PV’s Playhouse – Playing with Esper

Hello!

As you may or may not know, I skipped a portion of our team testing for PT Gatecrash (the Las Vegas portion) to attend GPs Bilbao and London in my search for pro points. As a result of that (and an absurd 6-hour delay in Heathrow), I only managed to join the rest of the team on Monday night, three days before the tournament.

After some briefing, it turned out that the “decks to beat” were Saito’s super aggro RG, followed by Saito’s slower Naya deck, followed by Saito’s even faster RG deck—sometimes it felt like he was just throwing deck lists out there to mess with our heads. With the testing in Las Vegas, they had already filtered out the decks that flat out lost to RG, which left us with RG itself, Naya, Jund, Esper, and UWR. Martin and I had some new ideas, but since we had basically no time, we didn’t get to try many of them.

The two early favorites, to me, were Esper and UWR. I thought everyone would be prepared against RG, Naya was too undecided on whether it wanted to be fast or slow, and Jund was 51/49 versus everything, which just didn’t seem good enough.

By Tuesday morning, half the team was locked on UWR, which was very weird to me and seemed like a mistake, because it was based on certain premises that I did not think were true—for example, that the deck “smashed midrange.”

I sat down to play some games against Naya, and Ben just yelled, “what difference is a couple of games going to make? We’re not going to change the list anymore,” which I think was definitely the wrong approach and left me a little angry. It felt like everyone was just settling for something that was potentially not the best.

Conley mentioned how happy he was that we had locked into a deck days before the event and could actually work on perfecting a sideboard, and I think that feeling was partially what led to settling quickly—he wanted to feel that way, because we never do and it seems awesome. People wanted to have a great deck, so they created one in their minds. They would play ten games, have a 7-3 record, and conclude that the deck beat the other deck because that was convenient.

I continued pestering people about this, and I think that, after a lot of games (especially post-sideboard against Jund), I managed to convince a lot of them that the results they had gotten were not necessarily representative. It’s not like the deck got destroyed by Jund or anything, but it certainly didn’t smash it, and Esper was definitely a bad matchup, even with [card]Harvest Pyre[/card] (though you were able to steal games with it if they didn’t know about it).

That didn’t mean UWR was not the best deck for us to play—all it meant was that we didn’t know that yet, and I thought we should explore other options. We did, and went back to Esper, which most of us liked more.

The way I see it, there were merits to both decks. UWR was better against the super fast aggro decks, but Esper was better against the midrange ones. More importantly, Esper was better versus UWR, which makes two matchups better (against both Esper and UWR I’d rather play Esper). So, we played Esper (or most of us did. Gerry and Martin played UWR, Kibler played Naya, Efro, and Brock played a different Naya deck, and Conley played Mono-Black).

Our Esper list was straightforward, save one card that made all the difference—[card]Restoration Angel[/card]. Angel is a very good card on its own, especially when you’re blinking [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s and [card]Augur of Bolas[/card], but it plays two very important roles in the deck: it kills planeswalkers (the bane of your existence), and it punishes people who don’t overcommit into Wrath by sniping their creatures one by one. After more playtesting, we decided to include [card]Planar Cleansing[/card] to improve our matchup against planeswalkers even more (and it has the added benefit of hitting [card]Triumph of Ferocity[/card] and [card]Underworld Connections[/card]).

This was the list we played:

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
4 Isolated Chapel
3 Nephalia Drownyard
1 Plains
2 Watery Grave
1 Ghost Quarter
4 Augur of Bolas
3 Restoration Angel
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Azorius Charm
2 Devour Flesh
2 Dissipate
1 Dramatic Rescue
2 Planar Cleansing
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Supreme Verdict
3 Think Twice
1 Ultimate Price
Sideboard
2 Angel of Serenity
1 Dispel
2 Duress
3 Gloom Surgeon
2 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Negate
1 Psychic Spiral
1 Rest in Peace
2 Witchbane Orb[/deck]

There are two differences between our list and Ben’s: we play a third Snapcaster over a fourth [card]Think Twice[/card], and we play a [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] over the fourth [card nephalia drownyard]Drownyard[/card].

[draft]think twice
snapcaster mage[/draft]

I think the [card]Think Twice[/card]/Snapcaster slot is debatable. Think Twice is perhaps better in many game 1s, but Snapcaster improves a lot once you have [card]Duress[/card] and cheap counterspells after board.

