Esper and the Indomitable Reid Duke

Posted in Event Coverage on October 25, 2015

By Josh Bennett

After ten rounds of competition only one player remained with a perfect record, the Pantheon's own Reid Duke. His Esper Control deck has made short work of the field so far, and he's put himself in a good position to chase down his fifteenth Grand Prix Top 8, and ideally a fourth Championship Title.

The deck plays very much like a traditional control deck, relying on a wealth of efficient, flexible answers backed by the raw power of Dig Through Time and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. It gets countermagic from Clash of Wills and Ojutai's Command, and ever plays the format's new wrath, Planar Outburst. Winning is an afterthought. I asked Duke how he settled on this deck and how his tournament has gone so far.

Reid Duke

“This was my deck for the Pro Tour. I was the only one on the team to play it – everyone else was on Dark Jeskai.” Why deviate from the team plan? “This was a unique experience for me in a new format, in that this was basically the first deck I built during testing. It felt consistent and powerful, and it suited my play style.”

“The field this weekend was basically what I expected – mostly the best decks from the Pro Tour. I'm pretty happy with my deck choice. I think Esper has good or at least even matchups against the main decks.” Those would be Dark Jeskai, Abzan, White-Green Megamorph and Atarka Red. “Although the red decks you really have to take seriously or they will run you over. I play six dedicated sideboard cards against red.”

I asked if the deck had any weaknesses. “Planeswalkers can be a problem, particularly Gideon. I'm playing Utter End as a replacement for Hero's Downfall, but at four mana you can't afford to play four of them.” However, the rotation of Hero's Downfall also means that the opposition is left without easy answers to one of the deck's best weapons: Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. “The ability to play two Ugin is one of the things that really drew me to the deck, the ability to have a big play that goes over the top of whatever the opponent is doing. The cards other decks rely on to win the long game, things like Evolutionary Leap and Mastery of the Unseen that would normally bury a control deck, they can't stand up to Ugin.” He did issue a note of caution that more players are getting on board with Utter End.

I asked Duke if time was a concern, playing a deck that aimed to win only in the long game. “Absolutely. Not only is it fairly complex to play, you need to be sharp on your mechanics.” That means things like fetching and shuffling quickly, not dawdling when resolving Dig Through Time, being quick about looting with Jace and choosing exiles when paying delve costs. He wouldn't recommend someone just picking up the deck and playing it in a tournament. I asked if, given that time is an issue when playing this deck, he ever spent less time thinking out plays than he would in untimed rounds. “Yes, all the time. When I'm playing, if I find a line that seems good I'll just take it.”

So if you're looking for an alternate angle of attack on the format, you might want to try out Esper. Just make sure you put in a lot of practice, and keep up your pace of play. Nobody wants game losses for repeated slow play violations.

Reid Duke’s Esper Control

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