January 12 2016 Tuesday at 02:23 PM

Reader Deck - Dustin's Esper Control

One of my readers sent me a list.  This happens often, but this reader really likes this list, and believes it to be a proper, pure Esper list.  Here is what was sent to me -

(26) lands (with the mortuary mine)


4 Fielder cubs

DRAW (9)

4 Artificers Empathy

4 Inspiration

1 Jace


2 Languish

2 Planar outburst


3 Horrible Arry

2 Scatter Wings

3 Spell Shrivel


2 celestial Flare

3 Complete Disrecard

1 Reprisal

Dustin feels like an old school control player, or at least he thinks like one.  He wants answers that hit just about everything and two-for-one card draw.

This is very close to the list I used early in the B4Z season with draw-go Esper, and I shared his view-point, that your spells should answer a wide variety of threats and handle just about any situation.  However, I have learned more and more about the issues with this approach as I have played more and more Duels.  One of the big learning points is that we have a lot of removal and counterspells to choose from, but almost nothing works as a big blanket.  You can point to any removal spell in the deck, and any counterspell except two Scatter to the Winds, and you can formulate an instance vs any popular deck where the card is not good.  I don't feel that our current meta is control friendly, because it is impossible to build a removal/counterspell package that answers the threats of every popular deck game in and game out.  Sure, you can win a share of games, but will you win a serious majority of them like you will with many of the proactive strategies I have been advocating like Ramp, Aristocrats and Tokens?  I don't know if my quest for the best pure control deck will have a happy ending in this card pool, but let's continue the search with Dustin's Esper Control -

3 x Felidar cub
1 x Solemn Offering
4 x Artificer's Epiphany
4 x Inspiration
1 x Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
2 x Languish
2 x Planar Outburst
3 x Horribly Awry
2 x Scatter to the Winds
3 x Spell Shrivel
2 x Celestial Flare
3 x Complete Disregard
1 x Reprisal
1 x Disciple of the Ring
1 x Ob Nixilis Reignited
1 x Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
2 x Swamp
3 x Plains
3 x Island
1 x Mortuary Mire
3 x Foundry of the Consuls
2 x Shambling Vent
2 x Sunken Hollow
2 x Isolated Chapel
2 x Drowned Catacomb
2 x Glacial Fortress
2 x Prairie Stream
2 x Evolving Wilds

Let's play some Magic!


Game One - R/G Ramp - Curb stomping, I drew no counterspells and had really no resistance to his plays.  Ramp is the reason I start my blue control lists with 4 Spell Shrivel.  It is a liability too late in the game, but if you don't have one between turns four and seven you just lose, as we see here.

Game Two - Really bad Golgari Elves - we take control just fine but the deck has bad cards and bad threats so this is a goldfish win.

Game Three - Better Golgari Elves - This game shows one of the true problems with control decks, how do they handle mana floods?  Drawing through them with either awesome draw spells or one-sided Howling Mines isn't an option in Duels.  Inspiration and Epiphany only draw two, if you are in a five or six land clump (which happens all the time) you still have a long way to go, so they are not the solution.  The Thopter Spy Network angle that I have written about before is great because you get the one-sided Howling Mine (drawing two cards a turn instead of one) and you get a thopter every turn to chump, trade, or pressure your opponent.  Without that, this deck is hoping to keep a walker on the field with nothing to protect it, and you only have two so as you see in this game, we never draw the walker.  With a control deck, mana flood is not an RNG curse, it is what you sign up for, it is what will happen every game because you are playing long-as-heck games.  You have to be prepared to do something with/during the flood.  This pure draw-go-ish style Esper is lacking that.  I do make some removal misplays, and perhaps we could have seen a few more cards.

Game Four - G/W Goldfish - We beat down a new player who blocks funny and plays Griffins.  Not much to say except that I still don't understand Xbox1.  My opponent could hear me talk to my Twitch viewers about my hand and my plays all game long, which makes for a few good laughs at the end of the game.

