With SCG Indianapolis and SCG Baltimore hitting us on back-to-back weekends, Standard is the talk of the town. It doesn't take much for me to get excited about my favorite format, but two competitive tournaments with Standard two weekends in a row entices me to continue to brew. In the last two articles I've written, Esper Control was the featured decklist and is still my weapon of choice.
I truly believe Esper Control is in a great place at the start of this format, doing all the marquee Esper Control things well. Notion Rain and Precognitive Perception are still underrated, not receiving the respect from the professional community that I would have expected by now. Gerry Thompson recently wrote about twenty competitive decks that could take down one of these early Standard tournaments and had a version of the deck I've been pushing since the Stone Age.
You'll notice in his list, he enlists Notion Rain as the card draw spell of choice also. Chemister's Insight is not a functioning card in a deck with tap-out elements. I have written endlessly on the subject, condemning the crummy Glimmer of Genius to the uncommon box in my spare bedroom indefinitely. If I have access to Dimir cards, Notion Rain is where I plan on hanging my loyalty because that's the reality until a reactive, Flash version of Esper Control takes the wheel.
In Gerry's version of Esper Control, he cut the Island, a decision which I'm still torn on. Kaya's Wrath has performed above and beyond expectations, but the double blue requirement for premium counterspells is still very important. I've tried a full reactive and tap-out version of Esper Control and after many matches, a mix between the two is still the direction I plan on taking the deck. Gerry explains the same conclusion I reached and added a few guildgates to handle the blue requirement. I've been resistant on adding guildgates for obvious reasons, but I do see myself moving toward at least one copy to replace the Island if it ends up damaging my ability to destroy all the creatures on time. At this point, it hasn't caused me much angst. Since it is only a one-of, it would have to show up against a wide attacking aggressive deck, and I would have to have no other land to play. It's a pretty narrow setup, but I can easily see making the change just in case.
Outside of that, I wouldn't adopt Gerry's list at this point. One reason is because I think that Chromium, the Mutable is at its worst right now. It pains me to see an Esper Dragon not fit the mold of any of my decks, but seven mana for a threat that's slain by enemy battlefield sweepers, blocks ineffectively the turn its played, and doesn't see the light of day against very aggressive decks are simply too many negatives to include it in the maindeck. I have been dying to get The Scarab God or Torrential Gearhulk back in some form, but sadly the best we have at that mana cost is The Eldest Reborn, which provides the best removed threat, knocks one of their creatures out, and has them pitch a card to create a card advantage package hidden in a win condition.
In order to make room for the pricy enchantment, I cut Dovin, Grand Arbiter from my takes of Esper Control. I had big hopes for the new planeswalker, but at this point the format is far too sporadic to defend the three-drop with Esper Control. The dream was to have a planeswalker survive Kaya's Wrath, making it more dependable than creatures in the long run. There's also tremendous upside on a planeswalker that resolves on an empty battlefield, which is likely when on the play. Dovin did some work, but was embarrassing against red-based aggro and sad on the draw in many matchups.
The rest of the deck looks close to what I've been suggesting over the last few weeks. The big differences will always be in the sideboard. If you haven't noticed, the sideboard drastically changes in each publication. This is one of the main reasons I don't support sideboard guides, and all my competitive brothers and sisters out there need to be ever vigilant in metagaming. Leaving the sideboard the same week after week in Standard is probably a mistake unless the format becomes dominated by one or two decks.
For the last few hours I've been trying Twilight Prophet out, and I've been impressed. It's a mythic that I've always wanted in my control decks, giving valuable lifegain once you receive the city's blessing. Before that, it has four toughness and can block the creatures from the aggro and midrange decks you sideboarded it in against. I'm not completely sold on it yet, but early signs do look promising. My style of Esper Control often swipes the sideboard games easily because of the surprise factor of creature threats. Before it was the happening thing to do, I would sideboard in four Bloodghast in my Dimir Control deck along with a Sword of Feast and Famine for good measure. Even if your opponent knows you have some creatures, they can't leave in the full complement of removal in anticipation for the army they're about to see. Six of the eight creatures stampede slower decks, and four of them are elite at handling those that try to beat you down.
