ello from Berlin, Germany, and welcome to another edition of Building on a Budget. This week I am going to give you my take on Esper. I've always been a big fan of "Draw Go" strategies, and I was having trouble making an Esper deck that wasn't just another Makeshift Mannequin deck. I decided to see if a traditional draw-go type of strategy could work in today's standard. I started working on the deck and remembered how much I enjoyed playing the archetype.
For those of you that aren't familiar with "Draw Go," it was initially a Tempest-era control deck that played a lot of counterspells, instant-speed card draw, and some type of inevitable win condition. The original draw go lists ran Steel Golem, but Steel Golem isn't what it used to be. Nowadays Steel Golem would be getting Flame Javelined and Wrath of Goded off the board before it could ever go the distance. Draw Go upgraded to Masticore a year or so later, a creature we don't have access to these days. For reference, here's Randy Buehler's Draw Go list from Worlds 1999 (6-0 in Standard).
Randy Buehler's Draw Go
6-0 in Standard, 1999 World Championships
I wanted to use this list as a reference point when designing my new draw go deck. Cards like Forbid, Masticore, and Counterspell aren't really available anymore, but I can learn from this deck's curve. I want to make sure my curve matches Randy's as closely as it can with the cards available. Lets take a look at the original deck's curve.
One: Whispers of the Muse, Faerie Conclave (I recognize this is a land, but lands that come into play tapped need to be counted as one-drops in a deck like this.)
Two: Counterspell, Mana Leak, Miscalculation, Powder Keg
Four: Dismiss, Masticore
When I look at the available one-cost cards today, I'm pretty underwhelmed. I think the best one-cost cards available might be lands that come into play tapped. I will definitely be playing the full four Arcane Sanctum, and I probably want a play set of Faerie Conclaves to help me win the long game. I'll play Condemn, but I don't think of a card I'll be playing on my fifth turn as a one-drop. I can consider playing some Vivid lands, but if I'm going to play 28 total lands in this blue-based deck, I can afford to splash black and white without giving up too much.
The original list had 13 cards that cost two mana. There isn't a good Powder Keg replacement in standard. I figured there might be some value in playing a better removal suite than the original deck and packing more card draw. I decided to play more removal, and I looked at the available two-cost cards.
Shriekmaw: I love me some Shriekmaw, but I don't think it has a home in this deck. The fact that I can only evoke it on my turn is a bit of a problem for a Draw Go player.
Terror: Terror is an extremely efficient way to deal with your opponent's threats. I'm not sure if it's worth playing four of them, but it does its job well. The problem with playing four of a card like Terror is that some of the most played creatures in today's Standard environment don't trade one for one with it. I hate using a card like Terror on my opponent's Kitchen Finks or Reveillark. When an opponent plays a card like Chameleon Colossus and I have a Terror in hand instead of a relevant card I will probably get pretty upset.
Remove Soul: Remove Soul is an excellent two-mana counterspell. It got quite a bit of play in Faerie decks just prior to Pro Tour–Hollywood and it will probably be a four of in this deck. Most if not all decks will have targets for my Remove Souls. Remove Soul really shines when you play it against decks like Reveillark.
Negate: I talked a bit about Negate last week. At the end of that article I stated that I probably should have been running Remove Soul instead. After a few more matches with the deck I realized that I was dead wrong when making this change. In a Standard environment full of five-color control decks, it's necessary to have a card like Negate in your maindeck.
Broken Ambitions: It may not be a real two-drop, but Broken Ambitions is playable on our second turn, and it's important to have versatile counters that can be played early in the game.
Randy's 1999 Worlds list had a playset of Forbid as his lonely three-drops. I scanned Gatherer and looked at a few playable cards.
Jace Beleren: I think Jace Beleren is extremely underplayed. If you can resolve this in a control mirror, you can accrue huge amounts of card advantage over the course of the game. Games with Draw Go are likely to go very long if you're winning. A card like Jace Beleren lets you stay ahead once you're in the driver's seat. A lot of my friends have said things to me like, "Jace Beleren seems like a win-more card." They think cards like Jace aren't necessary because a control deck that gets ahead will likely be winning the game regardless. I disagree, though. I've played a lot of games with control decks over the course of my life, and most of the games I lose to aggressive decks aren't lost on the fourth or fifth turn. A good control player can almost always get deep into a game by slowing down an opponent, but getting the lead and keeping it are very different things. I can clear my opponent's board and have Counterspell mana open when I'm at 4 life, but if my opponent has a pair of burn spells in hand, then it's likely that I won't be winning the game anyway.
Cancel: A simple, elegant, efficiently costed counterspell, Cancel is one of the best three cost options available to us.
Faerie Trickery: Once the dust settles with the new Standard format, this might become more playable. Right now it doesn't seem like the best plan. A lot of people are still playing Faeries. (And rightly so—Faeries remains, in my opinion, the most powerful deck in Standard.) Others are playing Chameleon Colossus, which also can't be countered with Faerie Trickery. Though I won't be playing Faerie Trickery, I thought it was worth mentioning because it could replace Cancel in the coming weeks or months if the Standard environment oscillates in that direction.
Esper Charm: Instant speed card draw. It's been a little while since I was able to tap some mana at the end of my opponent's turn and draw some cards. How much have I missed that? About four Esper Charms worth. The other two clauses of Esper Charm are also relevant. Destroying Bitterblossom, Runed Halo, or Oblivion Ring seems nice. It also seems good to make my opponent discard their last two cards. I would aggressively make a control playing opponent discard if they're on the mulligan. Most control decks in today's Standard don't do much if they can't play their fifth land.