[draft]ghost quarter[/draft]

I think the [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] is a strict upgrade. Against everything but the Esper Mirror, you don’t need a fourth Drownyard, and even against the mirror the Ghost Quarter might be almost as useful. Against any deck with [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card] or [card]Underworld Connections[/card] the Ghost Quarter is extremely good, and sometimes you just [card]Strip Mine[/card] people—throughout the PT and the GP I think I Ghost Quartered 6 players, and only two searched for a land.

As for the PT itself, well, it didn’t go so well. My first draft deck was very bad, but I think that was mainly a problem with the packs we opened, because every single deck I saw from our pod was horrendous. I ended up Gruul, with a solid 18 good cards and 5 mediocre ones, which I think was above the average for our table—being only two colors was quite an accomplishment.

I had the option of playing 18 lands, but since my curve was not actually that high (I had two 7-drops, no 6-drops, and two 5-drops), and I had two [card]Greenside Watcher[/card]s (with two Gates), I decided to play a [card]Glaring Spotlight[/card] instead—maybe I just kill people with it, and I was playing enough cards that didn’t do much already that I didn’t want to flood on top of that.

In my very first match, I had to mulligan game one and then mulligan to five game two. That was 5 opening hands, none of which contained a single Forest. Four of them had [card]Glaring Spotlight[/card] in them, though, and would have been easy keeps had that been my 18th land. Oh well, sometimes we pay for our choices.

I ended up not drawing a Forest in any of the games (though I did draw a Gate at some point in game 1), and lost to a bad RWB deck without playing many spells.

Match two I played against LSV, and I think my deck was better than his—game 1 he drew all lands, game two I had a three-turn window to draw a land, a removal spell, or a creature that would evolve my 6/2 and I bricked all three times, and then game three I was simply overrun.

My third match was against a UGr deck with a power level similar to mine, and he had very slow starts both times. It felt like we were playing some sort of Master’s Edition, we both played a bunch of 2/2s until eventually a 4/5 dominated the board. I won that round to finish draft at 1-2—not very exciting.

I played against Naya with [card obzedat, ghost council]Obzedat[/card] in the first round of Standard. Game one I won easily, game two he just played a lot of guys and I didn’t have a Wrath, and then game three we got to a point where I played two [card]Think Twice[/card]s, bricked on lands, and then got my two [card sphinx’s revelation]Revelations[/card] and my two [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] hit by consecutive [card]Slaughter Games[/card], so I lost.

[card]slaughter games[/card]

Round 5 was against the mirror, and I won game one because I drew more Drownyards, lost game two to [card]Lingering Souls[/card] and Obzedat, and then won game three when I [card]Duress[/card]ed him, saw [card]Dissipate[/card], two Revelations and two [card jace, memory adept]Jaces[/card], and [card]Ghost Quarter[/card]ed his Hallowed Fountain (I was pretty confident from game 1 that he did not have any basics).

Round 6 was against Naya Humans, and game 1 I didn’t have a Wrath, while game two I had three Wraths but could never draw a fourth land. Round 7 I beat another Esper guy when I [card]Planar Cleanse[/card]d away his [card]Mindlock Orb[/card] and [card liliana of the veil]Liliana[/card], and then round 8 I was paired against David Sharfman for our win-and-in at 3-4.

Sharfman was playing UWR—a good matchup for me—though he did have [card]Boros Charm[/card]s, which makes it worse (but still good, I believe). Game one was weird. I was somewhat in control, but then I drew infinite lands and died to two [card]Boros Charm[/card]s and two [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card]s.

There was a point at which he attacked with [card]Boros Reckoner[/card], and I had three [card]Augur of Bolas[/card]. Now, the normal player would either take the damage or chump block, taking only one. I am not a normal player—I am a genius! I came up with the revolutionary plan of triple-blocking the Boros Reckoner, forcing him to give first strike, therefore killing my Augur before it could deal any damage, and saving me a point of life. I was very proud of it. Then I took 2 damage, because the other two Augurs were still alive. Oh well, at least I got him to spend a mana…

[draft]Boros reckoner[/draft]

Game two, I kept a hand with three lands and [card]Think Twice[/card]. I drew a spell, played [card]Think Twice[/card] and drew a spell, and then drew a spell again. On turn three I was already sure I wasn’t going to draw a land, because why would I? That’s for lucky people, making your land drops.

He played a Reckoner, and I said “sure,” eager to flashback my [card]Think Twice[/card] and finally find out if I was going to make my fourth land drop or not. The problem is that I had drawn a [card]Dissipate[/card] that I really, really should have used on the [card]Boros Reckoner[/card]… as it was, I did not draw a land, had to discard for a turn, and was eventually overrun by the Reckoner and an Angel or two. If I [card]Dissipate[/card] the Reckoner I don’t automatically win, but the game gets much much better for me. I think that, of all the matches at the PT, this is the one I could actually have won if I had played better.