Although I'd love to write about just Esper Control every week until the day I'm unable to punch letters on a keyboard, I want to share a deck with you that I've played on the side.
Todd Anderson has been an advocate for this Temur Reclamation deck, and I had a pretty cold take on the enchantment early on. After gaming with it, Wilderness Reclamation is going to be a force in Ravnica Allegiance Standard. I bashed the original Bant Nexus decks early because of narrow, egotistical reasons. Every time I have faced the scary monster, it was defeated with great ease. Game 1, these decks have very live cards that are vulnerable to excessive copies of Thought Erasure, maindeck copies of Negate, and a healthy amount of other disruption. Esper Control has dead cards too, but they truly have a much tougher time sticking a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria than we do. The key is really to keep Wilderness Reclamation off the battlefield, have a decent shot of stealing game 1, and be heavily favored in the sideboard games. That was the formula for success against the Bant version, but the Temur variety is a bit different.
In Todd's' list, he has four copies of Expansion//Explosion, which can cause a headache for a control opponent. He has a few too many Shocks in his deck, making game 1 still tough for the Temur Reclamation deck to take on Esper Control. Todd's deck relies completely on burning opponents out, adding Primal Amulet as an additional must-answer for us. I've changed his list slightly in testing, moving one Firemind's Research maindeck, which has helped push the number of bombs in game 1 to a frightening level for all the slower matchups.
I've only played one Magic Arena event with a version of this deck, so let's look at Dylan Hand's take on it. As discussed earlier, Bant Nexus harnesses the power of Wilderness Reclamation, but it adds more powerful spells than Todd's Temur Reclamation deck. I do think that some of the chaff in this version of Bant Nexus needs to be removed to have a fighting chance against some of the slower decks of the format. Four copies of Gift of Paradise, Root Snare, and Settle the Wreckage is a bit ambitious, as well as slicing a land off the typical 25 count. That said, I really like having Hydroid Krasis maindeck because of how well it fits the theme of the deck. Bant Nexus will go off with Chemister's Insight, powering through the deck very quickly, but that's only if the Wilderness Reclamation sticks the landing. For it to do that consistently, there must be other threats that pull the attention of the disruption away from the bread and butter of the archetype.
Gift of Paradise was underwhelming for me in my test run, as well as looks very mediocre on paper. Back in the day, Bant Nexus decks used it because they had to. There was no Wilderness Reclamation and when rotation kicked in, the deck vanished from competitive play. Gift of Paradise was cute with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and allowed for Nexus of Fate to launch a turn earlier. With the addition of Growth Spiral, Gift of Paradise feels like an embarrassment from the past that has lived out its welcome. If you plan on running Bant Nexus this weekend at SCG Indianapolis, I'd remove them for a 25th land, one Cleansing Nova, and two Absorb. I'm not sure why it's taboo to have a couple counterspells in these styles of decks, but I plan on breaking that norm.
I'm not sure if this take on Wilderness Reclamation is better than those with Nexus of Fate, but I do know they have a much harder time with red decks than Esper Control has. It's easy to detect the broken elements of these decks with just a few test runs. I don't think that anything will get banned from these decks due to the ability to combat them with fast, aggressive creatures or enough disruption from the control end that prevents their four-mana threats from resolving.
We're all getting a bit too generous with bans, especially in Standard. I've agreed with a healthy portion of them, but to call for them this early is a bit much. Sounding the alarm for a ban (or unban) is in my wheelhouse, so I don't want to come off as hypocritical in that regard, and I tend to get mutilated for months and months before dusting off my old, control pitchfork.
This weekend will be very telling as we gauge the format's health. I have a Mythic Championship coming up in Cleveland, but I always prepare my testing gauntlet with decks that emerge from the SCG Tour®. For quite some time, the SCG Tour® has been cutting the ribbon on every new Standard format, giving us competitors a window into the early health of the format. I'm confident that we'll see multiple control decks break into the Top 8 this weekend in Indianapolis. The aggro decks are fierce and the midrange decks are still powerful, but control has the tools necessary to compete against them all.
The real question lies with style. Will it be a deck centered around Wilderness Reclamation? This would validate the opinion of many, making the call for bannings louder.