Spoilers have been finalized, Prereleases across the world are about to fire, and excitement is high. The middle set, or smaller sets, are just as sweet as the humongous ones in this humble mage's opinion. I know when a smaller set is being released, the current deck I'm battling with will still be all systems go for the slightly changed metagame.
There are a few cards that I'm looking forward to trying in Esper from the new set, and today I'll chat about those possible additions. I always provide my awesome readers with a decklist, but there will be some minor changes to the usual control list provided. Keep in mind that not every card I think is sweet will make the cut. There are a few I am excited about, some that have some sideboard prospects, and those that will be in a control shell in the future.
Let's start off with the biggest, baddest planeswalker since Karn Liberated. Garruk, Apex Predator had promise in the Sultai Control deck I started the season off with, but as I moved back into Esper, I've missed that one-of spicy spell to toss in the mix. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon has the best ability you can hope for on a control planeswalker, which is the ability to remove all threatening permanents from the board and still survive to cause mayhem. The Ghostfire ability doesn't cause me to salivate with excitement, but it isn't the worst +2 in the world. With so many decks packing the minimum heat for planeswalkers, Ugin is that one card you Dig Through Time for, pocket, setup an advantageous situation, then let loose. It isn't as good as Karn Liberated, but much of that gap is caused by the additional mana it costs to play. The criticisms of this card are centered at the high converted cost, but you all know that will not sway me. This is one of those spells that has so much upside and safety when it resolves that the mana cost would have to be even higher to stop me from playing one in the maindeck. Karn was one of those planeswalkers you could play two-of, but Ugin will be a fantastic single addition.
This is my favorite card in Fate Reforged. The delve ability is a dangerous one, giving the illusion of a high mana cost that is quite low in reality. Tasigur, the Golden Fang is a powerhouse in the control/midrange matchups each and every time. It saddens me that four End Hostilities will still be mandatory in Esper Control, but if you are still an old faithful on the Sultai Control plan, then toss him in the maindeck! This legend has advantage written all over it. After game 1 against the midrange decks that happen to be light on creatures and control decks that are absent of creature threats, these puppies come right in and the End Hostilities are kicked to the curb. Not only do we remove End Hostilities, but all of that dead removal and nonsense that doesn't have a high impact on the opponent's gameplan. Since we are boarding out all of the trash, the remaining cards will be powerful, milled into the yard, and your opponent will have no choice but to give you something devastating.
After a Thoughtseize, a fetchland, and a spell, you are playing the fair price of three mana for a 4/5 win condition with all upside. Untapping with Tasigur provides you with the unique opportunity to toss back-breaking spells into the yard, only to be returned to your hand promptly. The Delve removal of spells is also a benefit, removing cards that you may not need anymore and guaranteeing greatness from here on out. He is a legend, easily killable, and counterable, but that doesn't mean he's not good. The use of Thoughtseize, Despise, Negate, and Dissolve can make the path clear for a win condition/card draw engine that can come out for a single black mana. I'm always on the hunt for cards that just slay an opponent if left unchecked. This isn't Luminarch Ascension, but it's powerful enough to warrant a couple sideboard slots and some testing to ensure its capabilities.
I'm glad there is an alternative to End Hostilities, but I'm sticking with the white sweeper for now. There are awkward situations that may involve a Stormbreath Dragon and other threats, so better safe than sorry. The more sweeper options inducted into Standard the better, but the fact that they made this five-mana wrath have upside like this warrants concern. I have accepted that sweepers will be more costly, and now I just open every spoiler looking for an upside that mirrors that of Hallowed Burial. If a dragon was printed that was actually playable, then I could see Crux of Fate seeing some play, but in the current Standard, I'd stay away from non-white control decks like the plague. My buddy Adrian Sullivan is tearing it up with U/B Control, but personally I'm too nervous to venture into the wild without Elspeth, Sun's Champion (congratulations to him by the way for taking down his PTQ right after I was slain in the finals of the one this season I was able to play in).
The old Oculus is back my friends! It's sad that this is exciting news in the world of control. Has it been that long since we had out a Wall of Omens and felt safe? That safe feeling is much harder to come by with the power of creatures rising and the ability to slow them down worsening. Jeskai Sage is a nice little bump in the road to help prepare for sweepers and make land drops. If you are playing against a control deck, it has the power to put a small amount of pressure on with no downside. I'm sleeving up Jeskai Sage right away in place of Bile Blight for that reason. The Bile Blights will be moved to the sideboard, and I'm going to test out the sweeper-only strategy. Bile Blight enabled us to play the one-for-one game, but it has been dead at least 30-40% of the time game 1. The fact that early removal is so bad against the midrange decks is a cause for concern, but we've had no choice. The Jeskai Sage experiment may not work out, but I'm going to give it the old college try. If you don't like them in the deck, feel free to swap the Bile Blights back in. I was actually ready to get on the Pressure Point plan, but this creature is just better by leaps and bounds.
