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Esper is Great!

Written by Michael Mapson on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Legacy

Esper is Great!

Michael Mapson

Michael Mapson is a competitive Magic Player and L2 Judge from the Philadelphia area. Specializing in Modern and Legacy, he’s got a Brewer’s Heart but plays to win. Find him on twitter @ExpeditionMap

As I was preparing for Eternal Weekend, I wrote an article where I talked about how great Esper is and my plans to play it. I wish I had listened to my own advice. Instead I got distracted. Caleb Durward managing to 5-0 a league with Sneak and Show featuring Search for Azcanta and immediately I was in love. Search for Azcanta is a card like we’ve never seen before. I could easily write a whole article about how much I love that card. I started playing a Sneak and Show list online to positive records. Over the course of the week. I tweaked the sideboard until I stopped losing to Delver and Death and Taxes so much. The deck felt great. It was powerful and explosive but Search for Azcanta also let it keep up if the game went long. Most importantly over roughly 8 leagues I didn’t lose to Czech Pile, the deck I assumed I was most likely to play multiple times throughout the day.

This is the list I registered:

Despite feeling quite happy with my list I battled to a poor 4-4 before dropping to get food. What happened? Well, I played poorly. Granted, I certainly got unlucky too, but had I played better I would have been able to win past a little bit of unluckiness. People often criticize Sneak and Show because it doesn’t give room to make as many decisions as other decks. In their minds this makes it easier to play. I don’t agree with this assertion. Since there are less decisions to be made they matter more. In “normal” games of magic you’ll see people recover from small mistakes all the time. With focused combo decks like Sneak and Show or Ad Nauseum Tendrils, you’ll see games that are decided because the combo player messed up on a Ponder or Preordain. Between the number of games I lost to small decisions and the fact that my losses were pretty frustrating, I decided I was off the deck again. That being said, I do think the deck is actually a very strong contender right now, having a reasonable to good matchup vs most of the top decks in the field right now, except for Delver (which is winnable with practice.)

Since I wanted to get away from Sneak, I decided to go back to the Esper deck I had been working on. With minor changes (most notably adding Gideon, Ally of Zendikar), and minimal testing in the week between Eternal Weekend and Star City Games DC I was ready to battle more Legacy. I can tell you that after round one of this open, I knew I was happy with my choice of deck. That being said, it needs more changes. My friend, Patrick, and I registered the exact same 75 cards. While i was able to battle my way to a top 64 finish, Patrick, didn’t quite make it to day two of competition, unfortunately falling one win short. I won’t do a full tournament report here but I want to talk about some of the highlights of my event before discussing the list and changes.

Highlight Reel:

1. Lingering Souls tokens with a Gideon Emblem were able to outrace an active Batterskull.
2. Opponent taps out for Jace to Brainstorm into my on board Leovold and has to put two cards back without drawing.
3. Against EurekaTell I resolved Meddling Mage in Eureka. Then I Surgical Extraction targeting Show and Tell. Upon seeing my opponent only had one out, I was able to play a second Meddling Mage and name it to completely lock them out.
4. Against Czech Pile, I mulliganed, got Hym to Tourached, missed my third land drop after Brainstorm locking myself, and then won the game without it being particularly close.
5. Lost to Food Chain. Losing is unfortunate but that deck is sweet.
6. Ultimated Liliana, the Last hope vs Pox.
7. Liliana, the Last Hope buying back Baleful Strix three times against Grixis Delver.

This is the list I registered:

My friends told me that playing five Planeswalkers in my deck was going to be greedy and that a third Jace would be better than the first Gideon anyway. I have to say though, Gideon and Liliana, the Last Hope both over-performed all weekend. I think Liliana is an absurdly good card right now and it’s no surprise to me that there were two copies of her in the Delver deck that won Eternal Weekend. Gideon, while not as good as Lili, was good in his own ways. Being able to flood the board while keeping opposing Jaces in check was great. Also in combination with Lingering Souls his emblem won me plenty of games. There’s not much to be said about Jace and other Liliana. JTMS is considered the best Planeswalker of all time for a reason. A reason he reminded me of over and over again all weekend. Did you know that card does everything? Liliana of the Veil is a card I think is over-hyped but she is still very good. Both of her top abilities are very relevant and while I never got to use her ultimate Patrick did twice and it won him a game.

