Attacking a Settled Metagame: Esper Control in Modern

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After months of chaos, Modern is starting to settle into a groove. Splinter Twin and Amulet Bloom have only been dead for six months, and in that time we’ve seen the Eldrazi menace come and go, numerous challengers to the throne rise up and be defeated, and more plot twists and surprises than a Game of Thrones episode. In times like these, preparation (and innovation) are rewarded more than ever, as small tweaks can change matchups completely around. “Metagame decks” like Blue Moon, RW Control, and Grishoalbrand are born out of this relative calm, destroying unsuspecting opponents and taking events by storm. Today, I think I’ve found the Next Big Thing. Behold, Esper Control in Modern.


This deck is the real deal. For the past couple weeks I’ve been streaming every weekday on Twitch, and I’ve been thoroughly trounced by MrCafouillette (the alias of one Guillaume Wafo-Tapa) and his Esper monstrosity in two Modern League events. Competitive Modern League is no Star City Open or Grand Prix, but it’s no FNM either. 5-0’s are attainable, but not handed out for free. Tight play, (and a tight list) are just the basic prerequisite, and I’ve come around to paying attention to all 5-0 decklists in recent weeks. Still, bad lists can sneak through and put up numbers, which is why we often can’t trust a decklist with one good finish.


So how about four? MrCafouillette has 5-0’d four Competitive Modern League events recently. How recently? Try the past two weeks. Since June 30, when his deck first popped up on MTGGoldfish’s metagame page, he’s taken nearly the same list into each event (with only minor changes) and wrecked the field. I know, because I’m one of the many victims left shaking my head at what happened, and he did it to me twice. He last 5-0’d with this deck Tuesday. Being on the front lines, I can tell you that for now, people are still scoffing at this deck, but that won’t last for long. Today, I’m being sneered at on stream, while they jeer and call me “Esper Guy.” Tomorrow, they’ll be the ones sent home with crushed dreams.

This is the version I’ve been playing on stream for the past week, based heavily on Wafo-Tapa’s above list.

Core Cards

Think Twice / Esper Charm

Esper Charm is the best card in the deck, and the reason we are playing three colors. An instant-speed Divination or Mind Rot, with a free Demystify tacked on in case we ever need it gives us a ton of play in one card, and gives our draw-go strategy real punch. Esper_CharmIn true Wafo-Tapa fashion, this deck is as pure draw-go as it gets, with no spells (besides Supreme Verdict) that can’t be played on our opponent’s turn. Esper Charm can single-handedly help us recover from mulligans, power through opposing discard, and pull ahead from any opponent looking to trade resources. At any point in the game, Esper Charm can turn into Mind Rot when needed, destroying our opponent’s hand in the midgame when they’ve played out their lands and only have a few spells left.

The discard mode on Esper Charm is absolutely the main selling point for playing this spell. Normal gameflow will see opponents with only a few cards left in hand around turn five, which coincidentally happens to be right on time for Snapcaster Mage on Esper Charm. Seriously, casting Esper Charm on three to find a fifth land and Snapcaster Mage to flash it back, making our opponent discard a Path to Exile and Collected Company feels absolutely dirty. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, we get to untap. As a Grixis Control player or Jeskai Nahiri deck facing this archetype, you will learn to hate this spell. I did, until I fell in love with it myself.

Think Twice is curious, but necessary once you understand the mechanics behind the archetype. We aren’t looking for specific answers often or interested primarily in consistency à la Serum Visions. Think Twice lets us overcome our inherent card disadvantage due to our 26 land count and just power through our deck as consistently as possible. Think_TwiceWhen our primary goal is draw-go, no card fills in the gaps better than Think Twice. It’s been a while since a “true” Draw-Go deck has been in current conversation in Magic, so it’s possible a lot of the principles might have been forgotten. Of course win conditions and removal are important, but Draw-Go lives and dies based on how well it can utilize left over mana.

Think Twice serves the necessary task of bridging us to the mid-game, helping us find extra lands to cast Cryptic Command , which in turn pulls us toward our late-game, where we are flashing back Think Twice and keeping the value coming to build up to our win condition spells. Serum Visions, while unquestionably better in the abstract, doesn’t fulfill the same specific requirements that this archetype is looking for. It's possible that some number of Serum Visions belong in the deck based on pure rate alone, but for now, I've been playing the full four Think Twice and have been happy to do so.

