Sometimes you just run good. Last weekend I won the Maryland “the 2013’s” State Championship.
Now to be fair, there were only 35 players at the event, so it only took a swiss record of 4-0-2 to finish 2nd overall. But I still won 7 rounds (when you include the 3 top 8 rounds) and went undefeated on the day. I earned my plaque, box of Theros, and personalized playmat and DCI card. Plus there’s an owl on the Top 8 playmat!
I piloted Esper (what? a control deck? no way!) through the diverse field covering the new standard format, fighting back against 5 different archetypes on my way to victory. Before I get into the round-by-round deets, let me show you my list. It’s not too far removed from Christian Calcano’s list he ran at the StarCityGames Open in Worchester a few weeks ago.
2 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
4 Azorius Charm
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Doom Blade
2 Hero’s Downfall
4 Supreme Verdict
3 Detention Sphere
3 Jace, Architect of Thought
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Watery Grave
4 Godless Shine
3 Temple of Silence
3 Temple of Deceit
1 Azorius Guildgate
1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
2 Rest in Peace
1 Pithing Needle
1 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
1 Doom Blade
2 Last Breath
2 Glare of Heresy
The key struggle I’m having with the deck moving forward is with two card slots.
In the list above, you’ll see a pair of main deck Blood Baron of Vizkopa. That guy is super insane nutso. There aren’t many decks in the format with significant non-white and non-black creatures. Remember, even Red-deck-wins has Boros Reckoners, and most of the better spot removal in the format is black and/or white (Azorius Charm, Doom Blade, Hero’s Downfall, Dreadbore, for example). Mizzium Mortars takes care of him (as does Supreme Verdict, and well timed Far//Away and Devour Flesh), but the decks Mortars go in are the ones against which you send Baron to the board for better cards like Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.
Speaking of Ashiok, she’s insane. She is the true, real deal, and I regret only having one (because I only own one, I want at least 2 in the board) at the event. She might be good enough to go in the main instead of the Blood Barons, since the mono-red decks are slowing down in popularity and more midrange-type decks are coming out of the woodwork. Blood Barons are great against many decks, but there is still that desire to just Supreme Verdict the board without hesitation, and having a prime creature like Blood Baron is painful to wrath away when you want to win the game. At the same time, Blood Baron after Supreme Verdict is usually better than Ashiok, since you know you’re getting a sweet threat against the decks he’s good, versus hoping to +3 exile a good target from your opponent’s deck and having the next turn to -X it to your side of the field.
Blood Baron and Ashiok don’t always work well in the deck at the same time. They each are good tech against some decks that the other is not. For example, Blood Baron will literally save your life (total) against mono red aggro, while Ashiok is nearly a dead card. Against Gruul midrange, Blood Baron is the only target for Mizzium Mortars in your entire deck, so it’s just going to die before it can help you; Ashiok in that matchup (especially on turn 3) can simply a value-town blowout. But against black-red-white midrange or the control mirror (esper or UW), both are key components to building up a win.
For States, I played the Blood Barons main mostly because I expected quite a lot of red and aggro decks, but the decks I saw were mostly the opposite. Sometimes I would have gained a huge advantage over decks like UW control and BRW (aka the new Jund) if I didn’t show a Blood Baron game 1, since that would have likely caused them to board out some, if not all, Supreme Verdicts and Mizzium Mortars, respectively, making it even harder to kill the black and white bastard. However, I did win some game 1s with Blood Baron, so it’s a split decision still.
It’s tough to decide which one should reside in the main sixty, and I’ll likely try out Ashiok as the frontrunner this weekend at a SCG Super IQ in Glen Burnie, MD, and stick 3 Blood Barons in the board to switch into.
Round by Round Notes:
Round 1: Black-Red-White Midrange, 2-1
I had all the answers to all the threats game 1, but game 2 I got double-Desecration Demon’d very, very quickly. Game 3 I played Ashiok on turn 3 (on the play) and two turns later was beating my opponent down with his own Stormbreath Dragon. Granted, a Dreadbore on turn 4 after I played Ashiok would have prevented this, but he didn’t have one, so it was a blowout. The Dreadbore possibility and how good Ashiok did in that instance is why I wouldn’t run less than 2 of her against this type of deck.
Round 2: Red-Green Midrange, 2-0
For Game 1 he kept an awkward 2 Mountain 6 card mulligan, and scooped on turn 4 after seeing no more land. Game 2 I fought through Hammer of Purphoros by wasting an Azorius Charm and a Doom blade on two Hammer-made golems and finally drew a Detention Sphere. Then he played Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, and I took myself to 1 life by casting a Supreme Verdict, and fortunately topdecked better than he did to steal victory from the clutches of death (Blood Baron, which is semi bad in that matchup, won me the game).
