We now have all the cards from Guilds of Ravnica to properly prepare for the upcoming Standard. I tend to be cautious with prototype decklists before sets are fully released, because a lot can change with even a simple removal spell. Grasp of Darkness is a glorious reprint that I've been rooting for the most as previews were released, but it won't be joining the team this time around. Dead Weight is the last removal spell that popped up in the Esper shard world, and it won't see much play from yours truly. There are plenty of conditional removal spells that rest in the two-cost column and we received a great one that happens to fall in the wrong color.
Lava Coil is easily the best option for control decks if we're ignoring the color associated with the spell. Red gained the most assistance from Guilds of Ravnica in the manabase department, but will be losing most of its control edge with rotation. A killer removal spell and Nicol Bolas, the Ravager are the only powerful options in a color that I tend to shy away from when building a control masterpiece. Dimir is the ideal base of control after rotation and has received a great deal of help through multicolor cards. Surveil is the new scry and helps make each of the new multicolor cards fit right into control's gameplan of incidentally hitting land drops. The lack of a two-mana removal spell that answers everything does sting, but the Dimir base can survive it by getting slightly creative.
Moment of Craving, Cast Down, Price of Fame, Essence Scatter, and Syncopate are our best options on turn 2 at keeping the creatures at bay. We all knew that Essence Scatter and Syncopate would rule the blue universe after rotation, but many of us were hoping to have the power to slay two or three-drops when falling behind on the draw. It's not an accident that -2/-2 from Moment of Craving isn't quite enough to regularly bail us out, but -3/-3 would have been great. As a result, the removal suite must include a few copies of cards that many control enthusiasts aren't very happy with having in their maindeck.
Cast Down gained a great deal of control real-estate with the rotation of Kaladesh and Amonkhet, as the barrage of legendary and indestructible creatures has slowed down to a point of disbelief. For so long we were under the thumb of creatures that were just too tough to kill. but it seems like those threats have passed. And though green still has a few nightmarish hexproof creatures, we'll be sure to pack some heat for those corner case monsters. Cast Down can nab most early creatures across the color wheel now and that makes me confidently add three to all my maindeck black-based control decks. I ran two copies in the past, but I was never excited about drawing them in many scenarios. Wizards of the Coast typically knocks the design game ball out of the park with their conditional removal spells, and this is no different. Cast Down started off weak and gained power, just like Ultimate Price did years ago. Use it with confidence.
Although the legends have died down some, there are still a few scary ones running around out there. Some multicolor legends from Guilds of Ravnica give me night terrors when the thought of their survival for a few unopposed turns pops into my head. Boros is the pushed aggressive deck from the Seattle-based R&D team, so we need to plan accordingly. Price of Fame is a removal spell that has caught my eye, but not many others. It has the mana cost that sends control players running to the hills, but not me. Most of you know my love for expensive sorceries, but I can't turn my back on a costly instant. Price of Fame has a nifty clause that makes it the best removal spell on the planet against opposing legendary creatures. Two mana to destroy it and surveil 2?! That's the bargain of the century, but goes against the validation of Cast Down as our staple removal spell. This is a metagame call and will live or die by the threats around us. If Boros picks up steam as I suspect, Price of Fame will gain some playability. Even at four mana, it isn't the worst spell to draw against most decks out there. The biggest issue with its mana cost drawback is the slot being shared with Vraska's Contempt. Our four-mana, exiling, lifegain savior is still the top dog for the Dimir loyalists, so every list will have to contain the maximum amount of copies.
Counterintuitive as it may be, lucky for us, Glimmer of Genius rotates, and the four-mana slot frees up slightly. This is the justification I used to toss a copy into my maindeck and punish aggressive opponents in the early game and slay other creatures for full retail with a slightly bad taste in my mouth.
We're drowning in card draw options for all Dimir-based control decks. I thought losing Glimmer of Genius would deal a killer blow to the control caucus, but that isn't the case. Read the Bones is one of the best control draw spells that we've had in Standard in recent history and the printing of Notion Rain comes at the perfect time. Although Glimmer of Genius is amazing, I really enjoyed drawing cards on turn 3 instead of turn 4. Surveil 2 followed by Divination is well worth the two life, and I will be playing four copies in my initial control launch. The biggest deck building struggle with Guilds of Ravnica is determining what other card advantage outlets to utilize.
