This weekend, I played Esper Control in the New Jersey RPTQ. While I came up short with a 4-2 record, I’ve been having good results with the deck online. Hallowed Fountain is finally here, and Teferi is not about to disappoint. Big thanks to Andrew Davis and Oliver Tomajko for their work iterating on the list before I took it off the rails.

Deck List

Esper Control

Noteworthy Card Choices

2 Islands, 24 Dual Lands

I expect this to be the most controversial part of this article, so let me explain. This deck wants double-blue for Absorb, and double-white/double-black for Kaya’s Wrath. I consider both of these cards to be key reasons to play the deck. But I find being a turn late on Absorb to be much more punishing than being a turn late on Kaya’s Wrath. Two Islands are really useful for making sure Absorb is on for turn 3. If Absorb is consistently a 4-drop, then the deck is overloaded on 4-drops and has issues constantly falling behind. But if WWBB is missing for Kaya’s Wrath, you’ll usually have a different 4-drop to play. Furthermore, the most common decks you might want to slam Kaya’s Wrath on turn 4 against, Mono-Blue Aggro and Izzet Drakes, play Spell Pierce. Against them, I prefer to wait on Kaya’s Wrath until turn 6 to be able to pay for Spell Pierce. Finally, I don’t like to have Kaya’s Wrath and Basilica Bell-Haunt in post-board against the same deck, so there shouldn’t ever be more than 4 WWBB cards hanging out with your Islands. Shoutout to Evan Whitehouse for proposing this mana base.

4 Thief of Sanity

Every Esper list plays four copies of this card, but I just want to emphasize how awesome this card is. Even as a known quantity that opponents will invariably expect, it still provides so many free wins and forces a squeeze on your opponent’s deck composition post-board. My favorite hidden mode on Thief of Sanity is that it has the keyword big against Mono-Blue—it is a great blocker against 1/1 flyers.

1 Plaguecrafter

This is a dedicated slot versus Izzet Drakes and Mono-Blue Aggro. I ran into these decks a bunch online, and I wanted a card that dodges their answers to our answers, namely Spell Pierce, Dive Down, Negate, and Disdainful Stroke. Plaguecrafter dodges all of those (unlike The Eldest Reborn), while being able to kill the Niv-Mizzet, Parun and Ral, Izzet Viceroy that come in post-board.

Sideboard Guide

Sultai Midrange

Do your best to help the suite of six Dimir creatures run away with the game. Hostage Taker is a great answer to Hydroid Krasis, even if it gets removed after exiling the Krasis. I’m not a fan of Negate post-board in this matchup, as your opponent will be able to maneuver around it between four Duress and four counterspells.

Out

NegateNegateMortifyMortifyMortifyChromium, the Mutable

In

Thief of SanityThief of SanityThief of SanityThief of SanityHostage TakerHostage Taker

Esper Control Mirror

Most builds will have at least one card capable of winning the game in addition to Teferi in game 1. Unless yours (Chromium) will win immediately, do not fight your opponent over keeping it alive. Otherwise, all of your opponent’s Kaya’s Wraths are now live cards. In a game that goes to decking, you don’t want to allow your opponent to have more live cards than you.

Out

Moment of CravingMoment of CravingKaya's WrathKaya's WrathKaya's WrathKaya's WrathCast DownChromium, the Mutable

In

Thief of SanityThief of SanityThief of SanityThief of SanityPlaguecrafterDuressDuressNegate

Mono-Red

This deck has adapted to be more of a burn deck by cutting Chainwhirler. This means that most interaction will be with noncreature spells, and creatures that do hit the battlefield will be small in size. I consider this matchup to be pretty good due to how much life gain this deck has. Besides Basilica Bell-Haunt, I like Hostage Taker because of its size as a 2/3. Plus, you can take a Ghitu Lavarunner and immediately attack back with it. Who’s the captain now?

