Tag Archives: Standard

Hearthstone – Witchwood Sleepers

In the days leading up to the release of The Witchwood, everyone has been submitting their reviews hoping to either be the guy who called Grim Patron, or the guy who gave Corridor Creeper one star. It’s true, I’m going to talk about some cards today, but these are the long shots, the cards that many are dismissing out of hand in favor of more obvious all-stars.

So basically I’m trying really hard to call the next Grim Patron. I’m not saying that will happen, but if nothing else these cards need a little more attention, as they appear playable in the coming powered-down Standard.


ratcatcherRush is a mechanic we can’t fully understand yet. Arena experts claim its completely overpowered, and makes the game extremely swingy from turn to turn. Constructed players are a little more reserved, and they should be. Most of the rush minions aren’t very well statted, and Ratcatcher is no exception.

However, Ratcatcher could have some very favorable outcomes. Zoolock has very few options for retaking tempo outside Saronite Chain Gang, which is really just hoping your opponent can’t break through. If you’re losing the board, any trade you can make that leaves a man in play enables Ratcatcher to gain value, and it doesn’t take much to get there. Even gaining a measly +1/+1 can turn a board state back in your favor, and that’s the bare minimum. Having the ability to attack with a bunch of power essentially twice in a turn during a key turn can decide games.

There’s another way to leverage Ratcatcher for value. Eating minions with deathrattle like Devilsaur Egg can create a decent board pretty quickly. Combined with Sanguine Reveler there’s potential for a new style of Zoolock in Standard. Consider this shell:

  • 2 Flame Imp
  • 2 Witchwood Imp
  • 2 Sangiune Reveler
  • 2 Swamp Dragon Egg
  • 2 Dire Wolf Alpha
  • 2 Devilsaur Egg
  • 2 Ratcatcher

I’m sure more cards could be added to this core, but these few cards showcase the potential power of Ratcatcher. Note how easy it is to double up on Dire Wolf Alpha bonuses, or create a 3/5 on turn one with coin using Reveler and the new Imp.

EDIT: Forgot to mention that this card is just bonkers with Power Overwhelming in Wild. Like PO wasn’t good enough already.

Mad Hatter

MadHatterMy argument for Mad Hatter is very similar to Ratcatcher. If you ever have the only guy or guys on the board, Mad Hatter is four mana for 6/5 worth of stats, though it may be even better than that depending on where the ‘hats’ land. Extracting value from this minion doesn’t seem tough, but I admit that it’s unplayable from behind. Still, most cards are bad when played from behind, so perhaps it ‘s not an issue. I could see this minion being played in any aggressive deck that seeks to never lose the board.

Hench-Clan Thug

Thug.PNGI’m surprised the buzz for this card was low. A neutral minion that is basically a 4/4 for three mana that grows +1/+1 most turns is reminiscent of Undertaker before being nerfed. The weapons in this new Standard line up so that there aren’t many very good turn two plays outside Woodcutter’s Axe from Warrior, but Rogue will get plenty from this minion. Thug could also see play in the right Hunter deck because of Candleshot and Hunter’s ability to quickly apply pressure after taking a board.

Spectral Cutlass

CutlassFinally, we come to Spectral Cutlass, the longest shot of all those mentioned. During the reveal stream I was impressed at how long the Rogue could keep Spectral Cutlass alive, albeit having to make some tough choices. That may not translate to Standard, especially with the random nature of the Burgle mechanic, but with a little help and a lack of Oozes the Cutlass could become as important as top tier payoff cards like Murloc Warleader or Gentle Megasaur. Don’t sleep on just how much weapon support Rogue has right now. Between Doomerang, Rummaging Kobold, Cavern Shinyfinder, Deadly Poison, Cutthroat Buccaneer and others, there are the makings in the near future of a very powerful new archetype!

That’s all the time I have today, and with the set releasing tomorrow I’ll be diving into the new cards with gusto. This isn’t an article about archetypes, but if you’re wondering, besides the obvious I’ll be trying Weapon/Burgle Rogue, Rush Warrior, Odd/Quest Warrior, Zoolock, and Odd Mage. Note how all of these decks are either naturally aggressive or have a very specific plan in mind to win(except Odd Mage, which will probably durdle pretty hard). If you want to quickly climb after release, pick something with a plan and go hard!