Path to Exile / Supreme Verdict

The best options at their spot on the curve, these cards speak for themselves, so I’ll only talk about the numbers and what they don’t do. Three copies of Supreme Verdict is necessary when we’re spending so much time and mana making sure we’re constantly hitting land drops. Supreme VerdictAs seen by the lack of Mana Leak in this list, we’re often not interested in countering many things before Turn 4. Instead, we’re just looking to hit land drops, draw cards, and stay alive until Supreme Verdict can reset the board and we can begin to take control. It might seem enticing to some to look first at Supreme Verdict when finding slots to trim for pet cards, but more often than not we are really relying on Verdict being there on Turn 4 when we need it. Three is the perfect number: just right.

Path to Exile is excellent, but can feel rough when we have it in our opener against Birds of Paradise. We’re not Grixis Control or Jeskai, so Lightning Bolt isn’t an option for us. While against Affinity and Burn giving an extra land isn’t too bad, when we’re casting Path against Noble Hierarch out of Abzan Company or Infect, the phrases “spinning tires” and “what are you doing with your life” come to mind. We don’t ask much out of our Paths in this archetype, as they are really there because we need to be doing something before casting Supreme Verdict, but some extra help in the one/two mana interaction category would definitely be nice.

Cryptic Command / Logic Knot / Remand

Cryptic Command is the grown-up version of Think Twice, now drawing cards while countering our opponents’. I said it differently before, so I’ll restate: Think Twice is smoothly guiding us into the midgame, while Cryptic Command is forcefully throwing us into victory territory, all the while kicking our opponent onto their butt.

Logic Knot is a “better” Mana Leak, and by that I mean not really better at all, just different. When we’re looking to play past Turn 10, drawing Mana Leak late sounds absolutely horrible, Logic_Knotso we have to look elsewhere for options. Deprive is definitely possible, but we really want to be progressing our mana and effectively setting ourselves back a turn to counter a spell seems loose. With 8 fetchlands, Logic Knot almost always has at least some fuel, and even on Turn 2 Force Spike is often enough. In the late-game we can counter anything, either the hard way with extra mana, or the easy way with a plump graveyard. Remember, we’re not casting Kolaghan's Command or delving Tasigur, the Golden Fang here, so our graveyard is often a resource just waiting to be used.

Remand has definitely been better recently, but is still great right now. While we don’t care too much about the blue matchups, as we’re just bigger and better with Think Twice and Esper Charm, the ability to reset Ancestral Vision or even just Do Blue Things with it is useful. Also, while we can’t durdle around forever, in the midgame all we really want is to slow our opponent down enough while we continue to hit land drops. In that scenario, Remand is almost always awesome, to the point that I haven’t been boarding it out when I normally would as it fills the need of “early thing to do.”

Sphinx’s Revelation / Secure the Wastes

Our win conditions are that, but they also double as midgame spells that let us stay alive until the point where we can actually start taking over. Secure the Wastes is miles better than White Sun's Zenith, as we can just dump an early one on Turn 3 for two tokens and move on with our life, knowing we can Snapcaster Mage it back or find a second one later. secure the wastesAgainst an opponent pacing their spells, Sphinx's Revelation for two on turn five can really just put the game away by itself. When we’re just drawing into lands and more ways to draw cards, every time we’re tapping mana for spells it feels like we’re winning. It might be slight exaggeration, but I truly feel like if I can make it out of the woods around turn five or six in solid shape, I literally cannot lose.

Once we’ve taken over the game, Secure the Wastes can be cast in the very lategame to kill our opponent from two turns in any position, or even just for four or five to chip-shot them to death. Which mode we’re casting depends entirely on the gameflow. As draw-go pilots, we’re really just opportunists at heart. Opponent cast a thing? Respond with Cryptic Command. Opponent is quivering in his boots? Snap off a Secure the Wastes for three and get to work. More than anything, the major lesson with this deck is to use as much mana as possible, as simply as possible. I’ve cast Cryptic Command to bounce a land and cycle, just to make sure I could hit six mana and flash it back and put my opponent back a turn.

Flex Slots

Spell Burst

Spell Burst can vary in value, but its range really only shifts between great and excellent. Even when we’re not casting it with buyback, being able actually counter whatever we want without having to jump through hoops like with Logic Knot is excellent. Spell BurstWhen we do actually pay buyback, it feels downright dirty, and in many matchups just having this spell resolve can often earn a concession. There’s not much more demoralizing from the other side than having your control opponent say “No,” when it cost them actual nothing. Countering an Ancestral Vision for one mana is absolutely amazing, and the same can be said for Living End. I’ve even Spell Burst an Ornithopter when my opponent went Glimmervoid/Springleaf Drum, clearly planning on dumping his hand all over the table. He ended up behind that entire game.

