The Captains Log: Surviving Staticaster
In the past few weeks my focus has been strictly on Standard in preparation for Grand Prix Atlantic City. I have been running Esper control in recent tournaments since the TCG invitational and I have been extremely impressed with this deck. It seems this deck has everything that you would want; an early game for those pesky BR agro decks, a mid game with Supreme Verdicts and Lingering Souls, as well as a strong late game with Tamiyo, the Moon Sage and Sphinx’s Revelation.
So the problem is adapting this list from Indianapolis to the current metagame and taking what I learned from that tournament and applying it to Atlantic City.
A list for reference:
So what did I learn from the TCG invitational? Well a great deal of things, mainly Izzet Staticaster is insane against this deck. This card is so good that it blanks Lingering Souls completely which can be a huge problem for this deck. Linger Souls is the backbone on which this deck is built around. This card buys us time in the early and mid-game and even in the late game it makes it almost impossible to attack through effectively. Think about it one Lingering Souls blocks a Thragtusk for a full four turns. In four Turns you have the potential to draw/see an enormous amount of cards. Let’s take a look at a typical progression in this. You play the first half of Lingering Souls netting you two tokens. Next turn you play an Auger of Bolas looking at 3 cards choosing the best one out of those three. That turn you have drawn 2 cards and have seen four (three from auger). Next turn you draw your card for the turn and can play either Azorious Charm or Thought Scour (of course Targeting your opponent) and that is another card drawn for this sequence and then are able to flashback Linger Souls. Turn three you draw for your turn and maybe flash in a Restoration Angel targeting the Auger of Bolas triggering it again seeing three more cards. Finally turn four of this scenario you cast a modest Sphinx’s Revelation for four (plus the one card you drew for your turn. At the end of Lingering Souls work you have successfully drawn eleven cards over four turns! This is just on an average draw too.
In those four turns your opponent will be forced with the choice to either over extend on the board making them susceptible to sweeps such as Supreme Verdict and Terminus or sit there and let you draw cards unchecked to find answers to their creatures. The great thing about all of this, in the scenario I just explained, most of the work was done at instant speed so you can do this all the while holding up counters for troublesome cards like Rakdos’s Return and Bonfire of the Damned.
So back to my original point Izzet Staticastor is a house against the deck. So what is the answer? Do we just scrap the idea of Esper because of this annoying little three drop that has an immediate effect on the board? No. For every card there is an answer, even in more restricted formats such as standard. Granted the answer may not be something you like or are willing to do to beat this problem, but there is one out there. I racked my brain for several hours on this topic and I had an epiphany. It wasn’t the fact that my opponent was killing my spirit tokens that was the problem, it was the fact that they were then smashing through for a billion because I had been milling them with Nephalia Drownyard and Thought Scours the whole game and they had a Rune Chanter’s Pike on some otherwise irrelevant creature. So there it is problem solved! Attack the problem from a different angle. Instead of blocking that huge creature indefinitely I decided I wanted to just nullify the creature.
First I started by looking at Pithing Needle. This card has always been very lackluster in my opinion. Because of how cheap the spell is and how versatile it is, the effect cannot be too powerful. So in other words it is ok at a lot of things (i.e., planeswalkers, equipment, troublesome land, and creature abilities) but isn’t amazing at one thing. So if I use this option I can board it in against all of those situations, but would I really want to? In order for it to be at its best I need to name the card before they even get one activation off of a planeswalker and to do that is a guessing game. As I suspected I wasn’t impressed with this card, so back to the drawing board.
Next up was a card that has seen some play against the URW flash decks, but I had hesitation. This card is good against URW because it shuts off Snapcaster Mage, Think Twice, and the dreaded Rune Chanter’s Pike. What it also does is shut off Snapcaster Mages and Lingering Souls. Ever here that saying “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face”? Yea that’s what I thought about cutting my own Snapcaster Mages and even more so with Lingering Souls. As it turns out that is not the case. All you have to do in this situation is cut those cards that do not interact well with it. Doing so does make you a little weaker against Geist of Saint Traft, but that is easily fixed with more Supreme Verdicts and a well-timed Restoration Angel.
The next thing that I learned in Indianapolis and throughout many games with Esper is that Nephalia Drownyard is your overall win condition.This posed an extreme problem in my list for the Invitational because I ran only one main deck. Because of this I learned a valuable lesson though. Thought Scour your opponent always! I like running one ofs in my deck because it gives you outs to situations and always makes sure your draws are live but the interaction with Thought Scour and one ofs is not good. Knowing that Drownyard was my main win condition I boarded it in nearly every game and cut Vault of the Archangel. So I have made that change permanently and removed Vault from my 75.
Another addition to my deck is the increase of Jace, Memory Adept. This card in the right situation is absolutely insane. It provides what is usually a three to four turn clock, pressuring them from a completely different angle. This card is so good I am thinking about cutting Jace, the Architect of Thought for main deck Memory Adept. I am not sure the format is where it needs to be yet to warrant a main deck Memory Adept, but it is sure getting close.
The final big change I have made to my deck is cutting Snapcaster Mage entirely. This was hard for me because as you well know my love for versatility, but the deck was sorely missing something that no longer could be left out due to the rise in popularity of creatures like Thundermaw Hellkite and Thragtusk. I needed instant speed removal. This format just has way too many huge bombs that need to be answered right now and not on your next turn at sorcery speed.
I came to this realization the final round of the Invitational. I was at 15 life had a Tamiyo at 7 loyalty threatening to ultimate in the next few turns all the while keeping my opponents loan Thragtusk at bay. My opponent plays a Cavern of Souls on his turn setting it to “angel”. I thought “hmm that’s weird I haven’t seen Restoration Angel in all 3 games, maybe its Angel of Serenity he is trying to push through next turn”. I proceeded with my turn tapping down his Thragtusk, pushing Tamiyo up to 8 and at the end of my turn bam! He flashes in an uncounterable Restoration Angel on Thragtusk making 11 points of power and another 5 life. What a swing that was let me tell you. If I was simply able to target the Thragtusk with an Ultimate Price in response the damage would have been mitigated and I may have been able to recover from this.
The reason I chose Ultimate price for my instant speed removal is because it hits the cards that I want to kill immediately, mainly Thundermaw Hellkite, but it has some other applications too as mentioned by the Thragtusk.
I am writing this the weekend before the Grand Prix and I am feeling comfortable with where my new list is. I feel as if the format has shifted into midrange decks trying to go bigger and better than other midrange decks with not as many BR aggro style decks floating around. Because of this I think it is a perfect time for Esper to creep out from the shadows.
Here is the list I plan on registering, though I may make some last minute sideboard changes.
Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed.