The new Legacy metagame is in full gear and we have our first set of weekend Challenge results. There were a lot of exciting lists that came out of the events, but one of the events was won by Callum Smith (Whitefaces on Magic Online) using an exciting take on Esper Midrange. It has been a long time since we’ve seen an Esper deck rise to the top, but over the past few months there have been some powerful cards for the color combination that have been printed.
I love Esper decks, and this list is particularly awesome, so I’m excited to talk about it. Let’s take a look at the list that Callum used.
Legacy Esper Mentor by Callum Smith
This is a very traditional fair deck, which means it exists somewhere on the midrange-control spectrum. With powerful disruption, cheap removal and potent threats and planeswalkers, there are very few holes in this deck’s defenses. There are two-for-ones galore here, which makes it pretty easy to grind down opponents while answering their key cards. Of One Mind gives this deck a nice, cheap refill in the midgame which allows this Esper deck to continually pull ahead on cards and keep finding crucial answers.
Let’s take a look how the individual cards in the deck let this deck pull ahead of its opponents.
Monastery Mentor is one of the best creatures Legacy has to offer. However, a three-mana threat that requires a follow up can be a bit of a tough ask in this format. This deck is well set up to take full advantage of it, though. Discard spells can clear the way for it and Of One Mind works particularly well with Mentor, as by itself it provides the cost reduction.
Snapcaster Mage fell by the wayside because Dreadhorde Arcanist was a bit too efficient in comparison. However, with it gone, Snapcaster is an excellent tool for reusing your key spells and has additional synergy by being returned with Unearth or Teferi, Time Raveler, as well as being a Human for Of One Mind. Both Snapcaster and Baleful Strix are the perfect cards to take advantage of it. No one really wants to kill either of them, as they already get their value by the time they hit play.
Baleful Strix is particularly good in this deck, as it acts as a faux-wall or speed bump for creature strategies. Beyond the cost reduction it provides Of One Mind, it’s just a really annoying card to play against and Baleful Strix has been a staple of these midrange strategies for a long time now.
With the bans behind us, I think Teferi is one of the best planeswalkers still remaining in the format and is a big pull towards playing UW right now. This deck is particularly well equipped to take advantage of him because this deck can take advantage of both abilities. The -3 ability works well on a lot of cards in the deck, like Baleful Strix and Snapcaster Mage, and the +1 works well with the discard, Unearth and even Of One Mind.
On the other hand, Jace, the Mind Sculptor is starting to creep back into the format. Cards have still gotten quite a bit more powerful over the past few months, so he hasn’t quite reclaimed the throne he once held. He’s still one of the best cards ever printed though, and provides a lot of different benefits to a deck like this, so I think we’ll be seeing more Jaces as the format develops more.
Inquisition of Kozilek over Thoughtseize is a nod to the life loss being relevant, which certainly comes up especially when you’re playing Snapcaster Mage. There aren’t that many with mana value more than three that matter these days, so the cost is relatively low, but it certainly might come up.
Hymn to Tourach is a classic Legacy two-for-one, and it’s awesome to see it show up again. It’s a bit risky with Veil of Summer and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath still hanging around, but this deck is relatively well equipped to deal with either of those cards. Teferi blanks Veil and Swords to Plowshares checks Uro so I think this is an excellent spot for Hymn to show up.
One of the newer inclusions for this type of deck, Of One Mind is an excellent card advantage tool. Snapcaster and Strix get their value up front and people tend to ignore the bodies when they’re in play. Abusing that information, Of One Mind can pretty easily provide a 0ne-mana draw two, which is a solid rate in Legacy. Since this deck does grind down opponents pretty well, as the game goes long, it’s not unreasonable to just cast this for three mana in a top deck fight. This is the type of shell you want to build with the card and I think there’s a lot more room for the card to shine in the future.
Unearth is not a common card in Legacy these days, but with nine targets that either generate value or threaten to end the game (with an extra eight targets in the board), it makes a lot of sense here. In conjunction with Teferi, rebuying any creature in this deck at instant speed is extremely effective and worst case, you can cycle it.
Vindicate hasn’t seen a lot of play recently and most decks like this have turned to Council’s Judgment in the past. Vindicate has some key advantages, notably being able to target lands, which is certainly relevant in a deck without Wasteland. Additionally, Plague Engineer means that True-Name Nemesis isn’t quite as problematic, so Council’s Judgment isn’t quite as important. There are ups and downs to both spells, so I can easily see the Vindicate becoming a Council’s Judgment, but I do like the classic inclusion here.
