Oh, hey. It's you folks again. Well, I guess I should introduce myself, although I suppose you all know me by now thanks to my previous chart-shattering hit episodes of the syndicated series Inside Esper Hero with Brian Braun-Duin. I'm the aforementioned Brian S. Braun-Duin, and you're tuning in once again to Inside Esper Hero with Brian Braun-Duin. This 37-part series is back for a stunning 38th episode, brought to you today by the good and generous graces of our producers, who at this point are just me wearing wigs and costumes and pretending to be other people, as everyone else has abandoned this project in disgust. I'm in it for the long haul, though, which will probably leave me in financial and psychological ruin by the time it's done.
I'm sorry. I'd like to offer my most grand apologies. Where are my manners? I'm being informed by the producers to leave these embarrassing behind-the-scenes details out of the production, although we all know it's all gonna show up in the final production anyway, as we don't pay our interns nearly enough to catch all that stuff. We don't pay them anything at all. In fact, please donate to our GoFundMe. The funds will go directly into my own bank account and will be used to buy cheese and Coke Zero. And they say honesty in journalism is dead. Not today. Not on my watch.
You may not like it, but this is what peak honesty looks like.
When last we left off, we talked about the Heroic nature of the deck. While we feature a whopping 66% of Hero available in the format (making good use of Hero of Precinct One and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria) the ultimate deck would be Jeskai Hero with Heroic Reinforcements.
We're not good enough for that. Inside Esper Hero with Brian Braun-Duin isn't about perfection, it's about being just good enough to get by. Sixty-six percent of the time, every time.
Technically, if you want to go full-blown, you need to also include Switchero in your deck as it does include the text string "hero" in it, but I've never gotten carried away enough to go that far. Not getting carried away is an integral part of truly embracing the mindset essential to be an Esper Hero master.
This week's episode of IEHWBBD will focus instead on a guide for common matchups and how to approach and sideboard for them.
This is the current list I'm playing around with. Since my last list, I've cut Ugin, the Ineffable and focused on a lower curve but with more mana sinks. I think this is a great way to build the deck right now. We want to be able to add to the board and interact early with cards like Teferi, Time Raveler, Oath of Kaya, Hostage Taker and friends, but we also want the ability to make use of extra mana later in the game, which we can do thanks to our flood-protection cards.
Hostage Taker is good flood protection. It comes down on turn four and disrupts the opponent's curve: a vital necessity in this format, especially against Llanowar Elves strategies. It can also represent a valuable play on eight-plus lands as well to steal creatures and deploy them on the same turn.
This deck offers a stunning amount of recursion. You can Hostage Taker your own Elite Guardmage and redeploy it. You can use Teferi, Time Raveler to bounce your own Oath of Kaya, Elite Guardmage, or Hostage Taker for repeat value. Add Deputy of Detention to the mix after sideboard. You can use Tyrant's Scorn to rebuy these effects as well.
The versatility these cards offer as early pieces of stopgap interaction or ways to fuel value later in the game makes Esper Hero a force to be reckoned with in Standard. It's able to keep pace early in the game with your opponent's draws, but it can also grind far later than what should be reasonable.
While cards like Ugin, the Ineffable are powerful, they are inflexible. You can't deploy them early and sometimes you get flooded on four-plus mana effects that you don't have enough time to deploy. I think cutting down the curve a bit is worth losing out on the effect of Ugin, the Ineffable, which will hurt our Mono-Red matchup a good deal, but shouldn't negatively impact too many others.
I also like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to be maxed at four copies, because you want as many opportunities as you can to assemble Splinter Twin, which is Teferi + The Elderspell to immediately set off the game-ending ultimate. It may be worth even playing one copy of Liliana, Dreadhorde General to offer the same opportunities.
The sideboard offers a balanced mix of cards to attack aggressive strategies and cards to attack slower and grindier strategies, allowing Esper Hero to be one of the best (if not the best) game two and three deck in the format. Losing game one happens often, but once you get to calibrate to your opponent's deck and anticipate their sideboard plan, I think Esper Hero is favored against most strategies.
