Standard is in a strange place, with few truly competitive archetypes. The cards are incredibly swingy and powerful, and the actual gameplay tends toward being draw-dependent, particularly the Abzan and Devotion mirrors.
To get an edge, meticulous metagaming and accurate sideboarding is key.
by Chris Vanmeter
This deck took down the TCGInvitational and put four copies into the SCGInvitational Top 8. The recent surge is because Abzan spent too long as the top deck, and Devotion dominates the green mirrors.
Its worst matchup is Heroic, and if you want to hate on Devotion that’s one way to go. From the Devotion side, maindecking a few Roasts and sideboarding some Rending Volleys is a way to make the matchup winnable, but it’s not worth the slots unless Heroic sees a burst in play.
Of the top-tier decks, UB Control with Perilous Vaults has the best matchup against Devotion, and Esper Dragons is favored.
My biggest problem with the deck is that it’s highly reliant on its draws. You can’t mulligan aggressively because every fewer card makes it less likely that you can activate that Nykthos for a relevant amount. When the pieces line up the draws are overpowering, but when that doesn’t happen the deck doesn’t do anything.
Throughout history, some ramp decks have more ways to mitigate flood than others. In Valakut, if you hit one naturally your actual ramp spells would turn into Lightning Bolts. With this deck, you’re left holding a pile of Elvish Mystics and Sylvan Caryatids.
I also played Esper Dragons in the TCGInvitational, and the only change from PV’s list that I’d recommend trying out is a miser’s Stratus Dancer over either a Disdainful Stroke or a Tasigur. It’s hard to describe just how good Stratus Dancer is, but it feels great to have in play and I loved drawing it all weekend.
Some people don’t like the Anticipates, but they’ve helped me connect Scorn + Dragon or find the right removal spell, and help prevent you from flooding out in the late game. It’s nice to have an easy cut in sideboarding, too.
Esper is the most consistent deck in Standard, and unlike Abzan Control it has a solid matchup against Devotion. It has it’s scary matchups, but if you can draw the important cards (like Foul-Tongue or Drown in Sorrow vs. red) then even those can be easy wins.
The absolute worst matchups for Esper are Wescoe’s GW Collected Company deck, which you can still beat if you stick an Ugin, and the Blue Abzan Control list that I wrote about a few weeks ago, both of which are relatively obscure.
The only real downside is that Esper spent such a long time as the deck to beat, and people have experience playing against it and beating it.
by Alex John
Going into testing, I didn’t have much respect for Mardu because I’d been having a lot of success against it with Abzan Control. In that matchup, the Draconic Roars are mostly dead, you have plenty of removal to keep Dragons off the board, and Den Protectors and Elspeth can grind through indefinite edicts.
I wasn’t impressed with the threat base. Sure, the Dragons are great, but there are a few matchup-specific threats that gum up the main deck. Against mono-red you need the 2-mana lifelinkers, and they’re also necessary to apply early pressure against control. The Rabblemasters are pretty much only good against control or maybe the mirror, and it all looks pretty bad when facing down a Courser or a four drop.
Testing the deck and watching it in action gave me a much different perspective. Discard into a threat is always good, Dragons are always good, and the deck has enough incidental damage that it almost doesn’t need to attack to win. In fact, if you could guarantee yourself a solid mixture of lands and spells every game then it’d be the best deck in the format.
Moving some number of Read the Bones to the main deck over Goblin Rabblemaster would help avoid flooding out, and might give the deck a few percentage points against the field from increased consistency alone. I really like Kolaghan’s Command in this deck for similar reasons, as it can rebuy threats when you’re flooding and it’s another disruption spell when you’re stalled on three.
by Owen Turtenwald
Of the Abzan variants, Megamorph is the most consistent thanks to the combination of Satyr Wayfinder, Courser of Kruphix, and the full 4 Abzan Charms. The Deathmist Raptors double as removal vs. aggro and pressure vs. control.
Something that’s kind of interesting is the shift away from Crux of Fate and toward End Hostilities, which is probably a response to Atarka ramp decks and Mardu Dragons. Crux is slightly less dead against Esper Dragons specifically, where you can sometimes kill Ojutai, but that doesn’t help you when your Devotion opponent plays an Atarka to clear your Siege Rhino and attack you down to 8.
Abzan will continue to be a large part of the metagame, and Siege Rhino will never be bad, but I don’t like any version of it in the current meta. Of course, the new set will be out soon, and all of that will change.