Since War of the Spark entered Standard, Esper has been a big part of the format. We’ve seen Esper Control, Esper Midrange and Esper Planeswalkers. After some weeks of practice, I can safely say that Esper Midrange with Hero of Precinct One is the best of the bunch.
I didn’t always think so. I tried Esper Hero a bunch, but never liked it. Yes, Thief of Sanity was sometimes Phage, the Untouchable, but I never liked it against Teferi, Time Raveler, Vraska, Golgari Queen or red decks, so for the most part I tried other strategies, mostly Command the Dreadhorde decks. Then last Sunday, Martin Mueller, ex-Platinum Player and two-time Mythic Championship Top 8 competitor, showed the world his creation that nearly took him to the Top 16 of the Arena MCQ. His Esper list didn’t play any copies of Thief of Sanity, but Narset, Parter of Veils instead. I immediately liked the idea and tried it out, with great success.
Esper Hero in Standard
4 Drowned Catacomb 4 Glacial Fortress 4 Godless Shrine 4 Hallowed Fountain 4 Isolated Chapel 1 Plains (331) 1 Swamp (339) 4 Watery Grave 4 Basilica Bell-Haunt 4 Hero of Precinct One 1 Command the Dreadhorde 1 Despark 1 Liliana, Dreadhorde General 3 Narset, Parter of Veils 3 Oath of Kaya 1 Search for Azcanta/Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin 4 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria 4 Teferi, Time Raveler 1 The Elderspell 4 Thought Erasure 3 Tyrant's Scorn Sideboard 1 Cast Down 1 Command the Dreadhorde 2 Cry of the Carnarium 1 Despark 2 Duress 1 Ixalan's Binding 3 Kaya's Wrath 3 Lyra Dawnbringer 1 The Elderspell
This is the final list after five days of testing. I played a very similar version at the Fandom Legends tournament last week, Top 8ing and only losing to two Bant Ramp decks.
Today I want to answer the questions I’m asked the most:
Why Narset, Parter of Veils over Thief of Sanity?
I don’t think Thief is well-positioned in the metagame. It is generally good against Simic Combo decks (Ramp and Nexus) but is bad against literally everything else. There are way too many Shock decks (Mono-Red, U/R Phoenix and Gruul) and there are way too many planeswalkers that punish you for playing a three-drop without an enter-the-battlefield effect (namely Teferi and Vraska).
Narset, on the other hand, is a powerhouse against Hydroid Krasis, Teferis, and Phoenix decks (remember to almost never -2 to prevent your opponent from using their Lightning Strike or Arclight Phoenix to kill Narset and unlock their hand). It can be hard to cast sometimes with just 16 sources in the deck, but this is still help in the lategame when you’re flooding out (which this deck does a lot).
Why Basilica Bell-Haunt over Elite Guardmage?
The extra power and toughness of Basilica Bell-Haunt is huge, and it is relevant not only against Mono-Red, but also against Nissa, Who Shakes the World and the explore creatures. You often just stall the board just with a single Basilica Bell-Haunt, protecting your planeswalker perfectly. Elite Guardmage has flying, but since we are seeing fewer Thief of Sanity and Mono-Blue Tempo decks, that isn’t that important anymore. Bell-Haunt does have a tougher mana cost, but I overall the upside is higher than the downside.
Why are you playing Hero of Precinct One main deck if you always sideboard it out?
Hero of Precinct One is great at pressuring planeswalkers and protecting yours, both of which are very relevant and being flexible is important for this deck. I think being proactive in the main deck and reactive in the sideboard is one of the best approaches for a midrange deck. Being able to switch gears will not only with throw off your opponent, who won’t know how to properly sideboard or what to play around, but it will also help you decide which approach to take during the game. Even having decklists can’t help your opponent play around that.
Why Command the Dreadhorde in Esper?