The four-drops in Randy's deck are probably too good to replace with modern era four-drop control cards. Unless my budget could support a helping of Cryptic Commands, I probably wouldn't play any four-drops in the modern incarnation of Draw Go. Luckily, I have a modern replacement for the Masticores that were played in the original list. Unfortunately, my replacement costs five mana.
Razormane Masticore: Razormane Masticore is amazing against aggressive decks, It can't be terrored, it fights with almost any creature, and it can attack into an opponent's Cloudthresher if it's their only untapped creature. (Shoot your Cloudthresher for 3, attack for 5, thanks!)
Treachery is another card that can't be replaced easily. It's not the prettiest thing in the world, but Persuasion is in Tenth Edition and, despite being a lot weaker for the archetype, it still results in two-for-ones most of the time.
After fiddling with the numbers a bit, I decided on the following:
4 Remove Soul
3 Broken Ambitions
4 Esper Charm
2 Jace Beleren
4 Razormane Masticore
I'm only going to play 26 lands. (As opposed to the 28 in Randy's list.) I don't need as many lands as Randy because I'm not relying on cards like Stalking Stones. After I play my sixth land I can start to stock a few in my hand. I can use these to discard to my Razormane Masticore or to bluff more counters than I actually have.
Here's the mana base:
4 Faerie Conclave
4 Arcane Sanctum
I wanted an alternate win condition in my sideboard for beating decks that will likely have a lot of dead cards if I take out my Razormane Masticore. I decided Millstone was a solid choice. Most decks that I would side in the Millstone against would probably have Makeshift Mannequins, and Condemn doesn't seem very relevant against them, so I can probably have some Relic of Progenitus in my sideboard too. I still like infest even if this deck might not be able to reliably cast it. A deck like this will often get overrun by decks like Kithkin and it needs an effective tool to get back into the game. I can round out my sideboard with a little extra removal for decks with unusual threat choices. The sideboard I ended up playing looked like this.
4 Relic of Progenitus
4 Oblivion Ring
Here's the final list.
Match 1 vs. White Weenie
Game 1: I won the play. I'm pretty certain that going first is very important against the aggressive decks. I kept Arcane Sanctum, Island, Plains, Remove Soul, Terror, Remove Soul, and Negate. I started with my Arcane Sanctum and my opponent played a Windbrisk Heights and passed. I played an Island and passed. The game just continued as one might expect from here. Every creature my opponent played got countered, and I even had the Negate for Spectral Procession. Eventually I drew a Jace Beleren when my opponent had nothing on the board, and I started gaining card advantage. I played a Razormane Masticore with a counter and Esper Charm on backup, and my opponent tried an Oblivion Ring. I let the Oblivion Ring resolve. My opponent played a Knight of Meadowgrain and passed. I played Esper Charm to destroy his Oblivion Ring at the end of turn. On my turn I discarded a land and destroyed his Knight of Meadowgrain. I kept drawing cards with my planeswalker and shooting the creatures my opponent made. The game ended shortly thereafter.
I sided in four Infest and took out my Cancels.
Game 2: I kept an opening hand with Infest, Infest, Arcane Sanctum, Arcane Sanctum, Terror, Island, and Plains. My opponent led with a Goldmeadow Stalwart and showed me a Knight of Meadowgrain. I played my Arcane Sanctum and passed. My opponent played Knight of Meadowgrain and attacked for 2. I played another Arcane Sanctum and passed. My opponent played a third Plains, attacked for 4, and played a Spectral Procession. Nice draw. I untapped, played my Island and played Infest. The game didn't progress much from there. Most turns my opponent just played a land and passed, and by the time my opponent started drawing gas again I had already drawn twice off Esper Charms. A pair of Faerie Conclave and a Persuasioned Stillmoon Cavalier went the distance.
Match 2 vs. Five-Color Control
Game 1: I won the play again and kept Jace Beleren, Remove Soul, Island, Island, Island, Faerie Conclave, and Negate. I played my Faerie Conclave and passed. My opponent played a Vivid Creek and passed. I played an Island and passed, and then another Vivid Creek from my opponent let me make my big play. Jace Beleren stuck, and I started drawing cards. My opponent didn't have a Kitchen Finks for turn three, and I got to keep drawing. Whenever Jace Beleren had one loyalty counter I'd let us both draw. Then eventually I started attacking with a single Conclave. My opponent had a full grip, but I had a lot more action thanks to Jace. The inevitability of card advantage like that is really hard for another control deck to beat.
I sided out four Razormane Masticore and three Condemn, and I brought in four Relic Of Progenitus (I saw Makeshift Mannequin) and three Millstone.
Game 2: This game went similarly to the first. Nothing happened. Then I drew a Jace Beleren and played it with counter backup. My opponent managed to resolve a Kitchen Finks on the next turn, but I had Persuasion waiting. My opponent made another Kitchen Finks, and I made a Millstone and a Relic of Progenitus and passed. I kept milling and milled a Cloudthresher. At the end of my turn, my opponent went for a Makeshift Mannequin on his 7/7. I activated the cantrip half of my Relic of Progenitus. My opponent responded with another Makeshift Mannequin, but I had a Negate. My opponent scooped it up with six cards left in his deck.
Normally I would play a few more matches with a deck, but I'm in Berlin, so this is no time to be inside playing Magic. I like decks like this a lot. It's probably not the best deck for competitive play, but it's a fun strategy if you like playing control decks, and I definitely recommend it for the casual room. Next week I may bring you a special budget Extended article. Wish me luck here in Berlin!