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Hearthstone – Competing Hegemonies

This will be a quick one even though there are plenty of reasons why Standard (and ladder in general) is shitty. I could talk about long-term problems like how Hearthstone is the ONLY game I can think of where the professional format isn’t a default format in the game (Conquest), or how Wild is going to be REALLY shitty for a while before it develops into what hopefully feels like Vintage Magic(broken, but still fun), or even how the pro scene is completely unsustainable because the money just isn’t there, and there’s no way a third party a la SCG could step in to create a semi-pro league because there’s nothing to sell, and sponsors only go so far.

No, I’m going to expand on a small rant I had on stream this week. Normally this rant would have appeared on Brewmasters, the Hearthstone podcast I’m on, but we said fuck it it’s the end of the month lets just stream instead.

In said rant I talked about why Standard is unfun, and I want to repeat it here with more clarity because I’m sure some listeners will misinterpret my unhappiness with the meta as unhappiness with the game in general. I LOVE Hearthstone. It’s replaced Magic, a game I played for two decades, as my primary source of competitive fun, and I want the game to continue to grow and improve, not just make $400 million a year for a few years then close up shop.

The primary reason we are all sick of Standard(and if you’re NOT sick of Standard, you’re not included. Christ, just let me generalize a little for rhetoric’s sake) despite having so many viable decks is because two polar opposite hegemonies are in a bitter, endless war with each other.

On one side, you have weapon-based aggro decks, mostly featuring Patches, the Shithead. Most of these decks don’t have many options against an opponent with any semblance of late-game, and this are forced to play as aggressively as possible.

The reason the Patches decks are so aggressive is because of their mortal enemy and competing ideology, the Reno decks. Many aggro vs. Reno games are decided on whether Reno Jackson or Kazakus are drawn in a timely manner, and other that those variables what actually happens during the game is somewhat moot.

And the dynamics that exist between these matchups are the problem at hand. As stated, aggro vs. control isn’t fun because a large chunk of games are literally decided by whether a single card is drawn in a singelton deck. Control vs. Control isn’t terribly fun because while you’re having interesting games, they have a tendency to revolve around Kazakus potions. The games also take forever, and so unless you sport an amazing win rate, you feel like you’re losing ground against aggro decks because they climb the shitty ladder system so much faster.

That leaves us with the aggro matchups. Sure, some of them are shit, like the Pirate Warrior mirror, but most of the Shaman mirrors are interesting, to a point, and especially so the Jade versions. There is a huge skill factor that weighs heavily on the outcome, and sadly is probably the high point of strategy in Hearthstone that doesn’t take 30 minutes to play out.

So if the meta sucks and the only interesting matchup is the Shaman mirror, isn’t the answer just for EVERYONE to play Shaman?

Well, yes, and that’s why Standard sucks. The end, see you in March or whatever.

P.S. I am aware I’m leaving out Miracle Rogue, Dragon Priest, and Jade Druid. None of these decks have better than even matchups against either Pirate Warrior or Aggro Shaman according to the Vs Reaper Report on 1/26. Maybe you think you’re a high-end player who can get more out of Miracle, but the data shows that once you hit legend, your matchups against PWarrior and AShaman get worse, not better!

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Hearthstone – Standouts in Old Gods

So we’ve all had about a week to play around with Whispers of the Old Gods, and for most of us the release of this new set along with the rotation of Standard has turned Constructed straight on its ear. I know that some people have used this brewing opportunity to play tried and true methods to shoot up the ladder, and according to many this was especially true in the very high-but-not-quite-legend ranks, so maybe not everything has changed, but for the vast majority, the game is hardly recognizable. Instead of a building board superiority early in the game that slowly crushes opponents, many games are decided by wild swings in the late game. Cards like C’Thun and Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End have dramatic and often game ending battlecries, and even the support cards like the Twin Emperors are powerful enough that almost anything that happened early in the game just doesn’t matter.

But I’m not here to completely break down Standard. Actually, I would love to be able to do that, but it’s very hard to filter out the RNG noise of a deck like Evolve-C’Thun or Mage Yogg-Saron to determine if it’s more than just blind luck that decides games. Only time can tell us if those decks are here to stay, or if their luck will peter out.