Mystical Teachings

This card is a little more fun, and not “amazing” but still solid. Most of the time, we’re just getting Sphinx's Revelation, which feels really slow and durdly and isn’t very impressive. If that’s all you find yourself doing, I would suggest cutting it, but I’ve also found myself tutoring for Spell Burst when my back was against the wall versus Living End , and Secure the Wastes when I needed to kill my opponent quickly before Etched Champion pecked me to death. Mystical_TeachingsEven a match versus Storm had me digging up an Esper Charm to find another answer to Pyromancer Ascension. Still, the card is slow and we don’t really want many slow cards, so this could easily be the first card to get cut. Still, Mystical Teachings is a guilty pleasure of mine, and the degenerates that watch my stream love it, so for now it stays.


The addition I’m most confident in, Disfigure came about out of a desire to have a fifth card in the main that can kill something before Supreme Verdict. In addition, see the above rant about Path to Exile on Birds of Paradise. Disfigure has been solid, and the mana has been more than accommodating, but it is definitely “off-plan” as far as the archetype is concerned. Still, five one-mana kill spells feels like the sweet spot for me right now, but I could easily imagine this card switching to a third Remand or some other spell, should the online metagame shift away from Suicide Zoo, Infect and Affinity.


Esper Control has popped up here and there in Modern without making too many waves, but I think we’re on the cusp of a serious shift. With such a strong pedigree in its history, Esper Control is poised to break out with a big finish. It’s possible a few years from now some other scrub will write an article like mine from last week, where we called out Shaun McLaren’s high-profile Pro Tour victory as the genesis of Jeskai in Modern. So, what are you waiting for? Get working, so you can be the one he writes about.

Thanks for reading,

Trevor Holmes

The_Architect on MTGO

Posted in Brewing, Modern, TechTagged , , ,

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48 thoughts on “Attacking a Settled Metagame: Esper Control in Modern

  1. What is the reason for not playing ancestral visions? Looks like it could help the deck turn the corner, and with little to do on T1, it seems like the perfect option. Additionally, I think that Esper control has problems with finishing quickly. It seems like it cant close games fast and might have trouble with round time, something that Nahiri solves for UWr control decks. This is even more noticeable in esper because it doesnt have the ability to throw bolts or helixes at face like UWR then continue with snapcaster mage. It seems like it needs at least a 4th colonnade to give it a faster win potential.

    1. Visions would be in the Esper Charm slot and there it is way worse than it. The deck lives from flexibility from its spells, drawing 3 cards after waiting 4 turns is exactly the opposite.

      Yes, Esper Charm is more expensive and draws 1 card less, however, it is an Instant, an out vs Enchantment (which you normally struggle against) while STILL being a card advantage spell (the Mind Rot mode is the best mode on that card, by a mile).

      Regarding time issues, tbh, you only have problems with it in extremely grindy match-ups and when you are playing sloppy (aka new to the deck). Also Secure the Wastes (STW) is a great card to close out the game earlier. Many decks just struggle to deal with mass tokens (guess why BW/GW Tokens are great in a fair metagame?) and they are normally better to close out the game than using something like Colonnade.

      Also, this deck works on a different front than the classic UWR “Control” decks, which is also a reason, why they don’t need a derp card like Nahiri to close out the game.

    2. Ancestral Visions doesn’t help you hit land drops in the early turns, and it’s a weak top deck in the later turns. It’s a powerful draw spell, no doubt, but the Think Twice/Esper Charm engine is much smoother and more resilient.

      Many lists do run all four Colonnades, and even a fifth man-land in the form of Creeping Tar Pit or Shambling Vent. The best place for extra win-cons is in the sideboard, however. Teferi, Vendilion Clique, Lingering Souls, and Elspeth 4 or 6 are all great for that.

