Hello again, readers! Nicholas here, and I’m back for another article on my journey towards the final Regional Pro Tour Qualifier taking place on Sunday, March 10, on Magic Online. Last time, I talked about getting the feel for the new Standard format and about which decks I was initially interested in testing for the RPTQ. In this post, I’ll break down the archetype that I fell in love with and that I spent the most time playing and tuning.
After the first week or two of Ravnica Allegiance Standard, I was considering either Mono-Blue Tempo or Izzet Drakes as my first choice for the RPTQ. I felt that both decks had pretty decent matchups against format frontrunners like Esper Control and Sultai Midrange. Both decks also greatly reward sequencing your plays well and grinding out tiny edges against your opponent. In my mind, Drakes also beats Mono Blue pretty handily, as long as you ensure your giant flying blockers resolve after the initial flurry of interaction.
The SCG Tour and some good discussions with my friends and teammates led me down another path, however. I was introduced to the Esper Multicolor archetype, developed by Pro Tour Dominaria champion Wyatt Darby on his Twitch stream. The deck revolves around RNA rare Hero of Precinct One, who can provide you with loads of value at a very low cost, as long as you build around the card.
Darby put up a great showing with the deck at the first SCG Open of the format, making Top 8. His performance with Esper was quite the revelation, and the deck was tuned and developed further by MTGO grinders like VTCLA, who currently sits atop the trophy leaderboard in the Competitive Standard League on MTGO.
This list I’m sharing below is quite similar below to some earlier iterations of the archetype, which no one can convince me is not actually called Esper Hero. While different variants have popped up, each doing well at one time or another, I have mostly stuck to the list with a Surveil subtheme. I’ll explain how the deck works and my card choices below.
The Decklist – Esper Hero
Hero of Precinct One – HoPo is the card that made this entire archetype possible! She’s the reason why we can smash together all these good gold cards in Esper colors and call it a winning strategy without relying on clunky counters and draw spells. Hero comes down early and pays you off for just casting spells, so you can get ahead on board quickly and control the game from there with powerful creatures, efficient removal, and the Surveil disruption engine. The Human tokens she calls to arms may not look like much at first glance, but when every other spell in your deck also nets you a 1/1, the bodies really add up.
Thought Erasure – Every Dimir mage should play 4 Thought Erasures in their deck. Its ability to hit any nonland card combined with the card selection it offers makes it one of the best discard spells Standard has seen in a while.
Thief of Sanity – This specter can single-handedly dominate matches against Sultai Midrange and Esper Control. When you draw this against slow decks in game 1 it feels like you’re playing a sideboarded game while your opponent is stuck with their first 60 cards. It dies a lot, but his fragile body is more than compensated for by his devastating effect on the game.
Deputy of Detention and Hostage Taker – These exile effects stapled to unimpressive stats can nonetheless swing the tempo of a game in your favor. Both are especially good against Hydroid Krasis and each promise their own upside. With enough time and mana, Hostage Taker lets you steal a creature, while Deputy can remove other problem permanents like Search for Azcanta and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. It’s worth noting that Deputy can wipe your opponent’s board of tokens with the same name.
Mortify – Simply the most efficient gold removal spell available.
Basilica Bell-Haunt – You side this card out in most matchups but this spirit’s presence is sorely needed in aggro matchups, with its discard ability also providing utility against slower decks. I can see playing anywhere between 2-4 of this in the maindeck, depending on the metagame.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria – Early iterations of this deck could get out of the gates quickly but tended to fall behind in the late game without a real source of card advantage. While Teferi doesn’t synergize particularly well with the rest of the deck, besides being a gold spell for Hero, he’s still one of the best cards in Standard and will win many games that come down to attrition and topdecking. Other variants of the archetype look to the Immortal Sun and/or Chemister’s Insight for card advantage.
The Surveil Package: Disinformation Campaign, Doom Whisperer, and Discovery//Dispersal – Discovery is a mainstay in the Esper Hero archetype, and I am a big fan of maximizing its potential alongside this small group of Surveil cards. Campaign gives you another angle of attack and is excellent against midrange and control decks. You’d be surprised how often you can return it to your hand for more value. Doom Whisperer, meanwhile, is the fatty of choice in this deck because of its synergy with the enchantment.
Another version of this deck includes an Angel package instead of relying on Surveil: Seraph of the Scales and Lyra Dawnbringer slant the deck more towards beating aggressive decks.
Lazav, the Multifarious – The inclusion of this two-drop might raise some eyebrows, but his utility and mischievousness on the battlefield merit his slot in the deck. To start, he’s an early play that triggers Hero and Disinformation Campaign. He helps hit land drops or find action. Finally, he is essentially an extra copy of any creature in your graveyard. One of the sickest plays you can pull off with Lazav is attacking into a large blocker like Lyra Dawnbringer when you have both Thief of Sanity and Doom Whisperer in the ‘yard. If Lyra blocks, you can eat her by transforming this sneaky guildmaster into a 6/6 Trampler, and if your opponent lets him through, you’re suddenly stealing a card from the top of their library. One more trick: turn him into a HoPo before you cast your gold spells to get triggers off of him.
Dovin, Grand Arbiter – The deck has about two flex slots you can fill depending on the metagame and personal taste. I’ve seen and played cards like Revival//Revenge, a second Lazav, additional copies of the exile creatures, and even monocolored cards like Cast Down, Spell Pierce, and Chemister’s Insight. As of this article, I’m still undecided on these flex slots, but I think Dovin is a decent and fun option.
Is it Tier 1?
One key takeaway from the card choices in Esper Hero is that every card does multiple things depending on the context of the game. When playing this deck, I am in awe of the sheer number of options available to me each turn. It’s true that midrange decks tend to be versatile in this way, but I think that playing this deck asks you to make more important decisions per game then Sultai Midrange does.
It’s often difficult to decide, for example, whether to dig deeper with Discovery or bounce an opponent’s permanent for tempo with Dispersal. You also need to figure out whether you can run Thief of Sanity out early or wait until you’ve whittled their hand down with Erasure and Campaign. It can be absolutely nerve-wracking when you pull the trigger on Deputy and exile a crucial permanent while the risk of getting blown out by removal is high.
It terms of matchups, it’s a lot like Sultai in that you’re probably close to 50% against the field. And like the more popular midrange deck, your sideboard can help improve bad game 1 matchups substantially.
Overall, I think a well-practiced pilot can take on the rest of the Standard metagame with Esper Hero. On the other hand, the deck gravely punishes mistakes and doesn’t really offer the free wins that other decks like Mono Blue with Curious Obsession and Sultai with an unchecked Wildgrowth Walker or Hydroid Krasis can. With the exception of games where you draw a lot of hand disruption and get in with Thief of Sanity, you really have to grind out your wins. In this way it’s a bit like playing Esper Control with a much faster clock but fewer answers. You have fewer sources of card advantage, so you need to make every spell you cast as impactful as possible.
I had been very happy testing the deck in the week before the first Mythic Championship on February 22nd. A couple of teammates and friends of mine also picked the deck up and had great success with it at paper tournaments. I’ll save matchup analysis and a look at my win rate with deck for the next article, but suffice it to say, we felt like we were crushing.
Understandably, I was very excited to see the finest Magic minds take the Esper Hero shell and tune it into an unstoppable force at the Mythic Championship…
What? Only 4 Esper Midrange decks on Day 2?!
That’s all for today, readers. Join me next time as I discuss Esper Hero’s matchups, the sideboard, and how I tried coping with the fact that I was a Spike in love with a fringe archetype.