I want to share some play testing results with the last Esper Mill iteration I shared here a couple of days back. I went 2-2 and fought against 4 different decks.
Round 1 was against Mono Green Stompy and it was very clear that Vivien Reid just destroys the deck if we don’t draw our Negate, Disdainful Stroke or Sorcerous Spyglass in time before she wipes our enchantments clean. The problem she poses as well is that she’s difficult to answer if you are already under a lot of pressure fending off 3-4 drops that are really hard to kill.
A turn 2 Steel Leaf Champion is almost game if we don’t draw into Cast Down quick enough. While Nullhide Ferox just merits a Settle all on its own allowing the green player to hold back his army and lure you to cast Settle the Wreckage. A 6-point life swing isn’t a joke if you already took 5 from SLC the turn before. After sideboard, Deathgorge Scavenger comes in to join the gang green gang and makes short work of our Jump-Start cards. All in all, the first match went 1-2 for us, only because the opponent made a wrong turn and over committed more than he should.
My take-away from this match was I really needed a fourth Cleansing Nova and more ways to deal with Walkers.
Round 2 was against a Jeskai Midrange deck that used Teferi, Lyra, Aurelia and Niv-Mizzet to finish the game then Syncopates and Ionize for protection. The game was interesting because my mill effects had to race with a turn 5 Teferi that ticked up turn after turn. Thankfully my enchantments was able to win the race thanks to multiple Radical Idea and Chart a Courses before Teferi had the chance to get the emblem.
Game 2 was a battle of Negates, Syncopates and Niv-Mizzet. Good thing that I was able to mill my opponent fast in the beginning of the game before he got to Niv-Mizzet mana. I did take a lot of hits but Niv-Mizzet actually caused my opponent to draw from an empty Library, giving me the win.
The learning I got playing against control-ish decks is to land Drowned Secrets on turn 2 to go under their counter spells. This allows me to incrementally add pressure to the match forcing my opponent to commit fast or risk losing the grind.
Game 3 was another Niv-Mizzet deck in a Grixis Shell that had Murmuring Mystic in the main churning out 1/1 bird tokens that chipped away at my life totals for each spell my opponent played. The first game I had an early Psychic Corrosion which milled a lot of lands and key cards that my opponent needed to stabilize. Without the Ionize and Negates to prevent my enchantments from hitting the board, game 1 was won despite having a Dream Eater clawing at my life totals.
Game 2 I got hit by Unmoored Ego from the side and my Psychic Corrosion was stripped before I got the chance to play at least 1. Drowned Catacombs were not fast enough to mill my opponent out who also had Duress and Thought Erasure as backup to strip my hand off of removal so I died from a bunch of bird tokens and Niv-Mizzet’s ping ability.
Game 3 my opponent decided to keep a loose hand of 5 lands and we both had a Search for Azcanta in the battlefield. However I got to flip mine first with all the draw spells and discard I did with Chart a Course so that gave me a head start in digging for my enchantments. Most of them were countered but I did land a couple to start the milling process. After drawing my single copy of Field of Ruin which blew up my opponent’s Azcanta, I ended up drawing more gas and continued milling until I won with 3 life to spare with an active Niv-Mizzet that forced my opponent to draw from an empty library.
My last match was quite unexpected. I thought it was a straight up Jeskai control deck but after milling a couple of cards, my opponent played a Crackling Drake and me without a Cast Down in sight. I got hit three times and died.
Game 2 I think my opponent sided out most of his removal and sided in Legion Warboss, only to find out that I sided in Thief of Sanity which tucked a Niv-Mizzet underneath it. I played in when I got to 6 mana and since my opponent didn’t keep any removal he scooped and we went to game 3.
Game 3 was uneventful because I decided to keep 2 Cast Down and 1 Mission Briefing to make sure the Drakes don’t get a free hit but my opponent had the Negates and Syncopates to counter both Cast Downs. I ended up using my Mission Briefing to copy an Opt to get my 3rd land but only drew it on my 5th turn to which a Niv-Mizzet was hitting me for 5-6 damage a turn already. My opponent cast double Chemister’s Insight to deal the last 6 damage to win the game, 1-2.
So what did I learn from play testing?
I learned that I hate drakes and I hate Vivien Reid. I even think that Teferi is way better for me than an active Vivien Reid because Teferi does not permanently take down my enchantments unlike Vivien. I also hate the fact that I help Drake decks get larger. So what changes did I do to my deck?
The 1-off Moment of Craving was crap so I took it out. I hardly draw it and when I do, I don’t have any targets left to kill since the smaller ones have either died to Golden Demise or Cleansing Nova. What I replaced it with was Vraska’s Contempt which at least gives me one way (two if you count Mission Briefing) to kill a resolved Planeswalker in game 1. I also like that it is a clean answer to any living creature known to standard regardless if they are Legendary or not. I also added another copy in the sideboard for additional insurance.
The biggest changes are in the sideboard.
After getting hit with Unmoored Ego, I decided to run it as well since I can support the colors easily. Take note that I don’t plan to use this against URx decks. I experienced getting my Duress ‘Expansioned’ and I got Duressed first which left a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t want getting Ego’ed first either so I don’t think it’s wise to side this in against Jeskai decks. What I want to remove however is Vivien Reid, Carnage Tyrant and things like Thrashing Brontodon or Cleansing Nova. The fact that BG decks play Find/Finality means they can keep getting Carnage Tyrant back, or Nullhide Ferox, which is extremely difficult to deal with outside Settle and Nova. Vraska is just there because her neg 3 ability can snipe our enchantments the same way Viviene does.
The Eldest Reborn finds its way into our sideboard replacing Duress. In a way, it’s an answer to Planeswalkers and creatures, offers a mild hand disruption, and gives the added bonus of having a Carnage Tyrant, Niv-Mizzet, Crackling Drake (which can be big in our deck too) on our side of the battlefield given we would have milled a copy or two by the time this Saga pops.
I ended up adding the fourth copy of Cleansing Nova in the sideboard to respect the power of stompy decks in general, as well as go-wide strategies like WG midrange/tokens and BG midrange decks that run Find/Finality and Midnight Reaper which offers resilience despite getting swept once.
If you’re interested to see the list, my latest iteration can be found here.
Overall, I feel that my play testing had helped me patch some holes that were missed during the first draft. I need more data to check if the sideboard plan is tight enough to keep the deck together. As for the main deck, the remaining flex spots are Mission Briefing and Search for Azcanta which I think are the least powerful cards in the deck.
A total of 28 cards are considered core components for game 1 (4 Opt, 4 Idea, 4 Insight, 4 Secrets, 3 Corrosion, 2 Settle, 3Chart, 3 Nova) to keep our mill plan relevant. This leaves 3 Cast Downs, 1 Vraska’s Contempt and 2 Golden Demise as the removal suite which you can perhaps modify to suit your meta but I think 6 is the right number of spot or selective removal to buy us the time to get to 4 and 5 mana to cast our serious sweepers.
I also swapped 1 Plains for 1 more Swamp in the main to support Ritual of Soot and Vraska’s Contempt from the side better.
That’s it for now! If you want to playtest, let me know! I’m on MTGA as TheForbiddenAlchemist!