Having a good sideboard isn't sexy, but it wins games of Magic, and here at Inside Esper Hero with Brian Braun-Duin, we've long given up on being sexy and have instead resorted to workmanlike efficiency as our chief positive trait.
Thief of Sanity can take over games, but it's too hard to get going. They have plenty of removal and access to many flying creatures like Rekindling Phoenix, Skarrgan Hellkite and Sarkhan the Masterless to provide flying blockers, which you can't always get off the board.
Deputy of Detention is unexciting against them, but I think you're favored significantly for every extra turn the game goes and simply buying time early on is worth it, even if they get their card back eventually. Even a weak piece of interaction on turn three is better than having to pass without a relevant play.
The key is to just interact and survive in the early turns without losing too much value along the way. They don't have a lot of reach, though, so it's ok to take early damage. Prevent them from assembling too big of a board advantage to come back from, even if you have to take 10-14 damage to do so.
Planeswalkers are incredibly expendable in this matchup. Playing Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to tuck a problematic creature like Rekindling Phoenix is totally fine, even if it dies the next turn. Using Teferi, Time Raveler to just bounce a big creatures and buy time is totally fine. Oath of Kaya's ability to drain 2 when your planeswalkers get attacked is incredibly relevant in this matchup as it can keep you alive and allow you to shift to taking the offensive in a pinch as well.
This is a tough matchup. The card Arclight Phoenix in particular is a problem. Outside of Despark, which is also taxed trying to kill things like Niv-Mizzet, Parun and Crackling Drake, there is no real great answer to Arclight Phoenix outside of playing a narrow specific hate card like Unmoored Ego, Kaya, Orzhov Usurper, or Ashiok, Dream Render, which carry their own set of problems since they don't win you the game and can be weak draws in certain game states.
They will keep in a good amount of removal against you to handle your creatures. Cutting Thief of Sanity at least makes Shock a much weaker card against you. While they can still shock a Hero of Precinct One it can often still make a token or two before that happens and it costs less overall mana, slotting easier into your curve and representing less of a tempo blowout.
Narset, Parter of Veils shuts down their card draw and Teferi, Time Raveler makes Finale of Promise have no text. Keeping these planeswalkers in play is really important. I tend to tick up Teferi, Time Raveler almost exclusively and it's reasonable to not even use Narset's ability right away and just keep her as a 5-loyalty Spirit of the Labyrinth.
While this matchup is tough, it's certainly not unwinnable. Esper Hero has a number of cards that make their cards suck, like Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils. Hostage Taker is an exceptional card against them, representing a 2/3 body that pressures them or blocks Goblin Electromancer while also stealing one of their best threats. I tend to preserve Hostage Taker until I can also deploy whatever I steal or protect it on the same turn.
Mono-Red isn't great at just killing you quickly, thanks to Oath of Kaya, Tyrant's Scorn, Elite Guardmage, Enter the God-Eternals and friends. So the game turns into a grind where cards like Experimental Frenzy will destroy you if left unchecked. I turn into a control deck and try to preserve my answers to line up against Experimental Frenzy and other problem cards like Chandra, Fire Artisan.
Hero of Precinct One and Thief of Sanity just die to all their burn spells, and Hero making a number of tokens isn't even that impressive since a single Goblin Chainwhirler can undo all the work.
Surprisingly, not having Ugin, the Ineffable hurts a lot here since Ugin is highly effective at destroying those problem permanents like Chandra, Fire Artisan and Experimental Frenzy, and when Ugin isn't doing that its +1 generates creatures to trade with theirs or end the game. Weirdly enough, Ugin, the Ineffable is the perfect threat against Mono-Red after sideboard and I miss it in that matchup.
Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord isn't good in these kinds of matchups. You need Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord in matchups where its +1 can actually knock off 1-loyalty planeswalkers, like against Teferi, Time Raveler or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Against Tamiyo, Collector of Tales and Nissa, Who Shakes the World Sorin is far less effective. Sorin's -X is also not even that great, since creatures only trade in combat, not via interactive removal spells.
