It feels like overkill to discuss Dark Jeskai at this point, but we’ll start there since the finals was a mirror match.
Daniel Lanthier, 1st at GP Quebec City
What keeps this deck at the top of the food chain is its incredible mana efficiency. There are only a handful of spells in the deck that cost over 3 mana and only Utter End trades down. It reminds me of a Hearthstone tempo deck rather than something like traditional Delver. It just keeps playing out threats and sequencing cheap answers to hold the board. The difference is that your late game is just as good as anyone else’s because of how well Jace, Crackling Doom, and the Commands scale.
Winning the early game against this deck doesn’t matter unless you can also focus on shutting out the Commands and recurring early drops. Post-board you can afford to go bigger, which is why cards like Mastery of the Unseen, Duress, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon (as seen in Omar Beldon’s 2nd-place deck) are starting to pick up steam. It costs very little to sub out a few cheap spells or bad answers for bombs when the rest of your deck remains so efficient.
Omar’s deck has a few interesting tweaks with Duress, Negate, and a general mix of utility cards and 1-ofs in the sideboard. Lucas Siow played the same build and seemed to like it, and I trust his opinion on making small tweaks to decks for big results. If you’re looking for a list that retains the core qualities of what makes Jeskai good but has a new angle, look there.
Jake Mondello, 3rd at GP Quebec City
Joshua Dickerson, 1st at SCG 5K Premiere Event
Well it looks like the prophecy is true and Ugin has returned to lay waste to the Eldrazi and return order to… wait. They’re working together now? All is lost.
In all seriousness, there’s nothing scarier for your average midrange deck than when Ugin, the Spirit Dragon hits the field and the opponent sacrifices Sanctum of Ugin for an Ulamog followup. If Atarka Red and Landfall both get pushed out of the format or morph into slower builds, then a deck like this offers a huge opportunity.
As I said in week 1, Ugin is simply the best card you can ramp into in this format. Losing Hero’s Downfall has completely shifted how decks deal with planeswalkers, and the departure of Stoke the Flames means Jeskai also lacks an efficient way to deal with Ugin. You can now slam Ugin and clear the board without worrying. Half of the time against Jeskai you can simply start using the +2 ability to gain total control of the game.
The biggest problem for this deck is the lack of good ramp spells. Playing a defensive Hangarback Walker was simply better against aggressive decks. Notice how all the mana dorks that were in the first iterations of ramp lists have been discarded for cards that don’t die to Wild Slash and Fiery Impulse. Rattleclaw Mystic may be correct to run, but none of the other ramp is vulnerable to spot removal. Despite Hedron Archive seeing hate from Kolaghan’s Command, it is still one of the best cards in the archetype.
With the lack of fetchlands and Jaces, this may be the breakout budget deck for players who dislike red. I’m interested to see how it develops, and if you plan on playing GW Megamorph or Abzan, I’d start considering whether precautions can be taken to not lose to a turn-6 Ugin.
Esper Control has been picking up steam since the Pro Tour and I feel now is a good opportunity to look at the two primary ways to build it:
Reid Duke, Top 8 at GP Quebec City
My main issue with Reid’s build is time. On Magic Online, I have no problem playing three games with it against any other deck, including the mirror. In real life, however, with a shared clock and up to 10 minutes going into shuffling, I’m far less inclined to believe I can finish three games in most matches. In fact I’d say not only does your opponent need to play quickly, but both of you need to shortcut fetches by default to have a shot.
The main weakness of Reid’s deck is winning matches! While in an ideal world we wouldn’t need anything more than awaken spells or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Chapin’s build is just far better at closing out matches with Secure the Wastes as a dedicated win condition. I hate Dragonlord Ojutai, but at least it gives you a shot at just attacking a couple of times and cascading into an endgame. I’m just not confident enough in getting there, and if you choose Reid’s build you better be on your A-game and, more importantly, make all your physical actions smoothly.
I’ve been pretty happy with a hybrid build between the two. Ugin is so powerful that it remains the primary win condition most of the time and Dragonlord Silumgar is good enough at the moment that I’m willing to sacrifice a little protection to run them. Post-board you can switch your win conditions to Gideon and Secure the Wastes, which kill very quickly, and support your Silumgars nicely by drawing out opposing interaction spells. Another consideration is Retreat to Emeria simply because it isn’t hard to line up a few fetches, make an army, and then kill the opponent without ever investing many resources. I haven’t gone far enough down that road yet, but I figure it’s worth exploring.
As for normal changes, I vastly prefer Duress over Clash of Wills simply because information is important and taking Gideon is critical. Clash of Wills obviously stops the turn-4 Gideon as well, but plays significantly less well later in the game or when you need to know what is and isn’t worth spending a removal spell on. This could be a crutch for a less skilled player, but again, so few of us are at that level of play that I’ll take what I can get. Ultimate Price splits with Complete Disregard because I got sick of my limited interactions with Hangarback Walker and Jace, when exiling them saved me a lot of trouble.
This is what I’ve been playing online to reasonable success, and without playing 40-minute matches. In real life I’d still feel uneasy playing it without a few more win conditions in the board.
Once again, the fiercest opponent for Esper isn’t the player sitting across from you, it’s the clock. Good luck to those who have to play someone just picking up Esper, it isn’t a fun experience.
Maybe those Eldrazi were on to something…