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Compulsive Research: Off and Running

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Welcome to the launch of Compulsive Research!

This series is intended to allow us to play a ton of different formats and decks over time, but for the immediate future, it will be focused on Standard. Having not played a ton of Standard in recent months, I obviously need to reacquaint myself with the pillars of the format; in order to do this effectively, I will need to dive in headfirst, play a variety of decks, and learn about the proper gameplans each one has. As I found when writing the Modern Mastery series, learning about what each deck is trying to accomplish in the format and understanding their strengths and weaknesses is of great value. Thankfully, I have a bunch of friends who are more than willing to help me figure all of this out!

To date, my Standard experience is limited to three decks — Esper, Junk Midrange, and Jund. Each deck has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each one uses different tools to secure card advantage over the opponent. I decided to start this week with Esper, my all-time favorite. In order to get the proper perspective and education about how this deck is positioned in the Standard metagame, I went to the constant control master, Shaheen Sooran.  Fresh off his second-place finish at the last Invitational, the SCG Invitational end boss agreed to join us, hopped into the copilot chair, and delivered an up to date Esper list:

This is the perfect balance between the Esper list we saw piloted by Ben Stark at PT Gatecrash, and the more aggressive version, which debuted at SCG Orlando by John Rojas and was piloted to a Top 8 finish in an MTGO PTQ by Simon Goertzen.

Very few of the games actually end up as a win through Nephalia Drownyard with this deck, as indicated by Shaheen. There just isn’t enough time to mess around with the strength of the green decks today, and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad does a great job making sure the deck can actually kill an opponent in a timely fashion. Lingering Souls and Sorin emblems can quickly take a game over from a balanced board state, turning a new-age control deck into a quick killer. Shaheen has very valuable input all through this video, and I sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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We ended up running into a bunch of Blitz decks, and we were able to pull many of them out. In fact, while Shaheen was onboard, we had quite the winning record. I ended up playing an Esper mirror after Shaheen left, and it put me in a position to make many decisions, most of them badly, and with not a lot of time on the clock. I do not possess good clock management skills on MTGO, as I have previously showcased, and that gets worse when I am asking the stream for advice on each play.

The Esper mirror is something I have often heard nightmares about from notable players on MTGO, and now I understand it more clearly. While playing on paper, the ability to shortcut with your opponent more effectively will help quite a bit with this issue, as would a more intimate knowledge of the subtle workings of MTGO. The only time I felt under the gun against the aggressive decks was when we missed out on white mana, stranding Supreme Verdicts, Azorius Charms, and Detention Spheres in our hands.

Cards to Watch

One of the main differences in Shaheen’s Esper list is that he eschews the full set of Sphinx’s Revelation for a two/two split with Forbidden Alchemy. In execution, there were many occasions where this proved to be correct; we often wanted access to the card selection from our deck, but could in no way actually cast Sphinx’s Revelation for any sort of value. Forbidden Alchemy allows us to dig to make our land drops while simultaneously gaining potential value by dumping copies of Lingering Souls into the graveyard.

Also in the list is a familiar format all-star, Jace, Architect of Thought. In a metagame comprised mostly of Blitz aggro lists on MTGO, Jace puts in some serious work. His +1 ability combined with Augur of Bolas and Lingering Souls does a great job holding down the fort until we can dig for a tool to close the game out.

We played against many different versions of Blitz aggro decks, which served to showcase the real power of a few standouts — Mayor of Avabruck, Frontline Medic, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. While all of these cards are potentially average in many matches, they are especially good against Esper; Mayor of Avabruck pumps the team and forces us into some awkward situations where we would typically pass with mana up to ensure we get optimal use of our removal spells, but the flip side of Mayor is a scary proposition to deal with without Supreme Verdict. Knowing what gets affected by Mayor and what does not based on creature types on board is very important. Howlpack Alpha does not pump Humans, for example, and knowing this makes our mid-combat decisions a little bit easier.

Frontline Medic makes combat tougher with its indestructibility, but also makes our Sphinx’s Revelations basically terrible. Running Forbidden Alchemy makes this better on us, but it is still rough. The presence of Medic also forces more main phase removal spell usage because once combat initiates we are basically screwed.

Thalia has two very important applications; her first-strike ability eats nearly all of our creatures, and her effect on noncreature spells makes us particularly vulnerable to an aggressive start, as our Verdicts and removal all come a turn slower.

Moving Forward

I am really enjoying this run at the stream. Playing under supervision is a great way to learn, and hearing about deck strategies from veteran pilots makes understanding the goals that much easier. Shaheen was a great guest, and I look forward to having him back for his post-Dragon’s Maze perspectives. Next week we have AJ Sacher joining us, fresh off of his near-miss in the most recent MTGO PTQ; we will be getting to know the deck he chose to run in that event.  AJ is an accomplished streamer and an excellent teacher, so I can assure you all that this one will be worth tuning in for. Check us out at 9:30 p.m. EST on Monday.

Be there. Things are going to get awesome.

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