The Pro Tour came, and heralded the rise of the control decks. Since that event, it’s been a sea of G/B Delirium, U/W Flash, and Mardu Vehicles. The decline of control decks has been swift and decisive.
The biggest, baddest Snapcaster Mage in all the land has a lot going for it. Torrential Gearhulk is a giant creature that threatens to dominate combat. Forcing opponents to reconsider attacking into open mana for fear of having their creature ambushed is extra value even when you don’t have the Gearhulk in hand, and this extra time allows you to play the other instants in your hand. The Gearhulk does ask you to play a number of instants, and that’s the direction most control decks have gone. This has also made the Jeskai and Grixis versions far more popular.
But Gearhulk doesn’t really become relevant until the later stages in the game, so you can still go the planeswalker route. This makes Esper an ideal choice, as the black planeswalkers offer a lot.
You have Sorin, Grim Nemesis to take control of the game, gain some life, and then finish your opponent off. Sorin has such high loyalty and offers so much card advantage, and he even rewards you for playing a slower deck by dealing more damage with his plus ability. Ob Nixilis Reignited functions similarly. It helps stabilize the board by taking down the biggest threat before adding in the card advantage, or just ticks up to try to get out of range immediately.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is still great. The main use in this deck is going to be to create tokens to protect your other planeswalkers and buy time, but he can tick up and get in there or emblem if you have enough tokens already going. Dovin Baan will shut down an attacker, gain even more card advantage, and eventually bury an opponent behind the ultimate.
Having access to black also opens you up to a few more consistent removal spells than Jeskai has. Anguished Unmaking will deal with any issue, and Murder is just a great way to make sure that you can kill what you need to. Grasp of Darkness is as efficient a removal spell as you can get, especially at instant speed.
You’re playing Gearhulk, so you’ll want counters to bring back. With double-black removal spells and important white cards, blue is actually closer to the splash color in this deck to abuse Gearhulk late. This means there are no Void Shatters, but you do have Negate and Spell Shrivel to stop problem spells. Glimmer of Genius keeps you loaded up with gas even before it’s flashed back.
With additional removal in Blessed Alliance, Stasis Snare, and some Ruinous Paths to create a threat or deal with a planeswalker, Esper is not short on answers. With Gearhulks, planeswalkers, and tons of card drawing, it’s also not short on threats.
If control decks are going to see another rise, we have to look for the best answers to the current problems. Esper may have exactly what it takes.