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Hetricks of the Trade – Esper In All Formats *SCG Invitational T8*

Last weekend I played in the SCG Invitational in Atlanta and managed a Top 8 finish. I played Esper Control in Standard (as I’ve written about a few times) and Esper Stoneblade in Legacy.

Coming into the event I wasn’t very confident in my deck choices. Despite the fact that I’ve been vouching for Esper in Standard for weeks. I wasn’t getting any support for the deck. In particular, Ricky Sidher was adamant that the deck wasn’t as good as I thought it was and Matt Nass wanted me to play his Turbo Fog brew.

Luckily, I don’t listen to Ricky very often. I know the deck really well and even if I’m somehow wrong about how good it is, the deck was still the best choice for me. Suffice it to say, I still do think it’s very good.

As for Matt, I was pretty tempted to just drop Esper and play his deck. It’s similar to Esper in that it just kills with [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card], but instead of conventional removal it relies on [card]Fog[/card]. The last Invitational in which I played a Matt Nass deck ended with me losing in the finals, but without time to test it or easy access to cards for the deck, it wasn’t very appealing. Matt played the deck at the recent WMCQ, so I expect/hope that he’ll write about it (if he’s not too busy brewing Elves for GP Portland). It’s still something I am willing to play.

Esper Control

[deck]Main Deck
4 Augur of Bolas
2 Restoration Angel
2 Snapcaster Mage
4 Azorius Charm
3 Devour Flesh
1 Ultimate Price
4 Think Twice
2 Dissipate
4 Supreme Verdict
3 Jace, Memory Adept
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Plains
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Watery Grave
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Isolated Chapel
4 Godless Shrine
3 Nephalia Drownyard
Sideboard
3 Vampire Nighthawk
2 Rest in Peace
2 Negate
2 Purify the Grave
2 Tragic Slip
2 Duress
2 Planar Cleansing[/deck]

Legacy is usually a tough format to crack because of the large gaps between opportunities to play it. I reaped some success playing Miracles last year, but after the last time I played it I knew that I did not want to play it again. That could only mean one thing—the return of [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card]! I enlisted the help of Jacob Kory (resident Legacy Master) to brew up a fresh Esper Stoneblade deck list and ended up with this:

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Batterskull
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
4 Brainstorm
2 Preordain
1 Counterspell
4 Force of Will
1 Spell Pierce
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Lingering Souls
1 Supreme Verdict
2 Thoughtseize
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Vindicate
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Island
1 Plains
4 Flooded Strand
1 Marsh Flats
2 Mishra’s Factory
4 Polluted Delta
1 Scrubland
3 Tundra
2 Underground Sea
1 Karakas
Sideboard
2 Detention Sphere
1 Engineered Plague
1 Celestial Purge
2 Spell Pierce
3 Surgical Extraction
3 Geist of Saint Traft
1 Perish
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Thoughtseize[/deck]

I knew from previous Legacy endeavors that I wanted less [card]Lingering Souls[/card] and more Jace than others have. Souls is often at the polar ends of playability depending on the matchup, which is why I didn’t want many, but that meant I couldn’t take advantage of the [card]Intuition[/card]/[card]Cabal Therapy[/card] plan.

In its place I wanted the card that would make the most impact in the mirror match. The mirror is often determined by whoever rips the best bomb-type card (which is one reason I wanted all 4 Jace to begin with). I decided that [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] was the way to go, because it doesn’t get [card]Spell Pierce[/card]d and is the cheapest. [card]Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/card] was an option (gets past Inquisition) but I liked that Geist only costs 3.

Most versions play 22 lands and I wanted to play 23 to help against [card]Wasteland[/card] decks. It allows you to get away with more utility lands, and the cost is low because of [card]Brainstorm[/card]. In this case, I wanted [card]Creeping Tar Pit[/card] over [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card], though at that time [card]Mishra’s Factory[/card] had completely slipped my mind. I eventually ended up with 2 [card]Mishra’s Factory[/card] which I think is pretty strong.

I didn’t play [card]Academy Ruins[/card] because I also didn’t want to play [card]Engineered Explosives[/card]. The two aren’t strong enough in my opinion, and only come up in super grindy games. Ruins is also prone to getting Wasted so you’re left just playing two mediocre cards.

With decks finalized I made my way to Atlanta to meet up with Travis Woo, Brandon Nelson, Jim Davis, Maximum Tietze, and Dan Jordan. Travis was on the Turbo Fog deck that he has been touting for a few weeks. I ended up convincing him to switch his complicated kill involving [card]Omniscience[/card], [card]Enter the Infinite[/card], and Brobarggmoose for the much more streamlined [card]Door to Nothingness[/card]. Oddly, he had to borrow a copy. Up until that point I had assumed that Travis carries a [card]Door to Nothingness[/card] with him at all times.