Round 3: Blue-white Control, 2-0
This matchup isn’t even fair. I could make a thousand mistakes and still win, as long as I get an Aetherling in play before he does game one. Post board, half of my sideboard is black anti-control tech like Thoughtseize that just makes it generally un-winnable, and you could see it on my opponents face the entire match.
Round 4: Red-Deck-Wins, 2-1
Way too slow on the draw game 1, and got blown out after keeping 2 lands, 2 Azorius Charm and some other gassy cards, but never saw a third land before I was dead by double Chandra’s Phoenix. Game 2 I avoided Burning Earth problems by having three of my eight basic land in play. Game 3 I took 4 damage from double Chandra’s Phoenix on turn 4 instead of using removal so I could Detention Sphere them both away, and Blood Baron on turn 5 brought it back. Surprisingly, my best card in this matchup, Jace, the Architect of Thought, never showed up.
(round 5 and 6 intentional draws against mono-white aggro and red-deck-wins)
Top 8: Blue-White Control, 2-0 (same player I beat in the swiss)
My opponent was visibly upset when pairings were announced and was basically defeated before we even started. I’m not boasting, that’s just literally how bad this matchup is for blue-white.
Top 4: Red-Black Control, 2-0
Very interesting anti-creature deck, but half his deck was useless against mine so Aetherling cruised to a win game 1 while I could focus my counter magic and removal on his few targets like Desecration Demons and Stormbreath Dragons. Game 2 he sided out Mizzium Mortars, having not seen Blood Baron game 1 (see above why boarding them is sometimes a free win versus main deck) and one of them beat him up. I did take a few Rakdos Returns to my hand, so it took some good topdecking.
Finals: Red-black-white Midrange, 2-1
Game 1 I have the advantage with much of the deck being removal that won’t hit anything in my deck, but Game 2 he beat me thanks to double Rakdos’ Return and Slaughter Games getting Supreme Verdict. I couldn’t get a Far//Away as my only remaining answer to his Blood Baron (also the first time all day I saw a 10/10 flying Baron, but too bad it wasn’t my creature).
Game 3 he started out with a mulligan to 6 and kept a hand with only black and red lands, and rakdos’ returned my hand twice on turns 5 and 6. The next turn I ripped Thoughtseize and as a gift from the Theros gods was able to take Assemble the Legion (INSANELY lucky that he didn’t draw a white source to play it) and saw Dreadbore and Warleader’s helix. He drew Obzedat, Ghost Council, and a Rakdos Keyrune and played them. I topdecked far//away, and my only shot to stay alive was for him to animate the Keyrune to attack with it and Obzedat, so that I could Far that and make him sacrifice Obzedat with Away. He did, and it was blowout city, and I drew good things like Blood Baron and Jace to draw into more things and it was over.
Sometimes you gotta get lucky (while also playing well enough to put your opponents in situations where they can lose it to you)! Champion!
As many people have said, Esper control is a real deck, and it is really fun to play – it might even be more fun than control last standard. Your decisions are more important and have to be much more deliberate, since you don’t have a Snapcaster Mage to give you a second try at using a spell. What goes in the graveyard never comes back in this deck (unless you play Obzedat’s Aid, which I don’t recommend).
A few final notes about the deck moving forward:
1. The Doom Blade in the board is now a Hero’s Downfall. There are enough Desecration Demons and Obzedats seeing play that you want a card stronger than Doom Blade to bring in. Plus it just makes the control mirrors even better while Doom Blade doesn’t come in at all.
2. Syncopate isn’t as good as initially thought. The format is slow enough that midrange decks get up in mana to where it almost always costs U2, which is basically the same cost as Dissolve with our land base, and Scry is vital to our success. The mana base is clunky and there are far fewer effects giving us more cards than previous standard formats, so scrying away a useless or land (or making sure we’re getting one next turn) can be everything. I’m trying 3 Dissolve and 2 Syncopate this weekend.
3. Rest in Peace is in the sideboard for one card: Whip of Erebros. There are some decks designed around it that just WRECK control, much like Unburial Rites did last season. I’m seeing enough people play Deadbridge Chant and Whip to justify a real answer other than just hoping the Detention Sphere sticks. Pithing Needle is good, but most of these decks have ways to deal with it and then go back to Whip’ing back their dudes. Rest in Peace permanently removes the stuff in the bin already, so you can focus on what’s coming up instead of worrying about what’s coming back. I may be overconcerned, since Rest in Peace isn’t really an anti Black-Red-White card (it has less ways to stop Detention Sphere), and the Green-black reanimation style deck might just be an FNM-level fluke.
4. Aetherling is awesome, and anyone who doesn’t use it as their finisher is probably doing it wrong. I won two games with it even with Pithing Needle stopping it from activating.