Search for Azcanta and Arguel's Blood Fast are both still here and just as good as ever. Search for Azcanta still remains the best maindeck option; however, Arguel's Blood Fast is a powerhouse against all decks that don't blitz you in the early game. These choices are joined by Radical Idea and Discovery. Radical Idea isn't my first choice and won't be in my prototype list, but there are some Think Twice fans out there that are stoked for it. I was initially happy to see it as one of the first previews out there, but much better ones have arrived.
Discovery hasn't received the love it deserves, and I'm sure I'll get hit with some snarky commentary when I dish out the praise. Preordain at one mana is revered as one of the best card draw spells of all-time, and it's just fine at two mana. The synergy between this much surveil and Search for Azcanta is quite attractive and will give some starts a Modern feel. Additionally, getting an additional mana source earlier than the usual turn 7 transformation from Search for Azcanta is going to turn the control tide.
The second half of Discovery is also decent and can bail us out in a pinch. Returning the highest mana cost threat is usually the best option, and Dispersal does exactly that. Five mana is pricy, but it being an instant makes it palatable. I see it used earlier with card draw, but options are what makes some cards control staples.
The last card draw spell that almost stole my heart is Chemister's Insight. This is another one of those we look at and immediately compare it to Glimmer of Genius. Glimmer of Genius is still a better card, but Chemister's Insight provides any control mage an immediate fresh hand in the lategame. Pitching a land later, or a redundant spell early, is worth drawing a couple new cards. Glimmer of Genius was an expert at getting us our fifth land, where this is a much scarier gamble on turn 4. That's why I'm leaning heavily on Notion Rain, Search for Azcanta, and Discovery as my go-to card draw spells moving forward. Let's see how it all comes together!
This new Esper Control fills me with excitement, my friends. It has a little of that Kaladesh Standard flavor, but half of the deck is brand new Guilds of Ravnica! The loss of Fatal Push and Glimmer of Genius hurt, but the archetype will survive and grow much stronger when the Azorius and Orzhov guilds join us next year. Even with just Dimir's help, Esper Control survives the rotation with just a small question mark around the removal package of the early game. Cast Down must carry the lion's share of responsibility at the beginning of each game, and I believe it can do it.
Fatal Push will go down in history as the premier removal spell for black, and that's an impossible torch for Cast Down to carry. We just need it to keep us alive long enough and allow Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to lock up the battlefield for team control. Moment of Craving has moved from a sideboard card to a maindeck support spell for the unexplored metagame we're about to face. The lifegain attached makes it much better than Dead Weight and will help offset the life loss from Notion Rain. It can also be discarded to Chemister's Insight, which allows for some maindeck flexibility when starting narrow spells.
The countermagic has only gotten stronger with Sinister Sabotage at the helm. Disallow was great, but Sinister Sabotage is better. That, joined by Essence Scatter and Syncopate, are the best we can hope for in these dark days of a creature-centered style of Standard play. Disdainful Stroke is a wonderful reprint that will make its way home in every blue sideboard of Standard. Typically a spell that torches control players, Disdainful Stroke comes in to assist us in stopping planeswalkers from midrange decks that laugh when we're forced to use Negate after sideboarding. It's one of those spells that I wasn't expecting see in this set, but I'm very happy it showed up!
The win conditions of Esper Control took a giant hit from rotation with the loss of Torrential Gearhulk. This has forced us into a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria corner, which isn't the end of the world. Many players used only the planeswalker as a win condition, which was very effective with white-based removal. In a deck like this, I feel the need to summon a large Dragon to assist us in crushing the control competition, as well as having a clean way to win outside of decking. Chromium, the Mutable is just as hard to kill now as it was before, and the loss of Torrential Gearhulk drastically dropped the average converted mana cost in control decks, making the Dragon inclusion possible. The sideboard also has an array of new win conditions, which includes our new Nightveil Specter, Thief of Sanity. This replaces Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and is much better against the mirror in my opinion.
Esper Control is far from dead, and the removal package will evolve with the metagame. The counterspells are great, the planeswalker is still the strongest card in the format, and the card advantage is plentiful. I'll work on other control shells from different shards soon, but this deck has the best shot at making a splash in the new, exciting format that is about to arrive!