Rather than go round by round, I’ll give a summary of the interesting games:

Day One Legacy

RD1 W vs. Bye from SCG points, 2-0

RD2 W vs. Esper Stoneblade played by Dan Musser, 2-0

His version played 2 [card]Vendilion Clique[/card] which I really like (though probably just 1), but with the popularity of [card]Lingering Souls[/card] I don’t want to play it right now. His copy beat me down for quite a few turns until I finally [card]Brainstorm[/card]ed into my 1 copy of [card]Lingering Souls[/card] at 2 life (how lucky). The card really makes Clique look embarrassing. The game turned in my favor from there.

RD3 W vs. Sneak and Show played by Christopher Calle, 2-0

RD4 W vs. UW Stoneblade played by Darin Minard, 2-1

Video Coverage

Day One Standard

RD5 W vs. Junk Reanimator played by Zach Tyree, 2-1

RD6 W vs. Esper Control played by Shaheen Soorani, 2-0

Shaheen’s version of Esper is interesting but I think mine is favored. His [card]Lingering Souls[/card] are very inconsequential unless he also has a [card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/card]. Allowing me to resolve a Jace is often going to lead to his demise. This makes things easy if he doesn’t realize that I have 3 copies, which seemed to be the case. I felt advantaged in both games despite seeing almost no [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card]s throughout. [card]Planar Cleansing[/card] was a key sideboard card against his ‘walkers, Spheres, and Orb.

RD7 L vs. Junk Reanimator played by Nick Veccie, 1-2

Despite having plenty of lands and Jace in play, I was not able to find gas enough to survive any additional turns while facing down some guys in G2. In G3 I was stuck on mana for a little, but was able to cast a [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] to stabilize. He played a [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card] I matched with Jace. He took me down to 3 and played a [card]Centaur Healer[/card]. Normally I’d feel good about that position, but despite having 7 cards, none could interact, so I died.

RD8 L vs. RWU Flash played by Phillip Lorren, 1-2

His version played [card]Boros Reckoner[/card]-[card]Harvest Pyre[/card] which makes the Jace plan slightly worse, but he mulliganed to four game 1. Though, there was a point where he had [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] in play, and if his one card was [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] ([card]Harvest Pyre[/card] in graveyard) I would’ve lost.

In games 2 and 3 he had turn four [card]Witchbane Orb[/card], turn five [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card]. That’s not something I’m usually prepared to beat from UWR Flash. In game 2 I succumbed to that quickly but game 3 I stood a much better chance. I brought in [card]Planar Cleansing[/card] but didn’t actually cast it. I switched to the Angel beatdown plan against the Orb and got him really low. After he countered some key cards of mine, I was still ahead. I finally attack for lethal with [card]Restoration Angel[/card] into his one card in hand and 2 Reckoners in play. He [card]Azorius Charm[/card]s it so I just Verdict away his Reckoners and pass. He draws his other copy of Jace and mills me for 10. At this point I feel pretty miserable. I still had a few outs, but I didn’t end up getting there.

There were a few plays in game 3 that I could have done better. I may have timed my first [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] (for 2) incorrectly. And later on I felt I was ahead enough that I could force him to have answers, and ended up getting unexpectedly [card]Izzet Charm[/card]ed. If I had played around that, I would have stood a much better chance.

Day Two Legacy

RD9 W vs. Deathblade played by Scott Fagen, 2-0

RD10 W vs. BUG played by Reid Duke, 2-0

I was a little worried to play against a good player and a matchup that I felt was on the weaker side, but Reid’s hands were pretty weak. I think he mulliganed correctly, but still wasn’t rewarded. In game 1 I discarded his [card]Brainstorm[/card], and from there his hand deteriorated and he got a bit flooded. In game 2 he kept a slow hand and was once again punished.

After thinking about it, I don’t actually think the matchup is weak. It’s similar to a mirror match, but white has a few key players that green doesn’t give them. [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], for instance, is just a guy. [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] and [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card] are pretty big for the matchup, and [card]Lingering Souls[/card] is quite strong against [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card].

RD11 W vs. Merfolk played by Gregory Stiver, 2-0

RD12 L vs. Storm played by Adam Prosak, 0-2

Text Coverage

This was some kind of match.

In game 1 he comboed off on turn two, so I just [card]Force of Will[/card]’d his [card]Infernal Tutor[/card] after he cracked his [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card]. I played a [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] and started the fatesealing. With 13 counters on Jace I died.