    3. Hey guys,

      Great question (William) and great points (everyone). Kathal probably said it best, my opinion mirrors that post. Currently, I’m liking Secure the Wastes/Revelation as a win condition primarily because people are skewing their decks to fight Nahiri. Dreadbore has never looked worse against this archetype. Ancestral Vision is a pet card of mine, but sadly doesn’t really have a place here. Esper Charm, more than anything else, is there to ensure we’re hitting our fourth and fifth land drops, and only an Ancestral Vision in the opener will help us reach that fifth land. Esper Charm just has so much more play to it. In the abstract, yes, Ancestral Vision is more powerful, but this archetype is looking for something a little different out of its draw spells.

      Thanks for the comments!

  2. I love to see that someone is having success with Esper. I’ve been working a couple months on a More midrange build using Luminarch Ascension, Phyrexian Crusader, and Geist of Saint Traft, but sadly have absolutely horrendous matchups against burn, affinity, and infect. Blood moon is also killer without a mana leak in hand. How does this deck like to deal with those?

    1. Blood Moon outs: Esper Charm, Negate, Logic Knot, Spell Burst, Remand (to buy time) and Cryptic.

      Furthermore, if you want, you can fetch basic first, since you lose not that much as long as you hit Esper colours on turn 3.

      Regarding the hyper aggressive match-ups (Affinity, Burn, 1 drop Zoo and Bushwaker), it depends on what exactly they and you have. Sometimes you can just concede, but this is also true for any other deck. However, the Burn match-up is quite decent due to the fact, that you normally take only 2-3 damage from your lands in the whole game while Esper Charm is great here (Mind Rot is normally devastating vs non Affinity aggro decks). Of course, you want something against those aggro decks in the SB, that’s why there are EE, Dispel (Burn) Condemn/Ousts and Timely.

    2. Luminarch ascension as a wincon seems poor. GBx can abrupt decay it and it cant even be countered. Phyrexian crusader seems odd, for esper midrange I like playing a spell heavy mentor build which also works to fuel yard for tasigur and angler

      1. The Esper Midrange shell ft Mentor does not work out, as long as there is so much removal (tested it).

        However, the Esper Delve version is basically the Junk version of Grixis, which has some slight edges over Junk depending on what meta you are expecting (Jund is the best, followed by either Grixis, Junk or Esper Delve basically).

        So, if you want to try to play Esper Midrange, play the Delve version, it is more stable, and better at closing out the game. However, it is not as spiky as Mentor and not as fast.


  3. Count me in as being deeply skeptical of Esper Control as an archetype. The decklist you put up basically packs it up and scoops to any linear aggressive strategy with a hot start, and is going to have a miserable matchup against any aggro deck that can ignore the likes of some Soldier tokens. How does this deck beat Infect with a Blighted Agent in play and a Vines of Vastwood in hand? Or Merfolk and Gruul Zoo in general? And I haven’t even gotten to the awful, awful things RG Tron does to decks this durdly. I think Guillaume Wafo-Tapa’s success with it is due to the fact that he’s a supremely skilled Magic control player and that other control decks have always been soft to a deck outdoing them on the draw-go front moreso than the archetype itself being inherently powerful.

    1. It seems like you just typed a reactive comment after a hasty read, rather than thinking. What is the actual reason that you would be inclined to try to pass off such an easy, general argument as authoritative.

      I mean, look at your conclusion: “[…]other control decks have always been soft to a deck outdoing them on the draw-go front moreso than the archetype itself being inherently powerful.” Where does anyone type anything approaching that? Are you misinterpreting something?

      One of the article’s main premises is that UWB seems to be a deck for the moment. If you want to differ with the slight hyperbole about the archetype being the next big thing, maybe do that specifically, rather than falling back on the emberassing I-ran-accurate-match-simulations-in-my-head cliché that all of us have indulged in at one point or another.

      1. Perhaps you are misinterpreting my comment. The premise is that Esper Control is a deck that looks good in control mirrors and against certain flavors of midrange, because of its mid-to-late-game card advantage engines and uncounterable sweepers. However, it has always struggled badly against aggro due to its lack of early interaction. People have been trying to make the archetype work for years, but they are always held back by the fact that only certain hands are suited to fending off an aggro rush. It also takes forever to close out a game, which often means it can get beat by a perfect topdeck. By championing the deck, Trevor is making the argument that aggro has been suppressed enough to enable the deck’s existence. On the other hand, David Ernenwein was making the point that fair decks were taking a beating in this metagame, and that it was trending back toward hyper-linearity. Granted, these are reads on different metagames, but my own assessment matches what David says more than what the assumption Trevor is operating under. And that bodes very ill for Esper Control. It doesn’t have good answers to Tron, go-wide aggro (don’t say tokens – they don’t come out fast enough), or to combo decks with a backup plan. I’m also unsure whether the Grixis and Jeskai matchups have changed any, given the influx of good cards they just got that Esper doesn’t have access to, namely Goblin Dark-Dwellers and Nahiri (which probably won’t resolve, but will wreak havoc if they do). Overall, I think it’s a read of the metagame that I disagree with, and part of why I disagree with it is because I don’t think the Esper card pool is good enough, and that Guillaume Wafo-Tapa’s success is because he’d be successful with pretty much any control deck.

