Updated Esper Planeswalkers and Sideboard Guide

Arne Huschenbeth

Arne Huschenbeth


In terms of diversity, Standard has been pretty great in the last months and especially since War of the Spark came out. Every week new powerful decks pop up and it doesn’t seem to stop. We have no deck like Temur Energy or Mono-Red that is dominating the format. I’ve spent my time after Mythic Championship II London playing Standard almost daily and thinking about it every free minute.

Before I present you with a decklist, I will do a short recap of my experience with this format since the release of War of the Spark.

History and My Experience of the War of the Spark Standard

Teferi, Time RavelerLiliana, Dreadhorde GeneralDovin's Veto

When the Set came out, I wrote an article on Dimir, Grixis and Esper. I realized quickly that the Esper color combination has received lots of promising new cards. 《Teferi, Time Raveler》, 《Liliana, Dreadhorde General》 and 《Dovin’s Veto》 to name a few. Being of the opinion that Esper Control already was the best deck in the previous format, I was stoked to see more tools for the archetype entering the format. I thought to myself that Esper has to be the strongest deck, I would just have to find out what the best version will look like.

Ghitu LavarunnerGoblin ChainwhirlerChandra, Fire Artisan

The first big tournament, SCGO Richmond, surprised most of us with a dominating performance by Mono-Red. A deck that seemingly did not gain much from War of the Spark. Mono-Red became the deck to beat and Simic Nexus was basically eliminated as a Tier 1 deck for the time being. Which was good news for all the Midrange and Control decks, they could flourish freely without fearing the bane of 《Wilderness Reclamation》.


Upon seeing these developments, my goal was to go Control. A control deck usually preys on the Midrange and Aggro decks. I wanted to beat all these Bant and Esper decks consistently while also having game against Mono-White and Mono-Red. Esper Control seemed to be the perfect deck for this particular job. 《Absorb》 as an answer to all these Midrange decks as well as being fantastic against Red. It all sounded great in theory, but I soon had to realize how wrong my predictions were.

Vivien, Champion of the WildsTeferi, Time RavelerNarset, Parter of Veils

War of the Spark brought some good cards for Esper, but it also brought some really really strong tools against Esper. People played 《Vivien, Champion of the Wilds》, 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 and even 《Narset, Parter of Veils》. 《Absorb》 was pretty terrible, 《Vraska’s Contempt》 just wasn’t good at all anymore. Esper Control did not feel great. The format has changed a lot with the new set. Esper did not cut it anymore, sadly I had to move on.

Nicol Bolas, the RavagerNicol Bolas, Dragon-GodLegion Warboss

While checking freshly posted decklists on MTGGoldfish, I ran into the SCG Classic Winner’s list. A Grixis Control list with good looking numbers and eight Nicol Bolas. The 《Legion Warboss》 in the Sideboard caught my eye immediately. 《Legion Warboss》 always has been one of the best sideboard cards in Standard, the card just couldn’t step into the spotlight with Sultai and Esper being so dominant previously.

Disinformation Campaign

I mixed the SCG list with my own spice of 《Disinformation Campaign》, which is a very underrated engine in conjunction with 《Thought Erasure》 and 《Discovery/Dispersal》. It helps hitting land drops while also synergizing perfectly with the two Bolas, making the +1 of 《Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God》 even more impactful. Honestly, this deck was everything I wanted. I felt at home. A high amount of Planeswalker removal, five sweepers for pesky green Mana creatures or 《Hero of Precinct One》’s Token Army and both Nicol Bolas are extremely good in a Midrange world.

Grixis even accomplished to surpass my expectations by doing surprisingly well against Mono-Red. You trade resources, make them discard their 《Experimental Frenzies》 or their 《Light Up the Stage》 so that they struggle hitting land drops. And before your opponent can even look, they have to start sacrificing permanents to 《Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God》.

I posted my findings on Twitter and to my surprise I got an enormous amount of positive feedback. A Belgian player named Martijn Korevaar won the big German MCQ on the following weekend with my 75.