So, my tournament ended with a 3-5 record. Not great, but I felt like I had been pretty unlucky and I actually liked the deck we played—a novelty, to be sure, since I hate all our decks all the time. Esper’s results were very underwhelming at the tournament, with the lowest win % of all, but I think people were playing bad lists and we had a good list. Our win % with it was not the highest (it was around 55%, I think), but I think it should have been slightly more. Looking at the top tables, all I saw were either Jund or decks that were theoretically good matchups for Esper, but no Esper.

Rather than going back or going to Charlotte, I decided to stay in Quebec with the other Brazilians. I didn’t really want to play Standard after the PT, but I do win a lot more in Standard historically, so it seemed better than playing Sealed—it would also likely be smaller than Charlotte.

I hadn’t stayed with the Brazilians in awhile, and I like hanging out with them—I think I am more compatible with the Americans regarding MTG (we have similar styles, like the same kind of testing, etc), but, as far as traveling goes, I’m more compatible with the Brazilians (we like to do the same things, eat at the same kind of places, etc.). We went to a sort of snow amusement park in Quebec, for example, that was pretty fun, and I doubt that would ever have happened with the CFB crew.

Most of our week was spent hiding from the snow. Having to move snow so you can leave the house is a a totally alien concept for us—though we did venture outside at some point and threw some snowballs at each other. We playtested some t2—UWR, Aristocrats, Naya builds, Esper. In the end, Willy and Juliano played a Naya deck similar to Efro’s, Pedro played Aristocrats, and Kaies and I worked on Esper. Here was the list we played:

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
4 Isolated Chapel
3 Nephalia Drownyard
1 Plains
2 Watery Grave
1 Ghost Quarter
4 Augur of Bolas
3 Restoration Angel
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Azorius Charm
2 Devour Flesh
2 Dissipate
1 Detention Sphere
2 Terminus
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Supreme Verdict
3 Think Twice
1 Ultimate Price
Sideboard
2 Angel of Serenity
2 Duress
2 Gloom Surgeon
2 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Negate
1 Psychic Spiral
1 Detention Sphere
1 Tragic Slip
2 Witchbane Orb[/deck]

The main difference is [card]Terminus[/card] over [card planar cleanse]Planar Cleansing[/card], and that is a response to the rise of two decks:super aggro Naya (like the one that won the GP) and Aristocrats, against both of which Terminus is a lot better. Since we need some sort of hate for permanents, the [card]Dramatic Rescue[/card] became a [card]Detention Sphere[/card], with another in the board.

Before the PT, all our Jund decks had four [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]s, making Sphere a big liability, but the norm seemed to be two, so it is not that big a deal (still sucks, obviously, but a little bit less than if they were playing four). [card]Tragic Slip[/card] was also a response to the same decks—it kills Aristocrat and one-drops, making it a perfect removal spell against both of those, and if they grow more in popularity you might consider a second.

I liked the overall product, though not having any graveyard hate really hurt me in the tournament. I assumed Reanimator was just a horrible matchup that I would lose anyway, [card]Rest in Peace[/card] or no, but after actually playing against it in the tournament I don’t think that’s true, and two sideboard cards would have gone a long way.

I was paired against two reanimator decks, and I managed to win a game due to Angel beatdown—the other four games I lost were slaughters and I had no chance. My other two losses were to a Jund deck that hit me with a maindeck Slaughter Games (!!) as I think I was a big favorite to win, and to a RG deck that killed me without me having played spells.

I beat two UWR decks (the [card]Boros Charm[/card] version), two Bant decks, an Esper deck, a Naya deck, and the easiest matchup I’ve played in the past couple years, a Bant Auras deck, eventually drawing my last round into Top 64.

The deck performed well overall, though it really needs some graveyard hate to survive in this format, I think. Being a bye is OK if the deck you lose to is bad and no one plays it, but it looks like Reanimator is and will be played, so there needs to be a solution. The problem is that every SB card is very important and plays a fundamental role, so you make yourself weak against everything else by dedicating two slots to Reanimator alone, to a point where it might not be worth it, so I’m not sure if I’m going to play Esper or not next weekend. I have to think more and playtest a bit to find out. Regardless of that, though, Esper is certainly a playable deck—I really liked this main deck configuration, and would not change anything except maybe some numbers on the removal spells.

Esper is, overall, quite an easy deck to play. There is a stigma that control is hard, but in most matchups you just stop whatever it is they are doing and then you win by default.