    2. Hey Roland,

      Thanks for the comment, I can always count on you to respond to pretty much every article! I think your concerns are valid, the deck does look soft to aggro on the surface, which is why I included a Disfigure in the maindeck to help out a bit in those matchups.

      Secure the Wastes really does work in those fast matchups. We aren’t taking much damage from our lands and often if we are just able to interact with one opponent’s spell before Supreme Verdict we’re doing fine. After board Lingering Souls, Timely Reinforcements and Engineered Explosives really do work. It’s hard to see from looking at the list, the deck just runs smooth and draws well into what it needs.

      Against Tron, Esper Charm is an all-star. Merfolk is rough, and I’ve only faced it once so far, but I did win the match, largely on the back of Supreme Verdict. Obviously this archetype benefits from an inherent strength against other midrange and control archetypes, but we can use that to skew our deck more towards aggro game 1. Hope this helps, thanks as always for the comments!


      1. I’m glad you took the time to address my comment, Trevor, and did so in a level-headed fashion. I do think you would do well to make a couple more concessions to aggro – I understand the card pool is limited, and that you don’t want to dilute your lategame juice, but I know that I’d feel more comfortable with an extra Disfigure or Spell Snare to keep the decks I mentioned from jumping my bones, and having to hope that the Esper Charm I cast the turn before is enough to hold them off. I also think the board would benefit from another Timely.

        1. Amalek0 here, maintainer of the primer for this deck over on MTGsalvation.

          Fast agro matchups are actually generally favorable once blessed alliance drops in from EMN. Previously, we only got to boast a bonkers affinity matchup (4 spell snares does a ton of work, and sweepers + stony silence is pretty rough for them to beat) and then the ability to beat one of burn/zoo/infect and be mediocre at best against the others. Blessed alliance fills the spot of “card good against infect, burn AND zoo” and in my opinion will be the one to push the deck towards even/positive matchups against ALL of the linear agro archetypes in modern.

          It may not look like it on paper, but remember that we’re in the three best colors for post-board games in modern, and spell snare is absolutely one of the best spells against all of those archetypes.

          I don’t agree with trevor (or most of my fellow esper players over on the salvation forums!) about secure the wastes vs. white sun’s zenith: I still feel that the virtual inevitability having white sun’s zenith in your deck gives is valuable, but I don’t discount the simple fact that there are many games in which secure the wastes can give you the win in which WSZ would do nothing or leave you dead; I just tend to think they are marginal in comparison to the overall percentage points you get in a paper tournament with WSZ. This analysis completely changes on MTGO where abzan co-co is virtually nonexistent and burn/affinity/infect are generally more prevalent, and so secure the wastes becomes more useful, and simultaneously the concerns in paper that make WSZ better are irrelevant because of the chess clock nature of MTGO (opponents will time out first against a skilled esper pilot, so the WSZ inevitability doesn’t matter).

      2. I like UWB draw-go in general, but it isn’t an archetype that treats me well in Modern. Some people might be inclined to speculatively chalk that up to bad matches being prevalent, but I’ll be an adult and just admit that it is because I do not have the time to put into losing and learning how to make lemonade with those bad matches.

        Stuff like the Esper Charm soft draw lock are insanely powerful for winning games that one has no business winning. It is simply more appealing to do something similar the easy way with Nahiri, but have crutches for the first game against some of the more demoralizing matches, like burn and infect. I’m sure that UWB will reward anyone who puts in the time though.

    1. Hey Evan,

      So right now, a lot of decks are tweaking to fight Nahiri, the Harbinger. B/R lists are playing Dreadbore, other decks have Maelstrom Pulse, white lists are upping Celestial Purge, on and on. This archetype dodges all of those spells with Secure the Wastes and Sphinx’s Revelation, and both act as win conditions that can be cashed in for X=2 in a pinch. When half the format is getting faster, and the other half is pushing to be more grindy, going over the top and running a smooth manabase is exactly where I want to be.

