It’s always a challenge to build a control deck for a fresh Standard format, but the Battle for Zendikar rotation brought along a few appealing reasons to try.
First, some of the natural enemies of control decks have passed on. Most notable, of course, is Thoughtseize. Thoughtseize gave midrange decks an extremely annoying (and maindeckable) tool against blue control decks. In combination with Den Protector, BG could turn your hand into Swiss cheese before you knew what hit you. Not having to worry about Thoughtseize makes things much easier on control players. Duress is still out there, but it won’t be played in nearly the same quantity as its counterpart was.
Some of the more annoying aggressive creatures like Fleecemane Lion, Elvish Mystic, Stormbreath Dragon, and Goblin Rabblemaster also exited stage left, leaving a slightly slower and more manageable suite of threats to contend with. Finally, the disappearance of control killers like Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver cooled down the control mirror arms race, leaving blue players free to put their efforts into beating the rest of the field.
Just as important as what was lost, though, is what was gained. Shambling Vent, and awaken spells like Planar Outburst, allow you to build win conditions into the structure of your deck, instead of devoting too many slots to clunky haymakers. Fathom Feeder and Dispel make for nice sideboard cards to round things out and shore up weaknesses.
Perhaps most important of all, though, is the mana. Prairie Stream and Sunken Hollow not only make a 3-color Esper mana base possible, but they turn it into one of the smoothest and most consistent in Standard! You get to play a game with quick access to all of your colors, a minimal number of lands entering the battlefield tapped, and tons of fetchlands to power your delve spells. Esper today has it better than Abzan or Sultai ever did!
Mage-Ring Esper (for Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar)
This is the deck I’ll be taking into battle at the Pro Tour. I’ve found it to be smooth, consistent, and powerful, and I can’t wait to play!
I call the deck “Mage-Ring Esper” because of the card that ties it all together. The mana in this deck is excellent, and never before could a fully 3-color deck afford to play so many colorless lands.
And my oh my is it great to have them! Mage-Ring Network ensures that if nothing is happening, you’re winning. If you can sit back on a counterspell and a stalled board, adding charge counters to the land every turn, your opponent might as well be watching the hangman tie their noose. Mage-Ring Network allows you to build up enough mana for an explosive, devastating turn, and virtually guarantees that you can win any kind of counter-battle which might go along with it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tapped a single land for enough mana to put Ugin, the Spirit Dragon into play!
Mage-Ring Esper is a pure control deck. Relax, defend yourself, and grind small advantages with Ojutai’s Command and Dig Through Time, and eventually Ugin, the Spirit Dragon will trump whatever offense your opponent has managed to assemble.
The Deck List
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is one of the absolute best cards in Standard, and can provide some easy wins when he sticks on turn 2. In combination with Ojutai’s Command, he’s even more deadly. Later in the game, you can surprise your opponent by putting Jace into play at the end of the turn, ready to transform immediately and flash back a Dig Through Time, Planar Outburst, or whatever the situation calls for.
Since having just four 2-drops would be a little on the light side, I also maindeck two Arashin Clerics. They give you a fighting chance against Mono-Red, which would otherwise be a tough matchup, and build a great life-gain package into the deck which is helpful against virtually everyone.
4 Clash of Wills, 2 Scatter to the Winds, 4 Ojutai’s Commands, and more counters in the sideboard make for a robust and versatile permission suite. The removal spells are chosen to work well with the permission, ensuring that you can operate at instant speed as often as possible. More specifically, the 3 copies of Ultimate Price are a concession to the threat of opposing Jace, Vryn’s Prodigys.
The delve card draw spells—Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise—are powerful enough to be banned in Modern and Legacy, and it’s no surprise that they’re a force to be reckoned with in Standard. Especially now, with the ability to play upwards of 8 fetchlands (my deck list has 11), you can delve early and often. Dig Through Time is the bread and butter of Standard control decks, and casting one usually marks the point at which you begin to take over the game.
Finally, we come to the heavy hitter—Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Despite morph, megamorph, and devoid being among the major mechanics in Standard, I still find that Ugin ranges from “powerful” at his worst, to “unbeatable” in a lot of matchups. Certain decks simply have no realistic way of beating an Ugin that hits the battlefield. Mage-Ring Network allows this deck to comfortably play with 2 copies, and it’s a huge reason why I’m choosing it for the Pro Tour.
The strategy is as old as the game itself. Bide your time, control the game, and let victory fall into your hands.