With Ravnica Allegiance ready to be put through its paces, it's an exciting time for control mages. Jeskai Control has been the best Teferi, Hero of Dominaria deck for the past few months, aided by cards like Expansion // Explosion and Lava Coil, but a new three-color combination is looming large on the horizon thanks to the addition of Orzhov cards to the Standard landscape. Esper Control, here we come!
There's a pretty established core of white and blue cards that will be immediately grandfathered into any Teferi-based control strategy, and they're very much our starting point when building an Esper deck. Chemister's Insight is still the best option to draw cards at four mana (sorry, Sphinx's Insight), Syncopate is still the best two-mana countermagic (sorry, Quench), Search for Azcanta is… well, it's Search for Azcanta, it's not going anywhere - and neither, for that matter, is the hero control players all deserve: Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Outside of staples like these, however, there are a whole host of exciting new cards that will help to redefine what a Standard control deck looks like, and—I believe—help to propel Esper Control to the forefront of the format. Let's look at what we get to work with!
Perhaps the biggest incentive to play Esper is the return of a four-mana sweeper. We haven't seen a card like this in Standard since Supreme Verdict—perhaps the best four-mana sweeper ever printed—and printing a hard sweeper at this cost again has serious implications for the format. Clearing the board on turn four rather than turn five is often the difference between life and death.
I'm pretty much ignoring the lifegain rider on this card, as I feel like it's a trap. Think about it—Kaya's Wrath seems to be asking you to play creatures so as to get value out of your sweeper! I'm not buying into this, and am just gratefully playing this card as a difficult-to-cast Day of Judgment. Sure, the casting cost isn't mucking around, and requires some pretty significant commitment—but as we'll discuss, we're actually in pretty decent shape with all the shocklands and checklands available to us.
In short, Kaya's Wrath is a truly terrific card, and will define Esper Control's creature-based matchups. It will be particularly important against Gruul, with cards such as Rhythm of the Wild and Gruul Spellbreaker interfering with our other disruptive elements. I'm happy to play four from the get-go—Settle the Wreckage is old news.
Speaking of old news, the reprinting of Mortify is a welcome blast from the past for control mages everywhere. This is a reasonably efficient and flexible removal spell which can even do a little bit of work in the mirror, sniping cards like Search for Azcanta or Arguel's Blood Fast. Three mana isn't a complete bargain, but it's easy to cast and solves most problems you'll have against creature-based strategies. I'm happy to start with three copies of Mortify, and adjust either up or down as needed.
Absorb is another sweet reprint, here to bolster control decks once again. Incidental lifegain is always welcome, and is probably better than the scry 1 from Sinister Sabotage—especially in the early days of a format, where aggressive strategies tend to flourish and you want as much value from your three-mana counterspells as possible.
Of course, playing Absorb in the same deck as Kaya's Wrath is really pushing it, but with twenty-four dual lands I think it's achievable—especially as Absorb offsets some of the extra damage we'll take from our shocklands. In for a penny, in for a pound—I'm cutting Sinister Sabotage completely in order to run four copies of Absorb. Fight me.
This card might have flown under your radar, but it's secretly one of the most exciting options available in Esper Control. I'm happy to cut Revitalize, a card I never loved all that much, for another two-mana cantrip that has absolutely insane upside against some of the threats control mages are sure to face.
Consecrate is a very tidy answer to a milled or killed Arclight Phoenix, and will also prevent new cards like Gutterbones from making an impact. The real heavy hitter, however, is Consume. I'm not ignoring The Eldest Reborn entirely, but Consume is one of the best answers to huge threats like Carnage Tyrant available in the format.
Edict effects are often a real liability, and a four-mana edict looks horrific on the face of it. However, Consume ameliorates the usual issues very handily indeed. The fact that it will always hit their Carnage Tyrant (rather than just cleaning up an errant Merfolk Branchwalker) combined with the lifegain it offers means that Consume is just about the best in the business. Finally, in situations where an edict effect is useless—against something like Selesnya Tokens, for example—it cycles away for just two mana.
Don't sleep on Consecrate // Consume. I'm starting with three copies, split across the maindeck and sideboard.
While I don't think this is a card you should play in the maindeck, it has a ton of utility against a wide percentage of the format. Cry of the Carnarium guns pretty heavily for mono-red and white-splashing-red, disrupting their early onslaught and helping you to stabilize.
Where it also does a lot of work is against Arclight Phoenix—even as a three-mana Scour from Existence against a single Phoenix, I'm happy to play this card. Unless you're playing best-of-one on Magic: The Gathering Arena, however, I'd keep three copies of it in the sideboard.
This is a card I'm unsure about. Jace's Ingenuity isn't a card I'm excited to play, nor am I excited to tap out on turn five if it's not for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria—even if I do get to look at six cards. Still, I'm ready (and willing) to be wrong about Precognitive Perception, and will keep an open mind about it moving forward. Right now I'm trimming a Chemister's Insight so as to play a single copy, and I'll adjust as necessary once I have more experience with the card.
Playing black rather than red also allows us to dip into some old favourites from control decks of yesteryear!
Moment of Craving is a crucial piece of early interaction against fast aggro. It kills Adanto Vanguard (as well as so many other early plays from aggro decks), bolsters your life total, and does a good job of pushing you toward the lategame. It's less impressive than Lava Coil in many situations, granted, but offers enough upside that I'm happy to make the switch.
There's no excuse not to play the best removal spell in the format. Good against aggro, midrange, and control, Vraska's Contempt is the real deal and not playing this card has got to be a mistake.
Acting as both interaction (that's still very effective in the mirror thanks to its ability to hit planeswalkers) and a win condition, The Eldest Reborn is still a card I'm very interested in. It's slow and clunky, so I don't want too many copies, but I'm not ready to cut it altogether.
I've had my fill of winning with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria loops—I want a way to end the game quickly and efficiently against stubborn opponents who won't concede (which is certainly their right), and Chromium, the Mutable fits the bill. Just be careful not to activate its ability after it has blocked, as it'll die due to the damage marked on it.
Pulling everything together lands us here:
Before wrapping up, I want to quickly discuss the mana in this deck. 24 duals and three basics—for a pretty high total of 27 lands—gives us a very good shot at casting spells consistently and in a timely manner. 17 sources of each color (almost always untapped, too) should be enough to curve Absorb into Kaya's Wrath.
It's not perfect, however, and that's because there's no perfect solution. Swamp is a horrendous card in a deck wanting to play Absorb; Island is even worse in a deck wanting to play Kaya's Wrath. You could play taplands in place of the basics, or just cut the total land count, but that makes Field of Ruin and Assassin's Trophy disastrous to play against.
Ultimately, I like playing basics, and I like having a very high land count. This deck wants to hit land drops basically every turn until the end of the game, and would much rather flood out than get screwed thanks to the high quality of its individual cards. So—to ensure access to enough sources of each color, to avoid playing taplands, to fight against cards that punish nonbasic lands, and to ensure we hit our land drops, this deck is a 27-land special.
This is, of course, just a starting point for Esper Control. As time passes and the format comes into sharper focus, we'll be able to adjust the deck so as to better answer the questions that Standard is asking. I'm keeping my eye on new cards like Quench, Angel of Grace, and Warrant // Warden, as they may have something to say for themselves in the coming weeks. Similarly, I'm ready to include more old favorites like Thief of Sanity, Cast Down, and Settle the Wreckage should the need arise.
You need to be well-prepared and brave to tackle a developing format with hard control, but I believe Esper Control will stand you in good stead when attacking Ravnica Allegiance Standard. Good luck to all the Teferi mages out there, and may your openers be always flush with lands!