While running six Force effects is relatively common, Callum decided to trim a copy, but not the one that most people would have expected. There are a few reasons for this. First, this deck is relatively good at generating resources so Force of Negation will be hardcast a bit more consistently. Second, this deck is pretty strong at managing creatures, which makes the downside of Force of Negation less prominent. Third, Teferi means that this deck will play at instant speed a bit more often and three mana is a sweet spot, which gives you a bit more optionality with what spells you play. Finally, exiling cards matters, and with an uptick in Life from the Loam, Force of Negation becomes even more important.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for changing the numbers around, but just because this looks a bit odd doesn’t mean it’s wrong and I rather like this split.
The mana base in this deck is relatively standard, so I don’t have too much to say about it. However, I want to take this opportunity to comment on how nice it is to get to play non-snow basics once again. Legacy is a format of near-infinite customizability and seeing players pull out their favorite basic lands again is revitalizing.
If you need some extra removal spells for creature matchups, the Esper colors will never run out of them. Fatal Push tends to be the best of them, and you can bring this in, or add more to the sideboard, as you see fit.
Hymn is a great tool to bring in against the various control and combo decks of the format. Of course, Veil of Summer is a concern, so you really have to be careful about when you play it/bring it in, but there are certainly times when Hymn is absolutely backbreaking.
One of the best answers for artifacts and enchantments and works extremely well with Snapcaster Mage.
These are really potent cards against blue decks and each have their advantages. Hullbreacher is great at ambushing opponents and can be brought back with Unearth. Narset, Parter of Veils plays a bit more face up, but digging towards additional spells is really useful.
I would probably put this card on the short list of cards people will be sick of before long. Plague Engineer is an extremely good card that solves two key issues: decks that go wide and True-Name Nemesis. The fact that it can be returned with Unearth or reset with Teferi makes it even better here and I wouldn’t leave home without it.
One of the best anti-combo creatures these colors have access to, Meddling Mage is a great card to have access to. It has all of the synergies that the other creatures in this deck have and can really start to put opponents in a squeeze when you combine it with discard spells.
Surgical Extraction is just the best way to make sure that random turn one graveyard decks don’t close the door too quickly. This could be any other form of graveyard hate you need (I’d recommend Nihil Spellbomb if you don’t need to worry about turn one combo decks), but I think Surgical is the de-facto choice for a reason.
- If all you need is a prowess trigger, don’t forget you can use your discard spells on yourself in a pinch.
- Similarly, don’t forget that you can counter your own spells to get those crucial prowess triggers.
- Teferi allows you to do some absurd things. The clip below of Callum playing in the finals demonstrates that.
In general, I like trying to grind them out in this matchup. One of the downsides of this sideboard plan is that you might fall too far behind on tempo by bringing out free spells and bringing in some two and three-drops. However, you have a substantial advantage in terms of card advantage over them and I like leaning into that even more with the extra Hymn. If the game goes longer, you’ll likely be favored, so try to stop their early pressure and keep hands that are good at surviving.
I’m not exactly sure what Miracles decks are going to be playing these days, so it’ll pay off to be malleable in your sideboarding. For the most part, the removal will be pretty bad so that’s an easy place to start, but if they show you Uro, some amount of Swords to Plowshares get better. In fact, it might just be worth leaving in two copies anyway because they might have Mentor and even though I like Plague Engineer more than Swords in that context, it might be a better hedge.
Regardless, this game is going to go long but Esper has a lot of card advantage so you should be able to keep up with them. Teferi is a crucial card in the matchup, so try to set up a situation where you can safely resolve that.
Death and Taxes
I never like bringing out all of my Forces in this matchup. It’s too common that their plan will involve bringing in a card like Cataclysm or a planeswalker which can completely take over the game. On the flipside, I don’t love Hymn in this matchup. Of course it’s almost always going to hit two cards, but not playing to the board early can be really costly.
Esper does have a decent amount of disruption, but Esper doesn’t have much pressure and Doomsday only needs to resolve a single card so they can certainly combo through a lot of interaction. Having Meddling Mage is really useful here, as that’s one of the best cards to have in the matchup, so try to place a heavier emphasis on finding it early.