      As for the matchups, Dredge is rough and probably requires some sideboard love. I haven’t faced it on stream yet, but Wafo-Tapa has and he’s told me the matchup is really bad and can’t be ignored. Merfolk is rough when playing any blue archetype, and burn can be difficult as we can’t apply a very quick clock, but both are winnable and probably better than if we were playing Grixis. Some matchups are just a breeze as well. We laugh in the face of Grixis’ Kolaghan’s Command value, and Jund and Jeskai are very strong matchups as well. Abzan Company is an absolute joke! Good luck!


  4. I played my own version of esper control at GP LA
    I had some good success although ym sideboard was garbage because the cards i ordered in the mail arrived a day too late

    I didnt run sphinxes revelation, instead i was running 2 mystical teachings. I ran Archangel avacyn and 2 tasigurs. the archangel was a fetchable threat that could also be used to flash protect my lingering souls or just lay down the beats to close out combo games (i felt lingering souls very necessary to be able to fight infect and jund type decks, i like that you ran it in the side though, good call)

    I also ran one consume the meek, didnt kill my archangel and tasigurs, and was fetchable.

    my own play mistakes (those 2 hours sleep) caused me to not make day 2 but i feel esper is a great meta call

    1. Nice! Interesting choices, I’ve been trying to fit a Tasigur in, good to see someone else is using him.

      Have you had any more practice with the deck? Let me know how your version works out for you!


      1. Trevor I’ve found that tasigur is probably the best card in my version.

        He isn’t a quick beatdown like in grixis though (although he can be against combo efc)

        Normally he is a late game drop where you can thin your grave to narrow the selection and just generate massive card advantage.

        Some other tech I’m using
        Because I have snapcasters, delve, and lingering souls I am running thought scour instead of serum visions. The instant speed theme helps significantly with countermagic early on

        To that note my main countermagic is 4 rune snags. These are improved by the thought scours as well

        I was worried that they would be worse than mana leak but they proved invaluably powerful.
        I was surprised myself but 4 is ALOT more than 3. People start missing a lot of land drops after their 4th. It just… Works.

        Having 4 copies of a cheap countermagic that is flexible does wonders in the zoo and combo matchups, and really everything but Tron and Merfolk (which are just… Rough anyway)

        The archangel avacyn underperformed in most of my matchups though. Without a way to control her flips it just rarely did enough, so she got filtered out over time

        I would post my whole list but it’s full of 1-ofs (I like to run 1 of various removal cards *other than the 4 path*that are about even in power level so that I can avoid odd strategies and am less likely to sit with dead cards)
        so annoying to type.

        The last thing, I don’t run a full play set of esper charm because it can be a huge liability against the very many decks that don’t care about card advantage. I also only run one mainboard sweeper. I’ve found that path, countermagic, and 2 other removal spells plus snapcaster can deal with almost any field and orevent it from ever being able to actually kill you

  5. I did some work with esper a while back, and wrote a couple articles (

    I haven’t tried it but secure the wastes over WSZ seems like a massive fail. Yes you can fire it off on turn 3 – but you’re only playing 1-2 of them so how often is that going to be a valid move in a deck with playsets of think twice and esper charm? not very many. At every mana cost beyond 4 zenith puts better pt on the board.

    Spell snare and path (and to some extent runed halo) are how you try to survive turn 1-3 vs aggro, then you basically have to have the supreme verdict.

    The deck is good for short tournaments, but won’t ever be popular in big events because the slightest errors will cost you matches and matches are always long. You never get a free win, you’re always one mistake away from losing.

    1. I played Esper draw and go for nearly half a year, before I decided to play other decks (it got boring somewhere along the line), however, STW is way better than WSZ, since it is easier to cast, more proactive and can be flashbacked (which is an important factor). Of course, if you can WSZ for X = 4 you get more power, however, on less bodies, which is important vs spot removal which is outright bad vs that version (no manlands). STW IS the better choice for this shell.

    2. Also Runed Halo is extremely good in this deck and I strongly advocate 2 copies between the main and side.

      It’s your answer to bogles, its your answer to valakut, and its a 2 mana unconditional removal spell that will sometimes take down 2 threats at once like a maelstrom pulse.

    3. I disagree with you on the power of Secure the Wastes, but I do agree with you regarding the deck being “one mistake away from losing”.

