Hello everyone! Last weekend was the Magic PAX Party, a yearly event that takes place on the Saturday evening of PAX Prime. While it looks like your average party with food, drinks, and dancing, one unique thing about this event is that cards from the next large set are slowly revealed throughout the night. I was unable to attend PAX Prime this year but I was checking twitter from home to keep up with the latest spoilers. Finally at about 3am (only midnight PAX time) I figured they were done for the night and decided to go to bed. Of course I checked twitter one last time and to my surprise my feed began to fill up with rumors that the original Onslaught fetchlands were going to be reprinted.
Soon enough an official announcement was made and just like that fetchlands were back! I'm pretty excited about the news and it seems like the majority of Magic players feel the same. While most players who have held on to their original fetches from Onslaught, or worse, bought them while they were at their peak high are pretty upset that their cards have suddenly lost value, overall the responses to the news were very positive. We get to play fetches in Standard again for the first time in years, all ten fetchlands will be legal in Modern, and it's now much easier to get your hands on these cards without going bankrupt. Legacy and Vintage are (slightly) easier to buy into, and the art of these new lands are awesome. Overall Wizards has over performed with their decision to bring back Onslaught fetches and I'm really looking forward to the new Standard format.
Enough about fetches, over a quarter of Khans of Tarkir has been spoiled already and it's time to take an early look at the new format. Of course everything I discuss today may become invalid as we learn more about the set, but it's never too early to start brewing.
One of the main themes of Khans of Tarkir is wedges, or color trios in which a color pair is allied with its enemy. For example, blue and black's enemy is green, which makes the wedge Sultai (previously known as BUG). Each wedge has a new name which is definitely something I'm going to have to get used to. I'm pretty bad when it comes to card names and I have a feeling that I'll be saying "BUG Charm" or "Patriot Charm" instead of what they are actually called. It took me forever to learn the shard names from Alara block and I'm sure set this will be no different. At least the Alara shards were short, easy to remember names like Bant and Jund. Sultai, Mardu, Abzan, Temur, and Jeskai are completely different from anything we've seen before. If it was up to me, I'd stick with saying BUG and Junk. Even BWR, which really didn't have a name before, was sometimes referred to as "Dega" (based on the Invasion block wedges). I'm sure these new names will catch on like the shards did, but I just wish they were a little easier to remember.
Anyway, everyone's all excited about these wedges but what I'm more excited about is actually shards. The fetchlands are of allied colors which mean that they naturally fit well with shards. For example you can play Polluted Delta and Flooded Strand in your Esper deck and Bloodstained Mire and Wooded Foothills in your Jund deck. The temples from Theros block also play nicely with shards so it seems like playing allied color combinations is easy.
Take Esper Control, for example. One thing that Esper struggled with in RtR block standard was its manabase. It had to play a ton of lands that either caused you pain or came into play tapped, causing you to be much too slow against aggressive decks. It's the main reason why UW Control was more desirable to play than Esper. Sometimes you needed to Supreme Verdict on turn four you couldn't more often than not, whether it was due to having all scrylands or not enough white sources. Fetchlands take care of that problem perfectly. With temples and fetches, you will be able to play more basic lands in your three color decks and you won't have to kill yourself for it. While I don't like the fetchlands' anti-synergy with scrying (you have to shuffle your unwanted cards back into your deck), it can help you just as much. When you're land-light you usually have to bottom your late-game spells, and cracking fetches can not only thin your deck, but it can reshuffle those cards back into your deck so you have the chance to draw them again.
While manabases are getting slightly faster, the format as a whole is slowing down. Mana creatures are two mana instead of one, Wrath of God is five mana instead of four, removal spells are four mana instead of three, and Planeswalkers are five and six mana instead of four. Pro Tour Journey into Nyx is a good indicator of what the new format will look like and that format was painfully slow. Everyone was playing their Coursers of Kruphix and big, expensive creatures and Planeswalkers. Most decks had twelve lands that came into play tapped! There were exceptions, such as Stanislav Cifka's hyper-aggressive RW Heroic deck, but for the most part you didn't start playing Magic until turn four.
Khans of Tarkir looks to offer similar slow cards. First, the new Supreme Verdict is a five mana spell, End Hostilities. I like this Wrath a lot. It can Remove bestowed creatures which are not often played in Standard, but that may change when Khans comes in. Boon Satyr saw a decent amount of play and Gnarled Scarhide and Spiteful Bellows are played in Monoblack Aggro. Nighthowler and Herald of Torment have seen their fair share of play in dredge decks. I think that a decent number of bestow creatures such as Eidolon of Countless Battles and Mogis's Warhound will see more play with the new rotation. End Hostilities can also Remove equipment. There isn't too much equipment going around right now but you never know what will come out in future sets.
The new "Vindicate" is a four mana instant called Utter End. This card was just spoiled yesterday and it has been getting a lot of hate already. It's not really fair to compare this card to Vindicate because Vindicate was printed in a very different Standard environment. We're never getting back Counterspell, Dark Ritual, or Swords to Plowshares so we can't really complain that we got this card instead of Vindicate.
