From the Vault: Awesome

Posted in Building on a Budget on February 10, 2010

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Worldwake is filled with fun and exciting new cards for Standard. Today, I would like to take a look at Standard Esper. I have wanted to play a non-combo deck with Open the Vaults ever since it was first printed in Magic 2010. The spell seems incredibly strong. One can play a creature based version of Esper and make aggressive trades throughout the early and middle stages of the game. Once an opponent has managed to deal with all the relevant threats, you can cast your version of Cruel Ultimatum. A late-game Open the Vaults is very difficult to beat.

This type of strategy intrigued me when testing decks for Nationals last summer. Unfortunately, the Five-Color Control decks of that era were too powerful, and I found myself losing games even after I haymakered them with an Open the Vaults. I was also having a lot of trouble with Faeries and Elf combo. Today, Standard is a format defined by Bloodbraid Elf. Powerful control decks, aggro-control decks, and combo decks are not what they were six months ago.

Even Jund posed a problem for the deck, though. Worldwake, however, gives us a new tool for our Esper Aggro deck. Lodestone Golem is the realest of deals. I was first introduced to the card while playing some games of Vintage at a friend's house. My friend, Ashok, cast a turn-one Lodestone Golem and rode it to victory in a format where turn-two kills are often too fragile and must be mulliganed in some matchups.

Lodestone Golem

Lodestone Golem seemed like an excellent tool. It makes cascade spells significantly worse (because they have to pay to cast the spell they cascade into), it slows down my opponent's bombs, and it's a four-mana creature that attacks for a quarter of my opponent's life total. It becomes Lightning Bolt–resistant when I have a Master of Etherium, Ethersworn Shieldmage, or Master Transmuter.

I started brewing up a list and went through all the cards I thought I would play with.

Esper Stormblade: Creatures don't get much better than 3/2 flyers for two mana. I'm happy to finally find a place for this in the world of Standard. Esper Stormblade is great for attacking planeswalkers or just Bolting your opponent's life total every turn.

Vedalken Outlander: Protection from red is a valuable ability. Having a creature that stops Bloodbraid Elf in its tracks and cannot be Lightning Bolted seems like a great deal to me.

Master of Etherium: Not playing four of this card would be a crime. Master of Etherium will be very large here. The bonus it gives to the rest of our team only makes it more deadly.

Ethersworn Shieldmage: This is a nice piece of tech. If you played a lot of Shards of Alara block Limited, you are probably very familiar with the blowouts that this card can induce.

Lodestone Golem: I've been to more than a few Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in my day, and I never heard anything about this guy. I consider this card to be exceptionally powerful and wouldn't be surprised if it became a tournament staple in many different formats.

Sphinx Summoner: I've always loved fetching up a Master Transmuter or Master of Etherium in times of need. It's also important to note that you can search up extra copies of Sphinx Summoner and chump-block with them to set up a back-breaking Open the Vaults.

Master Transmuter: I only included a single copy because the four-slot is already being clogged up by my new best friend, Lodestone Golem. I guess you could say that Master Transmuter and I have been on the outs since Thousand-Year Elixir rotated out of Standard. I still feel comfortable playing a single copy of the lovely Artificer, though. There really isn't anything better to search for with a Sphinx Summoner.

Thopter Foundry: The synergy here was too great to not include a copy of this card. The ability to chump-block and make tokens or simply set up an alpha strike with Master of Etherium seems like it has far too much value.

Tidehollow Sculler: The best Mesmeric Fiend I've ever seen. Tidehollow Sculler is a powerful card, and it deserves a home as much as cards like Putrid Leech.

Doom Blade: A lot of you have sent me frustrated emails explaining your lack of Path to Exile. If you have the Path to Exiles you can make the swap and cut one Swamp for a Plains. If not, Doom Blade is a fine substitute.

Borderposts: Borderposts were made for a deck like this. They fix our mana, they pump our Master of Etherium, they pump our Esper Stormblades, and they can be sacrificed to our Thopter Foundry.

Open the Vaults: This is our Cruel Ultimatum. It's very hard to lose a game of attrition when you can simply put every resource you've spent thus far in the game back onto the battlefield immediately.

Here's the list:

From the Vault: Awesome!

Download Arena Decklist

The sideboard has six answers to Great Sable Stag, a creature that can ruin your day with ease. The four Hindering Light are excellent answers to decks that pack cards like Cruel Ultimatum. I like bringing in the Hindering Lights alongside the Ethersworn Shieldmages. I can pass the turn leaving mana open for Hindering Light and still get value out of my mana by playing the Ethersworn Shieldmage on their end step if they don't cast anything relevant.

I decided to play some games at my local shop to test the deck against a random field.

