Keeping Esper Dragons Up to Date

With the rapid evolution of the standard metagame, what is considered the best one week will not necessarily be the best the next week. Many players have dropped Esper Dragons for some flavor of Abzan (megamorph, midrange, and aggro), or a deck that exploits Abzan weaknesses. Why? Is it because Esper can be challenging to pilot, or is it that control only appeals to a certain audience? Either way, I feel like this is still the best deck in the format due to the ability to adjust your card choices going into each meta.

A few weeks ago, I found great success in predicting the meta shift to Abzan. This is the deck that I ended up placing second at a Super IQ, after giving first place away to a local player needing the points to move up on the leaderboard.

Esper Dragons

Creatures (8)
Dragonlord Ojutai
Dragonlord Silumgar
Silumgar, the Drifting Death
Dissolve

Planeswalkers (2)
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

Spells (23)
Perilous Vault
Bile Blight
Dig Through Time
Foul-Tongue Invocation
Hero’s Downfall
Silumgar’s Scorn
Crux of Fate
Thoughtseize
Lands (27)
Island
Swamp
Caves of Koilos
Dismal Backwater
Haven of the Spirit Dragon
Polluted Delta
Temple of Deceit
Temple of Enlightenment
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard (15)
Perilous Vault
Virulent Plague
Bile Blight
Disdainful Stroke
Foul-Tongue Invocation
Negate
Ultimate Price
Dragonlord Silumgar
Drown in Sorrow
Duress
Thoughtseize

Notice the lack of Anticipate and Ugin. Anticipate is subpar when your opponents are playing one or more creatures every turn starting from turn two, while Ugin is just not where this deck wants to be at the moment. He has high impact, but getting to eight mana without playing Anticipate can be a challenge in itself, even with 27 lands. Instead, I opted for Perilous Vault and two mainboard Ashioks, which allows us to deal with the megamorph and aggro decks.

Dealing with the Elephant (or Rhino) in the room, Abzan

Abzan has access to a powerhouse of threats ranging from reoccurring hand disruption with Den Protector, to windmill slamming three Seige Rhinos. You may ask yourself how anyone could beat that, but it’s simple. Abzan is exceptionally weak to high impact flying creatures. With Esper, we have access to three of those; Dragonlord Ojutai, Dragonlord Silumgar, and Silumgar the Drifting death. Abzan has adapted to handle these creatures using Crux of Fate and Self Inflicted Wound, which opens them up to Stormbreath Dragon and Dragonlord Atarka decks. If they continue to go that route, expect Mardu and RG Dragons to make their triumphant return to the scene.

Now that the meta has been predicted, adjusting the list is quite easy. Esper is not weak against most of the decks that run the cards to take down Abzan, but tuning the deck can only help. Here is a look at our current adjustments:

– Ultimate price is an amazing, mana efficient way of dealing with Stormbreath Dragon, Goblin Rabblemaster, and Thunderbreak Regent(even if you take three damage).

– Hero’s downfall is just as strong since most decks will be running Elspeth to combat high powered creatures.

– Ashiok is really strong against big green decks, but only mediocre against Big Red decks(I generally prefer Ashiok on the play, but side it out on the draw).

– Perilous Vault is great against any Collected Company or aggressive megamorph strategy. Dropping it on turn 4 and daring your opponent to over-extend will up your win percentage alone.

– Bile Blight is getting a little too comfortable at three in the mainboard. It’s a great card but I feel like two should do the trick.

– Tasigur is good again! He buys you turns and can get you card advantage mid to late game.

– Silumgar the Drifting Death is much better with all of the removal being loaded up in decks now. Two copies in the seventy-five feels right.

Here is the list I’ve been testing:

Esper Dragons

Creatures (8)
Dragonlord Ojutai
Dragonlord Silumgar
Silumgar, the Drifting Death
Dissolve

Planeswalkers (1)
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

Spells (24)
Perilous Vault
Bile Blight
Dig Through Time
Foul-Tongue Invocation
Hero’s Downfall
Silumgar’s Scorn
Ultimage Price
Crux of Fate
Thoughtseize
Lands (27)
Island
Swamp
Caves of Koilos
Dismal Backwater
Haven of the Spirit Dragon
Polluted Delta
Temple of Deceit
Temple of Enlightenment
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard (15)
Perilous Vault
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Bile Blight
Disdainful Stroke
Foul-Tongue Invocation
Negate
Ultimate Price
Silumgar, the Drifting Death
Drown in Sorrow
Thoughtseize
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

With our finalized list, here are some play Tips to help improve your win percentage with Esper:

– Always keep track of your scrying! Players tend to tunnel vision and forget that fetching late in the game will put many of the bad cards at the bottom of your library, back towards the top. Fetching early and often will not only feed Dig Through Time, but smooth out your draws.

– Be conservative with Thoughtseize. Your opponent might intimidate you with even cards in their hand, but keeping Thoughtseize until you play an ojutai, or for their own thoughtseize fodder can win you more games.

– Bluff less. Bluffing is a great tool, but people don’t care anymore. This is a format where red players will blindly Stoke the Flames you and Abzan players will just windmill slam a Siege Rhino.

– In game one matchups, card drawing should almost never be countered. With such a diverse meta, each deck has dead cards against you. Of course in games two and three…. COUNTER THEM.

– You are a hybrid deck. Play Ojutai as soon as you can, with protection of course. The first time he connects is nice, but the second and third connections usually end in a big fat W.

– Sideboarding out an Island against matchups you expect to go long will allocate another slot of answers or win conditions, which puts you statistically ahead of your opponent in the matchup.

I hope you enjoy this list, and love to hear how it performs for you!