Instead, I’m going to break down just a few cards that are either exceeding expectations or just feel powerful in the new format.

Cabalist’s Tome

tomeWhen Old Gods was released, Twitch was flooded with countless streamers all trying to do one thing – cast Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End and make it into a Trolden video. Most players chose a spell-heavy control deck to achieve this end, and just kept the board clear until they could unleash a 20+ spell Yogg-Saron. The decks often didn’t win because Yogg blew up in their faces, but everything they were doing leading up to playing Yogg seemed very good, and the reason they could even come close to controlling the board that long was Cabalist’s Tome.

As it turns out, spending a turn drawing three potentially powerful spells isn’t that bad anymore. Many decks durdle around for a long time while setting up a haymaker, and you can often follow up a Tome with a board clear to wipe the tempo slate clean.

Cabalist’s Tome is the most powerful card draw spell in Standard because the vast majority of Mage cards can deal with minions, while casting something like Sprint might yield nothing but air or dorky minions. Sprint also moves you that much closer to fatigue, while the Tome acts much closer to what many people wish Thistle Tea was like – a value generator that doesn’t draw cards from your deck. Also, getting a Cabalist’s Tome from a Cabalist’s Tome is the sauce.

I expect that once Standard quiets down a little and some established decks are made known, Cabalist’s Tome will make its way into many Mage decks that just want to grind value, and could easily end up as the most powerful card in the set.

Selfless Hero


Selfless Hero, like the deck it thrives in, is really fucking annoying. I mentioned in my last post that not nerfing Divine Favor means that whenever the right minions are in Standard, Aggro Paladin will be crushing people like its 2014, and it appears that now is the right time. In a world where no one does anything on turn one, a 2/1 is awesome, and a reasonably costed minion with a powerful deathrattle is even better. Aggro Paladin is the only deck I’ve found that retains the old feeling of a quickly emerging and slowly crushing feeling of being out tempo-ed, mostly because of this card and Steward of Darkshire. Be warned about playing your Y’Shaarj Astral Communion deck in Standard, because you’re just going to get stomped by this lady and her pals.

Forbidden Healing

healingHealing is at a huge premium now. It never felt like enough because of the tempo-driven meta, but Antique Healbot was actually awesome. Now, with all the haymakers flying around in the late game, often a player is just left with too few health points after clearing a C’Thun to really be able to fight back, even though it has the late game in mind. Priests and Warriors naturally can recover through their hero power, but Control Paladin sometimes wants still MORE beyond Lay on Hands and Ragnaros, Lightlord since of all the control classes, it shines best in the late game through consistently applying pressure through an endless stream of 1/1s. Recall that just like skipping a turn to Cabalist’s Tome isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be, skipping a turn to heal for 20 can also be useful, as Paladin has excellent tools for retaking the board through Equality and its various debuffing minions. I’ve only seen this card a handful of times in Constructed so far, but it has surprised me with how well it helps to grind out games. Sometimes you can exhaust a deck of reasonable threats entirely by simply outlasting them.


shadowI admit that I haven’t really seen many people using this card. Most of my impression of this card comes from me jamming it into a C’Thun deck, where I had awesome moments with Disciple of C’Thun, Brann Bronzebeard, and even another Shadowcaster. Still, this card provides an extremely powerful effect, though it may be in the wrong class to fully leverage it. It combines very well with Shadowstep on two fronts. Shadowstepping the Shadowcaster is good value, but I’m pretty sure that since the Caster’s battlecry is a buff, you can SS the 1/1 copy and get a full attack and health version. You have to pay t he normal cost minus two, but it’s still awesome with the right minions.

What cards from Old Gods have impressed you? Comment below, or start a discussion on my Facebook page, The Olentangy Plays!

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Hearthstone – Persisting Archetypes In Standard

If you’re wondering when my review of Whispers of the Old Gods will be, I did say I was waiting until half the set was revealed (which we just hit in the last few days), but the nerfs to several Classic/Basic staples warrants immediate attention.

Today, Hearthstone posted this article detailing long-awaited changes to many of the powerhouses of the Classic set. Some nerfs were for power level reasons (Knife Juggler), others because they enabled combos that would otherwise remain in Standard forever (Force of Nature), and still others because they restricted design space (Master of Disguise, though I’m sure no one saw that one coming).

