Alara Reborn Set Review – Esper (Part 1)


Alara Reborn is out (well, not technically on sale, but close enough to being released), and we have decided to do a full set review. Normally I don’t review every card, but we are breaking the set up into Shards and having different authors weigh in with their thoughts on how good each card will be in Constructed and Limited. As always, debate is encouraged, so if you disagree with any of my rankings (or anyone elses for that matter), post your thoughts in the forums!

We are going to be using a five point scale for the reviews, and they all will follow this grading system. Here it is, as described by Riki Hayashi:

5- Multi-format All-Star. Bitterblossom. Tarmogoyf.
4- Format staple. Mutavault.
3- Archetype staple. Mulldrifter. Scion of Oona.
2- Niche card. Sideboard or currently unknown archetype. Fracturing Gust. (Bear in mind that many cards fall into this “maybe” category, although explanation of why is obviously important)
1- It has seen play once. One with Nothing. (I believe it was “tech” vs Owling Mine, although fairly suspicious tech at that.)

5- Windmill slam bomb. Broodmate Dragon, Banefire.
4- Not embarrassing first pick. Agony Warp.
3- Archetype staple. Mosstodon.
2- Low end playable or archetype dependant card. Glaze Fiend. Incurable Ogre. Sideboard staples. Naturalize.
1- Someone somewhere used this card once. Mindlock Orb.

This does lead to most Limited cards being 3s, but explanation should determine the context and value of them. Not all 3s are created equal!

Architects of Will

Constructed – 1 (2 in Vintage!)

There has been some rumblings on The Mana Drain about playing this card, mainly due to it’s types. It is both an artifact and a Blue card, and therefore works pretty well with either Force of Will or Thirst for Knowledge, and cycles to boot. The problem is of course that besides cycling it, pitching it, or discarding it, it really doesn’t DO anything. I would recommend against playing this card, but it is interesting that it is being considered because of attributes that normally don’t matter all that much.

Limited – 3

This guy is pretty efficient at what he does, which is either a Hill Giant with a reasonable minor ability or a cheap cycler. I would expect to always play him, and he is like an improved Yoked Plowbeast.

Arsenal Thresher

Constructed – 1

If Block had Artifact Lands (like that was even remotely likely to happen), this guy would be a beater. Amplify 1 – Artifacts could be good enough if your lands counted, but without them he won’t be the 5/5 he has to reliably be to be good enough. Especially with cards like Agony Warp, Tezzeret, etc taking up artifact slots, there isn’t the critical mass needed to make him good.

Limited – 3

He gets a solid 3, since you really only need 1 artifact to make him decent, and 2 or more to make him busted. In most Esper decks I would be surprised if you didn’t want this guy, especially now that Borderposts are around. He is also a reason to not play lategame artifacts you don’t need, so keep that in mind.

Deny Reality

Constructed – 1

On the face of things, this looks like a pretty easy “1” for Constructed, but I’m giving Cascade a little bit of respect here. This is no Bituminous Blast, a card which will see plenty of play, but Cascading into something good might have made this good enough if it were an instant. In control mirrors, bouncing a land and playing a reasonable card for 0 mana would have been a solid end of turn play. Instead, we get a sorcery. Oh well.

Limited – 3

I doubt this card will get cut in most decks that can cast it easily. Unless you have a ton of cards with bad Cascade synergy (Borderposts, Martial Coup, crappy low drops like Etherium Sculptor etc), this is on par with Ogre Savant, The Ogre was very good, and bouncing a guy (or anything) and getting what is often going to be better or equal than the 3/2 the Ogre Wizard seems strong.

Enigma Sphinx

Constructed – 3

This card actually looks pretty good for Constructed, primarily Block. Seven mana is alot, but you get your mana’s worth here. Cascading into a Planeswalker, Oblivion Ring, Tower Gargoyle, or Sharuum (the dream!) and getting a pretty busty flier makes me optimistic about this card’s future. It even keeps coming back, ensuring you won’t run out of gas if it dies, although much of the common Block removal RFG’s Path and Oblivion Ring specifically).

