With Eldrazi still running rampant in Modern I want to look at an archetype that looks good in both the current metagame and potential future metagames. Whether or not Eldrazi gets banned, white/blue-based control strategies will be a relevant portion of any Modern field. Going straight white/blue or Jeskai is certainly viable, but I want to look at a different flavor of control.
Many players steer clear of Esper in Modern, but this deck aims to stop that trend.
The deck doesn't need to rely on just countermagic to disrupt the combo decks, as there is also a suite of discard spells. Discard works quite nicely, especially when you can flashback those one-mana spells for additional value. Oftentimes the first discard spell is just okay, but the second one can be backbreaking. The deck doesn't win quickly and relies on Lingering Souls a decent amount, but in most matchups this is okay. However, the match versus W/U Control was problematic because of Planeswalkers, specifically Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Many of these control decks have Planeswalkers as a win condition, but this list doesn't. While I like Lingering Souls more in general, the Esper Control deck doesn't really have an effective answer for Planeswalkers once they enter play. That is why playing against Elspeth, Sun's Champion was so frustrating — it is a card that will beat you if it's not countered or discarded.
However, I was pleased with how the deck feels. It rarely needs to mulligan and is strong against the creature-based strategies. Even when playing against Merfolk, a deck that seems problematic on paper, especially with all the islandwalking creatures, Esper Control felt favored. It can bait our opponent into overcommitting and subsequently punish them for doing so with Supreme Verdict. Cursecatcher was kind of annoying but the fact is that there is no real way to stop a turn-four Supreme Verdict. Engineered Explosives out of the board ended up being clutch, as Merfolk is filled with two-mana creatures. Tribal creature decks feel like good matchups, though when we played against Storm it was clear the deck also has plenty of game versus combo.
Most combo decks without many creatures are inevitably going to be bad matchups game one, but after boarding everything changes. Dispel, alongside a host of other support spells, can be swapped in for some creature removal. Against Storm, the key was to keep Pyromancer Ascension from getting two counters, because at that point it is impossible to stop the Storm player. In game three we may have helped our opponent by casting Dispel at an inopportune time, but it didn't really matter. Our opponent played back-to-back Empty the Warrens but our Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet nullified that plan.
These three matches are a small sample size, but the deck feels solid. I'm not going to claim Esper Control is the best deck in the format, but it does seem well-positioned in a world with few real control decks. While these matchups weren't against Eldrazi, that is a decent matchup, and also a matchup which may not be important for much longer. A deck like this might have longevity, as it can compete against a wide range of archetypes while maintaining enough flexibility to change some of the spells based on the metagame. Spreading Seas, for instance, may not remain a maindeck card forever, but right now it makes sense.
Thanks for reading,