Shuhei Nakamura, a Pro Tour Hall of Famer, is one of the most decorated Magic players of all time. To see Shuhei in the Top 8 of a Grand Prix comes as no surprise—it’s something we have seen dozens of times before. The fact that he was playing an updated take on Esper Dragons, my current pick for best deck in the Standard format, is something I take notice of.
The recent trend for Esper Dragons has been a strong UB shell with a light white splash. These versions had no access to basic Plains for potentially untapped early white mana, nor did it really need it, especially in game 1. Shuhei’s approach to the deck is a little different. The mana can certainly support a heavier reliance on white with access to so many fetchlands and battlelands. This turns on the ability to actually play Silkwrap and cast it early in the game. Silkwrap is an excellent replacement for Ultimate Price as an early answer for Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy while also effectively nullifying Mantis Rider and Hangarback Walker. The bigger creatures aren’t as big of an issue when you’re sporting a deck with Ruinous Path, Ultimate Ends, and Foul-Tongue Invocations, not to mention Dragons and sweepers.
This also opens the door for a sideboard strategy we have seen from other decks in the past, as well as some controlling versions of Esper. Monastery Mentor is an excellent threat in a deck where players will already want to board out their spot removal. Mentor threatens to flood the board with tokens and end the game in a hurry. A single Monk token can help protect your future Dragonlords from Foul-Tongue Invocations later in the game, and there is no better tool to bring in whenever the clock is running down.
When one of the best players of all time crushes a tournament with a fantastic version of one of the best decks, be prepared to face it going forward!