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Controlling Standard

This post is courtesy of @BrianEconomides, a friend of mine who thinks my blog is cool enough to want to post his own material here. Contact him on Twitter or on this post for feedback.

 

The good old days

The good old days

I remember the first time I ever truly understood what counter magic did. It was an experience that altered the entire game for me. Since then, we’ve gone from using simple spells like Arcane Denial and Counterspell to complex ones like Cryptic Command. I am a control player, one who really enjoys locking an entire game down and having my opponent scoop with the understanding that they just can’t win.

However, today’s Standard format requires a different style to be successful. With Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash producing next to no help for true control players while setting the stage for Naya and Boros decks to shine, what’s a control player to do? These last few weeks I’ve spent countless hours researching the best cards for an Esper control deck. My first effort looked a lot like Brian Braun-Duin’s Esper list that he tested on January 25th, with minor changes, but after putting it to the test, I was disappointed.

 

  • 3x Obzedat, Ghost Council
  • 1x Snapcaster Mage
  • 3x Jace, Architect of Thought
  • 1x Liliana of the Veil
  • 1x Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
  • 1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
  • 2x Detention Sphere
  • 2x Dimir Charm
  • 2x Dissipate
  • 4x Sphinx’s Revelation
  • 4x Think Twice
  • 2x Ultimate Price
  • 4x Lingering Souls
  • 4x Supreme Verdict
  • 4x Drowned Catacombs
  • 4x Glacial Fortress
  • 3x Godless Shrine
  • 4x Hallowed Fountain
  • 2x Isolated Chapel
  • 2x Nephalia Drownyard
  • 4x Watery Grave
  • 1x Swamp

I won’t go over the sideboard as my meta will probably differ from yours (I live in Japan), but here are some realizations from my first two weeks with this deck.

Lingering Souls

Lingering Souls has seen its time come and pass in Standard. Unless you are building a deck based around pumping your critters up, this card just lacks any value in this format. I even tried Sorin, Lord of Innistrad over Liliana of the Veil to give my Lingering Souls a little more value, but it just wasn’t enough. Too often was I casting Lingering Souls turn 3 to avoid getting slapped in the face by a 3/3 Haste creature, or worse, Geist of Saint Traft. Or, I’d cast it only to find out that they were holding a Bonfire of the Damned or Thundermaw Hellkite.

Think Twice

Too many times I found this card just sitting in my hand when what I really needed was either a way to deal with a creature, or a creature to put on the board. Additionally, many people see Esper and automatically think Rest in Peace, which turns Think Twice into a cycler instead of a draw spell. Coincidentally, Rest in Peace also hits Lingering Souls, and screws over the one Snapcaster Mage that wiggled its way into the deck.

Sphinx’s Revelation

Finally, I don’t feel there is a need for four Sphinx’s Revelation. I love this card, but if you draw more than one in your first four turns, they just start clogging up your hand and you start wishing you had answers for your opponent’s board and not a hand full of draw cards with three lands in play.

So, after some initial setbacks, I’ve come up with this new brew, one that should help us control player’s stand a little bit of a chance against aggro:

  • 3x Obzedat, Ghost Council
  • 3x Augur of Bolas
  • 4x Geist of Saint Traft
  • 2x Jace, Architect of Thought
  • 3x Liliana of the Veil
  • 1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
  • 1x Dimir Keyrune
  • 1x Orzhov Keyrune
  • 2x Dimir Charm
  • 2x Orzhov Charm
  • 2x Detention Sphere
  • 2x Dissipate
  • 4x Supreme Verdict
  • 3x Sphinx’s Revelation
  • 2x Essence Scatter
  • 4x Drowned Catacombs
  • 4x Glacial Fortress
  • 3x Godless Shrine
  • 4x Hallowed Fountain
  • 2x Isolated Chapel
  • 2x Nephalia Drownyard
  • 4x Watery Grave
  • 1x Swamp

Some notes on the new additions.

Augur of Bolas

Lumengrid Warden he is not

Lumengrid Warden he isn’t

I felt that this decks early game is what got it into trouble against aggro. In the past, we had access to cards like Wall of Omens that aided in the early game. Today, the closest thing to this is Augur of Bolas. Initially, I didn’t like the concept of Augur, however, I found myself always digging for spells and Think Twice wasn’t getting the job done. Augur allows me to see three cards down and have the option of which one to take. To top it off, this ability is attached to a 1/3? Couldn’t ask for more.

Geist of St. Traft

The old version really had no way of dealing with Geist of Saint Traft and the deck lacked any offensive capability. I believe the saying “If you can’t beat them, join them” comes to mind. Adding four Geist’s to the list brings not only giving me another means of dealing with him, but also the ability to turn a creature sideways for some damage.

Mana Considerations

I altered the mana curve slightly to account for the fact that Sphinx’s Revelation was only really effective at six mana or more. Two Keyrunes came in to help with the mana-fixing and to help create offense after a Supreme Verdict.

Orzhov Charm

I struggled to find an effective creature kill spell, but eventually landed on Orvhov Charm. I’m still wary of this card as it comes with a few downsides. First, you lose life equal to the creatures toughness. This really only becomes a plus against Thragtusk and Aurelia, The Warleader because they deal more damage than they can take. Second, one of the abilities of the charm is completely useless in the deck. I’m currently checking out some one cost creatures to see if it would be a good idea to run any, but am currently at a loss.

Board Control

The last thing I considered was the board control elements of the deck. I added two Essence Scatters to help with early threats, and ditched a Jace, Architect of Thought for a third Liliana of the Veil. Liliana is just great all around because if you aren’t forcing your opponent into top deck mode, you are helping nuke creatures off their board.

Test Time

Now that I feel the deck has answered some obvious issues with its early game, it’s time to test this thing out at my local Friday Night Magic. Keep an eye out for my next article where I’ll be discussing some of the best sideboard cards for each color.

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