The goal is to stifle their mana development early with cheap removal and then deal with their problem card, Nissa, Who Shakes the World with either hand disruption, The Elderspell or Dovin's Veto. Outside of Nissa, Who Shakes the World their deck is not very good against us. Mass Manipulation and Entrancing Melody are easily thwarted by Tyrant's Scorn, Deputy of Detention, Hostage Taker and Teferi, Time Raveler to get our stuff back. Hydroid Krasis is also shut down by Hostage Taker and Deputy of Detention, and they have no easy answer to Thief of Sanity which will take over a game left unchecked.
Their best card is Carnage Tyrant, which not all lists play and which can be disrupted by Thought Erasure and killing their mana development. Occasionally it can also be raced or traded with in combat. That said, this is their best avenue to beating us in games where we don't stumble and interact early.
I believe this to be a favorable matchup. They can snowball and get out ahead on us, but Hero of Precinct One does an excellent job of holding back the Wildgrowth Walker explore package to prolong the game. Hand disruption and countermagic can Thwart Command the Dreadhorde from their side and Thief of Sanity plus our own Command the Dreadhorde means we are about as likely—if not more likely—than they are to be able to cast the card.
We can set up Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and The Elderspell for the Splinter Twin combo fairly easily in this matchup, since they aren't great at pressuring planeswalkers and often have a lot just chilling in play on their side of the board.
The game plays a lot like it does against the U/G Nissa strategy. We try to disrupt them early and play a control gameplan, and then once we eventually turn the corner and get a solid grasp on the game we try to end it quickly—either with our own Command the Dreadhorde or with a sudden quick clock thanks to Hero of Precinct One tokens that have been amassing on our side of the board.
It may seem weird to keep in a lot of removal in this matchup, but you need to kill Legion Warboss, Mobilized Districts (really annoying) and tokens from Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor, Karn, Scion of Urza, and Sarkhan the Masterless.
Thief of Sanity is so hard to connect with against a deck with a bunch of Teferi, Time Raveler, Shock and Deafening Clarion. It's not even worth trying to play that Game Plan. Elite Guardmage is surprisingly great in the matchup. It pressures walkers well, invalidates Legion Warboss, and drawing an extra card is great in a matchup that gets very grindy. Narset, Parter of Veils shuts down Elite Guardmage, but Narset must die early to Oath of Kaya and The Elderspell anyway.
This matchup requires a lot of finesse to present enough pressure to keep them from getting out of control with planeswalkers while not overextending into Deafening Clarion. It also requires finesse to do relevant things early in the game without walking right into Spell Pierce. It's a tough matchup to play, and I'd recommend getting in a lot of practice if this is one you expect to see a lot.
It seems counterintuitive to cut a two-mana spell in a matchup that is all about speed, but Thought Erasure stripping a card from their hand is rarely relevant. It becomes dead so early in the game and even when it isn't dead, it's often not disrupting their speed much. If you Thought Erasure them and they have three plays they can make the next turn, you aren't slowing them down at all, and you lose massively on tempo by taking a turn off to stop something that only becomes relevant in a few turns. Those are turns you won't get if you're not constantly adding to the board or taking away from their board.
Hero of Precinct One is the most important card by a long shot. They can't kill it effectively and the tokens trade with a huge chunk of their creatures. I'd keep almost any hand with a Hero of Precinct One on turn two. Much like vs. R/G Aggro, it's ok to take a lot of damage in this matchup in order to assemble a better board presence. There's no need to start chump blocking early on since they have no reach. Just build up a board, make good trades when you can and eventually grind them out with your two-for-ones and virtual card advantage.
Deputy of Detention is a power player for beating History of Benalia. You can wait until both tokens have been made, then eat both of them. This leaves you with a Deputy of Detention with nothing under it that can be picked up by a Teferi, Time Raveler or Tyrant's Scorn later in the game or returned with Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord to steal fresh targets.
Despark may seem like a weird inclusion, but it's great against Venerated Loxodon and Conclave Tribunal and it's important to have cheap cards with big effects to catch you back up when you fall behind. It's ok to have this card do nothing for a while if later in the game you can cast it and another spell on the same turn to catch back up.
