Esper Dragons is a fun, powerful, and all-around appealing control deck. It had a dominant performance in Krakow, Poland and just took down GP São Paulo in the hands of PV.
Esper Dragons is likely to be the most popular Standard deck for the next couple of weeks at least. It’s also disproportionately popular among strong, well-prepared players. All told, you’re going to have to beat Esper Dragons if you want to win an upcoming GP, PTQ, or other large tournament.
And that goes for you too, Esper Dragons players. Even you are going to have to beat Esper Dragons!
Esper Dragons Mirror Do’s
Do build your main deck to be good for control mirrors. Alexander Hayne won GP Krakow with seven counterspells and two Thoughtseizes in his main deck. This is the minimum number you should play. It would even be great to find space for one or two more! Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is also a card that can give you a game-1 edge in the mirror.
Do practice the control mirror. The absolute best way to increase your chances in a control mirror is to play well. For one thing, it doesn’t cost you any card slots in your deck. If you can have an edge in the mirror match by playing well, then you can change some anti-control cards to anti-aggro cards like Bile Blight or Ultimate Price. After all, nobody in the world plays well enough to beat a Goblin Rabblemaster that attacks uncontested for three turns…
Practice hard. Not with the TV on in the background. Not multiqueuing on Magic Online. Don’t play sloppily with lots of bad plays and takebacks. Really focus on the games and try to learn what’s causing you to win or lose. Play for two hours, take a break to study some articles and videos, make small adjustments to your strategy or deck list, and then play for two more hours.
Do learn to play quickly in the mirror. It’s exceedingly difficult to win a tournament when you get unintentional draws. If one out of every ten of your wins is turning into a draw, you should strongly consider choosing a different deck. So with the mirror likely to make up somewhere in the ballpark of 20% of the field, this is a very serious issue.
Esper Dragons Mirror Don’ts
Don’t sideboard an unreasonable number of cards for the mirror match. I’d have loved to show up to GP Toronto playing Esper Dragons with a bunch of Stratus Dancers in my sideboard, but I just don’t think that would have given me the best chance of putting up a good finish. The problem is that you often don’t get to play three close, fair games to their natural conclusion.
Losing game one and trying to win the next two is not a reliable strategy. Even if everything goes according to plan, your win is likely to turn into a draw. Alternatively, the sideboarded games can still be decided by either you or your opponent mulliganing or missing land drops, in which case all your sideboard slots were unhelpful.
Finally, sideboard cards against aggressive decks tend to be more potent than sideboard cards against control decks. Drawing Drown in Sorrow is very likely to turn a loss into a win against Mono-Red. Drawing your sideboard card in a control mirror will sometimes be good, but often it’s just going to get countered anyway.
The best way to get an edge in the mirror is to practice. The second best way is to gear your main deck for the mirror. The worst way is to devote a lot of narrow sideboard slots.
Don’t focus so much on the mirror that you lose the strengths your deck had against the rest of the field. It’s extremely rare for any deck to make up more than about a quarter of the tournament field, no matter how strong its results were the previous week. Yes, when Esper Dragons does well, some portion of players will start playing Esper Dragons. However, an even greater portion of the field will try to choose a deck that beats Esper Dragons. Expect a lot of decks like Abzan Aggro and aggressively slanted RG Monsters.
If Esper players work so hard at beating each other that they crumble to these decks, then what’s the point? Make sure you can win against the field at large in addition to the mirror match, or else sidestep the battle entirely by choosing a different deck.