There are few feelings in Magic more satisfying than playing a deck you made yourself. I suppose winning is pretty high on the list, but seeing one’s ideas come to life on the battlefield is a wonderful and exciting experience.
The deck I chose to play at #GPMKE last weekend was a unique Esper Control variant. I ended up with a disappointing 5-3 record after a fantastic 5-0 start. I say disappointing because I know I played poorly in the later rounds. It was one of those tournaments where we arrived later than expected due to navigational errors and traffic, and I could not fall asleep and played exhausted the following day.
I don’t want to linger on the importance of proper rest except to say I spent time on the ride home reading articles about sleeping, relaxation, and combating insomnia. I’m drinking an herbal tea as I write this article on a Monday afternoon. I know I have a daunting task ahead of me in qualifying for the Pro Tour, but I’m committed to taking each challenge in stride and focusing on being positive and finding proactive solutions.
I’m much more excited to talk about my deck:
Esper Time is a hardcore, pure control deck. It wins by gaining control of all the turns, and when your opponent doesn’t get to take a turn it becomes quite a challenge for them to win the game.
“If you’re bored, concede.”
The core of the deck is a self-mill engine, thanks in large part to Dimir’s surveil mechanic and the always fantastic Search for Azcanta:
These cards are all great in my control deck already, but the fact that they all provide the same type of synergy (shredding my own deck) makes the Nexus of Fate + Teferi, Hero of Dominaria endgame even more effective and consistent.
The fastest (and easiest) way to win with infinite turns is to reanimate one of your opponent’s creatures with The Eldest Reborn and beat down. If you’ve already expended Eldest, don’t worry, because you can simply emblem Teferi, exile all of their things, and deck them out. Most opponents will just concede.
Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to be hellbent in the library to assemble infinite turns. With Teferi + Search For Azcanta active you are able to see 10 cards per turn as you repeatedly dig for Nexus. As you are creeping closer to the “hard walk lock” you start taking more and more of the turns until you finally have them all. Taking even one extra turn with a Teferi is difficult for any deck to overcome.
It’s funny to admit but my Esper Time deck started as an Arena Draft deck. As I was building my collection and playing sub-optimal decks to earn daily rewards, Dimir was one of my favorite decks. As I earned more cards, I kept replacing cards with better ones until I ended up with the list I played at the GP.
Celestial neat freak.
I ended up adding white for Cleansing Nova because I was tired of losing to topdecked Carnage Tyrant, Search for Azcanta, and Experimental Frenzy. Blue and black simply didn’t have the tools to answer artifacts, enchantments, and hexproof creatures.
First and foremost, the deck is a Teferi deck. There’s no denying that Teferi is to Standard legal planeswalker as Tom Brady is to NFL football. If I have the option I want him on my team!
But, Jeskai is already a powerful Teferi deck, so why even bother? Well, the answer is that I believe Thought Erasure is also a busted Magic card:
Don’t you forget about me
Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t
Don’t you, forget about me
It’s a 2-mana Thoughtseize with upside. The surveil may seem incidental but it does a lot of work, especially in my deck. First, it smooths out my draws and helps me avoid mana flood or screw. Second, it helps gas up my graveyard to quickly flip Search for Azcanta way ahead of schedule.
Thought Erasure is an answer to anything. Standard is a format that is less about matchups and more about specific cards and whether or not they are answered in time.
Did the red deck resolve Frenzy?
Did the Golgari deck draw Tyrant?
Did the Jeskai deck draw Niv-Mizzet?
Thought Erasure can simply rip these cards away before they can be put onto the stack (and for value!).
It is also significant that Thought Erasure can translate to free wins. If I Thought Erasure an opponent and take the only card they could play next turn, it really cripples their ability to mount any kind of a meaningful offense against my strong defensive deck.
Last but not least, Magic is a much, much easier game to play with perfect information! Knowing the contents of an opponent’s hand is a tangible advantage in and of itself.
I know it can be dead against an opponent who has gotten hellbent, but I do have four copies of Chemister’s Insight that I can pitch to if necessary.
Right Place, Wrong Time Walk Deck
The deck sounds insane, right? It is, but there is one slight problem:
Brother where art thou?
The mana is a little too inconsistent and there are very few workarounds. I have 12 lands that require various land types and only three Swamp, four Island, one Plains, and two Evolving Wilds. I also have UU, BB, and WW spells.
I think this is only a problem in the short term. Jeskai Control plays UU, UURR, WW, and UUURRRR spells seamlessly up and down the curve. The mana alone is the number one factor that impedes this deck from being a tier 1 strategy. It’s not even that the mana is terrible or unplayable—it’s just less consistent than Jeskai.
I’ve tried out a few other things. Most notably:
Lantern is pretty sweet because it fixes mana, turns on the checklands, and ramps to seven 5-drops. The problem was that I frequently used the “Destroy all artifacts and enchantment” mode on Cleansing Nova, which shattered my own mana. Not ideal.
Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things, But Be Reasonable
Building new decks is its own reward. For one, it teaches you a lot about Magic and the format that you are playing. It becomes clear what your deck does well and where it struggles, and that in turn teaches you what makes “the good decks” so darn good.
It’s also important to be realistic about your results. I decided to play the deck last weekend because I found that I was getting a similar result with Esper as Jeskai, despite the fact that I knew my mana was worse. I thought the surprise factor and the fact that I understood my brew card-for-card better than I did Jeskai would make up for it.
But when I lost two rounds at the end of the day because I had to mulligan hands with bad mana I had no delusions that I was getting super unlucky. It was a risk and I hoped the mana mulligans wouldn’t line up to punish me too badly. I also felt my deck mulliganed well since it had a high number of land, lots of cheap card-filtering thanks to surveil, and lots of card advantage to catch back up.
The takeaway here is that I do believe that a deck like this will be extremely good once Hallowed Fountain is released to single-handedly fix all of my mana woes. Also, I think that Thought Erasure is an insanely powerful Standard card. And lastly, surveil in concert with turbo flipping Search for Azcanta is pretty busted also.
The irony of not being able to sleep and playing a deck that puts my opponent to sleep is not lost on me! I’ll certainly continue to jam the deck on Arena (you are welcome to come watch playtesting live) and refine it, but I know I’ll need to wait for Hallowed Fountain before I take the deck to another travel event. Fortunately, waiting patiently is one of the many virtues of a time mage…