Game Five - Orzhov Allies - Our early and mid-game go well, but we get into some dicy spots because he draws some huge threats in the lategame and we have to scramble for answers.  Jace does a ton of work and shows that he can help you through a flood if you can flip him.

Games Six and Seven - Red Aggro - Gemini shows up to save us from randoms, and he puts the deck through The Scorch Trials.  Fail.  Control is usually hard pressed to stop a pure aggro deck, and here our mana bites us as we can't play Languish on time.  I discuss that we lack the number of sources required to rely on turn four Languish over 90% of the time (20), and that always makes me debate if I should have black in the deck at all.  Getting beat down by Red Aggro is always a telling moment for any deck in my opinion, because I don't like losing to such an obvious deck and strategy.  There will be little red mages in every format, and I don't see a lot of benefit in playing a deck that rolls over to them.  Epiphany and Inspiration, in both games, show that against red you can have all the cards you want, he who dies with the most cards still dies.

Game Eight - Green Ramp - We miss a land drop and Gemini hits Moss on four, that really sums up the whole game and shows why I love Spell Shrivel and how you can still miss land drops in a 26 land deck.  Dustin wrote that he cut Telling Time for Epiphany, which I do understand, and this is the only time in the series where I really missed having Telling Time.

Game Nine - Esper Control vs Esper Control - As I mention in the video, I believe the Gemini list to be a better list for Magic Duels.  However, in a control mirror, I like the more draw-goish deck to win.  This game was very odd, and I think I played it well.  Dispel should have shined here, and I don't think Gemini made the right call in throwing it at an Epiphany early.  The nearly endless Disciple battle was taxing and interesting.  Both players had to cope with land floods, and if Gemini had a Network or another walker it would have been much harder to win.

I was going to play a tenth game, but Duels crashed when I tried to look at the battlefield afterwards, so we left it at nine games.

Overall record is four wins, five losses.  I rarely felt "in control", not the way I do with a Spy Network going off, or if I have a walker on the board with a counter in my hand and blue mana open.  The abundance of draw-two didn't leave me feeling much better.  With two of the four wins being against very sub-optimal decks, I can't give the list a CGB stamp of approval.

What would I do differently?  Integrate a few Vials and Thopter Spy Network, because I think that is the real deal for surviving mana floods, chump blocking monsters and awakened lands, drawing cards and pressuring planeswalkers.  I would up the count on counterspells.  I have found having the turn three counterspell so important that I am testing one and two Calculated Dismissal in my Azorius and Esper Control lists.  I always run all four Shrivels and two Scatters.  I also use between two and five mixed copies of Horribly Awry and Bone to Ash.  I love neither, but see the value in both.  Telling Time also seems important just so you have a two mana play and you can hit your land drops in the right order.  I have been enjoying the life gain from Solemn Offering and I have tried it in place of Cub in Azorius, which needs the life more due to the lack of Vents.

Vents are, in my opinion, the best thing about Esper Control.  Otherwise I would just play Azorius.  Double black for Languish and Ob Nix is still unreliable despite some mana upgrades with B4Z, and Complete Disregard could easily be a Gideon's Reproach or something else entirely.  As I mentioned in video, if you can only cast Languish on turn four about 30% of the time, do you still want/need to play it at all?

In the end I am sticking with either (a) Gemini Esper or (b) draw-go Azorius.  And I won't be sad if you cut the Dispels ;)

I hope you enjoyed this different kind of entry, instead of playing my lists and trying to convince you they are good, I took a list from a reader and tried to show the strengths and weaknesses, and unlike my posts of the past you can watch my play and see if you can find mistakes or just get what I am talking about.  One thing I hope it will show is that a few small card choices in very similar strategies can have a residual impact on results.

If you like this kind of thing, let me know.  Comment, tweet at me @danno029, email a deck or comments to dan@hauntedflower.com, or comment on the YouTube videos.

Thanks to Dustin for the list, thanks to all for reading.

<3 CGB