I love looting so much. Looting allows us to delve easily, hit land drops, ditch worthless draws in the lategame, and find specific answers needed for survival. This kind of reminds me of the time I wanted to play Thassa, God of the Sea to just scry, but I think filling the graveyard has huge upside in this format. It isn't just the looting on Monastery Siege that is attractive. There are specific situations that may warrant some Frost Titan action for your creatures and you. I don't see many scenarios where this mode will be better, but if you are playing against one of the burn decks then you have access to some splash hate.
This little card excited me more than 90% of the set. It gains three life, costs two mana, blocks, and can't be removed for one mana. Arashin Cleric will not be included in my decklist; however, if Mono-Red begins to dominate again, you'll see it show up quite a bit. Sadly it's not the best answer against Goblin Rabblemaster, Seeker of the Way, or Hordeling Outburst. I can see Arashin Cleric being the savior of Esper Control if burn runs rampant, but as long as Siege Rhino stomps out those decks, we can leave him on the bench for the time being.
This card will see play in Esper Control, as this is what Martial Law always wanted to be. Martial Law didn't protect you the turn it came out, but Citadel Siege does. It is basically a removal spell for a creature that continues to protect you for as long as the game lasts. It's annoying that Stormbreath Dragon laughs in the face of our defenses, but it's always going to be a pain for the good guys. Citadel Siege isn't dead against the control decks either. Putting a couple counters on a soldier token, Jeskai Sage, vampire token, or any other wild creature that is lingering around isn't something that can be taken lightly by your opponent. When a Hero's Downfall has to target a Jeskai Sage, the enemy wizard's gameplan is completely tossed out the window. I'm going to tinker around with one of these, but feel free to try it more heavily.
If Tasigur, the Golden Fang didn't exist, then this enchantment would have received a sideboard slot. It has the feel of "free win" all over it just like the previously mentioned Luminarch Ascension, or even good old Sacred Mesa. Any single card that provides multiple threats is good against control and deserves a closer look. Although Tasigur, the Golden Fang is harder to keep alive, the impact he has, as well as the amount of other decks that he can be brought in against, makes him the better choice. Keep this card on the radar as a way to pressure control if the archetype becomes more popular.
The Near Miss
There are only a few things more depressing in Magic than a PTQ finals loss. I've felt this pain a couple times now, but the older I become, the harder it hurts. You get that sinking feeling that there aren't that many opportunities left, even though my desire to play Magic hasn't dwindled in the slightest. I found out a few weeks prior that there was a PTQ right around the corner from my house. I immediately renewed my Esper Control sleeves, pulled up my last SCG article, copied and pasted the decklist, and printed it out to be handed in the day of the tournament.
I started off strong and lost only to one young man during the swiss, who happened to be the same fellow that defeated me in the finals. This PTQ was the toughest I've ever played in, and that's saying a lot. Players like BBD, CVM, Alex Majlaton, Orrin Beasley, Daryl Ayers, Zach Jesse, and many more that have played on multiple Pro Tours and either top 8'ed a GP or actually won one, were in attendance. This felt like the last real PTQ I'd have the honor of attending and after I drew into the top 8, I saw a sea of good matchups. I defeated W/U Heroic in the quarterfinals, Abzan Aggro in the semifinals, and faced against my buddy Gavin and his G/R Aggro deck for the second time in the finals.
Game 1 didn't go well for the home team with him having a one turn window to rip a land for the four-mana threat I knew he had, then a fifth land to play the five-mana threat I saw as well. It was asking a lot for him to whiff, but doing so would have resulted in my stabilizing and probably winning. Game 2 I won, but it was tough like the first. Game 3 was the actual heartbreaker. I kept the following hand on the draw:
He thought about mulliganing for a long time and finally kept. With his delay, I thought I was in for an easy victory with such a great starter on the draw. He spent his first two turns with no scry, no plays, and an empty board. I could taste the Pro Tour…until I scryed twice with Temples, scryed with a Drown in Sorrow I drew, and failed to play a fourth land until six turns later. I was devastated, but I gathered myself, congratulated him, and walked out of the tournament hall.
The reason why I wanted to tell you guys about this with some detail is not to vent out a sob story (well, maybe a little), but to show you that this deck can defeat any deck in Standard if played correctly. That freak game 3 was atypical, and with practice and proper sideboarding you too can have success with good old Esper!