Limited – 5

This is definitely one of the best cards in the set, if not the actual best. A 5/4 flier plus whatever is in the mystery box (it could even be a boat!) is reminiscent of Broodmate Dragon, and the unkillable clause is just punishing. If the opponent doesn’t expect to end the game in the next two turns, they likely won’t be able to even attack you or destroy it at all.

Esper Sojourners

Constructed – 1

This guy doesn’t do enough on either end to warrant any Constructed play. I still think his ability should have been “Draw a Card”, since that fits Esper’s themes much better. Anyone agree? (and yes, I realize that would make his cycling ability into “draw a card, draw a card”)

Limited – 3

A slightly hard to cast three mana 2/3 with a situational cycling ability puts Esper Sojourners squarely in the “unexciting playable” category. Using his untap ability to cycle and ambush a guy is pretty nice, but that requires Esper to have an ambush ready guy and leave mana up, which won’t come up all that often. Him dying after blocking and tapping one of their land is kinda neat, but I would expect most opponents to play around this by playing spells precombat.

Ethercaste Knight

Constructed – 1

Not even close, despite 1/3’s for two seeing play in the past.

Limited – 3

A reasonable two drop, Ethercaste Knight blocks well and helps on offense. Not much more you can ask of a 2-drop, particularly one that ups your artifact count. Exalted also tends to work well with the evasion guys that Esper likes to play.

Etherium Abomination

Constructed – 1

It’s a Dreg Reaver! With Unearth! Ok, that isn’t exciting at all. Let’s move on to Limited.

Limited – 3

It’s a Dreg Reaver! With Unearth! Still not too exciting, as Dreg Reaver is pretty bland, but giving it Unearth and making it an artifact move him from the “2” that Dreg Reaver gets to a low 3.

Ethersworn Shieldmage

Constructed – 2

If there is an aggro Esper deck in Block, it’s possible that this guy sees a little sideboard space. His effect is pretty reasonable, countering Fallout, Lavalanche or Caldera Hellion, but to make it useful you will need alot of artifact guys you are interested in protecting. If this stopped Martial Coup, I could see this being more likely.

Limited – 3

On the higher end of the 3’s, Shieldmage is pretty easy to maneuver into a 2 for 1. All it takes is one artifact guy being targeted by a damage spell or trading, and you have the easy +1 card advantage. The potential exists for much more, and that is what makes this card so exciting. Especially in the early weeks, I doubt people will see this coming that often, letting you reap so many cards. He even gets to protect himself, so playing him to ambush an x/2 works as well.

Etherwrought Page

Constructed – 1

Gaining two a turn is pretty solid, but this would have to be cheaper for it to be a contender. The other two abilities are marginal in Constructed play.

Limited – 3

I may be a little biased here – I loved White Honden in Kamigawa Block, so maybe that’s making me optimistic. Still, White Honden plus Think Tank plus Telim Tor’s Darts offers enough utility that I can see running this most of the time. It fits right in to my game plan when I draft Esper, as it definitely gives you inevitability and lets you play defensively. Once you no longer need life you start filtering, and once you are firmly in control, you start pinging. I like it!

Filigree Angel

Constructed – 2

The possibility of gaining a ton of life is the only thing stopping me from 1’ing the Angel into complete unplayability. I doubt it will work, but Master Transmuter is pretty tricky, and gaining 12+ life is pretty significant. It is likely that Esper has enough awesome things to do without bothering with this, but the power is there.

Limited – 3

This is close to a “4” but eight mana is a lot, even for me. I may like slow control cards, which this definitely is, but that hefty sum of mana keeps it from being too ridiculous. I would pick this kind of highly in Esper, but otherwise it just doesn’t beat down enough for my tastes. Eight mana dudes should end the game, and if you are losing this really doesn’t help you all that much.

