Not many decks benefited more from the battlelands than Esper Dragons. While the power level of the deck is very high, the mana has always been a problem. The ability to search for blue, black, and white mana off both Polluted Delta and Flooded Strand has improved the mana base to the point where it can play white spells outside of Dragonlord Ojutai. I was excited to see just how powerful the updated Esper Dragons deck would be with the release of Battle For Zendikar—and I was not disappointed.
There are several cheap Dragon-powered spells that allow you to get to that point. Silumgar’s Scorn is an incredibly powerful card if you have a Dragon in hand. It’s been a long time since Wizards printed Counterspell but this is about as close as it gets. A 2-mana answer that can deal with any threat at any point in the game is incredibly powerful, and a big draw to playing the deck. Foul-Tongue Invocation is also quite powerful, as the 4 life buys you the time to get to the late game.
Esper Dragons is particularly strong against midrange decks that can’t pressure you enough in the early game. Green-based midrange decks can’t do much about Esper’s late-game strategy of:
Attack with Ojutai and protect it with counterspells
Esper was one of my top choices in the weeks leading up to the tournament, but the recent addition of Crackling Doom to Jeskai closed the gap in what used to be a great matchup.
Jeskai (Straight URW)
Anything that can kill you on turn 4
Esper Dragons is a solid choice against a field littered with Jeskai and GW Megamorph decks. The megamorph decks used to be a close matchup, as they had the ability to recur Deathmist Raptor multiple times over the course of a game and grind you out. That is much less of an issue now that Esper has access to cards that permanently exile creatures in Complete Disregard and Utter End.
Jeskai Burn was also a fairly good matchup as their late-game plan of trying to burn opponents to death gets thwarted by Foul-Tongue Invocations and countermagic. They also had very few ways to interact with or attack through a resolved Dragonlord Ojutai. All that has changed with the rise in popularity of “Jeskai Black.” Whereas previous iterations of Jeskai could not kill an untapped Ojutai, Jeskai now has the solution by splashing Crackling Doom.
The one historically bad matchup has likely gotten worse. Atarka Red is just too fast and hits way too hard for Esper to stand a chance. Esper also lost access to Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow—both of which were incredible against Atarka Red. On the bright side, you get to play more white cards now, and having access to Arashin Cleric and Surge of Righteousness gives the deck a fighting chance after sideboard.
Silumgar’s Scorn seems like it would be a great card in the matchup but I found that the mana requirements for the deck become very awkward once you bring in the white cards. You have to find a Plains early, so getting double-blue on turn 2 can be difficult. I prefer to play the role of a tap-out control deck since countermagic is generally not great.
It’s likely that they bring in Outpost Siege, so you might want to keep in some Utter Ends. The best strategy here is to win the die roll and hope they get horribly mana screwed or flooded.
There are many variants of Jeskai so you’ll have to use your best judgment. If they are playing with Hangarback Walkers, you can cut some Foul-Tongue Invocations. If they don’t have Hangarbacks, then the mass removal is likely slow and clunky. Dragonlord’s Prerogative has actually been pretty strong as the Jeskai decks tend to board in 3-4 cheap counters for Dig Through Time, and having an uncounterable way to get ahead on cards is nice.
I like to keep in the slower but more versatile removal spells here. Utter End and Foul-Tongue Invocation are both able to hit Jace and the Dragons. On the draw, it’s possible that you want additional ways to deal with Jace.
Dispel and Foul-Tongue Invocation are both pretty bad. They have almost no instants and are playing with Hangarback Walkers that act as Foul-Tongue fodder. The dream here is to cast a Dragonlord Silumgar to steal the opposing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and sacrifice it to get the emblem. I have yet to pull this off, but here’s hoping!