That said, I think this new kill-all removal spell is great. It can Remove anything from creatures to Planeswalkers to Banishing Lights (which go waaay up in value with Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm gone). Not many spells exile permanents these days and I think that exiling things can be extremely relevant. I think this card will be an auto-include in decks that can support it and it being an instant is just gravy. With access to this card you no longer have to use up your turn casting a Banishing Light to Remove a threat. I don't think Utter End is amazing by any means but it's a great support spell and with the format slowing down by a turn, I think this card will be very good. I don't think it's better than Hero's Downfall but if you are playing a three color deck with a black splash, you are usually going to want Utter End over it.
Here's what a preliminary Esper list should look like:
This deck has all of the tools that control decks want: counters, removal, card draw, and hard to deal with finishers. The curve of the deck doesn't really start until three, making scrylands and the full set of Thoughtseizes crucial to the deck's early game. I'm not really sold on there not being any two mana removal spells in the format, and it's very likely that there will be some kind of early removal that is not as situational as Last Breath. Reprisal is also a great option for the deck but until we know what the metagame will look like, Last Breath will make the cut.
This Esper list has an incredible amount of three-drops and they can work a little awkwardly together. We have Banishing Light, Ashiok, and Divination at sorcery speed, but you want to keep Dissolve up on your opponent's turn as well. I like to think of Dissolve as more of a turn five or six play and keep the early game open to casting Divinations and Ashioks. If the three-drops become way too clunky or you are always in a situation where you want to keep Dissolve up, you can play less Banishing Lights and Divinations and more Utter Ends and Font of Fortunes.
The finishers in the deck are some of the best in the format. Of course we have Elspeth, who has been seeing play since Theros was released last year, but Ashiok and Prognostic Sphinx are two cards that have not made too much of a splash in Standard. Ashiok was really, really good in Theros Block Constructed. It started at five loyalty (after casting it and activating it), and the format was so slow that it was often impossible to kill him with combat damage on the following turn. Ashiok was just capable of taking over the game and once you steal a creature with him, you can use that creature to protect the Ashiok while you mill and steal more creatures. You don't really need early removal when you are just taking creatures and trading and you may not even have to cast your Elspeth or Prognostic Sphinx to win the game.
Another great thing about Ashiok is that he can help you control your opponent's draws. Courser of Kruphix is a heavily played card in Standard and while he's in play you will know the top card of your opponent's library. If there's a good card on top, you can just mill it away with Ashiok. If the top card is a useless land or Sylvan Caryatid, you can choose not to activate Ashiok so your opponent is forced to draw that card. This works with scrying too. If they choose to keep the scry card, you can just mill it away, making your opponent's scrylands nothing more than bad duals that come into play tapped.
Prognostic Sphinx is another card I really like as a finisher for control. He saw zero play with AEtherling in the format but with Dragon's Maze rotating out he can finally get in some playing time. Once the Sphinx is on the battlefield, he's impossible to Remove. It's pretty easy to keep a card in your hand, especially with the situational cards that this deck plays. The closest you can get to stopping this guy is to target him with removal during the beginning of combat, forcing you to discard a card and tap him down, and even that is only a temporary solution. Once you begin scrying with this guy you will always be drawing cards you need every turn.
Sorin, Solemn Visitor is a card worth considering because it's on color, but don't really think this is the deck for him. His plus ability isn't really what we're looking for in a control deck. It's great if we already have Elspeth in play but at that point we're probably winning that game anyway. Sorin's minus ability is great, but we will have to plus him every two turns for every vampire we want to make. Overall I feel like Sorin is nothing but a four mana 2/2 flying vampire, and we have much better options to choose from for that mana cost. Overall I think Sorin is a great card and will fit nicely into a BW Tokens or White Weenie style deck but not in Esper Control.
Another card that didn't make the cut is Jace, the Living Guildpact. It seems like control decks always want a Jace but this one doesn't really offer us much. We don't really need card filtering in a deck that already has Divination and Jace's Ingenuity and bouncing a creature for a turn isn't really worth including Jace in this deck. It's really too bad because I do like this Jace but he doesn't seem like a card that control decks want. I'd rather play him in a tempo deck like Monoblue Devotion (if it still exists after the rotation).
Again, this is just a preliminary list and without knowing the full Khan's of Tarkir card list, we really don't know what will work and what won't. I do think that Esper will be a strong contender in the format because these colors give you access to some of the format's best cards. Everyone will be trying out their new three color monstrosities making Thoughtseize better than ever.
So far this set is shaping up to be very exciting. There are a lot of sweet multicolored cards which will make for some interesting deckbuilding options. Hopefully this Esper list will still be good once we know what the rest of the set has to offer. Maybe next week I'll try building a deck with a wedge color combination and I'll actually call it by the correct name! Thanks for reading and see you next week.
Melissa DeTora@MelissaDeTora on Twitterwww.facebook.com/melissa.detora on Facebook