Somewhere I had to have messed up. Glenn Jones mentioned that I could’ve Forced with [card]Spell Pierce[/card] instead of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. I considered that when Forcing, but thought [card]Spell Pierce[/card] would be worthwhile. I was definitely wrong. At that point especially, [card]Spell Pierce[/card] is pretty weak, but it’s not that strong to begin with against Storm.

Day Two Standard

RD13 L vs. The Aristocrats Act 2 played by Ben Friedman, 1-2

Video Coverage

I had never played this matchup before, but I could tell that it just required me to craft a certain game state and then [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. In game 1 I didn’t see one before I died. Game 2 went exactly as planned, and from there it was elementary. In game 3 I had a pivotal decision to make after having cleared most of his board. He had 2 Sorin emblems, a [card]Skirsdag High Priest[/card], a [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card], and one card in hand.

I have five lands and my hand is [card]Watery Grave[/card], [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card], 3 [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] (I should’ve boarded 2 out, whoops) and I’m at 8.

I can play the Grave untapped and Snapcaster-[card]Supreme Verdict[/card] leaving Friedman with no board so that I can Revelation next turn. This play loses to a [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card].

I can play Grave tapped and pass with Snapcaster-[card]Azorius Charm[/card] or Revelation for 2 available. This play could beat a [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] by putting a guy in front of [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card] and Charming the Falkenrath to have it milled away the turn after. That would leave me at 2 by the time I untap, and essentially dead to another good topdeck from Ben. If he doesn’t draw Aristocrat that turn, then it’s close to as good as Verdict would’ve been.

I ended up going with the first line and thinking it correct because the second line didn’t seem like it could beat a Falkenrath anyways. Now that I’ve thought it out completely I can tell I was wrong.

He drew the [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], by the way.

RD14 W vs. Junk Reanimator played by Caleb Durward, 2-0

RD15 W vs. Jund Aggro played by David Raczka, 2-0

RD16 W vs. Junk Reanimator played by Brian Braun-Duin, 2-1

Video Coverage

Brian was basically locked for Top 8 even with a loss, but didn’t want to concede. I was hopeful for it, but also didn’t mind having to play for it. I knew he didn’t have [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card] because I saw his list from an online PTQ, so I wasn’t really worried.

Game 1 was elementary. In game 2 I missed my crucial 5th land drop which probably would’ve ended the game in my favor (Jace, of course) and ended up losing to [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card].

In game 3 I boarded to be slightly better against Obzedat and played carefully. It took me a while to find a Jace, but I eventually did so without being overcome.

Top 8 Match vs. Shaheen Soorani

Text Coverage

Video Coverage

Game 1 was an interesting fight. Our decks are very similar and the game would inevitably go long. Neither of us had [card]Academy Ruins[/card], so decking was on the table to begin with.

After I dealt with his [card]Batterskull[/card] ([card]Vindicate[/card] plus [card]Thoughtseize[/card]) he tried to kill through my [card]Batterskull[/card] with a multitude of Spirit tokens. Eventually he dealt with my [card]Batterskull[/card] but not before I was able to clear away his tokens.

Since my life total was pretty high, and he only had one copy of [card]Lingering Souls[/card] left, he recognized that he would have to Jace me, so he [card]Intuition[/card]ed for his 3. I still had 3 copies left at that point, and his library was pretty slim, so I wasn’t worried. Eventually he realized that even if he ultimated Jace he would still deck first because I was holding back cards, so he conceded. He could have tried for the Jace ultimate on himself plan, but that would most likely succumb to my copies of Jace.

In one of the games, I had [/card]Brainstorm[/card]ed turn 1, then again on turn 3. Both times Shaheen had mana for [card]Spell Pierce[/card] open. I knew his deck contained just two copies of it, so I was given a choice on turn 4. I could play Jace off the assumption that he doesn’t have Pierce, or I could play an uninhibited [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card].

If it were me I would have spent Pierce on either [card]Brainstorm[/card] so I decided to play the Jace. That game went downhill after Jace got [card]Spell Pierce[/card]d. It’s hard to say whether or not I was correct in that situation.

Past that, I don’t think this match was that interesting. He had a better board plan than I did and drew well enough that I stood little chance. When building my version, I didn’t realize how good the Intuition/Souls/Therapy package was in the mirror match. If I ever was able to get a Geist into play it might have been good though.

I’m disappointed that I lost so “quickly,” but obviously I’m excited to have made my second Invitational Top 8.

Props:

• Getting hotel bed all weekend for doing well.
• Travis Woo’s garden in his backpack.
• Popcorn with free refills.
• Jace.

Slops:

• Dan Jordan for breaking my phone charger.
• [card]Celestial Purge[/card] in my Legacy sideboard.
• Too broke to credit card game.
• Being late for Day Two and having to run to the event.

Thanks for reading!

Michael Hetrick

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