against because of how different they are from the other aggro decks of the format.
So what can we do to have a shot against red and still use that sideboard card for other matchups? This mental exercise ranged from Seeker of the Way to Gray Merchant of Asphodel, trying to somehow gain life in a way that wasn't as narrow as Pharika's Cure or Nyx-Fleece Ram. It finally hit me...
That's the one! It does everything in a control deck in this format that you want an anti-aggro sideboard card to do. After sideboard, Esper Control packs eight board sweepers that produce victory if the life total is adequate. Raise the Alarm is the best two-mana preview to a Drown in Sorrow. It blocks two creatures, or a best case scenario would be it kills two creatures. Many of the one drops in Mono-Red have one toughness, so dropping a couple soldiers at instant speed can do a lot of damage. If you're on the play Pharika's Cure is probably a tad bit better, but on the draw it's no contest. Cure gains and negates the damage from the second creature, but Raise the Alarm has the chance to kill multiple creatures. If your hand is Raise the Alarm and Hero's Downfall, you can double block to kill a rare two-toughness creature and still untap and remove the last threat.
The versatility that flash tokens give control players brings us another dimension. Did I mention that it kills your opponent too? Flashing in soldiers, untapping and playing a Sorin, Solemn Visitor gives your opponent an Elspeth, Sun's Champion preview. It's the play I've been searching for and the beneficial scenarios are plentiful. The one reason why I'd even consider this Mono-Red hate is because it's good against most of the decks out there. I'd bring this card in against Jeskai/Mardu Tokens, Mono-Black Aggro, and the control mirror. When our opponents are forced to leave in Bile Blight for Raise the Alarm and tokens leftover from the planeswalker, we shall have the last laugh!
Fighting Against Good
With the popularity of Esper on the rise, control decks are beginning to put up results, and with the increase of Magic tournament attendance, we have to have a plan for the mirror match. I've often said that sideboarding for the control mirror is the most important step to winning, more so than any other aspect. Every time I win a control mirror online or live, I can point out card choices that I would have left in the sideboard and other cards that I would have taken out in a heartbeat. I play a very dangerous game in this control mirror dance, and I have to warn you guys that trying this at home may result in a wave of victories against any of your friends that didn't read this article.
Go all in with no defense. Cut all the End Hostilities, Nullifies, or whatever narrow card you have in the control mirror if there is anything that actually has an impact on the other portion of a control player's plan. This may sound like common sense, but everyone always leaves in a couple of answers to big threats like Prognostic Sphinx or Blood Baron of Vizkopa, and I never do/did. The only time it is right in my opinion is when you have literally nothing else to bring in; then and only then you can leave in a sweeper or two.
I had my focus in on schooling and didn't have much time to practice for Grand Prix Baltimore, but luckily, it was Limited. I finished 37th place, losing in the last round with no shot for a Pro Tour invite. With a flight booked for the Open Series in Indy next year, a list of SCG events coming up in my area, and the stress of a degree gone, I don't need a WOTC event to show my opponents the power of control. I do plan on getting back on the Pro Tour through the new PPTQ system, but in the meantime I have my hands full of fantastic value Opens that have enough money for me to chase them around a reasonable radius from my humble abode. We are back to a Standard focus with all of the major tournaments falling under this format, but I have a sweet Modern Esper brew about ready to be released officially for those interested in the older stuff. It has Treasure Cruise/Dig Through Time just like my Legacy deck, which is the reason why I am hesitant to get too excited about it. I believe with every ounce of sense I have that the delve package will be banned in both formats in the next WOTC announcement. Both cards are detrimental to the older formats, and once they are gone I'll have a backup plan for all of us to toy with when the dust settles. In the meantime, I'd like to leave all of you with a sideboarding strategy piece to help guide you in the tournaments quickly approaching. Happy holidays!
VS Mono-Red / Mono-Black Aggro
VS Esper Control
VS Abzan Midrange
VS Jeskai/Mardu Tokens
Out (On the Play):
In (On the Play):
Out (On the Draw):
In (On the Draw):
VS Sultai/Abzan Reanimator
VS Temur Aggro