I don’t want the tone of this article to be too negative, so let me quickly say that I am happy with the overall direction the nerfs are taking Standard. Team 5 have practically said outright that Silence was a mechanic they wish they never introduced, and I’m glad that, even for class cards, you pay a hefty price to shut another card up (or off, in some cases). Every other nerf was because the card just gave too much for it’s cost, and most of the nerfed cards still seem viable in the right decks, rather than just being auto includes in every deck that can utilize it.I’m glad they decided to nerf Force of Nature rather than Savage Roar, mostly because almost ANY change to Roar would render the card unplayable, while the change to Force of Nature is crippling, but does not damn the card to the Casual Room.

The only card I’m unhappy with is Arcane Golem. I really hated it pre-nerf, but I’m pretty sure the card is just plain shit now. If you want a 4/4 for three with a drawback I can point you to Ogre Brute and Dancing Swords, both of which saw absolutely no Constructed play outside mill decks, which as we all know aren’t real decks anyway.

But what cards were overlooked in this wave of changes? Team 5 had an amazing chance to make Classic and Basic cards the infrastructure of Standard by making changes to cards to ensure that particular archetypes will not persist year after year in a supposedly always fresh format, but a few decks appear to be poised to forever be Standard contenders.

Freeze Mage

The first deck that jumps out at me is Freeze Mage. Maybe this is what the developers want to be the Mage’s identity; a reactive hero that has excellent options for board control, sustainability, and burst. None of Freeze Mage’s primary cards were changed at all, so you can expect to face the same combination of Ice Block/Barrier, Frost Nova/Doomsayer, and a flurry of burn (and maybe an Alexstraza) to the face to end the game. Yes, Mad Scientist is leaving, but I don’t think it will change much with how much Standard appears to be slowing down since the Scientist’s best use was against aggro decks, where he just bought time. Emperor Thaurussian will eventually leave as well, but he is just a luxury, not a requirement. It remains to be seen whether decks that play for the extreme late game, like C’Thun decks, will serve to keep Freeze Mage in check, but I have my doubts.

You might ask how Freeze Mage is any different from a deck like Control Warrior, and that many of Control Warrior’s cards are also going to always be in Standard. The difference is that Freeze Mage operates on a very specific axis, while Control Warrior, as evidenced over the last two years, has undergone several different iterations. Sure, the goal is always to stabilize and then win somehow, but the cards they use to get there have changed over time, and so have their win conditions. Did you know that you can build a 26-card all Classic Freeze Mage deck? Sure, maybe you don’t want Acolyte of Pain or Azure Drake in some metas, but holy shit more than two-thirds of the deck is NEVER going to change unless flat better options come about? I hope you all like getting Fireballed a bunch of times, forever.

Ramp Druid

By this time we all know that a big part of Druid’s identity is mana ramping. They will probably have access to many ramp spells/minions in Standard, probably a great deal of them during the Fall when Standard grows to it’s maximum size.

It’s really just one card in the archetype that really bothers me – Innervate. I’ve never liked Innervate as a card because I usually don’t like cards that are many orders of magnitude more powerful in the early game than the late game. Facing down a large threat far earlier in the game than you can handle is one of the most frustrating ways to lose a game, and clearly it’s worth playing despite the risk of drawing it late since almost every Druid deck since ever plays two.

Hearthstone is a different game than Magic: The Gathering by a wide margin, but it’s hard not to think about how free mana affected Magic in its early years. Now, Magic has purged it’s professional formats of almost all fast mana, not only because it isn’t fun, but it also restricts design space. In almost every resource-driven card game ever made, the very core of gameplay revolves around slowly building resources that allows for play and counter-play, but Innervate breaks down that dynamic. Sure, Innervate costs a card, and occasionally Innervating out a card means not playing anything meaningful on the next turn, but in Hearthstone it almost doesn’t matter. If you play a fat minion early, all most opponents can do is decide which minions they want to throw away to yours, simultaneously praying to RNGesus that you don’t have any follow up because it’s those games where a Druid plays a Druid of the Claw on turn three and a Shredder on turn four that are practically unwinnable for the opponent. You simply fall too far behind too quickly while the Druid gets to make all the trading decisions every turn.