I believe Command the Dreadhorde was the most underrated card in Standard. I didn’t trust people who suggested it when I was playing Sultai, and I joked about the 4c Dreadhorde deck the Czechs brewed. But it’s a great card, and this deck has a lot of life-gain between Basilica Bell-Haunt and Oath of Kaya (which can be bounced by Teferi, Time Raveler), which makes Command the Dreadhorde a win-con. There are plenty of matchups where Command is just the most powerful card in your deck.
In the Fandom Legends tournament, I won a game against Sjow that I thought I was for sure dead, sitting at 20 life with empty board against three planeswalkers and a full grip, but thanks to the Command I crawled back into the game.
Why no Dovin’s Veto?
The answer is very simple: I don’t want to play countermagic in a format with Teferi, Time Raveler.
Teferi is a great card, but it gets much better when you face decks with Dovin’s Veto, Frilled Mystic and Finale of Promise in their deck. I want to play decks that are immune to this very popular card, and that’s why my decks tend to play at sorcery speed, like 4c Dreadhorde and this version of Esper Midrange.
Why no Mortify?
I’m not seeing enchantments around much anymore outside of Experimental Frenzy (which is always annoying). I think Oath of Kaya is much better, since being able to kill Narsets and Teferis, gain some life and stick around to get bounced by your own Teferi. And its second ability is very much real against aggressive decks. I often lead with a third-turn Oath of Kaya and then just jam a bunch of Teferis minuses just to buy time while they deal with them and I gain life.
This matchup is very favorable. You have plenty of interaction for their creatures, and only need to watch out for their good cards: Experimental Frenzy, Tibalt, Rakish Instigator and Chandra.
Lyra will often take over the game. I’m playing three mainly for the U/R Phoenix matchup, but she will succeed here as well.
I’m leaving the odd combination Hero of Precinct One + Kaya’s Wrath in because often you shape your plan based on what you have in hand. You can easily manage to pressure with Hero most games, as well as having some where you need to rely on Kaya’s Wrath to sweep their board of explorers + Wildgrowth Walkers.
Basilica Bell-Haunt is good against the creatures but too bad against Tamiyo, Collector of Tales to want it here. But I could see keeping it in against Sultai opponents with multiple Nissa, Who Shakes the World, because on how well it matches up against their 3/3 lands. In that case, I’d cut 4 Hero and keep in 3 Basilica Bell-Haunt and board in the third Kaya’s Wrath.
This is the worst matchup. It’s very hard to deal with Crackling Drake and they can just go off out of nowhere. Our list is well-equipped to win post-sideboard, though. We have the biggest threat in Lyra, which dodges Negate and is very hard to deal with or race.
I like to sideboard like that on the play because they won’t have Legion Warboss and you are free to race them or pressure their Saheeli, and then turn more controlling for game 3, by cutting the Heroes and boarding in Kaya’s Wrath.
Watch out for Nullhide Ferox, as it can turn Basilica Bell-Haunt against you. Once again, Lyra will be your Plan A, but it’s best if you can play around Kraul Harpooner and Collision / Colossus with a Thought Erasure or Tyrant’s Scorn. I don’t like to bring in Cry of the Carnarium because I’m seeing more and more Thorn Lieutenant and fewer Legion Warboss.
Simic / Bant Ramp
Once again, we’re leaving in the odd combination Hero + Wrath. The reason is that they could swarm out lots of ramp creatures / activate multiple lands with Nissa and you’d need Wrath there. But they could also play the Frilled Mystic game, at which you need Hero of Precinct One to be able to get on board and make them move quickly.
This matchup is close. Having access to The Elderspell is a game-changer. Watch out for their counters and try to resolve a Teferi as soon as you can. Last week on my stream I defeated Zan Syed and Jeremy Dezani on this deck in some wonderful games. Narset was once again MVP and having her over Thief of Sanity easily won us the match.
I encourage you to watch my stream to know more about the deck, as this is my favorite deck right now!