A few weeks back I was slightly ahead of the curve on battling with Ætherling and Cavern of Souls. The more people played with Ætherling, the more they realized this is exactly how they wanted to be ending games. Now, having played far too many Ætherling mirrors I am completely sick of it. There's just no good way to interact directly with the Ætherling plan. You've either killed them before it happens, are well on track to do so, or you die handily. That said, it's still quite obviously the best endgame available for UWR. This leaves me very much not wanting to play that deck ever again.
I took a step away from Standard for a week or so to draft some Modern Masters, play some Pauper, and, you know, actually enjoy Magic. But something inside me won't just let me give up on Standard. It might be hubris and it also could be that I'm just a masochist, but it wasn't long before I found myself back in the Standard queues.
I toyed around with Domri Naya for a few days, finding that I could reasonably beat most of the decks and that Bonfire of the Damned did a lot of work towards fixing the Aristocrats matchup, but alas the deck just didn't have a lot of play to it. I get bored of playing decks without any card selection very quickly, as it feels like anybody could have more or less played the exact games that I played.
While trying to find a different way to circumvent the Ætherling problem I strongly considered brewing a Maze's End deck, but then I remembered all of these things:
I couldn't beat land destruction, I likely couldn't recover from being Mind Twisted, and having one of my Gates randomly milled was probably game over barring something like Creeping Renaissance, which I didn't like my odds of resolving.
And there it was right in front of me. The Drownyard deck could probably do a number on the Ætherling deck.
When I first saw Robert Seeder's winning list from the Philadelphia SCG Open I was overwhelmingly bored. The deck appeared painfully redundant without having a ton of abstract power and was completely removed from the combat phase. Between then and now I remembered that this doesn't really bother me if the deck can win. After playing a few matches I saw that that's something this deck is quite good at doing.
While Far//Away has proven to be a very powerful spell, the removal options for Esper are for the most part a great deal weaker than they are for UWR. With the UWR deck I always felt very confident that I would crush the Naya Blitz decks. With Esper it often comes down to miracling a Terminus on the proper turn- and yes, you do need to play all four. I wouldn't advise against adding a few Supreme Verdict to the 75, but the difference between having a Terminus on turn 1-3 and waiting until turn four can often be the difference between winning handily and losing- especially if there are Strangleroot Geists involved.
Renounce the Guilds most likely has a place in the deck as a removal option as well. It hits something against most decks and is more efficient than most other options. You don't want to overload on them in the main, but having one sounds solid to me.
The Creature Suite is Wrong
As was pointed out in the comments section of my initial UWR article, there's a lot of Ground Seal going on right now. This diminishes Snapcaster Mage's stock quite a bit. I'm more inclined to jam Augur of Bolas in a deck like this, especially considering how mana intensive most of the spells are. This deck generally does its losing in phase one of the game, and Snapcaster Mage is either an Ambush Viper (we can do better) or a phase two spell (we have plenty).
Restoration Angel is decidedly out of place. We're not trying to win with damage and Ghor-Clan Rampager has made blocking with Restoration Angel so much worse. Not to mention the increasing presence of Madcap Skills. I will grant that the other spells in this deck are good against Mad Skills, but Restoration Angel specifically is very bad there. I like Angel more once Augur is in the deck, but with Snapcaster the actual value plays cost just a ton of mana- which most of our spells already tend to do. I'm not enthused about keeping Resto here. And speaking of out of place...
Go Home Sorin, You're Drunk
I get that Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is a powerful card, and I get that Planeswalkers are better when you control more of them, but Sorin just doesn't do a lot here. There aren't any Lingering Souls to benefit from the emblem and making a 1/1 every turn is pretty underwhelming. In all honesty, I'd easily cut this guy for another land- 23 colored sources just doesn't feel like a lot and this deck wants to hit basically every land drop ever anyway. I can't imagine missing Sorin.
On the Sideboard
For the most part the sideboard looks pretty sound. Graveyard removal, Planar Cleansing for hosing Jund, counters for control mirrors. Good stuff.
That all said, I just don't get that Ætherling. This deck isn't trying to win by damage and it has no Cavern of Souls to force it out in the blue mirror. It's possible that it's for beating Thragtusk decks, which it's fine at doing, but I think that big Jace is just better in this role. I'll stick to wrathing them and finding a good window for milling them personally.
I've also been pretty happy bringing in a couple Appetite for Brains against Jund and Reanimator. Their relevant spells all cost a ton and Cavern of Souls plus Sire of Insanity is just game sometimes. Stripping it from their hand is a good way to circumvent this, I've found.
All that said, here's my current list:
Thus far the deck has proven to be pretty skill testing and more fun than initially thought. And, most importantly, it's damn good.
Questions, concerns? Hit me up in the comments section!
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter