Standard has been an incredibly tough nut to crack. If you're like me and you've been grinding matches online, it's been a wild ride. The new League play is a long time in coming, and I'm very grateful for another option, though I'm still trying to gauge its relative value in playtesting as opposed to other options.
What am I gearing up for? The next two weekends are a pair of championship events: one near, and one far.
This weekend, right in my backyard, is the TCGPlayer Max Point Championship in Milwaukee. The format is Standard, and I'm hoping to follow up my Vegas performance with another Top 8. The good news for me is that I don't expect that I'll have to face PVDDR in this one. The bad news? Well, I don't have a deck I love as much as my U/B Control deck from the previous Standard.
The weekend after that is the #SCGINVI in Las Vegas. The Invitational is a mixed format event, Standard and Modern. It takes a lot of work to succeed in two formats, and in both formats, I'm blessed (cursed?) with a lot of good options.
Of course, in both, I'm still trying to decide which deck is the best deck to choose.
The problem is that in both formats, deciding on a deck is much like trying to shoot a moving target: you are probably better off not aiming in just one place, but moving as the target moves, and better yet, anticipating it.
That being said, I have a few decks that I've been playing around with. They all happen to feature a few cards in common, but one in particular:
Let's get to it!
Some people have called this deck overrated, but that's only because the deck is simply so good that it is easy to overstate just how good it is. Esper Dragons really benefits from the targets aiming at least slightly in another direction, so as more and more guns are aimed at it, it does suffer, but there is still something to be said about stringing together control cards on the back of the juice: Dragonlord Ojutai.
People looking for something extravagant should probably turn elsewhere. This is a simple deck for simple tastes, so long as those tastes are controlling. Counter it, kill it, draw cards. With few exceptions, that's it.
One of the things that I like about this deck is that it is simply so consistent, you aren't going to find yourself drawing a card and thinking to yourself how out of place the card is. On the other hand, this deck, much like Atarka Red, has a lot of people who have practiced against it extensively. This often means that an opponent that has a good deck and is savvy can know how to pace their cards.
There are some places where this deck stumbles. Far too often, you'll have to make a less than ideal play that affects your game later on in order to keep up double-blue early. You are pretty significantly slow, and it isn't just Atarka Red that can take advantage of it these days.
Still, you have a lot of raw power. Ultimate Price and Surge of Righteousness can help a lot versus the fastest decks. Counterspells and card draw are great against the slow ones. Stitch it all together with a solid set of extra cards, and you're good to go. Of course, there are stinkers like Arashin Cleric and Infinite Obliteration, but these are basically among the more important things you can bring in those kind of matchups, whether you are stymieing Atarka Red or taking the wind out of Eldrazi Ramp strategies.
Of course, we could push this further, right?
Okay, okay. So I worked with Mike Flores for these last two Pro Tours. Maybe he is rubbing off on me.
Sometimes, all you're wanting to do is drop big huge monsters. And sometimes that is actually a winning strategy!
The real point of this deck is being able to do this:
Big turn where you cast Dragonlord Dromoka and another huge friend are actually fairly commonplace. When you're in that position in a control matchup, it actually feels very, very good. Check out the fun:
Yep, 28 lands.
This is in part a nod to the pressure of color that the deck places on blue right now, for example there are still only eighteen lands that produce blue. That might not sound like a small number until you consider that the Esper Dragons deck, above, runs 21. I also want to be running a single Canopy Vista, but I definitely feel like the blue is too strained, and I don't feel good about cutting into a land of The Spirit Dragon.
All that said, this deck is pretty exciting. I tried a variant that ran four copies of Hangarback Walker like Neal Oliver ran in his WMCQ-winning list. I still have a lot of sympathy for that build, but in the end, I ended up deciding I really just wanted to focus on a lot of the cards that make this deck so good: copious countermagic (more than a typical control build), great removal, and insanely powerful creatures.
I've been incredibly impressed by this deck's ability to push over aggressive decks. It's not every game – not by a long shot – but I've had great games where my opponent had an awesome draw and they still crumbled. That is a very good feeling when you're playing such a slow, lumbering deck.
