Created by Jeff Lin, Esper Vial is a relatively new introduction to Legacy. The printing of Soulherder in Modern Horizons provided the deck with an extremely potent engine which has made it a force to be reckoned with. Since then, there were a number of new printings that have steadily powered up the deck and it continues to be a very solid and fun choice for a Legacy event. Most recently, Magic Online user Musasabi got in the top four of a recent Legacy Challenge with the deck so let’s take a look at the list that they used to make that deep run.
Legacy Esper Vial by Musasabi
This is an Aether Vial-based midrange deck that seeks to generate a ton of value from enter the battlefield effects. Each piece of the deck is somewhat replaceable and provides a small speed bump for opponents. Then, as the game develops, they all become a part of an engine, courtesy of Soulherder, which more rapidly puts the chokehold on your opponents. Because of the toolbox nature of this deck, there is a wide range of play patterns that can take place which makes a lot of games unique and interesting.
This is the glue that keeps the deck together. While this deck can play like a traditional Esper midrange deck without it, when Vial is in play there’s almost no limit to the options this deck has available to it. It provides a massive mana advantage with Recruiter of the Guard and enables all sorts of timing tricks that make it extremely difficult to play against.
Unlike Death and Taxes, this deck can afford to play these Legacy staples. Brainstorm really helps increase the consistency of the deck and Force of Will goes a long way towards making it difficult for combo decks to kill you.
There are some creatures in Legacy that need to be removed early on and it doesn’t get much better than Swords to Plowshares. This deck is generally good at surviving the early game so the full suite isn’t necessary in the main deck, but playing three adds a lot to the creature matchups.
If this deck wasn’t called Esper Vial, calling it Esper Recruiter might be a solid alternate name. This lets the deck have access to both a massive toolbox and functions as a potent engine piece in conjunction with Soulherder. With a Vial in play, a free Demonic Tutor that can be put in at instant speed is quite effective, which makes Recruiter one of the most important cards in the deck.
Baleful Strix serves a couple of key roles here. It’s a blue card, so it pitches to Force of Will. It can be played early and acts as a speed bump for cards like Delver of Secrets. Later in the game, if the Strix stays around, it can begin to work as an engine with Soulherder.
This is an excellent new inclusion to the deck that gives Esper Vial a ton of game against a variety of permanents. Having a great answer to Oko, Thief of Crowns specifically is a huge deal, but having additional function against almost every reasonable nonland permanent in Legacy really makes this card shine.
This is the flicker package in the deck. Soulherder is the primary engine piece and starting a Recruiter tutor chain with a Soulherder will provide a ton of inevitability and optionality. It works well with just about every creature in the deck though so it’s very likely to generate some amount of value if it remains in play.
Charming Prince might not look impressive, but it serves an important role in this deck. It’s a cheap way to blink any creature that has a meaningful enter the battlefield effect, but it also helps smooth out your draws early and provides a life gain bump late in the game if you’re afraid of burn spells.
Flickerwisp has more of a pedigree than either of these cards (thanks to being a Death and Taxes staple) but in this deck it isn’t quite as potent. Having access to it is pretty impactful though, as it can easily be tutored off of Recruiter of the Guard and there are a lot of important tricks that can be done with it.
Meddling Mage can really make your opponents’ plans awkward. Against combo decks, it has the potential to win the game on the spot (naming Doomsday, for instance). Against fair decks, there’s a range of cards that can be named that make things kind of difficult to deal with (such as Lightning Bolt against Delver).
This is the toolbox package that makes Recruiter of the Guard so good. Hullbreacher and Opposition Agent are new inclusions that can really make an opponent’s life miserable. Peacekeeper and Plague Engineer are game-ending against decks like Elves or Hogaak, but have function in a lot of other places, as well.
Venser, Shaper Savant is one of the trickiest cards in the deck and really fills the hole of a decent amount of cards. It’s kind of like a charm here, being a bad removal/blink/counter spell, but doing all of them is very meaningful. Finally, Palace Jailer is an additional removal creature that can provide a massive amount of card advantage that is difficult for opponents to overcome.
This isn’t a mana denial deck like Death and Taxes, but having Wasteland in the deck provides a lot of additional interaction against cards like The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale and Dark Depths that can be really useful.
I’m lumping these together, not because they’re similar cards, but are just extra copies of cards already in the main deck, so if you find yourself thinking you want extra copies of these in any given matchup, you’ll have access to it post board.
These are great toolbox cards to bring in against combo decks. Both of them serve different roles but can make your combo opponents’ lives difficult. Ethersworn Canonist slows down most combo decks, while also being a haymaker against Storm. Lavinia, Azorius Renegade doesn’t quite end the game on the spot against Storm, but it really hampers their ability to combo off. Lavinia has some additional use against Urza Echo and it can be difficult for that deck to cast spells reliable with a Lavinia in play.
This is a Sneak and Show hate card with some additional usage against any deck that relies on specific, powerful creatures to win the game, such as decks that make Marit Lage.
Having a diverse array of graveyard hate is important in Legacy, and this is a pretty concise suite. Remorseful Cleric is particularly meaningful here because it can be tutored up by Recruiter. This is arguably a bit light on graveyard hate if you expect a lot of Dredge, but in conjunction with the six Force effects, it should go a long way.
- Soulherder triggers off of any creature that gets exiled, so don’t forget that it triggers off of Swords to Plowshares and Skyclave Apparition.
- You can use Recruiter of the Guard to search up a random blue creature if you need to alternate cast a Force of Will. This is particularly impactful with a Vial on three in play.
- Since Hullbreacher and Opposition Agent have flash, if you have a Vial on three with three lands in play, you can activate Vial and if they respond with a spell/effect, you can just cast the creature in response.
- You can blink Plague Engineer to reset the chosen creature type.
This matchup can be really grindy. Aether Vial is a key card, but if it doesn’t resolve that usually means they had to use a Force of Will which gives you an early lead on cards. Gilded Drake might seem a bit weird to bring in, but answering Dreadhorde Arcanist is important enough that it’s worthwhile. Once you can set up an engine with Soulherder the game gets a lot easier, so try to work towards that point.
Another really grindy matchup, but the printing of Skyclave Apparition really helps against Oko and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. Again, Gilded Drake might seem out of place but stealing an Uro is a big game, which can happen on the first cast of Uro if you Vial in the Drake in response (your opponent controls the sacrifice trigger, but will no longer control the Uro, so you get to keep it).
Peacekeeper will end the game in the pre-board games, as they cannot remove it. Post board, Ethersworn Canonist and Meddling Mage can stop them from comboing off early while Plague Engineer is extremely effective at keeping the board clear. Hullbreacher might be too narrow, but it does turn off Glimpse of Nature and the Wirewood Symbiote and Elvish Visionary engine so I think it’s worth it. I’m not sure if Force of Negation is worth it because their combo kill is scary, but Esper Vial has a lot of good tools against that (plus, with Allosaurus Shepherd in the mix, it’s far less reliable).
Out: 4 Force of Will
Another grindy matchup, but a lot of Esper Vials tools are excellent here. Meddling Mage isn’t really that good, so I could easily see trimming a few of them, but mostly I think just bringing out Force of Will is good enough. If they can answer your Vial, they might be able to keep you off of having the proper mana to cast your spells, but having the additional Wasteland in the deck should help there.