I won the roll and kept Arcane Sanctum, Swamp, Fieldmist Borderpost, Esper Stormblade, Tidehollow Sculler, Master of Etherium, and Sphinx Summoner. I played a Swamp, cast my Borderpost, and passed the turn. My opponent played a Plains and a Soul Warden and passed the turn back. I drew a Plains, cast Esper Stormblade, and passed the turn. My opponent cast Knight of the White Orchid, going up to 22, and passed the turn. I drew an Island, played my land, and cast Master of Etherium, then attacked for 4 and passed the turn. My opponent cast Honor of the Pure and attacked me for 3 with Knight of the White Orchid. I drew an Ethersworn Shieldmage, attacked for 7, played my Arcane Sanctum, and passed the turn. My opponent attacked with both his creatures, and I cast Ethersworn Shieldmage, blocked the Knight of the White Orchid, and took 2. My opponent cast a postcombat Ranger of Eos for another Soul Warden and a Steppe Lynx. I drew Thopter Foundry, played my land, cast Sphinx Summoner, found another Master of Etherium, and attacked with my team. A Ranger of Eos traded with my Shieldmage, and my opponent took 9. My opponent drew for his next turn and emphatically cast a Conqueror's Pledge. I drew a land, cast my second Master of Etherium, and was able to attack for lethal damage in the air.

I won the roll again and kept Arcane Sanctum, Island, Island, Vedalken Outlander, Ethersworn Shieldmage, Lodestone Golem, and Doom Blade. I played my Arcane Sanctum and passed the turn, and my opponent played a Lavaclaw Reaches and passed back. I drew a Plains, played my Vedalken Outlander, and passed the turn. My opponent played his second land and passed the turn back. I drew a Tidehollow Sculler, cast it, saw two Bloodbraid Elf and a Maelstrom Pulse, and took the Maelstrom Pulse. Then I attacked for 2, played my third land, and passed the turn. My opponent simply played a third land and passed the turn. I drew another Plains and attacked for 4, and my opponent went to 14. I cast Lodestone Golem during my second main phase. My opponent drew for his turn and cast a three-mana Putrid Leech. I drew a Master Transmuter, cast it, and passed the turn. My opponent played his fifth land and cast a Bloodbraid Elf. He flipped into a Lightning Bolt, but he could not afford to pay the extra one mana for it. He passed the turn. I drew another Lodestone Golem, played it, and passed the turn. My opponent drew for his turn and passed. I drew a sixth land and played it, and my opponent again drew and passed. I drew Sphinx Summoner, cast it, found another Lodestone Golem, and passed the turn. My opponent simply passed the turn again. On his end step, I used Master Transmuter to bounce my Sphinx Summoner and put it back onto the battlefield, finding another Lodestone Golem. My opponent conceded.

I lost the roll and kept Mistvein Borderpost, Mistvein Borderpost, Plains, Esper Stormblade, Esper Stormblade, Sphinx Summoner, and Doom Blade. My opponent played a land and passed, and I drew a Vedalken Outlander, played a Plains, cast a Borderpost, and passed the turn. My opponent played a second land and cast Howling Mine. I drew a land and a Master of Etherium, cast my Esper Stormblade, and passed the turn. My opponent cast Jace Beleren and made each of us draw a card, giving me an Open the Vaults. I drew a pair of Lodestone Golems for my turn, cast a Master Transmuter, attacked my opponent for 4, and passed the turn. My opponent untapped and cast Day of Judgment. He ticked up Jace Beleren, and I drew another land. On my turn I drew another land and another Lodestone Golem, and I cast a Lodestone Golem and passed the turn. My opponent ticked up Jace again and passed the turn. I played another Lodestone Golem and attacked Jace. My opponent was stuck on four lands, but he drew a fifth land on his turn, played it, and passed. I drew a Sphinx Summoner and a Master of Etherium. I attacked, killing Jace and hitting my opponent for five. I cast Sphinx Summoner and found another Lodestone Golem. My opponent played a sixth land and cast a third copy of Day of Judgment. I untapped, cast Open the Vaults, and returned a ton of creatures to the battlefield. I cast an Esper Stormblade that had been sitting in my hand and passed the turn. I cast a third Lodestone Golem, and my opponent cast a Safe Passage when I attacked. I continued pounding away, and eventually my opponent ran out of Fogs and was forced to concede.

I lost the roll again. I mulliganned and kept Fieldmist Borderpost, Island, Esper Stormblade, Master of Etherium, Vedalken Outlander, and Doom Blade. My opponent cast a Llanowar Elves and passed the turn. I played an Island, cast my Borderpost, and passed back. My opponent played Elvish Visionary and Oran-Rief, the Vastwood. I drew a Plains, cast my Esper Stormblade, and passed the turn. My opponent cast Nissa's Chosen and Noble Heirach and used the Oran-Rief to pump them up. He then attacked for 2 with his exalted Elvish Visionary. I drew an Open the Vaults, cast my Master of Etherium, attacked for 4 in the air, and passed the turn. My opponent cast another Elvish Visionary and a Great Sable Stag before attacking for 4 with Nissa's Chosen. I drew Master Transmuter, cast it, attacked for 4 in the air, and passed the turn. My opponent drew, cast Eldrazi Monument, and attacked me for lethal damage in the air.

I was very impressed with the Esper aggro deck. I had some very lucky draws and my opponents were in some unfortunate spots, but I feel Lodestone Golem is certainly worth considering as we continue to explore the new Standard environment. I hope you all enjoyed this new piece technology. The deck can also improve a bit if you have Creeping Tar Pits and some Path to Exiles. I've been getting tons of emails about new decks with Worldwake cards, and I only hope I recieve more. I love getting emails about fun new decks.

Happy brewing!

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