Grinding Historic with Esper Dance


Last week, I wrote about some sweet Historic decks based around a selection of the cards found in Historic Anthology 1. Many of those decks were slanted toward doing cool or fun stuff rather than being in the cold hard business of winning—but this week, things are different.

I’ve really enjoyed grinding best-of-three Historic with a deck that has never quite made it in Standard: Esper Dance. By now, you probably know of the combo between Dance of the Manse and cards such as Golden Egg, Guild Globe, and of course Doom Foretold. Well, when you port that shell over to Historic, you immediately gain access to a number of powerful upgrades.

If you’ve missed untapping Azcanta with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, this is the perfect deck with which to drive down memory lane—but it doesn’t stop there. This list also features some all-stars from way back when: how about Mind Stone and Phyrexian Arena? Both are perfect fits in an artifact-and-enchantment-based control deck, in addition to being extremely sweet cards in their own right.

Esper Dance

1 Swamp
1 Plains
3 Glacial Fortress
2 Isolated Chapel
3 Drowned Catacomb
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Godless Shrine
4 Watery Grave
2 Temple of Silence
4 Teferi, Time Raveler
2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
3 Dance of the Manse
4 Kaya's Wrath
4 Golden Egg
3 Guild Globe
4 Mind Stone
2 Search for Azcanta/Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin
4 Oath of Kaya
2 Phyrexian Arena
4 Doom Foretold

Sideboard
2 Noxious Grasp
2 Dovin's Veto
2 Legion's End
2 Cry of the Carnarium
3 History of Benalia
4 Leyline of the Void

Gameplay

Just like its Standard counterpart, this deck seeks to flood the board with cheap artifacts that replace themselves, then curve into a Doom Foretold or two for a Stax-like effect on the opposing board. You then sacrifice your rocks to the Doom Foretold, keeping it around long enough to keep opposing boards bare as long as possible, and hopefully forcing them to be the one unable to pay.

Outside of this, the small planeswalker suite represents the engine and eventual win conditions of this deck. Teferi, Time Raveler is essentially another lock piece, ensuring your spells resolve and your opponents’ responses are limited, while the rest of the deck is split between card draw and efficient removal, just like any good control deck should be.

Both the card draw and removal suite, however, have had to be adapted to fit in with the deck’s overall game plan. It’s no good playing Chemister’s Insight or Mortify in a deck that wants to tap out to feed Doom Foretold—we have to get a little more creative. As a result, our card draw comes in the form of casting and recurring cards such as Golden Egg, while Oath of Kaya is the perfect removal spell for a deck like this thanks to its synergy with Dance of the Manse.

I like three copies of the Dance because I’m more willing than many others to fire it off for less than 6. It’s nice to get a stack of 4/4s into play, but a value Dance still feels great—it usually draws two or three cards, and kills a few opposing cards with Oath and Doom Foretold. Besides, it’s not your only (or even primary, sometimes) win condition. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria will take care of any game that is sufficiently locked up.

Tips and Tricks

  • Ideally, you’re looking to set up an instant-speed Dance during their end step, thanks to Teferi, Time Raveler. This is very similar to the old end-step Scapeshift in pre-rotation Standard, and can win games on the spot.
  • Mind Stone might seem innocuous at first, especially as it doesn’t synergize as well as the other 2-drop artifacts with Dance of the Manse, but playing a turn-four Teferi, Hero of Dominaria can be backbreaking—not to mention you can then cycle the Mind Stone to draw further ahead on cards!
  • For those who never played with 5-drop Teferi and Search for Azcanta: you can activate Azcanta during your turn, then untap it with Teferi’s delayed trigger to activate it again later. This nets you three cards a turn and, usually, a swift victory.
  • The two basics are insurance against Field of Ruin—don’t forget that card exists, especially when it comes to a flipped Search for Azcanta you were hoping to rely upon. The good news, however, is that you can Dance back a destroyed Search later on.
  • In a similar vein, don’t forget about Settle the Wreckage! You can make a bunch of 4/4s and swing for lethal only to be absolutely destroyed by this card. Most of the time, you can play around it pretty easily (be sure to attack with artifacts and enchantments you don’t mind losing for good to exile).
  • Always keep a close eye on your life total. You want to use it as a resource, remembering that quite a few cards in this deck modify it one way or the other. Oath of Kaya is a Lightning Helix and Doom Foretold provides a small buffer when it goes off, while Phyrexian Arena will slowly drain you. Don’t forget that you can cash in a Golden Egg for 3 life in an emergency.
  • You don’t need to get greedy with this deck. Between the 2-drop artifacts, both Teferis, Search for Azcanta, Doom Foretold, and, of course, Phyrexian Arena, you’ll never run out of cards. Don’t wait an extra turn to really get them with Kaya’s Wrath—just cash it in now, you’ll draw another one.