Spell PiercePrison RealmSarkhan the Masterless

I did a lot of winning with Grixis, moving into High Mythic from Platinum with the Campaign Version. Unfortunately, besides the Nexus decks, there was a deck rising which gave me a tough time. Jeskai Planeswalkers. On paper the matchup doesn’t look as bad for Grixis, but it plays out poorly for you. All their Planeswalker create immediate value to make your Planeswalker removal a lot worse.

They have 《Spell Pierce》 and the worst card in the entire universe if you ask any Bolas friend, fan or relative, 《Prison Realm》! The good in the form of all these Planeswalkers defeats the evil in form of Bolas after all. I guess this how it’s supposed to be. And let’s not even start talking about 《Sarkhan the Masterless》. I couldn’t beat that card in a million years.

Soon after, I started playing Jeskai Planeswalkers myself and the deck certainly delivered. Although the list did not feel quite right yet. 《Fblthp, the Lost》 was weak and the deck was lacking in consistency.

Arclight PhoenixSaheeli, Sublime ArtificerFinale of Promise

Then I moved over and started playing Izzet Phoenix. In theory the deck seemed great against Planeswalkers and overall strong in powerlevel. The deck apparently had won both MTGO PTQs, an impressive feat if you think about how low the number of players playing the deck must have been with no big name talking about the deck.

If I remember correctly, I went down from Top100 Mythic into % Territory playing the deck, I got completely destroyed. A combination of being behind all the time against Mono-Red as well as not being able to disrupt my opponents game plan, gave me a feeling of hopelessness. I drew some cards here and there while my opponents boardstates snowbolled out of control freely. I wasn’t convinced and put the deck aside.

Making Esper Planeswalkers

To my sudden luck, my good friend and Standard Aficionado Sascha Schwarz sent me a link to a Twitter post by Zac Elsik, the creator of the UW Planeswalker shell. I was hooked immediately.

Let’s go back for a second to my initial words at the start of this article. “I thought to myself that Esper has to be the strongest deck, I would just have to find out what the best version will look like.”

I took Elsik’s list, made some changes and created a monster.

Oath of KayaThe Elderspell

Esper Planeswalkers made so much sense. 《Oath of Kaya》 is extremely good in this deck. Great against Red and Planeswalkers, as well as synergizing very well with 《Teferi, Time Raveler》. Then 《The Elderspell》, being an efficient removal for opposing Planeswalkers while also presenting a Combo-Kill out of nowhere together with 《Liliana, Dreadhorde General》 or 《Teferi, Hero of Dominaria》. Absolute MVP.

Thought ErasureKaya's WrathIxalan's Binding

《Thought Erasure》 and 《Kaya’s Wrath》 are obviously fantastic magic cards that perfectly fitted the game plan. I added 《Ixalan’s Binding》 to the sideboard, which is surprisingly underplayed right now. 《Ixalan’s Binding》 is the best card against Red in the format. You can have any sort of effect to get rid of their creatures or to gain life, but to beat 《Experimental Frenzy》 and 《Chandra, Fire Artisan》 there is no other card that deals with both as efficiently as 《Ixalan’s Binding》.

I shared the list to my fellow Gold Pro Oliver Tomajko who was in need for SCG Points to get ahead in the SCG Leaderboard Race. He trusted my newly findings and he was rewarded with a second place finish as well as an major jump on the Leaderboard.

The list Oliver played and the one I posted on Twitter last week were still fairly fresh and untuned. After doing not so well in the Arena MCQ playing a medium Jeskai Control (Don’t ask, I don’t know what happened with my brain there), I went all the way up to #6 on Mythic testing various version of Esper Planeswalkers on Arena.

Current Decklist

Here you have it, my newest take on Esper Planeswalkers.

Card Choices

《History of Benalia》

History of Benalia

Without Red we unfortunately do not have access to such a fantastic sideboard card like 《Legion Warboss》, however I believe I found the perfect fit for this job. 《History of Benalia》 is the Esper Warboss! And it is even pretty good against opposing 《Legion Warboss》. It also can be found by 《Narset, Parter of Veils》 as well as bounced for value by 《Teferi, Time Raveler》. Excellent card for the archetype.

