Standard has been in a great state over these past few months. While Golgari (BG) might be regarded as potentially being the best deck in the format, there are plenty of decks in Standard that one could pilot to a victory on any given Sunday. One such archetype that has been on the fringe though is Esper Control.
I’ve always been a Control player at heart, so I already have my eyes on Esper Control even though we’re still early in spoiler season! Regardless though, we’ve gotten two pretty huge spoilers already that I’d like to talk about today which I believe will help bring this deck to Tier 1 status. I’ll be talking about why we haven’t seen so much Esper in the current Standard, why I think that will change, and how I would build this deck with what we currently know is coming out of Ravnica Allegiance!
One of the Biggest Problem of the Esper Control
While getting to play cards like 《Teferi, Hero of Dominaria》 and 《Vraska's Contempt》 in the same deck, as well as having a strong finisher like 《Chromium, the Mutable》, the big reason in my opinion we haven’t really seen Esper Control make much noise in Standard is because of the mana base. The most powerful cards in the deck are (U)(W); (《Teferi》 of course), (U)(U); (hard counterspells), (W)(W); (《Settle the Wreckage》/《Cleansing Nova》), or (B)(B); (《Vraska's Contempt》) in their casting cost, which puts a huge strain on the manabase.
Enter Ravnica Allegiance, which will be introducing the 5 missing Guilds of Ravnica (Azorius, Orzhov, Gruul, Simic, and Rakdos). So not only are we getting some sweet new cards to play with (and even sweeter reprints!), we also get the much anticipated remaining Shock lands. I suspect that Ravnica Allegiance will open up Standard to a lot of different possibilties, and we’ll be seeing a lot more Shard based decks with what will be the best manabase Standard has had to work with in years. With all 10 Shock lands and all 10 Check (Buddy?) lands, 3 color mana bases have never been better!
Here is my first attempt at new Standard Esper Control:
4 《Hallowed Fountain》
4 《Watery Grave》
4 《Godless Shrine》
4 《Glacial Fortress》
4 《Drowned Catacomb》
4 《Isolated Chapel》
1 《Detection Tower》
-Land (27)- 1 《Chromium, the Mutable》
2 《Cast Down》
3 《Chemister's Insight》
2 《Vraska's Contempt》
2 《Settle the Wreckage》
2 《Cleansing Nova》
2 《Search for Azcanta》
1 《The Eldest Reborn》
1 《Karn, Scion of Urza》
4 《Teferi, Hero of Dominaria》
The Strongest but also Painful Mana Base
With the addition of 《Hallowed Fountain》 and 《Godless Shrine》, the deck now has plenty of sources to reliably cast its spells on time. You have 18 blue sources, 16 white sources, and 16 black sources which are all enough to reliably cast your spells on time. However, with 12 Shock lands in the deck, a huge concern of course is how much damage you’ll be taking from your lands.
While the manabase will certainly take its toll on your life total, the good folks over at Wizards have given us an incredibly awesome reprint in 《Absorb》! I unfortunately started playing Magic after 《Absorb》 was long gone from Standard, so I’m beyond excited to actually get to play with this card. But not only do you have 《Absorb》, you also have 《Revitalize》 and 《Vraska's Contempt》 as well which give you more than enough life gain to mitigate the damage you’ll take from your manabase.
Another Change and Reprint
Another great thing about the mana is that now you can afford to play cards like 《Cast Down》 in a deck like this that you couldn’t really afford unless Black was one of your main colors. While 《Seal Away》 is White and exiles the creature which is certainly quite relevant against cards like 《Arclight Phoenix》, the card is just more situational and opens yourself up to getting blownout against cards like 《Vivien Reid》.
There is another card that has already been spoiled which I’m very excited for and it happens to be a reprint as well, and that’s the amazing removal spell that is 《Mortify》! This is an old favorite of mine that I think will make an immediate impact on Standard and should definitely find its way into these Esper lists.
One of the downfalls of UB decks are their inability to effectively deal with Enchantments. Having such a clean and flexible answer to not only creatures but to cards such as 《Search for Azcanta》, 《The Eldest Reborn》, 《History of Benalia》, 《Conclave Tribunal》, 《Ixalan's Binding》, 《Experimental Frenzy》, and potentially the new 《Simic Ascendancy》 as well, this card will certainly be a key addition to the format.
New Mechanic; Addendum
A couple of the other new cards spoiled so far featuring the new “Addendum” mechanic I found fairly interesting. 《Sphinx’s Insight》 is a card that could potentially find it’s way into Esper or other UW based control decks. Having lifegain attached to an effect that is already reasonable given the casting cost of 4 definitely makes the card worth considering.
My only issue with a card like this in the deck is that Control decks want to generally be playing at instant speed so that you could represent counters as well. While 4 mana to draw 2 at instant speed is still good, you’re just better off playing 《Chemister's Insight》 in this slot. However, I could see a more tap out style of control deck with less counterspells taking advantage of cards like this.
The other “Addendum” card we’ve seen so far that will surely have a lot of people thinking of ways to utilize it is 《Emergency Powers》. At first glance this card seems quite exciting, but like 《Sphinx’s Insight》, you really don’t want to be tapping out on your turn. Also with so many spells in the deck, you don’t really gain much from a card like this in a traditional control deck that wants to bury their opponents in card advantage and take full control of the game.
However this is another card that could probably go well in a tap out style control deck. Esper and even Jeskai have some nice options of cards to put into play off this like 《Teferi, Hero of Dominaria》, 《The Eldest Reborn》, 《Niv-Mizzet, Parun》, and even 《Nezahal, Primal Tide》 to name a few. As more cards come out I would definitely keep this card in mind to see what else can potentially be done to get the most out of it.
So far, this only the tip of the iceberg right now, as I’m sure we’ll get some more sweet tools to potentially add to the deck by the time the full spoiler is up. But it’s great to see that even with just these recently spoiled cards, we have a very strong foundation for what should be a new big player in the Standard format.
I don’t believe this means that Jeskai will all of a sudden go away, as 《Niv-Mizzet, Parun》 is one of the most powerful cards in the format. But this Esper deck is more reminiscent of the classic control deck we’ve seen in the past with good counters, strong removal, and great mana.
I can’t wait to see what else is in store for us (《Sphinx's Revelation》 one time?) for this new upcoming Standard, but for as good as this current Standard has been, I can only imagine how much better it will get after Ravnica Allegiance is released!
Thanks for reading,