Sideboarding

Mono-Red

Out

-2 Phyrexian Arena
-3 Doom Foretold
-2 Dance of the Manse

In

+2 Cry of the Carnarium
+3 History of Benalia
+2 Legion’s End

Because they can flood the board with so many cheap permanents, Doom Foretold rarely does what you want it to. History of Benalia provides multiple blockers, despite the nonbo with Cry of the Carnarium. Finally, Legion’s End is an answer to the must-kill Runaway Steam-Kin.

Gruul Aggro

Out

-1 Search for Azcanta
-1 Phyrexian Arena
-2 Guild Globe

In

+2 Legion’s End
+2 Noxious Grasp

It is absolutely critical to keep the board clear in this matchup, as the biggest issue is getting Embercleaved. They usually can’t keep pace with multiple copies of Doom Foretold, and there are plenty of ways to buffer your life total to bridge to the late game. Legion’s End is particularly good against Burning-Tree Emissary, as well as answering an early Pelt Collector; remember that Oath of Kaya doesn’t trigger Bonecrusher Giant.

Field of the Dead

Out

-4 Oath of Kaya
-1 Doom Foretold
-1 Kaya’s Wrath
-1 Guild Globe

In

+1 Dovin’s Veto
+2 Cry of the Carnarium
+2 Legion’s End
+2 Noxious Grasp

With an active Teferi, Time Raveler, it’s easy enough for your “combo” to beat theirs. You can end-step a giant Dance, then Cry of the Carnarium away their board and attack for heaps. Noxious Grasp shines here as an answer to both Teferi and Hydroid Krasis; be aware that they will usually leave in sweepers to cast at instant-speed with Teferi.

Kethis Combo

Out

-4 Oath of Kaya
-1 Kaya’s Wrath
-1 Guild Globe

In

+2 Noxious Grasp
+4 Leyline of the Void

I’ve taken to just relying on Leyline of the Void in this matchup, as it solves all the problems and more or less turns it into a pile of four-color midrange garbage. This highly inelegant response has worked well enough so far, although I’m sure there are better and more complex ways to handle this deck.

Mirror

Out

-4 Oath of Kaya
-2 Kaya’s Wrath

In

+2 Dovin’s Veto
+2 Noxious Grasp
+4 Leyline of the Void

Assuming you don’t slam a turn-zero Leyline into play, a lot of this matchup is about who can land the best Doom Foretold. If they’re foolish enough to go for a big Dance without Teferi backup, an instant-speed Kaya’s Wrath can be devastating. Be prepared to fight over Teferis and Doom Foretold rather than saving Dovin’s Veto for Dance—by then it might already be too late.

White-Blue/Esper Control

Out

-4 Oath of Kaya
-3 Kaya’s Wrath

In

+2 Noxious Grasp
+2 Dovin’s Veto
+3 History of Benalia

Depending on exactly how they’ve positioned themselves post-board, you might still want some number of Kaya’s Wrath—I like to hedge by leaving one in (although Noxious Grasp is a great answer to Lyra and the like). History of Benalia is a nice way to zag on ’em and surprise them with early damage, especially when recurred with Dance.

Conclusion

Esper Dance receives some pretty critical upgrades in Historic, and is well worth your time if you want to grind rank on the Historic ladder. I really like its near-transformative post-board plans, as it can kill quickly and unexpectedly in game one before transitioning into a more traditional control deck with improved interaction for game two. On top of being a powerful deck, it will scratch the old end-step-untap-Azcanta itch, and who doesn’t love drawing extra cards with Phyrexian Arena?

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