26th Land along with 《Basilica Bell-Haunt》

PlainsBasilica Bell-Haunt

I added a 26th land in the form of a Basic 《Plains》 to help cast 《Basilica Bell-Haunt》 along with 《History of Benalia》. Additionally the second Basic is very important against the BG Rock deck featuring 4 《Assassin’s Trophy》 and 4 《Field of Ruin》. 《Basilica Bell-Haunt》 is a good role filler that has gained a lot in value in the last weeks. The card is not only great against aggressive strategies, it comes in handy in the Planeswalker mirrors as a way to pressure Planeswalkers or protect your own.

《Cry of the Carnarium》

Cry of the Carnarium

《Dovin, Hand of Control》 had to leave for 2 copies of 《Cry of the Carnarium》. Cry is really good right now and deserves a main deck slot in any black based Control deck if you ask me. 《Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor》 also had to step aside for the higher impact card in 《Basilica Bell-Haunt》. I still like her though and I could see her slotting back in.

Sideboard Guide


Against Mono-Red


Kaya's Wrath Kaya's Wrath Kaya's Wrath Liliana, Dreadhorde General
The Elderspell The Elderspell Dovin's Veto Dovin's Veto
Narset, Parter of Veils Narset, Parter of Veils


History of Benalia History of Benalia History of Benalia History of Benalia
Moment of Craving Duress Lyra Dawnbringer Basilica Bell-Haunt
Ixalan's Binding Ixalan's Binding
Experimental FrenzyIxalan's BindingChandra, Fire Artisan

The plan against Red is fairly straightforward. Esper Planeswalkers handles their early pressure perfectly and has the needed amount of answers to their 《Experimental Frenzy》 or 《Chandra, Fire Artisan》. Postboard it becomes very difficult for them to win.

Esper Midrange

Against Esper Midrange


Basilica Bell-Haunt Basilica Bell-Haunt Ixalan's Binding Oath of Kaya
Kaya's Wrath Kaya's Wrath


Dovin's Veto Dovin's Veto Duress Duress
Command the Dreadhorde The Elderspell
History of Benalia

How you board depends on their version. For example if you are playing against Martin Müller’s version of the deck you want 《History of Benalia》. Your plan is to answer everything they have and to just outgrind them.

Chemister's Insight

If you want to improve this matchup add some number of 《Chemister’s Insight》 to your 75, Insight is backbreaking in these pseudo-mirrors.

Jeskai Planeswalkers

Against Jeskai Planeswalkers


Cry of the Carnarium Cry of the Carnarium Ixalan's Binding Liliana, Dreadhorde General
Kaya's Wrath Kaya's Wrath Kaya's Wrath
Oath of Kaya Oath of Kaya


History of Benalia History of Benalia History of Benalia History of Benalia
Dovin's Veto Dovin's Veto The Elderspell
Duress Duress
History of BenaliaThe ElderspellDovin's Veto

This matchup is all about board presence. 《History of Benalia》 is your most important card. If your opening seven is medium and does not have a History, consider taking a mulligan. Another plan is to set up a Teferi Ultimate in conjunction with 《The Elderspell》. You play 《Teferi, Hero of Dominaria》, plus it, keep up 《Dovin’s Veto》 for their 《Sarkhan the Masterless》 and 《The Elderspell》 for the victory on the next turn.

Gruul Midrange

Against Gruul Midrange


Basilica Bell-Haunt Basilica Bell-Haunt
Dovin's Veto Dovin's Veto


Moment of Craving Lyra Dawnbringer
Ixalan's Binding Ixalan's Binding

Rekindling PhoenixIxalan's BindingGrowth-Chamber Guardian

Kill all their stuff and use 《Ixalan’s Binding》 on 《Rekindling Phoenix》 or 《Growth-Chamber Guardian》.

Simic Manipulation

Against Simic Manipulation


Basilica Bell-Haunt Basilica Bell-Haunt The Elderspell
Oath of Kaya Oath of Kaya Teferi, Time Raveler


Dovin's Veto Dovin's Veto Lyra Dawnbringer
Ixalan's Binding Ixalan's Binding Moment of Craving
Nissa, Who Shakes the WorldIxalan's BindingHydroid Krasis

This matchup is tricky. They have different avenues to attack you. Most importantly you have to have early removal or a sweeper to slow them down, if you have successfully done that, keep them from resolving 《Nissa, Who Shakes the World》 or 《Ixalan’s Binding》 her if they get her on the board. They shouldn’t have an answer for 《Ixalan’s Binding》 in game 2 in their deck. In the same way you can lock them out of casting 《Hydroid Krasis》.

