After the Pro Tour, I needed to take a break from Magic. Testing for the PT is exhausting. Not only do you spend a lot of time together as a large group in small environments for a lot of hours, but the sheer stress and anticipation of the event gets to you. After a week of relaxing, I set my mind on Nationals.

Winning Nationals has always been a goal for me. Sure, I’ve become the National Champion five times by having the most Pro Points in Sweden during the WMC system, but actually going to the event and winning the title is something else. This year in particular, a follow comrade and countryman Elias Watsefeldt had a great season and was leading the race by quite the margin, even netting himself a spot in the World Championship. So this time, it was more important than ever to win the event—not only for the title, but also for the chance to compete on the National team.

Testing for events, especially when you have little time to prepare, is especially beneficial when you have friends who you can reliably ask about the formats. I had the benefit of having someone close by to ask about both formats. Petr Sochurek, whom I’ve tested with for years and competed with at the Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, has an excellent knowledge of Core Set 2019. Not only did he play a ton on Magic Online, but he barely missed Top 8 at GP Chiba with a 13-2 record.

I learned a lot from Petr, and with his help and my own intuition I started to win all the time on Magic Online. The important thing about Core Set 2019 Limited is not only that “green is bad” or “blue is great” but to remember that it’s a core set Limited format by its very essence. This means that there are a lot of vanilla creatures and not a ton of archetypes.

For Core Set 2019 in particular, it’s easy to block creatures on the ground. There are a lot of creatures, especially 1/3s, that have more toughness than power and are better at blocking, like Doomed Dissenter, making it hard to get through on the ground. It’s gotten to the point that I think regular vanilla creatures that can’t always attack by having evasion or, say, deathtouch are close to unplayable!

In Core Set 2019, you need a plan to win. In most formats, you’re happy to have a bread-and-butter deck with some amount of 2/2s for 2, 3/3s for 3 etc., but in Core Set 2019, they are terrible! More than ever, don’t play creatures to just fill out your curve and expect them to trade for a card. M19 blanks such creatures quicker than ever. The type of creatures I’m talking about are Oreskos Swiftclaw, Diregraf Ghoul, Child of Night, Walking Corpse, Doomed Dissenter, Greenwood Sentinel etc.

Since most 2-drops in the format are terrible, being aggressive is quite difficult. The only aggressive archetype I like is R/W Go-Wide because the archetype plays well in a format where board stalls happen regularly. Just play tons of small creatures and add a few Inspired Charges, and you’re good to go. Since aggressive archetypes are underwhelming overall in the format, this also means that blue is great, because it has exactly what you need: card advantage, evasion, and even good removal! Yep, you heard it right—blue even has good removal. Essence Scatter is fantastic in this format and the only other common I can see being close to it is Death’s Caress. Even Dwindle is great.

With that knowledge, I went into the Nationals Draft in pod 2. I opened my first pack and saw the choice between Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire and Volcanic Dragon. Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire is clearly a much more powerful card than Volcanic Dragon, but has more constraints. Since I don’t really want to be any of the color combinations splashing the third color Vaevictis has to offer, I ended up taking Volcanic Dragon.

Red dried up quickly and I started to instead pick up a lot of blue cards with some powerful white cards coming into pack 2. In pack 2, I opened the choice between a second Militia Bugler, a fantastic card, versus another even better card, Banefire. Usually, I would have taken Militia Bugler, especially since red seemed to be everything but open, but the x-factor that changed everything was when the person on my left opened Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.

Luckily, he picked his card fast, clearly passing the Nicol Bolas with the pack in front of me so that I could see it getting passed, which meant that I took the Banefire instead to get Nicol Bolas and end up in blue-red splash black. From what I had seen in pack 1, blue was open enough for me to only need to get a few red cards in the first few picks in pack 2 and 3, given how heavily drafted it was. My plan paid off.

I finished with a 3-0 record with this pretty amazing deck, playing the person on my left in the finals. He told me that luckily for me, he opened Dryad Greenseeker, the mythic uncommon, which he elected to pick over splashing a fourth color for Nicol Bolas.

One last thing many seemed to have missed in the Core Set 2019 Draft, given how late it goes: Uncomfortable Chill is a fantastic card and I would always play at least two if I had them. Not only does it play out well in the format, often being an easy 2-for-1 when brawling with other flying creatures, but it also solves one of your largest problems. That is, since you are trying to block and play tons of removals while racing in the air with blue decks, go-wide strategies—R/W Go-Wide in particular—are an issue for you. Uncomfortable Chill is a natural counter to those decks, leading to some pretty big blowouts or as a great tempo tool when they go for an all-out attack.

With Limited a success, what about Standard? Remember what I said about having friends as a great resource? This time, I asked Thomas Hendriks. Hendriks, my second teammate at PT 25th Anniversary, not only played Standard and R/B Aggro at PT 25th Anniversary, but he also Top 8’d the previous Pro Tour with the same deck. When I asked him what he had played at GP Brussels a week later, he responded Esper Control. I knew it had to be good, because he switched from R/B Aggro and the deck won the event. I asked for his list, trusting Thomas’ tuning skills, and played about 8-10 competitive Magic Online Leagues with it before deciding not to change a single card. The list felt great.

Esper Control

So why is Esper so good all of a sudden? Two major reasons:

1. It’s great versus R/B Aggro. Since R/B consists of a bunch of resilient threats like Hazoret the Fervent, Scrapheap Scrounger, Heart of Kiran, and Rekindling Phoenix, sweepers are terrible against it. Alongside its planeswalkers and with some versions being more like midrange Jund strategies, they get even worse. Vraska’s Contempt, however, takes care of every type of threat. It also, while seeming small, gains life alongside Essence Extraction, which is important in the matchup, since it gives you a buffer to use your answers more appropriately for the right threats. Because Vraska’s Contempt is the perfect answer in the matchup, Esper tries to play as many as possible in a match, even playing four Torrential Gearhulk to flash it back.

When you have answers for everything R/B Aggro does early and in the midgame, they often flood out on not only lands, but also removal that are less effective in the matchup. The reason R/B floods out more than normal aggressive decks is because since the Mardu Vehicles era, there have been a high number of threats that are so powerful at 4 and 5 mana that the aggressive decks play them too, like Hazoret the Fervent, Rekindling Phoenix, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Glorybringer. They play all of these threats while having 1-drops and a relatively low curve in general, which makes it so they have to play a high land count to be able to curve out, making the job of grinding them out in the late game for control decks a lot easier. That is, as long as you survive with the right answers and a life gain buffer.

2. The second major reason is because Esper benefits from the presence of Red and R/B. Since Goblin Chainwhirler is so heavily played, going wide and playing tons of small creatures to the ground is almost impossible against Goblin Chainwhirler. With those archetypes pushed out of the metagame, Esper can rely solely on spot removal to gain an even better advantage against red, R/B Aggro, and others.

Sideboard Guide

Mirror

Out on the Play

In on the Play

Out on the Draw

In on the Draw

Red/R/B

Out

In

Turbo Fog

Out

In

Mono-Green

Out

In

U/B Midrange

Out

In

Grixis

Out

In

Gift

Out

In

U/w Control

Out

In

G/B Snake

Out

In

Mono-Blue

Out

In

So how did it all end? After losing the first match to G/B Snake, I stopped losing. All together—including the Top 8. Finally, I had achieved the title of Swedish Champion by playing Nationals and I couldn’t be more happy about it, teaming up with a very strong team consisting of Vidar Hesselman and our captain, Elias Watsfeldt. All with a little help from my friends.