Esper Control

Finally Wizards decided to rein in those combo decks that have been dominating the Pioneer format for the past 8 months or so. The format has had a nice shake up, but it seems that there are still a few emerging combo decks out there. *rolls eyes* Here we go again. Not all hope appears to be lost though; there are also some aggro and midrange decks trying to find their place at the top. One of the ones that stuck out to me was a control deck, Esper Control. Looking to crush those combo players? This may be the deck for you. This one feels unique compared to other control decks in other formats. Usually Standard comes up with a viable control deck during the last few months before rotation. While control decks exist in non-rotating formats, those formats don’t exactly have a mainstream control deck. The reason for that is they are normally too slow to really pose a threat to the other decks; however, Pioneer is a different story. Combo decks can also be slow, but they have ways to protect themselves from faster decks. Control vs Combo can be a grind, but hey, if that’s how they want to play, they are gonna get punished for it.

This Esper Control deck uses Yorion, Sky Nomad as a companion. I thought the companion errata would have made these cards unplayable outside of Standard. It seems I was wrong. In addition to the one in the sideboard, there are three more in the mainboard which makes a full playset. Since Yorion is the only creature in the deck and it’s legendary, it represents a 5-turn clock through damage. This deck is also bigger than the average deck because in order to use Yorion as a companion, your deck needs to have 20 cards more than the minimum deck size, so this version of Esper Control needs to be an 80 card deck.

When Yorion enters the battlefield, you can exile any number of your nonland permanents which then return to the battlefield at the end step. This gives you some more value out of enter the battlefield triggers and in this deck, that’s going to be Enchantments. For removal, Trial of Ambition from Amonkhet forces the opponent to sacrifice a creature, Elspeth Conquers Death from Theros Beyond Death can exile any permanent with cmc 3 or greater, plus it also taxes the opponent on the next turn and then you can bring back a creature or a planeswalker from your graveyard with a +1/+1 counter or an additional loyalty counter, and Finally Oath of Kaya from War of the Spark deals 3 damage to any target and you gain 3 life when it comes into play, it also deals 2 damage to your opponent when they attack a planeswalker you control, more on those in a moment. The deck also runs Omen of the Sea for some card advantage and Omen of the Sun for token generation.

Ever since War of the Spark, planeswalkers have been popping up all over the place and this Esper Control deck uses several. Narset, Parter of Veils and Teferi, Time Raveler, two of the most annoying planeswalkers from that set. Hey, if these combo players don’t want to play fair Magic, they won’t play Magic at all. If you are unfamiliar with these two, Narset shuts down your opponent’s card draw with her static ability while her -2 lets you search the top of your deck for more cards; Teferi prevents your opponent from playing Instant spells on your turn, his +1 allows you to cast Sorcery spells at instant speed, and his -3 bounces an artifact, creature, or enchantment and you draw a card. These two planeswalkers have caused all kinds of problems in Standard. In fact, Teferi had to be emergency banned a month and a half before rotation. Better late than never I suppose. The other two planeswalkers are more fair as they cost 5 mana rather than 3: Ashiok, Nightmare Muse and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Ashiok’s +1 creates a 2/3 Nightmare token that exiles the top two cards of the opponent’s library whenever it attacks or blocks, -3 and you get to bounce a permanent and then your opponent exiles a card from their hand, and the -7 allows you to cast up to three of your opponent’s cards in exile without paying their mana costs. This version of Teferi has a +1 that allows you to draw a card and then untap two lands at the end step which sets you up for a response on your opponent’s turn. His -3 allows you to put any permanent into its owners library third from the top, this effect is also known as a tuck and yes, Teferi can target himslef with this ability which lead to the phrase “Teferi can tuck himself.”  His -8 can end the game, you get an emblem that allows you to exile an opponent’s permanent whenever you draw a card. This version of Teferi was also annoying during its time in Standard, but it was never hit with the ban hammer; however, that doesn’t mean it’s any less of a pain to play against than the other one.

As for the other spells in the deck, a playset of Thoughtseize and Though Erasure help get cards out of your opponent’s hand. Fatal Push is one of the best creature removal spells ever printed. You will probably want a board wipe of some sort and there are quiet a few to choose from. Supreme Verdict cant be countered, but Settle the Wreckage is one of the few board wipes that can be played at instant speed. Bontu’s Last Reckoning is the cheapest, but it comes with a hefty downside, your lands don’t untap during your next untap step. I’d go with Supreme Verdict personally. A few counter spells will round out the deck. Whatever you go with, make sure it’s a hard counter unlike things like Censor which allows the opponent to pay mana and avoid the counter spell. Dovin’s Veto and Absorb are some of the best ones. These slots are actually more flexible than they look, so mix in whatever works for you in a combination that works for you. If you want more counter spells, maybe take out some of the hand disruption.

Control decks can vary widely in terms of overall deck lists so I won’t put up a shell for this Esper Control deck analysis. Control decks really need to be tailored to the local meta to do well, but that’s more in paper Magic. Online it’s a little harder to predict what decks you may find yourself up against. Feel free to swap out some cards for others that you think would be better. As for lands, 20ish won’t cut it. You’re going to want at least 30, probably up to 35 lands. With that amount of lands, you will probably want some utility lands and the Castles from Throne of Eldraine are great additions. I would suggest 3-4 of Castle Ardenvale, 2-3 Castle Vantress, and only 1-2 Castle Locthwain. Field of Ruin is good if you need to get rid of an opponent’s land. Mobilized District is basically another creature. It should go without saying that your colored mana will come from shock lands and the check lands from Dominaria and Ixalan. A playset of Fabled Passage can get the few basics out of the deck and shuffle the deck for a fresh top to draw from.

I was starting to think Wizards would never ban those cards and Pioneer would be a dead format within a year which would have been a shame. Let’s try to get ahead of these emerging combo decks and make sure they get controlled out of the format as soon as possible. Yes, control decks are at a disadvantage against aggro and midrange, but once those archetypes become more prominent than combo decks, I’d call that a win since getting back to fair Magic is the whole point. Once the format adjusts and the combo players have been forced out of the top tiers, you can turn this into a deck that is more midrange. All you really have to do is swap the planeswalkers with creatures. However, I would hold onto your Esper Control decklist just in case Combo rears its ugly head again. What deck do you want to see next? Let me know in the comments down below.

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