Mass ManipulationFrilled Mystic

From there on the game becomes fairly easy, just play around 《Mass Manipulation》 until you have a 《Dovin’s Veto》 up. Play around their 《Frilled Mystic》s, if they just sit on their Mystic we’ll happily trade Mana and Land drops every turn. Our late game is better than theirs.

White Weenie

Against White Weenie


Dovin's Veto Dovin's Veto Liliana, Dreadhorde General
Narset, Parter of Veils Narset, Parter of Veils Teferi, Hero of Dominaria


Moment of Craving Lyra Dawnbringer Basilica Bell-Haunt
Duress Duress Ixalan's Binding
Gideon BlackbladeLegion's Landing

The only games you lose to White Weenie are to the mighty 《Gideon Blackblade》. To prevent this from happening, I keep in the two 《The Elderspell》. Other than that just kill all their creatures and keep them off flipping 《Legion’s Landing》 in the early game.

Izzet Phoenix

Against Izzet Phoenix


Dovin's Veto Dovin's Veto Liliana, Dreadhorde General
Oath of Kaya Oath of Kaya Teferi, Time Raveler


Duress Duress Lyra Dawnbringer
Ixalan's Binding Ixalan's Binding Moment of Craving
Cry of the CarnariumTeferi, Time RavelerKaya's Wrath

Play the game slow, keep your Narset on five loyalty in some spots. Slowroll your 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 until you have six or seven mana to plus him and keep up 《Kaya’s Wrath》 / 《Cry of the Carnarium》. I like the two 《Basilica Bell-Haunt》 as a way to protect your Planeswalkers from cards like 《Augur of Bolas》, 《Legion Warboss》 and 《Saheeli, Sublime Artificer》. The discard is also relevant to make 《Radical Idea》 weaker.

4C 《Command the Dreadhorde》

Against 4C 《Command the Dreadhorde》


Cry of the Carnarium Cry of the Carnarium Basilica Bell-Haunt Basilica Bell-Haunt
Oath of Kaya Oath of Kaya Ixalan's Binding


Dovin's Veto Dovin's Veto Duress Duress
Command the Dreadhorde The Elderspell Moment of Craving
Kaya's WrathLiliana, Dreadhorde GeneralThe Elderspell

This matchup is all about their early creature plan, if you can stifle their pressure via a 《Kaya’s Wrath》 you should easily win from there. You have an abundance of answers for their Planeswalker and 《Command the Dreadhorde》. Let them overcommit into your 《The Elderspell》. And if you have 《Liliana, Dreadhorde General》 and a 《The Elderspell》 in addition to eight mana, you can’t even lose against a resolved 《Command the Dreadhorde》.

Grixis Control

Against Grixis Control


Cast Down Cast Down Basilica Bell-Haunt Basilica Bell-Haunt
Oath of Kaya Oath of Kaya Oath of Kaya The Elderspell
Cry of the Carnarium Cry of the Carnarium


History of Benalia History of Benalia History of Benalia History of Benalia
Dovin's Veto Dovin's Veto Duress Duress
Ixalan's Binding Ixalan's Binding

Bant Midrange

Against Bant Midrange


Dovin's Veto
Dovin's Veto


Moment of Craving
Ixalan's Binding


Follow me on Twitter for the best of the best that Standard has to offer!

I wish you best of luck in any tournament or endeavor you have ahead of you!

Arne (Twitter)

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Arne Huschenbeth

Arne Huschenbeth Arne is an enthusiast for Standard and won GP Rimini which was held by exact his favorite format. He also achieved impressive 10-0 record at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation. He has 3 more GP top 8s past seasons, and earned 41 Pro Points during 2017-2018 season which was good enough to become a Gold Level Pro. Read more articles by Arne Huschenbeth