Some tips:

• Do not hurry in trying to kill them—you don’t need to. It’s often better to just not [card nephalia drownyard]Drownyard[/card] them, keeping mana up for [card]Dissipate[/card] + [card]Izzet Charm[/card] at the end of their turn in case they try something, for example. You will win the game, you don’t need to win now. Milling yourself in the early game is often better than milling them, as it hits [card]Think Twice[/card]s and powers up your Snapcasters.

[draft]Supreme verdict[/draft]

• If you are going to Wrath eventually, you should take damage early rather than spending spot removal on their guys against most decks. In this format, cards are more important than life total—you will lose to the guy you don’t have an answer for way more often than you’ll lose to the [card]Searing Spear[/card] as you were about to win the game.

[draft]Azorius Charm[/draft]

• Remember that you can use Drownyard to mill away something that you [card]Azorius Charm[/card]ed. Also know that you can Azorius Charm your own creature—I did that with [card]Angel of Serenity[/card].

[card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card]

• Against UWR, make sure you solidify your position before milling them. If you start on t4, you risk getting [card]Harvest Pyre[/card]d out, but if you wait you can usually establish total control with Dissipates and then you kill them.

• If they are playing slowly, call a judge. They can win in a couple minutes—you likely can’t, and they might try to exploit it. Under normal circumstances, you should have time to finish all your matches. I played against Esper and two Bant decks at the GP, went to three games, and always had time on the clock when my games finished.

• Don’t board mechanically. Not every deck is the same and not everyone sideboards the same. I had two Spheres out against Jund game 2, and my opponent quickly re-sideboarded a bunch of cards in for game 3. I assumed those were [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]s and thought it was a better move to just side the Spheres out.

• In the mirror, game 1 is all about [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card]—either you have it or you don’t. Use [card]Think Twice[/card]s and Revelations early on to hit land drops and find more Drownyards. After board, though, games become quite complex since there are a lot of other factors in play, such as [card jace, memory adept]Jace[/card], [card obzedat, ghost council]Obzedat[/card], and [card]Witchbane Orb[/card]—if you don’t want to play Esper because it’s too complicated, the mirror post-board is probably the match that you fear. Most people won’t have removal post-board, so you can use your Angels and Snapcasters, and even sometimes Augurs (if you kept them), aggressively to pressure them into doing something.

[draft]Dissipate[/draft]

• Save your Dissipates. You take a very long time to win, and Dissipate is your insurance against something going terribly wrong. You can burn them early, since you have Snapcasters and Angels that blink Snapcasters, but once you get to the late game try to save them for the real troublesome spells—most of your deck can deal with [card]Thragtusk[/card], and 2-for-1’ing yourself is not that bad at that point in the game, but [card]Dissipate[/card] is the only card that deals with [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card] for 8. The best [card]Dissipate[/card] is the one left in your hand when you win.

The sideboard generally works like this:

Jund: You want [card]Witchbane Orb[/card], [card]Duress[/card], [card jace, memory adept]Jace[/card], [card restoration angel]Angel[/card], [card detention sphere]Sphere[/card] and one [card]Negate[/card]. It’s possible that two is good, but you never want too many reactive cards, and I think Orb and Duress are both better. You can take out spot removal, Augurs, one Revelation (unless you know they don’t have Slaughter Games). If you need more things to take out, start on the Snapcasters.

Naya Midrange: You want the [card restoration angel]Angels[/card] and the [card detention sphere]Spheres[/card] over [card augur of bolas]Augurs[/card].

Naya Aggro: You want the [card gloom surgeon]Surgeons[/card] and [card]Tragic Slip[/card], you can shave some [card]Think Twice[/card]s and [card]Dissipate[/card]s.

Esper mirror: You want [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card], [card]Negate[/card], [card]Duress[/card], [card]Detention Sphere[/card], [card]Witchbane Orb[/card], [card]Psychic Spiral[/card]. You don’t want all the mass removal, the spot removal, and for the rest take out Augurs. If they play Obzedat, keep the [card]Devour Flesh[/card]es and take out more Augurs.

UWR: You want [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card], [card]Negate[/card], [card]Duress[/card], [card]Detention Sphere[/card], and sometimes [card]Psychic Spiral[/card]. You don’t want [card]Terminus[/card] and [card augur of bolas]Augurs[/card], and then the rest depends on what exactly they play. If they don’t have Dragons, you can take out [card]Ultimate Price[/card], and so on. I wish I had one extra card to take out in this matchup—at the PT we had no Sphere, so in and out matched in number, but then I added a card to the board and didn’t think of what to side out, so I just side out something random depending on what I see.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this,

Paulo Vitor

Share this

Discussion

Scroll to Top