Almost There: Esper Tokens

Posted in How to Build on October 20, 2017

By Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

Paulo has been playing Magic since he was eight years old. At fifteen, he ventured outside of Brazil for his first international tournament, and he's been globetrotting as a professional player ever since.

The first list of Esper Tokens I saw was from a Magic Online user named Hogpog_98, who went 9-0 in the Swiss rounds of a PTQ before ultimately falling to Temur Energy in the quarterfinals. Since then, the deck has been picking up steam, though it has yet to break through to the Top 8 of a major event.

At US Nationals this past weekend, we saw at least two famous players playing a list of Esper Tokens: Ali Aintrazi and Brian Braun-Duin. Both players wrote articles about the deck beforehand, so we have an idea of what lists they ended up playing. Here are the three decklists for comparison:

Hogpog_98's Esper Tokens

Ali Aintrazi's Esper Tokens

Brian Braun-Duin's Esper Tokens

The core of the three lists is the same—they want to overwhelm their opponent with tokens, which you can generate via Hidden Stockpile, The Scarab God, embalm creatures, Legion's Landing, and Start // Finish, and double with Anointed Procession. If you're constantly scrying with Hidden Stockpile, you'll eventually find a second Anointed Procession, and then you get four tokens instead of one and quickly run away with the game.

The biggest difference among the lists is that Ali Aintrazi runs three copies of Search for Azcanta, whereas the other two players run Treasure Map instead. I like Search, but I wouldn't play it as a three-of, and I wouldn't cut an Anointed Procession for it.

I think that, in Game 1s, this deck is good against most of the field, regardless of which build you choose. Against Ramunap Red, you have a lot of blockers and some life gain. Against Temur and Sultai, you have Fumigates and The Scarab God. Against control decks, you have threatening enchantments that dodge both Vraska's Contempt and Essence Scatter. If Magic was all about Game 1s, then I think this deck would have pushed through already.

I think this deck's biggest problem is with sideboarded games, once everyone gets to take out bad removal spells for more powerful cards. Red decks can bring in Rampaging Ferocidon, Glorybringer, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance—all of which bypass your game plan of life gaining and small blockers. Temur, Sultai, and control decks all get to add Negate and/or Duress, which deal with both your threats and your answers. As such, the biggest advantages of the deck—dodging commonly used interaction and having game-breaking sweepers—disappears after sideboarding.

I think that, for the deck to break through, it needs a better sideboard plan. A sideboard for this deck can't be just a collection of cards that are good against certain archetypes, it has to accomplish four things:

  1. It must have a way to beat the control decks when they bring in Duress and Negate to stop your engine.
  2. It must beat Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Glorybringer; and Rampaging Ferocidon out of the red decks.
  3. It must be able to beat the tokens mirror.
  4. It must have a plan against Temur and Sultai when their plan is to stop your Fumigate.

So, how do we go about accomplishing those things?

Number 1 is already there; I feel that, if you have your own Negates and Duresses, you can fight that fight.

"Well, this is awkward. . ."
"Well, this is awkward . . ."

Number 2 is where I think the deck can be most improved. Right now, both BBD's and Hogpog_98's lists run Sunscourge Champion as their card against Ramunap Red, and I feel that this is a card that would be effective against their Game 1 configuration, but that isn't actually good after sideboarding, since it doesn't match up well against any of the three cards that beat you in Game 2s (Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Glorybringer; and Rampaging Ferocidon). I would much rather have an answer to those cards—Vraska's Contempt, Cast Out, and Ixalan's Binding come to mind. I like Ixalan's Binding the most, since it doubles up as a card for the mirror.

Number 3 is easy, but demands more slots. All the lists have Duress and Negate, and BBD even has Demystify, but I think the best card in Esper for the mirror is Lost Legacy, which Hogpog_98 used but both BBD and Ali cut. If you manage to take away their Anointed Processions while keeping yours, it's very hard for your opponent to win. Demystify gets rid of one Procession, but they can just draw more since games go long, so I like getting rid of all of them. As a bonus, it's also good against White-Blue Approach. It's possible to play a mix, so that you can deal with resolved Processions and eventual Ixalan's Bindings, but then I prefer Fragmentize over Demystify, since it can be boarded in versus decks like Mardu.

Number 4 is the hardest to accomplish. Temur and Sultai don't have as many spells as blue-black does, so you can't fill your deck with Duresses and Negates to try to beat their counterspells. I think the best solution here is to bring in a powerful creature, since it dodges both Duress and Negate. Ideally, it has 5 toughness or more, to survive Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer. The Scarab God is probably the best card for the job, and I wouldn't mind going up to four, because it should be your main game plan against those decks post-board. I've played four Dragonlord Ojutais before and had no trouble with that, but if the idea of playing four of a legendary card scares you, then another viable option is Crested Sunmare, which is easy to trigger with Legion's Landing, Sacred Cat, and Anointer Priest, assuming all those are still in your deck.

Here's how I would build the deck:

PVDDR's Esper Tokens

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