I first wrote about the Warriors deck one month ago after Joe Soh piloted his version all the way to the Top 8 of GP Kobe. I was impressed. This looked very similar to a draft deck—albeit the most powerful archetype in Khans of Tarkir Draft—with some improved removal and a sweet new planeswalker. This isn’t the type of deck you expect to crush a large format like Standard.
For reference, here is Soh’s list:
Joe Soh, GP Kobe Top 8
This is a pretty simple main deck on the surface. Let’s break it down.
At 1 Mana
First off, we have 10 options for just 1 mana, and they all have 2 power. That’s some serious pressure and fast.
Bloodsoaked Champion is the king of aggression as he outright refuses to block, but will come back from the graveyard for your trouble. When you have extra mana laying around, there is almost no reason not to attack with this guy, as he will simply jump back.
Mardu Woe-Reaper is a nice option for a Warrior deck. It is usually just another 2/1 for 1, but the incidental life gain and the ability to help keep Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy from flipping, slow down delve spells, or make Rally the Ancestors weaker is very real.
Kytheon, Hero of Akros is the most powerful option on the surface, but is the weakest in the deck. If you’re trying to flood the board, playing too many legendary creatures is a real cost. If your hand has too many Kytheons, the ability to have 3 creatures out by turn 2 is greatly diminished. The indestructible ability is nice, and flipping into a planeswalker is powerful, but Kytheon also isn’t a Warrior, so no extra synergies there, and thus is often a 1- or 2-of in Warrior deck lists.
At 2 Mana
The options at 2 mana are pretty limited. Chief of the Edge is very good, as it is a lord for your Warriors and can pump your entire team, but it actually gets weak quickly.
After sideboard, every deck has access to cards like Surge of Righteousness and Self-Inflicted Wound, which trade at the same mana cost but at a disadvantage for Warriors—cards like Fiery Impulse and Wild Slash, which trade at a mana advantage, or cards like Languish and Radiant Flames, which trade for card advantage.
Blood-Chin Rager is nice as it gives evasion to your team. It also requires you to have enough removal spells to force your creatures through since a 2/2 is quite fragile. It’s the best of the available options, although not really very powerful.
At 3 Mana, and So On
These cards are extremely powerful, but require setup. Mardu Strike Leader absolutely dominates on an empty board and is fine to trade, since it leaves a body behind, but gets greatly outclassed extremely quickly by every creature in Standard. Wasteland Strangler is fine on the vanilla test, as a 3/2 for 3 isn’t the worst thing ever, but killing a creature at the price of a small set-up cost is fantastic. It kills most creatures at the same mana cost or less, which is excellent when you factor in that you’re still getting a 3-power creature.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is beginning to push the scales as far as how much mana you’re willing to invest, but the power level is certainly there. Gideon is often simply used for the emblem, but it’s an excellent followup to an opponent’s sweeper and completely takes over a clear board.
Having access to quality removal is the key if you’re looking to win with 2/1 creatures for 1 and you don’t have the reach of burn spells. Luckily, we have Silkwrap, Stasis Snare, and Valorous Stance, all spells that don’t cost much but can really keep the board under control.
If an opponent stumbles at all, it only takes a creature or two before the removal spells will clean up and finish the game. There is also beautiful synergy between Silkwrap/Stasis Snare and Wasteland Strangler (also Mardu Woe-Reaper). Using removal to set up more removal and keep the engine flowing creates a powerful game 1 deck.
Sam Black recently took his version of Esper Warriors to the Standard Invitational in Vegas, posting a 7-1 record in Standard.
Sam Black, 37th Place Las Vegas Invitational
As you can see, there are virtually no changes in Black’s version vs. Soh’s, although I do support the inclusion of Arashin Cleric as your deck is going to be pretty weak game 1 vs. Red and this is the best card in that matchup.
You can probably tell how bad this matchup is just by looking at the sideboard plan. Your goal is to turn into a complete control deck, but you really don’t have the best tools to do that. Mastery of the Unseen is not a good card against Atarka Red, for example, as it is simply far too slow and they kill you before it turns on, but it’s better than something like Bloodsoaked Champion that can’t even block.
You will likely be down a game as they are much faster than you in game 1 and it’s a struggle to race, but you do have quite a bit of removal and Wasteland Strangler is very good, so all hope is not lost. If you really want to play Warriors, but Red is popular in your metagame, find room for more Arashin Clerics.
On the Play
On the Draw
Mardu Strike Leader gets outclassed by every creature they have. The fact that it is also slow and clunky means you don’t want to lean on it. Killing all of their creatures is critical, as they are all bigger than yours. Boarding in more removal, or on the draw having access to a way to counter their Siege Rhino, Gideon, or Wingmate Roc, may give you the time you need to win the game.
You are the aggro deck, so try to finish them off quickly since it won’t be long before you’re chump attacking to force through damage. Stop them from attacking and turning on Wingmate Roc, which is nearly unbeatable.
They are going to board into a heavy control deck. They’ll have access to all of their removal—Fiery Impulse, Wild Slash, Radiant Flames, etc. This makes your 2-drops that rely on a full board very weak. You have counters to stop their big spells, and despite the fact that they will believe they have inevitability with blue spells, access to Mastery of the Unseen, Secure the Wastes, and Gideon means that the Warrior deck actually has a pretty easy time with this matchup.
If you can hold onto your Mardu Strike Leaders and not leave them exposed until you can get value, it becomes an all-star in the matchup. Bloodsoaked Champion is actually a real challenge to deal with and you have more than enough removal to deal with all of their threats.
Silkwrap is an easy cut as the only target is Jace and you have other removal to deal with that, plus an Ultimate Price out of the sideboard. Wasteland Strangler is nearly dead with few ways to trigger Mardu Woe-Reaper and no Silkwraps in your deck. It’s hard to get enough of a board presence for Blood-Chin Rager to matter, while they have very few creatures to block, and Chief at least offers more damage when it comes down.
You can present a fast clock with lots of disruption. You have hard-to-deal-with threats in Gideon, Bloodsoaked Champion, Secure the Wastes, and Mastery of the Unseen. You also have lots of answers to Dragons, and instant-speed ways to deal with Dragonlord Ojutai.
This is assuming they have some number of mana creatures or targets for Silkwrap. If they don’t have access to Radiant Flames or some other sweeper, you are too fast for even something like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon to matter. You also have access to some counterspells to stop their big spells or ramp spells. Gideon is often too slow, although the anthem can be quite useful. This matchup is quite favorable, so you can adjust to what you see game 1.
This is your nightmare matchup as their creatures are all designed to get value and yet they all match up very well with your creatures. You’re working to stop their big value instants, but they don’t really need them to beat you. Your big hope is that they stumble and you force through creatures with Blood-Chin Rager and hopefully some sort of pump effect in Chief or Gideon.
Esper Warriors is a powerful and fast game 1 deck with the capability to sideboard into a more controlling build, and the ability to shift gears gives you far more play and options. A positive Jeskai Black matchup is also a great place to be in the metagame.
Esper Warriors isn’t a deck we have seen too much of, but when it shows up it seems to do really well. Do you think that the Warriors have a chance to absolutely crush in an upcoming Standard weekend?