So two weeks ago, I went to that IQ in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where I placed ninth with Esper Dragons. For a while, I had been an advocate for Abzan control as the best deck in the format. While I still think that it is a very powerful and definitely tier one strategy, I think that as the deck stands currently, it is being pulled into too many directions. When I played the list to a second place finish at an IQ at the end of April, the list felt very tight, but also a bit dated. The list I ran didn’t contain Den Protectors or Dromoka’s Command.
When the Standard GPs took place, and Abzan Control took a respectable number of spots at those tournaments, including a first place finish, the innovations were to add those cards. At this point, I felt like the deck had too many things to do, but not in a good way. Usually, I feel comfortable playing a deck that has several lines of play. However, the Abzan control deck felt to me as if it wasn’t able to really do two effectively different things until about turn six. This felt very slow to me.
The deck has several high mana plays throughout the game, and I just always felt like the deck didn’t have enough mana until I had already won the game. I also felt that when I had won games, it was because I hadn’t made any spectacular plays, but because my draws were better than my opponents.
At this point, and after a poor performance with the deck at another IQ, I was no longer happy with it. I really wanted to play with counterspells, because while controlling your opponent’s board and playing big idiots like Siege Rhino, you could still lose a game to a topdeck.
This is when I got upset with the Standard format. The only blue deck in the format that was really tier 1 competitive and actually viable was Esper Dragons. And it was really the only viable deck that ran my favorite card from Khans block, Dig Through Time. I reluctantly sleeved the deck up, and played a few games.
The cards in the deck are just as powerful as Abzan in my opinion. I realized this after testing it for about three days. Where Siege Rhino provides a six health point swing, Foul-Tongue Invocation provides a four point life-gain, more than the rhino provides, and it actively deals with at least one creature on the opponents board. Agreed there are points where it is not great, like against Sylvan Caryatid/Elvish Mystic decks, or token strategies, but the same can be said about Siege Rhino playing defense.
Where the Abzan deck has draw spells like Read the Bones or Abzan Charm, the Esper dragons deck plays Dig Through Time. The black draw spells do not even come close in card quality to Dig Through Time.
Also, where I thought the mana was worse in the Esper deck, it is actually strides better. While you don’t have a land like Sandsteppe Citadel for Esper in this standard, the Esper deck is actually only a UB deck that splashes white for Ojutai. You also play eight white mana sources that don’t really make your mana worse, as they’re in your other colors.
The Esper deck also gets to play two spells per turn faster than the Abzan deck. You have a bit more 2 mana removal spells than the Abzan deck, and you have a 2 mana counterspell. So you can play 2 spells per turn as early as turn 4. Don’t forget, that with a lot of interaction, Dig Through Time also costs only 2 mana.
So I have an IQ this weekend in Boonton, New Jersey, and I’ll be playing Esper Dragons.
I feel very comfortable with this list, especially with the recent rise of Abzan decks in general. Those matchups range from favorable to even, and don’t really lose any percentage after sideboarding. The only matchups I’m really worried about are the red decks. Fighting these decks comes down to mulliganing. You need to find early interaction right away. After game 1, the matchup gets a lot more even, but is still a bit on the unfavorable side I feel, even though others say the matchup is better after board for the Esper deck.
I’m hoping that I am able to top 8 the event this weekend, and if the stars align, I will win the whole event. Anything that helps me toward an invitation to the invitational in New Jersey later this year will make me happy.
Now, eyes on Modern!
This weekend was the first invitational that featured Modern as a format. After that, is an expectedly large Grand Prix in Charlotte that is also Modern. Those events, with the release of Modern Masters 2015, are putting a lot of focus on one of the more widely played nonrotating formats, and the only one that has active support from Wizards of the Coast. So I’ve been asked, which deck would I play?
Keep in mind that I’m likely to favor blue controlling strategies. In fact, before Infect became the super popular deck that it is today after the pro-tour, and the Birthing Pod decks were everywhere in the format, I was a big proponent of Scapeshift. The deck controlled the board (or at least tried to) just long enough that the deck could win.
Personally, these are the only viable control decks in modern, even to this day. I understand that the Jeskai control lists have had success on the pro-tour, but I could never get behind those lists. They run Path to Exile, which gets your opponent a turn ahead of you on land, and their win conditions aren’t spectacular to me. Paying 5 mana to attack each turn for 4 damage with a Celestial Colonnade doesn’t excite me, and neither does attacking in the air for 3 per turn (unless it’s with a hexproof dragon that kills 1 toughness tokens).
The control decks that I’m used to playing win by attacking with a mega-huge Psychatog and winning in one turn, or cycling Decree of Justice for like 9 tokens and winning in two swings, or winning with dragons (I’m talking Keiga or Kokoshu here, the OG blue black squad).
Now that the format is much faster, at least it was before the Collected Company decks started to spike, I felt like I couldn’t play Scapeshift at a competitive level, or at least the level of competitiveness that it had before, even though anticipate is a really fun toy for the deck.
So which deck would I play? The real “control” deck of the format.
I feel like Splinter Twin is still an excellent deck. I have some experience with the deck, but I’m not Patrick Dickmann, however I feel like the deck is very flexible as well. You can splash a third color for either Tarmogoyf and Huntmaster of the Fells, or Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Kolaghan’s Command. Heck, you can even go for white and add Path to Exile, Lightning Helix, Restoration Angel, even Geist of Saint Traft.
The deck has game against almost any deck in the format, and thanks to the transformative sideboard, you even have game versus your really awful matchups post board.
All in all, I’m very excited to play in my next IQ this weekend, and feel like it’s finally my weekend. I’m also very excited about the upcoming modern events, and promise to have my eyes glued to the screen when I’m not slinging spells. Maybe someone will be able to break the format again, and get even more modern cards banned!
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