Glassdust Hulk

Constructed – 1

This has the same bonuses as Architects of Will in Vintage, but is way less castable and effective, almost assuring its Constructed unplayability.

Limited – 3

Another reasonable cycling dude, the Hulk seems pretty good at bashing in mid to late game. Unblockability is really powerful, and being able to cycle him when you are looking more defensive is pretty nice.

Identity Crisis

Constructed – 3

This is the perfect replacement for Head Games in BW Tokens, and might have a place in other decks that can cast it (which aren’t many this instant, but I expect more to pop up in Block and/or Standard). It hits pretty hard, although the GY getting removed doesn’t matter a whole lot. Very strong in Block, as countermagic is pretty miserable there.

Limited – 2

At six mana (and awkward mana at that, BB + WW), Identity Crisis won’t get too many cards. I could possibly see this in some sort of control mirror, if your mana can support it, but maindecking it isn’t going to be right.

Mask of Riddles

Constructed – 1

This is not powerful enough to warrant the mana cost; Jitte it is not. If it were cheaper I could see it pairing up with Bitterblossom, but as is that won’t be happening.

Limited – 4

This reminds me of Mask of Memory, which was much harder to connect with. A few hits with a Masked dude should end the game in short order, and the cost to play + equip it isn’t too ponderous. Even against Black decks you should be able to stick this on a flier and bash for the win. As usual with cards like this, try not to play it until you can get a hit in and all that.

Mind Funeral

Constructed – 1

An amusing sideboard card against decks without lands (like 2-land Belcher), there are better ways of accomplishing that, particularly since you will die before casting it anyways. Other than that, this doesn’t mill enough cards to really accomplish much.

Limited – 1

Don’t play this card, please. I know milling cards are fun and all, but if you want to beat your opponent, this isn’t the way to do it.

Mistvein Borderpost

Constructed – 2

This is a 2 with the possibility of advancement, since the fixing in Block is pretty sparse. The main problem with playing Borderposts in Block is that trilands are so much more consistent, mainly because of the need for a basic land.

Limited – 3

Borderposts are what Panoramas wish they were, and can even function as acceleration in a pinch. Add in the bonus the –Blade cycle gets when you have a Borderpost in play, and you have a cycle of great cards. It might be a little tricky balancing Borderposts and land counts, but I doubt it will be a problem unless you intend to play 5 or 6.

Necromancer’s Covenant

Constructed – 2

This is the perfect card to hose Dredge in Legacy and Vintage. Their graveyard gets so big that it will give upwards of 10 tokens, if not more!

Oh wait, it costs six, not two. Oh well, lets see what else we got. In current formats, this may not be the worst. At six mana, if you get six power worth of lifelink Zombies it probably isn’t good enough, but once you start talking eight or more, it gets interesting. Depending on the prevalence of board sweepers and the speed of the format (ie, not Standard with its speed and Volcanic Fallouts), this could be an ok sideboard card against creature-heavy decks. You wouldn’t more than one or maybe two, since successive Coventants are the actual worst.

Limited – 4

This is a great lategame card, and assuming your opponent’s deck has a normal amount of dudes in it, you should get 4 or more guys by the time you get around to casting it. It is good against Unearth while being weakened by it, since if they are actively Unearthing guys you get less Zombies. Once your opponent knows about your Covenant it gets worse, but it can be pretty hard for them to avoid trading if that’s all you want to do. Also a good kill condition in a control deck, which I obviously like quite a bit.

That concludes Part 1 of my Esper review, although Part Two is coming soon this week! I will finish reviewing the rest of the Esper cards, and wrap it up with a conclusion of thoughts.


