Deck Tech: Esper Control

Posted in Event Coverage on November 10, 2018

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Shaheen Soorani, as a long-time face at Pro Tour, Grand Prix, and beyond, is known for one thing in the community: Esper Control.

"Some relationships need work. Just because Esper doesn't have the mana doesn't mean we can't make it work."

Shaheen Soorani

Esper is in an odd spot for Guilds of Ravnica Standard. Jeskai gets both Sacred Foundry and Steam Vents to set up a solid mana base, compared to Esper which just gets Watery Grave until Ravnica Allegiance arrives next year. But Soorani says it's worth it now.

  • Drowned Catacomb
  • Watery Grave
  • Glacial Fortress
  • Isolated Chapel

"The twelve buddy lands [from Ixalan and Dominaria] with Watery Grave make it unlikely my lands will come into play untapped," he explained. "Island, Swamp, and buddy lands is fine. The Dimir surveil cards makes the mana even more smooth. Search for Azcanta is very good. The mana base is workable—not as good as Jeskai—but the black cards are just too good to pass up."

This echoed the thoughts of Corey Burkhart on bringing Grixis Control to the Atlanta melee.

"When you look at Jeskai you don't see a lot of the new Jeskai cards in there. There's Deafening Clarion, but not really anything else. My deck is Thought Erasure, Notion Rain, Ritual of Soot—a ton of the new cards since they're so good."

"Eli Kassis won the Grand Prix with Jeskai," Soorani said grinning, pointing to Kassis seated behind him. "Multiple teams we worked with tested Jeskai and berated us for 'wasting days of their time' testing it. Guillaume Wafo-Tapa said it's much weaker than a Grand Prix win shows."

So what positions Esper Control apart from and better than Jeskai—aside from leaning on black answers and surveil smoothing?

"The white is really just for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria," Soorani said. "Teferi is still the best control option—a three-mana planeswalker, effectively. It's easy to build a deck around it. We had to return to the old tap-out style of play when Torrential Gearhulk left. You have a Thought Erasure early and take the best card out of their hand that will cause Teferi issues. Then you counter or kill and keep the board clear for Teferi on a smooth turn five. Jeskai can't do that since Deafening Clarion is much worse than Golden Demise; there's creatures like Adanto Vanguard that are indestructible and Clarion bricks. Demise actually kills them all."

"The Dimir cards are underrepresented here at the Pro Tour," explained Soorani. "I know a few teams tested with Dimir decks and decided on something else, but Thought Erasure is the best thing you can do on turn two. Notion Rain is better than Chemister's Insight. Insight is a trap that has the illusion of being the control deck card draw spell, but Notion Rain is the rebirth of Read the Bones—the bread and butter of control decks of its time. People who played Chemister's Insight and tested it know how mediocre it is, but people should know it's much weaker than its face value."

Of course, every deck has its weaknesses. For Soorani, it's a familiar story. "Mono-Red Aggro with max Risk Factor. Experimental Frenzy is rough too, and four Risk Factors is hard to beat. They get to cast it for max value and jump-start it. But everyone knows mono-red is always the must-avoid for decks I play anyway."

Soorani, playing Esper at three of the last four Pro Tours, wouldn't have it any other way.

Shaheen Soorani's Esper Control

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