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Pick of the Week – Mage-Ring Esper

If you have a Standard tournament coming up, then you’re in luck because I’m back with my weekly series, Pick of the Week!

This week, the deck I feel is the best positioned in Standard is Reid Duke’s Esper Control and he proved it by making Top 8 at Grand Prix Quebec City.

Mage-Ring Esper

The first thing that I love about this deck is the 2 copies of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Ugin has taken his rightful throne as the most powerful card in Standard, and 8 mana seems to be the sweet spot of just expensive enough—every deck can’t play it, but you can build your deck around it and still be competitive. We call this Esper Control, but let’s be honest—it’s an Ugin deck. Every card in the deck is carefully chosen to prolong the game until Ugin can come down and it does this very effectively. In the same Top 8, you’ll even see Jake Mondello playing a stack of horrible draft commons wrapped up in a tight little package so that he can play Ugin on turn 5 consistently. It’s so extreme that if you resolve Ugin against Abzan and Jeskai, you almost always win the game.

My second-favorite part about this deck is it plays all the cheapest potent and reliable answers available to it. Negate, Dispel, Duress, and Clash of Wills all say that no matter what spells your opponent plays, you have clean answers. If people want to play with Gideon or Rally the Ancestors, it doesn’t matter because Negate doesn’t discriminate. One huge draw to a strategy like this is that the potency of Wingmate Roc is greatly lessened, and that card has been a stone-cold killer in this Standard format—so anything you can do to make it noticeably worse is a step in the right direction.

This may also be the most accommodating shell for 4 Ojutai’s Command alongside 4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Dark Jeskai plays these cards, and they’re clearly good there, but this deck has fewer lands that enter the battlefield tapped and it’s more normal for this deck to have all of its lands untapped on the opponents’ turn. In Dark Jeskai, you have to work to get a 2-­for­-1 off Ojutai’s Command, but in this deck the opponent is forced to play into it—if they don’t make this deck use its mana, it’ll cast Dig Through Time or Anticipate to fill that need, or it’ll even just calmly untap, draw, and keep making lands drops—exactly the kind of game Ugin wants to play.

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is the best card in Standard. He reminds me of both Stoneforge Mystic and Snapcaster Mage. He comes down early, and if Jace doesn’t die immediately, he gives you a long-term advantage which is hard to beat. Unless Wizards prints something in the next set that lessens the oppressiveness of this creature-planeswalker, I hope they decide to ban him. Right now, if your goal is to win and you aren’t playing 4 copies of this card in your deck then you’re just making an error. The power level of Standard is ridiculously high, as high as I can ever remember, and Jace still stands alone at the top. Siege Rhino is nice, but Jace only costs 2 mana and the window your opponent has to kill him before he flips into a planeswalker is much narrower than and very different from Siege Rhino. With a Rhino, you can take a hit or two, and then kill it and you’ll be fine as long as they don’t have 2 more Siege Rhinos.

It was a real pleasure watching Reid march through the Swiss rounds at Grand Prix Quebec, including an undefeated 9-­0 record at the end of the Day 1. Most decks in the format aren’t prepared for a dedicated Ugin control deck and this weekend’s results showed it. Unless the popular decks change their lists in a big way, I expect this to remain the case, which is largely what makes Reid’s Mage-Ring Esper Control list my Pick of the Week.

I would recommend reworking the removal suite slightly to make it better against Mantis Rider. I saw in the coverage that if the opponent resolves 2 quick Mantis Riders, it’s very hard to battle back from that. Complete Disregard is a card that interests me, Languish as well. Those both seem quite strong and underplayed.

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