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Esper Control – A new era?

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This weekend, the 6th Regional Championship was held with a 7PH side event: the Win-A-Time-Vault. As always, I decided to bring something fun, exciting and most importantly: spicy! I went 4-2 for 14th place. Here’s the list.

Decklist for Esper Control

This deck came about due to a theory I’ve been verifying over the past few weeks; traditional Draw-Go control decks are not viable in Highlander. Over the past several set releases, especially the Commander products, the angles that aggressive strategies are attacking have diversified greatly, and the potency of threats have vastly outclassed the answers.

Attempting to answer your opponent’s board turn after turn used to be doable with a suite of countermagic and removal spells, but once the Initiative or the Monarchy is introduced, you were unable to stop it from taking over the game. This lead to the resurgence of tempo decks like Grixis as the default blue archetype, as having enough creatures to threaten those mechanics was crucial.

What if we did something different? What if we continued to devote our resources to pushing for the late game to generate incremental advantage, but made sure these mechanics would lose their potency as the game dragged on?

This combo has existed since Thassa’s Oracle’s printing, but the vast majority of decks including these cards devote as many resources to assembling it as possible. This is perfectly valid, and winning the game as quickly and efficiently as possible is hardly a losing strategy.

But I wasn’t looking to win the game as quickly as possible. I was looking to win the game as CLEANLY as possible. By removing all of the surrounding cards like Step Through and Demonic Consultation, I could ensure that more of my cards were worth the full piece of cardboard I was spending on them. Additionally, Tainted Pact is a very powerful card in it’s own right, functioning as a fully fledged Demonic Tutor most of the time.

But how did I make the space? After all, these cards are worth a full five points together, out of seven (or eight in my case). This lead to the second deckbuilding concept that occurred during the brew; a lot of the pointed blue cards are fundamentally replaceable, provided you understand their function and are willing to sacrifice some equity.

While Mana Drain is the best counterspell after Force of Will, the other options aren’t a huge distance away from it. Murktide Regent is the best threat, but a true control deck can win the game with anything once the game state is heavily enough in their favour. Gush is absurd, but drawing cards has never been that difficult if you knew where to look.

By sacrificing some equity and giving up on these cards, I gained an incredibly powerful closer that I could build towards whenever the game felt like it was slipping away. Oracle-Pact is the most powerful and the most unstoppable combo available in the format, losing only to stack-based interaction.

But now we have more dead cards, and certain midrange and control decks will have gained traction against us as our threat base has shrunk and closing the game without these cards became more difficult. Enter the three musketeers:

Search for Azcanta is one of my favourite cards of all time, but I have consistently been shut down by close friends and testing partners. It’s 2024, surely the card isn’t playable right? Field of the Dead is a tapped colourless land, how can you be playing it in a three colour control deck? And Nexus of Fate? That terribly strange effect that was barely good enough in Standard?

The reason I chose to play these three cards to help us end games against midrange and control decks is simple: they’re absurdly hard to stop. Search for Azcanta starts as the hardest supertype to interact with, and flips into the second hardest. It buries people in card advantage, and provides desperately needed mana when you’re under pressure. Field of the Dead is a game ending effect against control decks, and the bodies help stabilise the board when midrange matchups go long. Nexus of Fate gives you an incredible play, while simultaneously allowing you to hold your mana up to defend yourself from your opponent’s top decks. They might not be the best cards, but they’re certainly unique and in my opinion, deceptively powerful.

I’m not convinced traditional control decks are viable, and I’m certain the challenges blue mages face will only get more difficult over time. However, there might be some important takeaways you can glean, and use to your advantage the next time you want to pick up Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Good luck out there!


Melbourne based MtG grinder and content creator. L2 Judge, ex Twitch streamer and multiple PT attendee.