Divine Favor

Yes, Aggro Paladin had many of it’s early minions nerfed, and so not changing Divine Favor may not have any impact at all for some time, but we have to adopt a long view here since Divine Favor will ALWAYS be a part of Standard, and frankly, might be the most powerful card in all of Hearthstone behind Innervate because it circumvents one of Hearthstone’s basic tenets – players draw one card per turn.

Sure, there are many cards that draw cards out there. Acolyte of Pain, Arcane Intellect, Shield Block, the list goes on and on. But Divine Favor can  draw four OR MORE cards for three mana, and the mechanic by which it determines how many cards you draw is practically toxic because it encourages a player to dump their hand regardless of whether it’s a ‘good idea.’ Who cares if everything you played that turn got wiped out on good trades from an opponent when you refilled your entire hand and can just keep mindlessly vomiting out minions?

The very idea that a card exists that encourages players to ignore strategy and simply play as many things as possible is terrible for Hearthstone, and it may not be a problem right now, but I remember when Cancer Paladin was a thing, and I’m not taking about Secrets.

No Buffs?

For some time I expected many cards to be buffed in this wave of changes. There are plenty of crappy cards out there that have never seen serious play, but I came to see that buffs to cards will probably be very rare going forward. Any time a card is buffed, especially a Classic or Basic card, there is less of an incentive to buy more cards because that suddenly powerful card will take the place in decks of something from a newer set. If the developers have a cool new idea for a card, they can simply release it in the next set instead of buffing one of the many useless cards that already exist.

In addition to business model issues with buffs, there’s also the chance that buffing Classic cards will just create more of what almost all the nerfs were designed to remove -ubiquitous staples that would just eventually have to be nerfed. Sorry Totemic Might, maybe your destiny is somewhere down the road, but it’s going to be as the same shitty spell you are right now.

That about wraps it up for now. I’ll be back with my thoughts, and maybe a full review of every card (a big maybe) in Whispers of the Old Gods shortly before it’s release on April 26th! If you think I missed any cards you feel should be nerfed, be sure to let me know either in the comments below, on my Facebook page The Olentangy Plays, or tweet at me @NigelTheLondon

Until then, may all your Crackles be for lethal!

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Hearthstone – Standard is THE Standard

The creepy cardback for preordering WotOG

The creepy cardback for preordering WotOG

I don’t get people who are angry over Team 5’s decision to introduce the Standard format. Literally every complaint has a gaping hole in it. Let’s crush a few, for fun!

“I bought these cards, and now I can’t use them!”

This argument makes no sense. Go play Wild. Those of us who enjoy Standard (everyone but you) will play Standard.

“I want to be a pro Secret Paladin player forever!”

If you want to be a professional Hearthstone player, you have to spend money to keep up. That’s the fucking business model. And at least you have it easy. If you’re any good, you don’t really have to spend that much money when a set comes out; you should have a bunch of gold and dust stockpiled. You don’t even have to get off your ass for the most part. Do you have any idea how much time and money it takes to try to become a professional Magic player? You’re spending hundreds of dollars a month on cards, and travelling hundreds of miles a WEEK to follow around the various tournament circuits, just hoping you post enough good finishes to at least break even.

“Wild will eventually be a dead format!”

Yep. That’s why they made Standard, so players don’t feel like they are on a slowly sinking ship with no where else to go.

Do you know WHY Wild, without extreme policing from the Hearthstone developers, will eventually die out? There are three main reasons. Let me hit you over the head with them.

#1 – Power Creep

Let’s say Team 5 is designing a new Hearthstone set. Every set needs some vanilla-ish creatures, to fill in the gaps, for flavor and feel reasons, and because not every card can be super complicated.

BB: “Let’s see, we need a four mana guy that has a solid body.”

YW: “Well, we made Chillwind Yeti, then in GvG we made Mechanical Yeti. What’s next?”

BB: “We really want people to want to buy packs of this new set so we keep our jobs, so we need to make this minion playable in Constructed.”

YW: “I know, let’s make it a 5/5! It will be awesome!


BB: “5/5 Yeti was a hit, even if it did create confusion about what having a “yeti” means, but we have another set coming, and people need to stay excited!”

YW: “Hey, let’s make it a Dragon too!”


BB: “If we don’t give it a Battlecry, people will just use the old one!”


