There’s a new king of Standard! After a dominant weekend in Krakow, Esper Dragons are flying high. How can we stop their reign of terror?
GP Krakow gave us one of the most dominant Top 8 performances from a brand-new archetype, Esper Dragons. The deck had an excellent showing at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir and has now proved that it wasn’t a flash in the pan, putting an astounding five copies in the Top 8 of the Grand Prix (and a sixth playing a straight U/B version). It’s clear that we haven’t seen the last of the deck in the coming Standard season, and players had better prepare for the matchup if they want to do well in local events. What are the best ways to beat the new best deck in the format?
Let’s look at the different matchups for Esper Dragons, and how the deck stacks up against each of them.
This is one of the better matchups for Esper Dragons, as Abzan generally presents only one threat per turn and has difficulty closing out games quickly. It isn’t too difficult for the Esper deck to stay on top of all of Abzan’s threats and play around removal to get the job done. From the Abzan side, the key to beating Esper comes down to two things: Thoughtseize and cheap threats. If you can curve out with a Thoughtseize into a Fleecemane Lion or some other way to threaten their life total, you can get an edge with your midrange haymakers if they stumble. If you can’t get off to a fast start, save your Thoughtseize for the turn you want to stick a threat so you can fight through their counters, and try to value them out whenever you can with Abzan Charm or Courser to stay up on cards.
This is a much closer matchup than traditional Abzan for Esper, but ultimately the control deck is favored. While Abzan Aggro can present a faster clock and disrupt the control deck long enough to punch through, it lacks the late-game reach that other aggro decks have to just get enough damage across. As long as Esper keeps pace with Abzan Aggro’s threats for long enough to stick a threat, it should have no problem wresting away control of the game. To win with Abzan Aggro, Thoughtseize is once again critical, as is curving out and presenting a fast enough clock while also playing around sweepers and the threat of a giant blocker coming down. It’s a tall order, but much more doable than Abzan Control.
Whip decks almost never want to get paired against control. The combination of sweepers and permission prey on a slow deck like this one, especially when the deck is usually focused more on value than raw power. As the Whip deck, the main thing you need to focus on is resolving a Whip of Erebos, which can allow you to keep up with the control deck’s superior late game. Esper has no reliable way to get rid of it outside of Ugin, so once you get to that point, keep up the pressure with hand disruption and recursive attackers until they run out of answers.
Obviously this matchup is even, since it’s the mirror! Assuming there is no secret tech in your sideboard for the mirror, there are three things to keep in mind. The first is that you want to hit all your land drops, no matter what; neither player has relevant early plays, so just focus on scrying lands to the top. The second is that Thoughtseize is the key to big counterwar turns; don’t fire them off early if you don’t have to, and save them for the crucial turn when you try to resolve a threat. The third is that decking is a very real way to win, so be careful with how you use your card draw. If your opponent is out-drawing you, consider not fighting over the draw spells and focus on keeping your library bigger than theirs. It’s a long and drawn-out death, so make sure it isn’t yours.
Tokens has the potential to explode out of the gates, which can make things difficult if Esper stumbles early or has a multi-tapped land start. The long game hugely favors Esper, however, since the token deck can’t really beat a Silumgar, the Drifting Death, but the deck still has some reach with Secure the Wastes, burn spells, and an active Jeskai Ascendancy. As the token deck, focus on putting pressure on early and often and try to stick an early Ascendancy. Try to get them to tap out while you have instant-speed action ready to punish them.
This is the nightmare matchup for the Esper deck. It forces them to have the right answers at the right time, not stumble on mana, and given both of those things, ride a dragon to victory without getting burned out. If you’re monored, just do your thing; play early threats and don’t slow down until they’re dead. Drown in Sorrow is the easiest way you can lose, so if you can afford to play around it, do so…Dash is the perfect mechanic for that. Just don’t let them untap with a Silumgar and you’re a heavy favorite.
It depends on what version of R/G you’re playing, but Goblin Rabblemasters, Boon Satyrs and Stormbreath Dragons are sure to give Esper fits. If your threats have haste, flash, or other means of evasion, you can apply serious pressure even if the control deck has removal every turn. You even have the late-game reach of Crater’s Claws and nasty sideboard options like Xenagos, the Reveler. Don’t let up on the throttle and you’ll be good to go.
Mastery of the Unseen is the best way to give Esper fits. If you resolve one, just make a manifest every turn and let them try to deal with it. Deathmist Raptor is another problematic card, since they can’t block it with their dragons and they can never get rid of it permanently. As the Devotion player, your late game inevitability lets you play into their answers pretty liberally. No need to be too careful with any threat that isn’t a Mastery of the Unseen; if they play the one-for-one game with you, you are pretty favored. Just don’t get yourself into a position where they can stick an Ojutai and race you effectively with it; keep up the tempo!
What is your weapon of choice for the new Standard metagame?