Out

Precognitive PerceptionKaya's WrathKaya's WrathKaya's WrathKaya's WrathChemister's InsightChromium, the MutableThought Erasure

In

Moment of CravingMoment of CravingHostage TakerHostage TakerBasilica Bell-HauntBasilica Bell-HauntBasilica Bell-HauntNegate

Azorius Aggro

This is probably the worst matchup for Esper with my current build, and I think this is a structurally bad matchup for Esper in general. The combination of pressure and counterspells means that I’d play a different deck if Azorius Aggro is popular locally.

Out

Precognitive PerceptionChromium, the MutableNegateNegateThought ErasureThought ErasureAbsorb

In

Basilica Bell-HauntBasilica Bell-HauntBasilica Bell-HauntMoment of CravingMoment of CravingHostage TakerHostage Taker

Esper Midrange

I consider this to be much closer to neutral than Azorius Aggro. The disruption is still there, but the clock is a tad slower, meaning Esper Control will have time to play out more of its cards.

Out

Precognitive PerceptionChromium, the MutableThought ErasureChemister's InsightAbsorbAbsorb

In

Thief of SanityThief of SanityThief of SanityThief of SanityHostage TakerHostage Taker

Bant Nexus

Thief of Sanity is messed up, and this matchup is part of the reason why. Cast it and get your free win. Bonus points for each Wilderness Reclamation you take, as Esper Control is already partially designed to be able to use mana that becomes untapped in its own end step.

Out

Precognitive PerceptionKaya's WrathKaya's WrathKaya's WrathKaya's WrathCast DownMoment of CravingMoment of CravingVraska's Contempt

In

Thief of SanityThief of SanityThief of SanityThief of SanityHostage TakerHostage TakerDuressDuressNegate

Four-Color Gates

I’ve found that your matchup plays out very similarly to Bant Nexus. Cast Thief of Sanity, then enjoy your free win.

Out

Precognitive PerceptionKaya's WrathKaya's WrathKaya's WrathKaya's WrathCast DownMoment of CravingMoment of CravingVraska's Contempt

In

Thief of SanityThief of SanityThief of SanityThief of SanityHostage TakerHostage TakerDuressDuressNegate

Mono-Blue Aggro

The typical holding pattern I try to establish is to repeatedly cast removal during your opponent’s upkeep until you can slam a Kaya’s Wrath on turn 6 with 2 mana up to pay for Spell Pierce. Thief of Sanity is a huge body in this matchup. It both blocks well and forces trades via double blocks from your opponent’s 1/1 flyers.

Out

NegatePrecognitive PerceptionChemister's InsightVraska's ContemptVraska's ContemptVraska's ContemptChromium, the MutableAbsorbAbsorbAbsorbAbsorb

In

Moment of CravingMoment of CravingThief of SanityThief of SanityThief of SanityThief of SanityHostage TakerHostage TakerPlaguecrafterDuressDuress

Izzet Drakes

The same things that apply to Mono-Blue Aggro apply here, except Thief of Sanity has poor sizing so it stays on the bench. Post-board revolves around Ral and Niv, so prioritize them with discard spells. Plaguecrafter will almost certainly answer a relevant card, and a Pteramander stolen with Hostage Taker can usually be adapted immediately.

Out

Moment of CravingMoment of CravingChromium, the MutableNegateNegate

In

Hostage TakerHostage TakerPlaguecrafterDuressDuress

Gruul Aggro

This is one matchup that might punish you for not having Kaya’s Wrath on turn 4. The one bit of rules advice for those that haven’t seen this before is that you can Mortify your opponent’s Rhythm of the Wild with a creature on the stack, and then counter it.

Out

Precognitive PerceptionChromium, the MutableNegateNegate

In

Moment of CravingMoment of CravingHostage TakerHostage Taker

Moving Forward

Chromium is currently in my secondary win-con slot over Dawn of Hope, although it’s possible that Karn, Scion of Urza is better. I haven’t tested it extensively yet. I previously had a Lyra Dawnbringer in addition to the three Basilica Bell-Haunt, although a 2-1 split is probably better than my current 3-0. One idea I heard as a potential trump versus White Weenie is Ethereal Absolution, which could be good since this deck lacks a good long-term answer to a transformed Legion’s Landing. It’s a great Limited bomb, and maybe it’s time for it to take over Standard as well.