I'd like to begin by thanking WotC for making the appropriate moves and banning some of the most oppressive spells we've seen in quite some time. Cards do not have to be a one-shot kill like Flash or take six of the eight top 8 slots in every tournament like Caw-Blade in order to get the axe. Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time were not intended to be utilized for one mana on turn 3 with a Spell Pierce backing it up. In Standard, both are powerful, but fair and balanced. It takes a lot of work to fill the graveyard up and because of the labor, we have seen people turn to Jace's Ingenuity instead. If people are playing a five-mana draw three, the format isn't abusing the delve mechanic like their older brethren.
My article from a few weeks ago predicted these exact bannings and provided a few Modern decklists that I've toyed with during the reign of U/R Delver, which has finally dropped about a thousand power notches. The surprise banning that tagged on to my list was Birthing Pod, but I'm not terribly shocked. WotC likes to ban cards in order to spawn more archetypes and deck types. Birthing Pod was a card that had to be a mandatory addition to any midrange deck and was helped significantly with the printing of Siege Rhino. With Birthing Pod gone, the midrange decks gain a little breathing room. I still think 99% of the creature decks will rock the Abzan colors, but the piece inside the puzzle can differ from mage to mage. Some people love Lingering Souls and pack a full four, but some just want two and a couple bullets.
Abzan Midrange in Modern can mold to any specific layout you'd like, so for those of you who like to pick the best deck up and crush face, this is your chance. You get to acquire a list, change a couple cards, and master it for the long run. I don't think the bannings will change for quite some time, except for a possible unbanning or mistake printing again of a random card. As far as Golgari Grave-Troll and Worldgorger Dragon go, don't worry about it. I doubt that either have a place in the top tiers of their respect formats, so continue to build and plan without them in mind.
Today I'm primarily going to focus on the new Standard format and my experiences from SCG DC, but I also wanted to touch on both a quick Legacy update and a decklist that I posted on my Facebook page for Modern. Seeing as how all three formats will be taking place in Indianapolis this weekend, you can't say I didn't prepare you, right?
I've made a few changes to the stock list I provided last week, but you'll notice that the maindeck stayed relatively the same, while the sideboard changed significantly. I've had a chance to run quite a few matches online and found the same reoccurring theme - I needed more help against creatures. Four copies of Path to Exile simply wasn't enough, so the two Condemn in the board are to help against green creature decks and have some splash damage benefits against other creature strategies like Affinity. When you have six one-mana answers to creatures, it frees up a lot of mana each turn for a planeswalker or a Snapcaster Mage rebuy in order to retake the battlefield.
I tried one Elspeth, Knight-Errant, and it wasn't enough to put away most opponents. I beat a lot of decks that didn't apply early pressure with my limited win condition count, but against the green midrange deck (primarily Abzan), I found the need to have a backup copy. There are some starts that you have with U/W Control that are just unbeatable, and they involve a resolved Elspeth, Knight-Errant or Gideon Jura, so dropping either from two to one is a huge mistake and testing revealed exactly that.
There are a few more truths that extensive playing has shined a light on. Affinity is still a joke matchup for my builds of U/W Control, but I feel safer at night with a couple copies of Stony Silence to put them away for good. The sweepers, angels, removal, and every spell in the deck hit Affinity hard. You may think the Disenchant in the sideboard is more hate for Affinity, but it's actually there as more of a bullet for opposing Oblivion Rings, Jeskai Ascendancies, or anything else that may pop up in the metagame. These cards combined also help against random artifact users wielding a lingering Eggs or Angel's Grace/Ad Nauseam deck. For what it's worth, I like to pack Disenchant in all older formats as a one-of for insurance against the unseen that tend to pop up in larger tournaments here and there.
Rest in Peace is the biggest loser in the new version of U/W Control. I don't think Dredge will be a thing, so I cut the powerful two-mana enchantment along with the Surgical Extractions. If I am mistaken, then they are easy adds by removing your choice of bullets that may not be useful in your specific metagame. Dredge has baffled me for years in its power level, and since it's been so long since it was a powerful option, I may have lost respect for the strategy altogether. I haven't played against it online or in live play since the bannings, so proceed with cautious optimism against enemy graveyards.
