After making fun of Esper for months since Core Set 2020 came out, I think it is time for good old Esper Control to be back in the metagame. Kethis Combo is dominating the field, with 5 MPL players out of 8 playing it in today’s split and with 4 copies in the Top 8 of last weekend’s online MCQ.
I played Esper Control at the Arena Mythic Championship in Las Vegas, and I thought it was the best deck at the time. Vampires, Chandra, Awakened Inferno and Risen Reef pushed it out, but now that those cards are at all-time low, it’s time for Esper Control to shine again.
Esper Control in Core Set 2020 Standard
1 Swamp 1 Plains 4 Godless Shrine 4 Watery Grave 4 Drowned Catacomb 3 Isolated Chapel 4 Glacial Fortress 4 Hallowed Fountain 1 Temple of Silence 3 Basilica Bell-Haunt 4 Teferi, Time Raveler 3 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria 4 Narset, Parter of Veils 4 Thought Erasure 1 Tyrant's Scorn 1 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper 3 Oath of Kaya 1 The Elderspell 2 Legion's End 2 Command the Dreadhorde 1 Mortify 3 Kaya's Wrath 1 Search for Azcanta/Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin 1 Despark Sideboard 2 Enter the God-Eternals 1 The Elderspell 2 Unmoored Ego 3 Ashiok, Dream Render 2 Devout Decree 1 Despark 2 Noxious Grasp 1 Dovin's Veto 1 Bolas's Citadel
Carlos Romao has had a lot of success with Esper Control in the Fandom Legends events and I started from his list. I built my list and sideboard with just one matchup in my mind: Kethis Combo, the deck to beat. That’s why you see cards like Kaya and Tyrant’s Scorn. Those cards aren’t good in a deck like this normally, but Kaya is good for eating their important graveyard pieces or a Mox Amber in play, and Scorn is better than most other 2-mana removal spells since it can kill Kethis, the Hidden Hand.
Command the Dreadhorde is better than Bolas’s Citadel in the maindeck as you can successfully empty your opponent’s graveyard to stop them from going off the following turn with Kethis. The most important card in the matchup is Narset, Parter of Veils. You have to act like Narset is an enchantment that stops your opponent from drawing extra cards, and using the -2 ability only if you are really out of gas. Narset stops the main engine of Teferi, Time Raveler + Fblthp, which is what makes the deck so solid and so good in the lategame.
There’s a lot of 1-ofs, and the deck could be built in many ways, so I’m open to chatting in the comments if anyone has ideas on how to build this differently.
It’s always weird to cut Teferi from any deck, but the reason I’m doing it here is because their deck is immune to it. They play zero instants and a bunch of ETB cards and neither deck cares about tempo, so delaying Kethis for one turn won’t change much.
Oath of Kaya and Basilica Bell-Haunt have their uses, but I think are weak as the first one can’t kill the main threat, and the second is only good as a blocker and bad against Tamiyo, Collector of Tales.
Three Ashiok might seem like too many, but I found the milling plan to be the most effective one. Unmoored Ego is usually used to name Kethis, the Hidden Hand, but you can also name Jace, Wielder of Mysteries if you feel like you’re decking them and there’s no way out. Remember once again that Narset is the most important card here.
I’m not a fan of Narset in the creature matchups. You might be too clunky by adding two 5-drops and cutting some threes, but Narset must go. I like keeping The Elderspell, and I could even see going up to 2, since Gideon, the Blackblade is that annoying.
Field of the Dead Decks
It’s hard to give a general sideboard guide for this matchup as there are so many different versions of this strategy. In general, you need to deal with Field of the Dead and Unmoored Ego is the fastest answer, Ashiok, Dream Render can also deal with part of their gameplan. Once you will have exiled their Field of the Dead, you only need a Narset, Parter of Veils to stop Hydroid Krasis and you’ll rarely lose.
This is a very positive matchup. You have discard and removals, as well as Teferi, Time Raveler to stop them. Just hit your early land drops and you’ll be safe.
Standard is a cycle, and just because Esper hasn’t been good for months doesn’t mean that will never be good again. We’ll see how the metagame will evolve and how it will react to the very scary Kethis deck.