YW: “6/6!”

I think you get where this is going. Power creep stops a developer’s ability to design cards that are balanced for the game. You need to sell these cards you design, and so you always have to make the next one better than the last.

#2 – Growing the player base

Believe it or not, not everyone in the entire world plays Hearthstone, but Team 5 would really like to continue growing the player base, and really, players should want that too (but that’s another topic)!

Let’s say it’s four years in the future. There are now like a dozen expansions for Hearthstone and nine adventures. Let’s assume Team 5 somehow managed to avoid power creep from ruining the game yet, and so the meta is full of cards from all products. A new player hears about Hearthstone from his friends, and creates an account. He completes the tutorial and gets all his classes to ten. He eventually creates his own deck and ventures into Constructed, where predictably he gets his ass whooped. Undeterred, he decides that because he really likes this game, he wants to buy in and build decks like the decks he sees on ladder. He clicks on the shop, frowns, does a little math, logs off, and never comes back.

What happened? Our prospective new player realized that the chances of him getting the cards he wants in packs are incredibly low, and since he only needs a few cards from each set, most of what he gets would be dusted, but only getting 1/8th value on the VAST majority of cards would mean he needs to spend about $1000 to build the deck he wants.

#4 – Design Space

This point sorta ties into power creep in a way, but it’s more about complexity and similarities between cards, and even less tangible things like Hearthstone’s flavor and feel.

Hearthstone has a very simple layout. Hand, deck, and board. Stuff goes from deck, to hand, to board, and then eventually it goes away. This is the essence of Hearthstone, and its simplicity in game play is one of the reasons why its OK to add animations of the cards crashing into each other with voice overs. You wouldn’t want the game to be too busy. Think about what MTGO would be like if every time you tapped a mana, your lands did things, like animated or played noises. Magic already has many physically moving parts (even in the digital realm since MTGO is played using a virtual board), and so having all that extra stuff would just be distracting, confusing, and probably annoying.

Now think about the new cultist cards in Whispers of the Old Gods. Whenever you buff your C’Thun(wherever it is), a little portal opens up on the side of the board and you briefly see him getting buffed. It’s a cool little effect, but it also serves a game-related purpose because it reminds the players of how big Captain Eyeball is, so you need to have it.

From a developer standpoint, that ‘space’, where you summon something and this little portal opens up to show what happened, is taken. In order to retain Hearthstone’s essence of simplicity in game state representation, they now cannot continue to design things of that nature, even if they were completely unrelated to each other, because you can’t summon a minion and have like nine things happen. You would lose the essence of Hearthstone.

The other side of design space is much simpler. Often times, when developing a set, there is a central synergistic mechanic, like GvG’s mechs or The Grand Tournament’s inspire. Sometimes developers like to return to an existing space because they still have great ideas using it. Now, without Standard, any new cards designed all have to be balanced against the existing cards, and without a doubt often times when exploring a design space cards are designed that, for balance reasons, cannot exist together. With a rotating format, there is no worry about those old cards. A perfect Hearthstone example for this is Goblins vs. Gnomes. I guarantee you that at some point Team 5 will want to try again at a mech-themed set, and they won’t have to balance everything around the existence of Mechwarper.


There are plenty of reasons to look forward to Standard. New decks, new cards,and a new format. To those of you who still don’t get why it wouldn’t be fun to play against Mad Scientist (a perfect example of a card that restricts design space) forever, I promise you that this is the right long-term decision for everyone. I was there when Magic created Standard, then Extended, then Legacy, then they axed Extended for Modern. Some of these formats were not well received, but now they provide a rich variety of metas, some quickly shifting and some not, that allow for players of all tastes to find a format they enjoy.

See you at the inn!