So far, the maindeck of this take on U/W Control has run smoothly; the mana is beautiful, and the singleton Sphinx's Revelation has been money. I toyed with a second one, but I didn't like it at all. The spells in this deck are so powerful that having one haymaker draw spell floating around is plenty for most matchups. I have been itching to drop one White Sun's Zenith in there, but even the Decree of Justice reprint isn't good enough at this time. One day hopefully!
The Standard Open in DC was a bit of a disaster for Team Esper. I had all of these new cards I wanted to try out, and in the majority of scenarios where they were drawn, I would have been victorious if the maindeck was just left alone. The 27th land was the worst of the decisions, due to the nature of Esper in particular. The deck runs twelve Temples, which logistically increases the chance to hit land drops each turn. Most decks have access to four or eight Temples at the most, and that gives us Esper mages an advantage in the amount of spells we can run while still hitting our lands. The extra land didn't cause all of the flooding, but in many scenarios during crucial game 3 battles, it became a heartbreaking issue.
The 27th land was originally a Treasure Cruise, but now is a Tasigur, the Golden Fang. They serve similar purposes of producing card advantage, but one is a one mana 4/5 after an End Hostilities that can punish an opponent. I ranted and raved about the power of Tasigur upon the release of Fate Reforged, and he has certainly lived up to the hype. He has a fantastic power-and-toughness-to-cost ratio, the activated ability is absurd, and if I didn't play four End Hostilities, I'd certainly play another copy in the maindeck.
But even though Tasigur, the Golden Fang gets my award for sweetest card in Fate Reforged for Esper, I don't think it's the best card for us. That belongs to this beauty:
Citadel Siege has been an absolute all-star in testing. It oozes with card advantage, subduing an enemy combatant, forcing reinforcements to arrive, and then allowing you to clear them all out with a powerful sweeper. If your opponent doesn't apply more pressure, it gets even worse for them as the turns go by. Spot removal, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, counter magic, Dig Through Time, and pretty much every spell in Esper Control gets better after a resolved Citadel Siege against each deck in the format. It's arguable that Citadel Siege isn't very good against the control mirror, but those U/B Control players haven't tried to win with their single copy of Pearl Lake Ancient with that puppy on the board. I've even used the Khans ability with Prognostic Sphinx, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, or any token produced to apply very fast pressure on an enemy's life total or planeswalker. The safe feeling you get from this enchantment is something that has been lost for me in this format until now. Even when I got second at the Open Series in Richmond back during Season Four of 2014, I felt behind too often. The stability provided by Citadel Siege does make me consider a third one in the board, but I haven't reached that level of testing just yet. Once Fate Reforged becomes legal online, I'll definitely put it to the test and let you know how it goes.
SCG DC wasn't a complete waste of time for me as you all can see. Once in a while you have to get your clock cleaned, and that's certainly what happened, but I got to watch my awesome buddy Ali Aintrazi make the top 8 and another good friend in Gerard Fabiano took it down. A lot of sweet decks lingered around the top tables, but various forms of Sultai Control looked to be quite good, which provides us a new angle to look at when metagaming with Esper. I think that Siege Rhino and all of his Abzan friends will still dominate this tri-colored metagame, but I have always thought Sultai Control was a viable and powerful option.
If more people shy away from aggressive shards and move towards more lategame controlling ones, the direction of Esper will have to change. I've gotten away with running very few mediocre card-drawing spells for many years, which include Divination, Think Twice, Jace's Ingenuity, and a few other gems. This is because of the power of planeswalkers and my refusal to pay too much mana for so few cards. This strategy has worked because as some mages tap out for a Divination and die, we use a removal spell and win in the final minutes with one card in hand and life points to spare. The midrange world allows for this finish to happen again for us, and the defining card for our plan is easily Dig Through Time. That being said, if the format slows down, then we will have to look into Treasure Cruise, Read the Bones, Jace's Ingenuity, or some other stinker. I'll definitely lobby for Treasure Cruise, due to its powerful nature, but it's tough when Tasigur, the Golden Fang is lingering around the maindeck. At this point, let's continue on and see if Gerard's or Ali's decks catch some momentum.
I'm going to send you guys off with what I'm playing this weekend at SCG Indy. It's Legacy as you know, and I piloted this list to a 14th place finish at the Legacy Premier IQ last weekend in DC. I look forward to improving on that performance and stepping back into the winners' circle!