Past the Planeswalkers, the deck is just a pile of good efficient cards with questionable mana that only betrayed me once all weekend. I was very happy with the list, excluding one card, Snapcaster Mage. It’s a shame. Snapcaster Mage has been one of my favorite cards since the first time I cast him but he doesn’t seem to belong in any of the decks I play lately. Snapcaster is a card that excels in the mid to late game but early on, he doesn’t do anything. The issue with that is this deck already has enough to do in the late game to overpower it’s opponents. When it was cast, it was generally flashing back a removal spell that had served to get us to the late game. Post sideboard Snapcaster’s value went up as flashing back cards such as Surgical Extraction or Flusterstorm was nice, but it’s just not enough to warrant two copies of the card. Going forward one Snapcaster will become another Swords to Plowshares. Over time the second Snapcaster Mage might also get turned into something else but I’m not sure. I have a list if cards to try in that slot but if I was playing tomorrow I would be content leaving the one Snapcaster Mage alone.

The rest of the changes are all going to take place in the sideboard. While I managed to go 1-1 in matches against Grixis Delver Parick struggled with that deck so we’re adjusting this in the sideboard some. The fourth Hymn, which only comes in against dedicated combo decks will be replaced with a second Zealous Persecution. This will also shore up the Elves matchup a little bit more, though in my experience playing against it that matchup is surprisingly better than it looks as is. While I like the disenchant in the sideboard, in part because it’s easy to cast and a clean answer to Batterskull, it will be replaced with an Abrupt Decay going forward. Quite simply, the flexibility of Decay is worth it. It provides another removal spell against Delver strategies and can be brought in as a hedge in the Czech Pile matchup. The most difficult games in that matchup are the ones where they resolve a Sylvan Library or Leovold and Decay answers both while not being dead if they fail to draw those cards. I like the look of this updated sideboard quite a bit, the only thing I’m curious about is if the Decay should actually be a Vindicate so as to also provide an out to opposing Jaces.

Outside of the changes I am definitely making there is one more relevant change that we discussed. When round nine was over. Jon Goss, Patrick, and I debated the importance of both Wastelands and basics in this style of deck. I found the basics very helpful over the course of the event. They let me keep multiple one landers without fear of losing to a single Wasteland. The basics were also very helpful versus Lands. I didn’t get destroyed by Ghost Quarter and had lands I could use in the face of Wasteland plus Life from the Loam. As good as they were though, in most situations though basics aren’t necessary This was the side Jon was on. He pointed out in a deck with such a greedy manabase it just makes it a bit harder to actually cast spells and questioned how often they actually get fetched for. While I fetched for them a lot, I can see his point. He also strongly advocated two Wastelands. Being able to remove Karakas is a nice ability and Wasteland can also just deliver free wins occasionally. While I argued that there weren’t many times over the day I wanted a Wasteland he countered by pointing out there aren’t many times that you actively want Wasteland. You don’t tend to realize how good it is until you draw it and see you can take your opponent off being able to do something. While I have the feeling I won’t be registering my Wastelands in the near future, I’m definitely going to consider it. Jon definitely knows a thing or two about Esper decks after all.

This is Jon’s list:

Jon won the event. Having played Esper Deathblade for as long as he’s been able, it’s no surprise to see him find success with his list. Our lists are similar but also incredibly different. We’re both hoping to curve Deathrite into a powerful 3 drop and a strong follow up turn while providing disruption along the way. With four True-Name Nemesis, his deck is way more aggressive than mine. He was telling me, he still thinks Stoneforge Mystic is an absurdly powerful card and it’s hard to argue with his results. I’m going to do just that though. As much as I love Stoneforge Mystic in a world where there’s so much targeted discard and Kolaghan’s Command going around, Stoneforge doesn’t seem terribly difficult to interact with. I also don’t love being so all in on True-Name Nemesis, I think people re coming to events prepared for that card between all the Edict effects, Toxic Deluges, Pyroblasts, and Zealous Persecutions I’ve been seeing. That being said four is a lot, and it’s hard to picture somebody answering all of them. Despite my misgivings about some of the choices the deck does still just look very clean and powerful and maybe that’s all you need. I’m sure it can’t have hurt than Jon is also a very good player. Either way I will be trying this list out though I expect to return to my own Esper Pile.

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