12 thoughts on “Alara Reborn Set Review – Esper (Part 1)”

  1. A personal story about mind funeral: At the prerelease I drafted what I believed to be a solid esper deck. It had two borderposts, 3 esper stormblades, a couple arsenel thrashers, a couple abominations, an arcitects of will, an esper shieldmage and some other stuff. However I noticed something; my late game sucked. I had no bombs or any real finisher and I quickly realized my plan was going to have to be beat down. I beat my first opponent who got mana screwed pretty bad. In my second match my opponent drafted a bant deck. To make a long story short the all three games were long and drawn out. He got wall of denial twice, which shut down my aggro plan as he slowing amassed an army bant sureblades. In the third game I had him down to two life, with some five creature on the board while he had only two. I pass the turn thinking that I have the game. He windmill slams emperial archangel…. ouch. We played draw go forever, he couldn’t attack without his angel dying on the crackback, and I coldn’t attack to kill his angel. Eventually he plays mind funeral, I shrug it off saying ok, whatever and started milling, not thinking anything of it. Because of the two borderposts and obelisk I drafted I played only 15 lands. I drew almost all lands during the stalemate, so when I kept flipping over spells, it dawned on me: I only have three lands left in my deck. I die to mind funerl….. yea

    Sorry for the long post.

  2. Zander MacQuitty

    I’m sort of disappointed that Architects of Will is getting 1’d in constructed. This guy seems like he should be best friends with Soul Manipulation. That is, the deck that plays Soul Manipulation really doesn’t want to have to tap out for an evoked mulldrifter and miss countering a Thoctar. Instead it would much rather cycle a random dude EOT turn 1 or 2 and get all the delicious CA from the Soul Manipulation. I don’t really think that he is particularly aggressively costed, but consider what he does in the meta. He blocks many flavors of knights and tidehollow sculler all day and he trades with a beefy wild nacatl. His CIP isn’t total crap either. I think manipulating the top of the opponent’s library is a remarkably powerful effect (It’s like bad Fateseal). Giving Aggro lands, setting up a Broken Ambitions to mill away problems, etc. seems pretty good to me. You can also theoretically dig a little bit on the top of your library but this seems much weaker. There seems to be a very obvious B/U/x permission deck that this guy fits seamlessly into in Standard (mulldrifter, shriekmaw, soul manipulation, Architects, cryptic, mannequin(?)). Maybe the (w/u) guy (Glassdust) is better in this capacity if the deck wants to put some pressure on the opponent, but in terms of pure permission based control, Architects does not feel like a One with Nothing.

  3. Interesting thoughts from one of the best in the business! Curious on Mind Funeral however. Agree on the “1” in Limited, but surprised on the “1” in Constructed. It seems like in U/B control/mill, hitting this with a Twincast after a Glimpse and/or a good Brainfreeze would end the game.

  4. I wish some people had read your opinion on Mind Funeral and stuck to it. I lost two first rounds in draft all due to getting milled out by two of these cards. Both guys had drafted four ofs and ran them all!

  5. the etherwrought page was better than i thought it would be, in the ARB pre-release I went to I lost to it in top 8 game 3 (which was the closest game I played in a long time) after going undefeated in the preliminary rounds -tear- … And the first thing I thought of using Identity Crisis against was boat brew or reveillark variants. I’ve been testing it in the board of my 5cc. So more or less, after testing online and the pre-release I think I would agree with you on all of these cards.

  6. in limited with decks running 15-17 lands mind funeral excites me….especially if you can get more than one. While i wouldnt take it very highly in ACR i would seriously consider it in any triple reborn draft (providing I ever stop drafting jund…which i may as well note is absolutely ridiculous in triple reborn drafts)

  7. it seems to me that you missed the possibility of targeting yourself with necromancer’s covenant.. y/n?

  8. Mind Funeral can be Sideboard tech against 4-5 color Limited decks. An early one can destroy a well-calculated fixing in the form of panaroma/basiclandcycling… Just my 2 cents…

  9. Hm, I appear to have misread the Covenant. Since you can in fact target yourself, that makes it a bit better!

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