      As much as its masochistic to say, that’s the way I enjoy playing Magic. Squeaking out a small victory by the skin of my teeth. I know I’m leaving tickets on the table by not playing an “easier/faster” deck, but I love control and enjoy the challenge. Doesn’t mean the archetype shouldn’t be explored further!


  6. I saw you stream that list before you added the Engineered explosives. What did you cut to make room? I thought you removed Elspeth from the side.

    Did you try Terminus instead of Hallowed Burial in the side? Is the additional mana that big a deal for a trade-off of being able to cast it for W and (possibly) casting it from a Think Twice on your opponent’s turn?

    1. I did, cut an Elspeth and one other card, I’m sorry I can’t remember. The Engineered Explosives have since come back in, they’re necessary against Affinity and Burn and great in a few other matchups like Delver. I still think the card is mana inefficient often and not exciting, but in these colors I’ve found it necessary to have an out for all the random stuff people play.

      Things were different in Grixis Control, when I could often just ignore a few permanents as long as I had a 5/5 and just keep attacking, but with Esper the games go longer, opponents find their sideboard cards more often and I’m forced to interact. I’ve been thinking about Terminus more and more, it’s definitely worth trying out and I’m not sure I’ll know how it plays until I draw it in-game. We’ll see!


      1. Against which decks do you bring in the Burials/Terminus?
        Resilient creature decks like ‘Melira combo? Creatures that have death triggers? Or just as additional Wrath effects? Wouldnt a Wrath of God be better, specially against Thrun and Elves?

  7. I’ll second Runed Halo. Can utterly shut down linear threats (Valakut, Infect, Bogles) and can also block out Eidolon of the Great Revel pretty handily.

    Have we considered Wall of Denial for the sideboard? Seems like it would be a pretty damn good close out against Jund since they can’t really punch through it with anything in the deck (goyf can’t get big enough, Lili’s eating token, removal can’t hit it). Then again, we might be able to grind them out in the long game even without a one-card answer.

    I guess the one thing that concerns me, is what we do against lifegain decks like Soul Sisters or Abzan Combo? I mean, Abzan is the only deck that spams life gain that we really need to worry about, but its still enough to concern me. (Also a bit concerns about Night of Souls Betrayal/Curse of Deaths Hold, since it literally shuts down every single win condition in the deck except for our manland.)

    I know, I know, if we’re playing hard control, our answer is “we already countered them, before they could get up and running”, but I guess due to a lot of time spent on softer control decks, I worry about the threats that could slip through.

    1. Runed Halo can be very strong, but it’s also clunky and makes the manabase awkward. I think when EMN drops Blessed Alliance will be a good replacement as non-targeted removal that also helps the Burn match-up.

      Wall of Denial is pretty weak in a deck with Supreme Verdict, and it’s a permanent which provides no pressure whatsoever. On the other hand Lingering Souls or an Elspeth can harass the enemy and his walkers, kill enemy creatures, and (mostly) survive a Wrath.

      I’ve played against mono-white and Norin sisters with the old Wafo list – despite all the lifegain they just can’t really beat a deck with 3-5 sweepers and powerful cards like Cryptic Command and Elspeth. You have to watch out for Genesis Chamber and Purphoros, but aside from those they don’t pressure us or disrupt us enough to stop the inevitable grind of card advantage and board wipes.

      Abzan Company can win with the infinite life combo, but Secure the Waste is better that WSZ in so many more MUs it’s not worth running just for the possibility of beating one deck that way.

      NoSB and Curse can be annoying, but we can just snipe them with Esper Charm or ignore them and kill with a Colonnade. I don’t know what decks other then Esper play those cards though, especially now that Twin is gone. And I’ve never ever played the mirror at a tournament.

      The lockdown card that’s tough on us is Ensnaring Bridge out of Lantern Control. With other decks it’s easy to just Cryptic the bridge and counter it when they cast it again, but we rarely have the resources to do that when they’re controlling our draws.

    2. So, I originally had a Runed Halo in the list but cut it for other options. I could see it making its way back in once I get a better handle on how many cards I need post-board in what matchups, and if the board can be trimmed to fit it.

      I think Wall of Denial is a little narrow and really only helps us in areas we’re already strong. Remember, Secure the Wastes can just make two or three guys to chump until we find a Path to Exile or Supreme Verdict. With this much card draw, one of those is coming along every few turns.