A couple of the oddballs in the list bear some discussion.
I wanted a tenth Dragon, and I wanted it to be fairly cheap. This is about all you get unless you want to go with Sunscorch Regent. It's quite a solid card, so there is nothing embarrassing about playing it, although if there were a reasonable wimpy Dragon at a cheaper price, I'd consider it. I've even gently considered the crappy morph Dragons, just as a card that can trigger Silumgar's Scorn and Foul-Tongue Invocation and yet still drop onto the ground on turn 3. Dromoka, the Eternal has also been on my radar, but the Icefall Regent has been pretty successful as a "filler" dragon, especially in a world without a proper Lightning Strike.
Maindeck, this card is there over a Dig Through Time, and it is entirely due to a simple factor: It is actually much more difficult for this deck to properly fill up its grave. This was something I saw in Standard earlier this year, and it is true for this deck despite all of the fetches. This is in large part due to ten Dragons in the deck!
I feel like the mana is already so strained that making black mana for Duress, which serves a similar role in the Esper Dragons deck, is simply not where you need to be. Stubborn Denial could just as well be Dispel, but right now I've been preferring Stubborn Denial for its ability to randomly take down a Painful Truths or Gideon without even needing a Dragon out.
The sideboard basically shares a lot in common with Esper Dragons, including the "Michael Majors Dark Petition Package,” which doubles up your powerful singletons. Silumgar, the Drifting Death makes an appearance, powered up in a deck that is specifically dedicated to Dragons as this deck is.
People have been asking me for the current version of this deck somewhat nonstop, and believe me, I understand why. It's a really cool deck to play, and it has a lot of angles in it that are hard to beat. It has strengths and weaknesses, like any deck, but it definitely feels powerful.
Here is where I'm at with it:
One of the very important things that this deck needs to be able to do is regulate the scariest card in the deck:
One of the real problems for this deck right now is that players are packing more maindeck Duress than I've seen in a while. This can mean that it can be very hard actively protecting the deck.
This deck also has the unusual choice of Jace in the sideboard. Initially, I had the card in the maindeck, but there are a ton of reasons I cut it, most notably that it just always dies. After sideboarding, though, there are some matchups that are simply bad at killing it, and they get worse at doing so.
In addition, after sideboard versus some decks, you simply want to dodge being Esper Control and become a deck that wins on the backbone of other cards:
I still think I'm least likely to play this deck. The world feels too ready for these colors as is, and I think this deck perhaps just fits into the sad case where it gets knocked out by incidental hate.
This could leave us with something far more traditional.
This is pretty straightforward – just with my take of where I'd put things as of now:
This is my take on Patrick Chapin's take on Reid Duke's revision of Esper Control, with probably a lot more cross-pollinating for good measure.
I don't know that there is much that is incredibly unusual in this build, other than the decision to save most of the anti-red game for the sideboard. Here, it is kill, kill, kill, and hopefully find some room to gain life in there to boot. I'm not running the Virulent Plague you see in the other builds because I'm running Secure the Wastes in the maindeck and I sideboard Monastery Mentor; I don't want to get into 'nombo' territory.
When I watched Patrick Chapin play this style of Esper Control list at #GPIndy, I was just impressed at how much work the deck seemed to be doing at keeping control of the game. As I said, my own version is a bit weaker versus Atarka Red, but it still has a lot of game overall.
I'm still tweaking this version of the deck, a lot. It, by far, has the most room for customization of any of these decks, if only because it is less strung-together via theme. I could probably be eight to nine spells different in the maindeck and still be reasonably close in performance to what this deck is doing.
Of course, with all of that said, by the time you're reading this, my first of the big events will be here, and I'll likely be in Milwaukee for the TCGPlayer MaxPoint Championship. If I haven't figured out which deck to play, who knows? I might just play my fail safe:
Whatever I choose, wish me luck!
See you in Milwaukee! I hope I see you there!