Esper Midrange is great at sideboarding, can take many different roles after sideboard in various matchups, and can adapt to whatever sideboard plan its opponents present as well.
That makes sideboarding in the mirror match quite difficult. There are also multiple versions of this deck, ranging from lists that look like mine to Martin Muller-style lists like the one Ben Friedman used to win Grand Prix Kansas City.
I can't actually provide a sideboard in/out plan because I still don't know how to board for these matchups—and I'm not sure I will ever know, because it depends so much on what they do against you. It's a game of cat and mouse. Keep in removal and they side out creatures? Bad. Side out removal and they keep in creatures? Bad.
With that being said, I'm going to run through some of the less obvious in/out cards and explain their relative values and when you would or wouldn't want them.
Hero of Precinct One - Weak if your opponent has a lot of Cry of the Carnarium or lots of spot removal, good in games where they go low on removal. Generally something to keep in.
Thief of Sanity - Weak against Teferi, Time Raveler, Oath of Kaya, Cry of the Carnarium and Tyrant's Scorn. I don't think this is a good card in the matchup, but it gets better the more copies of Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord and Duress you have to protect and rebuy it.
Tyrant's Scorn - A must-have against my version of the deck to deal with Thief of Sanity and Hero of Precinct One, but a general side-out card against Muller-style lists since it only kills Hero.
Despark - Good against the Muller version of the deck because it exiles Basilica Bell-Haunt and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Mediocre against my version because having two many situational cards means you'll just get ranched by Hero of Precinct One and Thief of Sanity.
Oath of Kaya - Good most of the time. Kills Narset, Parter of Veils and Hero of Precinct One.
Elite Guardmage - Always great.
Hostage Taker - Pretty weak against both versions, generally a card to board out, but also powerful enough to leave in one copy for miser's sake. Keep in more copies the more Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord you play.
Duress - Weak against my version with a lot of creatures. Strong against the Muller version with a lot of spells and planeswalkers.
Dovin's Veto - Same as Duress.
Narset, Parter of Veils - Incredibly impressive against both versions of the deck. One of the best cards in the format against this deck.
The Elderspell - Fairly narrow but powerful. Can get stuck in hand a lot while you lose to creatures. I think you want some number but not all three copies. Either one or two is best.
Deputy of Detention - I think this card is bad against both versions. Taking planeswalkers with it creates a ticking time bomb and it dies cleanly to Oath of Kaya.
Enter the God-Eternals - I also think this card is weak. The 4/4 token just gets bounced by Teferi, Time Raveler and it's stuck dead in hand a lot of the time, whereas something like Tyrant's Scorn can be used proactively to save creatures and Oath of Kaya is more versatile.
Command the Dreadhorde - The best card against the Muller version and high variance against my version. It can be uncastable if you fall behind early, but it can also take over a grindy game or win a game if your opponent goes heavy control against you.
I'm hoping to solve the de-icing problem by the time the next big tournament rolls around, and by de-icing problem I mean developing an effective plan in the mirror match. Until then, I still try out a variety of different plans and they have mixed success because it depends so heavily on what the opponent also does.
This concludes Episode 38 of Inside Esper Hero with Brian Braun-Duin, a bonus episode. I'm your host Brian Braun-Duin and I hope you got something useful out of this critically acclaimed and highly praised syndicated series, but ultimately I'm dead inside, I'm just going through the motions, and I don't really care either way. I'm just here to spread the gospel of Esper Hero to the plebians who line up before my pulpit hoping it will grant me some modicum of happiness one day, knowing full well that it won't.
You'll have to excuse me. I'm sorry. Sorry. I'm being told by my producers that I probably shouldn't tell you those things. You'll have to pardon me. Inside Esper Hero with Brian Braun-Duin values and cherishes your continued patronage. Esper Hero wouldn't exist without the love and support of Inside Esper Hero with Brian Braun-Duin community members like you.
Just kidding. Yes it would.
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