Just kidding, of course it’s not the last Esper Dragons article you’ll read. You’ve probably seen a billion pieces on Mono-Black Devotion, Jund, Faeries, and everything else that once dominated Standard, so expect the same from this great deck.
I would’ve liked to submit something a little more original as my first article for ChannelFireball, but with the Pro Tour, GP Krakow, RPTQ, and GP Toronto, Standard has been the only format on my mind lately and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to share my knowledge while it’s fresh.
Esper Dragons by Pascal Maynard
The numbers in this list could go in different directions depending on what metagame you’re expecting, this is the list I wanted at GP Toronto in a predicted field of Esper Dragons, Atarka Red, Abzan Megamorph, Abzan Aggro, Abzan Control, and Ojutai Bant. There are obviously other decks, but these have a big enough presence to make me shift numbers to beat them.
This is possibly the biggest ”innovation” anyone can make to the deck. While it’s hard to argue what is better, I found Temple of Enlightenment to be very underwhelming.
I had a hard time having blue mana on time for Silumgar’s Scorn and Dissolve, which led me to play 3 Flooded Strand and an extra Island. I cut 1 Polluted Delta because I only have 1 Swamp and the 2nd Swamp has been swapped for a 2nd Urborg, which has proven to be great at curving out Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow.
It makes the necessary Plains, extra fetchlands, and Haven of the Spirit Dragon better as well.
Since Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is seeing much less play, I don’t mind having Silumgar, the Drifting Death in my sideboard as basically just a sideboard card against Abzan Control. This gives me room for the 4th Dragonlord Ojutai.
There’s a neverending debate about the two Silumgars. I prefer Dragonlord Silumgar especially with 4 Thoughtseize, also the four Ojutais can work as removal magnets so that I can resolve the Dragon Sower of Temptation fearlessly.
Turn-five Dragonlord Ojutai is such a powerful play that I’m winning a higher percentage of games when it comes down as early as possible.
I don’t want less than 4.
Foul-Tongue Invocation is good against 5/6 of the most-played decks, Bant being the only deck it’s bad against.
I would have the 3rd Bile Blight, but I cut it for the 4th Thoughtseize. This is mostly a concession to Esper mirrors, because Bile Blight is dead there most of the time.
Hero’s Downfall has gotten worse since there’s basically no planeswalkers played. I would want a 3rd if I was expecting a lot of Ashioks. It’s also not bad when Ultimate Price and Bile Blight are too conditional, but if that was the only reason I would run the 1 Murderous Cut, which is much better in this version with 6 fetchlands.
Ultimate Price is the best removal when it’s not as conditional as it is right now. It used to be one of the best cards against RG Dragons, but that deck is nonexistent nowadays. Most decks still play 6-7 good targets, which is why I love the first Ultimate Price, but the 2nd often finds no target.
Probably the most controversial choice in my list is the 4 Thoughtseize. The biggest selling point is that you’ll play the mirror many times and it’s hands-down the most efficient card you can play. It pairs well with my four Dragonlord Ojutai–the fact that you can decide to spend the single mana a turn before or after casting the Dragon makes it much more versatile than counterspells.
Arguments for not having a full playset of the powerful discard spell in the past have been that it becomes useless in the late game, although this is not true anymore. At least from the most-played decks, besides Atarka Red, they all have solid late-game cards, removal sitting in their hand, a morph they are keeping to bring back Deathmist Raptor, or a card they brought back with Den Protector. I found myself always pleased with drawing Thoughtseize at just about every stage of the game. Even the life loss is mitigated by the full set of Foul-Tongue Invocation.
Thoughtseize serves as an answer to everything, not having to worry if you put the right removal in your deck. This is why after sideboard you will see me sideboarding out a number of them in favor of removal spells that are good in a certain matchup.
I kind of wish I had something other than Dissolve, but it’s not the worst. The reason I have a Dissipate in the sideboard is that having 1 in your 60 against opposing Risen Executioners makes a good bit of difference. Incidentally, it takes care of Deathmist Raptor and Haven of the Spirit Dragon’s friends.
I had a list with 2 maindeck–paired with Thoughtseize it’s just brutal. What made me go back to just 1 is the popularity of Abzan decks, I just dont like it all that much when my opponent has access to Hero’s Downfall AND board presence in the form of big creatures.
It’s awesome in the mirror as a cheap threat that can only be answered with their few Downfalls. It’s at its best against Bant–they can only get rid of it by attacking–but everyone knows Sylvan Caryatid is not very good at doing that.
Here the Self-Inflicted Wound slot could be Ugin and/or Perilous Vault if you expect many Ashioks, Grindclocks, or Risen Executioners. I suggest taking out a Hero’s Downfall if it’s Risen Executioner.
Atarka Red or Red Deck Wins Variants
I’m boarding out Dragonlord Ojutai because they have Self-Inflicted Wound, and it can be quite devastating to play turn-5 Ojutai if he dies on the spot. I just don’t want my hand to be flooded with him early here.
Hopefully my knowledge on this deck helped some of you, feel free to ask questions if I missed anything!
[Editor’s note: The main deck was 58 cards, 2 Anticipates we missing and have now been added.]