      Abzan Combo is the matchup I’m least worried about, they have to fight through our counterspells AND our removal and sweepers. With mana birds, they’re often dumping their hand fast enough that Esper Charm on turn three snags their last two cards (which are often some combination of Path/Collected Company/Chord of Calling).

      I’ve played against it a few times and the games have never felt close. I don’t think the matchup is auto-win, but it is strongly in our favor.


    1. I’ve talked to him online about the deck 🙂

      I also remember his old alias being WatOo, he must have made a new account. Maybe the old one was getting too popular? He didn’t say anything about trying to stay anonymous when we spoke, and viewers on the stream already knew who we was before the article, so someone somewhere must have already talked about him/one of his decks. Probably GerryT, who knows.


    2. Apparently, Mr Cafouillette plays lists created by Wafo and his friends including the UR eldrazi control deck in standard and he played the exact same jeskai control list than Erwan Maisonneuve, a friend of Wafo’s a few months before him in late 2015, so this guy could easily be a friend of Wafo’s

    1. As someone who has bit the 300 SnapTax, I’ll say it’s a relatively small price to pay to unlock most blue control/midrange/tempo blue decks, and a relatively long-lasting one. It certainly isn’t the best, but it doesn’t suck nearly as much as it would suck to pay the blue taxes in Legacy, or to have to continually re-buy a deck in Standard.

      1. Uh… No offense, but that’s like replying to someone who says “I wish I could afford a car so I could look for a better job outside of walking distance” by saying “As someone who bought a car, I can say that it’s a good long-term investment, and way better than if your job required you to buy a Ferrari or pay for cabs all the time.” The original speaker already knows those things; that’s *why* they wish they could afford it. That reply demonstrates the second speaker’s assumption that the norm is for the cost to be inconvenient rather than unattainable, thereby making the first speaker – who doesn’t fit that norm – feel like even more of an outsider than they already did.

        I know you weren’t *trying* to be mean or anything, but it was still pretty insensitive. A lack of malicious intent is a great start, but proactive empathy is the goal.

        1. I’m sorry the comment was poorly received. As you’ve probably seen on this site and others, there are lots of myths about major Modern issues like prices. I was responding to your comment assuming it was, like the vast majority of similar comments, an offhand remark about Modern being problematically expensive. If that was the case, then I stand by my comment; our job as a Modern site is to dispel and/or challenge these kinds of myths. That said, if that was not the case and you were simply making an unloaded, personal statement about you actually not being able to afford the cost, then I’m sorry for assuming the wrong intent and agree that the situation sucks.

  8. Since I made some comments earlier, regarding some different points raised by other posters, I want to give also some feedback (I played Esper Control for roughly half a year, before I switched deck, since it got bored).

    1) I don’t really like the counter suite, especially the Spell Burst. Yes I know, it is great when you are in the super lategame or playing against mana screwed opponents when you can actually use the buy back mode. However, I always like Condescend way more in this setting. The Scry (2) is awesome in this deck, since it smooths the draw out.

    2) While I understand, why he is playing that manabase set-up, but I always liked the Shambling Vents split more, than the straight Colonnade. Yes, Colonnades is better to finish the game out, however, Vents is better to stabilize the game and vs Lilli, which can be fairly annoying from time to time.

    3) The SB looks interesting to say it this way. I know, that big Else is bonkers vs Midrange decks (I am playing her in UW Control) . However, with the 3 Lingering Souls you already have more than enough tools vs that archetype (+ they are better vs UWR Midrange/Control, since they have a hard time to grind through the tokens). I would rather see a card more vs Aggro decks but not Runed Halo as some people have mentioned. The drawback is just to big (you need to fetch twice on Wx, which is something you don’t really want vs aggro). Hence, either Oust, Condemn (also great vs Infect) or something like Sunlance, which is also good vs dork decks are IMO the better choice.

    There are some other smaller stuffs, but those are really minor ^^


  9. Trevor I have loved Esper ever since I’ve been playing Magic. I got away from Esper in Modern for quite some time and I was hot and cold with other decks. I tried UWR Nahiri and I did ok. I also tried Blue Moon and did terrible. After reading your article you made feel inspired to start playing Esper again. I’ve been on a winning streak with the deck. I’ve top 8ed the last 3 FNMs and the last week I top 4ed. Do you have a sideboard guide or advice on sideboarding? I am not running your exact list, but it’s pretty close. Any help would be very much appreciated!

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