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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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Bringing the Vengeance

Hopefully for the last time ever, MTGO has caught up with the paper world with M13 release events firing every few minutes. I personally joined one for 25 tickets, played one round of double mana screw, and dropped. Limited play for Core sets is so boring. Even if I had ever drawn a fourth land in either game I played, it wouldn’t have been that exciting, and not having to play M13 is about as fun as playing it anyway. After selling some of my rares at the highest price they will ever be(ex. sold Cavern of Souls during release event for 24ish tickets. Now I get them passed to me in draft), I turned to updating the R/W ‘Storm’ deck originally featured here:


When I first read this article, I quickly dismissed it as poor because there were no notes on actual performance, or even a primer on how to play the deck correctly. Normally a primer isn’t needed because a deck’s function will be obvious, but with so much card selection, it is vital to know what you are looking for. Tough decisions are more often the case now that there are eight looting effects, so don’t just try to blow through your deck without a plan in mind. But before some general advice, the new list:

  • 4 Faithless Looting
  • 4 Infernal Plunge
  • 4 Kuldotha Rebirth
  • 2 Panic Spellbomb
  • 1 Noxious Revival
  • 4 Wild Guess
  • 4 Krenko’s Command
  • 4 Ichor Wellspring
  • 2 Mycosynth Wellspring
  • 4 Battle Hymn
  • 2 Increasing Vengeance
  • 2 Past in Flames
  • 2 Burn at the Stake
  • 2 Reforge the Soul
  • 1 Devil’s Play
  • 18 Mountain


  • 4 Smelt
  • 2 Gitaxian Probe
  • 1 Noxious Revival
  • 2 Reforge the Soul
  • 2 Burning Vengeance
  • 4 Whipflare

There are three big changes of note: Krenko’s Command, Wild Guess, and Increasing Vengeance. One of the major issues the deck had previously was an inability to refill or add to your token army in the middle of the critical turn because Gather the Townsfolk required White mana, and in most cases all your mana was Red once you started going nuts. You lose the ability to go to five or less and then go off out of nowhere, but the consistency gained in both the mana base and having more paths to win seems well worth it. Wild Guess is an additional selection spell, and means we don’t have to play quite as many Reforge the Souls. It is quite rare that I even cast one during a win. With all the Lootings/Guesses/Wellsprings, it’s not hard to craft a hand and graveyard that can win without seven new cards. Still, I left two so the option is open in case a key piece is missing. Increasing Vengeance is probably the most interesting addition, for two reasons. One, it was available at the time the original article was written, so why wasn’t it included? Also, it is just incredible at bridging the gap between an engine that never really does much and killing the enemy easily. When you flash back the Vengeance for RR using Past in Flames, you still get the extra copy of the spell; it is literally double Fork. When copying Burn at the Stake, it also remembers how many creatures were tapped for the first one. I played against some weird life gain brew last night, and easily, EASILY Burned him for NINETY using the Vengeance. Yes, I needed all three copies for thirty to kill him.

This deck takes a bit of mashing before becoming proficient at taking care of witches medieval style. It took me several games to realize that you should probably not loot away a Rebirth or Artifact just about ever. One mana for three guys is your most efficient way of making a Ramen Instant Army. Krenko’s Command is a backup plan at best, and is generally used to test an opponent for a sweeper by throwing out two goblins, or to refill during the Burn turn. Deciding when to use your Vengeance is usually just a matter of math, but don’t lose sight of the goal of just having enough to kill your enemy. I have caught myself several times having to rethink a line of play because I was opening myself up to disruption for a gain that was much bigger than what was required to win the game. Lastly, many openers with this deck will look clunky or useless. It’s a combo deck, so that’s perfectly natural. Most hands that have either a Ichor Wellspring, Faithless Looting, or Wild Guess are keeps with the ability to cast said spell and not much else. The idea is to get a graveyard going most of the time, and these spells get the ball rolling.

Before I leave you to play with this hilariously fun deck, a few quick notes on the sideboard. Smelt is a catch for Grafdigger’s Cage, and I would never bring in more than two blindly(though of course I would have to suspect it before I blindly board anyway). Any deck that still plays Cranial Extraction somewhere brings in the Revival, as it’s not bad just sitting in the deck letting you redraw a Rebirth, or setting up a Reforge the Soul. Burning Vengeance is an alternate win condition, but mostly it’s there because I can’t think of what else to jam against a deck that wants to go long.

There are also a number of other directions this deck could go. Becoming even more graveyard-centric is an option. A RUG deck that plays Rebirth, the Artifacts, Rituals, and far more ways to fill the bin like Mulch or Thought Scour could be better options. Creatures like Augur of Bolas would find a home in a deck like this quickly as well. I leave it to you, reader. Go forth, and brew!

Nigel H.

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