From the Sideboard—First Impressions of a New Standard

Greetings, hipsters! We now have one weekend of post-Gatecrash standard in the books, and I promised Zac a guest post with my early thoughts on how I felt about Esper Control and the new standard following the Grand Prix Trial at King’s Games this past weekend. I guess now would be a good time to warn you that this is going to be the worst tournament report ever (only five people showed up; I also had a bye in round two), but I am a man of my word. Let’s start things off with a list:

Walkers (10)

1 Gideon, Champion of Justice
3 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Liliana of the Veil
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

Spells (24)

2 Blind Obedience
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Detention Sphere
3 Azorius Charm
3 Devour Flesh
2 Forbidden Alchemy
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Ultimate Price
3 Lingering Souls
3 Supreme Verdict
1 Terminus

Lands (26)

1 Plains
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Isolated Chapel
3 Nephalia Drownyard
4 Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)

2 Rhox Faithmender
3 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Terminus
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Pithing Needle
2 Dispel
2 Feeling of Dread
2 Negate

This is one of the Chapin lists from 1/28 on SCG with some light tweaks. I’d also like to give a big thank you to our resident judge, Connor Hays, and HotC family member, Matt Jones, for hooking me up with some Watery Graves and a Gideon. Card availability is always a pretty big limiting factor for what you can play on release weekend. It also happens to be a major reason why I went with this deck, since the only things I had to purchase on site were a pair of Blind Obediences (which didn’t feel terrible to buy at $5 apiece).

Some quick points on the changes I made to Chapin’s list and why:

-2 Godless Shrine, +1 Watery Grave, +1 Plains: The single Plains might look out of place. The reason for it is that Chapin ran more Godless Shrines and less Watery Graves. Because I was two white sources short, Plains seemed like a reasonable choice as the 26th land.

-1 Gideon, +1 Tamiyo: because I like Tamiyo better (and because I could only get one Gideon.. but I still like Tamiyo better). Hey, playing a double blue card over a double white card also makes my tweak on the manabase more defensible, as well!

-1 Devour Flesh, +1 Ultimate Price: because sometimes, I want to be able to choose which creature dies.

-1 Orzhov Keyrune, +0: If you ever sleeve up one of Chapin’s “Test Lists” for a new set, make sure you count it, because he is a firm believer that it’s not just ok, but actually more productive, to use 61-card lists for preliminary testing. I’m not disagreeing with him, but you probably don’t want to be writing down more than 60

As I mentioned before, attendance at this tournament was VERY poor at a mere five people. Normally, I would be thrilled at my increased odds at winning the whole thing, but on this day, I was disappointed, as I really just wanted to jam a bunch of games with a new deck against other new decks prior to the SCG Open in Edison next weekend.

Round 1: B/G Kibler Ooze

In game one, I had to mull twice on no land and one land. All I saw out of the opposition were green creatures and forests, so I put him on some bad mono-green list that just happened to curve out and get there against. I brought in extra Wraths and Feeling of Dreads. All he saw out of me were lands and a Sorin, so he incorrectly put me on Esper Tokens. As a result, he also incorrectly sideboarded and brought in Sever the Bloodline. We start another game, I start with another five-card hand. Lily and Tamiyo are able to hold him at bay for a little bit, but that misboarded Sever ends up clearing the way for him to get the win through a Lingering Souls. He later admitted that he never would have brought it in if he knew I was playing Super Friends, but because he thought I was on a pure tokens strategy, it came in. Oh well.

Matches: 0-1; Games: 0-2

Round 2: Bye

How exciting, right?

Matches 1-1; Games: 2-2

Round 3: Bant Hexproof

Another holdover from the old standard, this was a matchup I felt pretty good about. In game one, I was able to control the board with a Jace, Tamiyo, and Sorin all doing their thing. Tamiyo was pretty key by keeping one of his lands tapped, preventing him from flashing back an Increasing Savagery in his yard while he had seven lands out. He was eventually able to kill her when he drew another Increasing Savagery, but I was still able to maintain a three-walker presence by drawing and playing Gideon the following turn.

Here’s where we both misplay a little. Between Gideon, a pair of Sorin’s Vampires, an emblem, and the fact that I could make another emblem on my turn, I had him dead on board. He had a 16/16 Invisible Stalker and was tapped out after he was able to flashback his Increasing Savagery and I was at 25 thanks to lots of life gained off vampires and double Blind Obedience. For whatever reason, the most obvious one being that he did not see that I had lethal on board, he swings at me with the Stalker. The correct play would have been to swing at Gideon so he dies and can’t swing back, allowing him to make the Stalker a 26/26 on his next turn. My misplay, on the other hand, was a more subtle. The easy play here was just make an emblem, animate Gideon, swing, win, but I decided to use Jace to make a mini Fact or Fiction pile, first. Not a huge deal, but I gave away additional information that I didn’t have to, considering he was tapped out. I die very quickly in game two to a Geist with Ethereal Armor, Spectral Flight, and double strike. Game three also goes quickly (and poorly for me) when I mull once and keep on two lands, Lily, Sorin, Devour Flesh, and Verdict. Devour Flesh hits his mana dork and then I fail to draw the third land I need to cast Lily and kill the Geist that’s beating me down.

Matches: 1-2; Games 1-4

First and foremost, if I were to play this deck again, it really needs some number of Think Twices, as they greatly increase the number of keepable hands you’ll see. As a former Bant Control player, it’s a nice luxury to have when your control deck can almost always keep on two lands. Think Twice isn’t as good in this role as Farseek, but it’s the best we can do without access to green. Using my current configuration of this deck, you will almost certainly lose any time you keep a two-lander and don’t draw your third land in time. I also love being able to bin Think Twice off of Forbidden Alchemy for added value.

As far as new cards go, having access to better mana is really what made the most noticeable impact. Being able to cast turn three Lily and then curve into another walker after she eats their only creature feels like a pretty powerful thing to be doing. I was also happy with Blind Obedience, despite its Kismet ability never being relevant for me. In fact, the one game that I got to play it, I didn’t even mind drawing both copies, as the double extortion helped to keep me from getting one-shotted by a humongous Invisible Stalker. Also worth noting: Think Twice, which I mentioned above, plays very nicely with extort.

To be honest, I’d probably just go more in the direction that Kyle Phillips went with this sweet little list that placed 17th at SCG Atlanta:

Creatures (2)

2 Augur of Bolas
Walkers (7)
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Tamiyo, the Moon SageSpells (27)3 Blind Obedience
2 Detention Sphere
3 Azorius Charm
2 Dissipate
4 Supreme Verdict
2 Ultimate Price
4 Lingering Souls
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
3 Terminus
Lands (25)
2 Island
1 Plains
4 Drowned Catacombs
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Isolated Chapel
2 Nephalia Drownyard
3 Watery Grave
Sideboard (15)
3 Rhox Faithmender
1 Curse of Echoes
1 Detention Sphere
2 Rest in Peace
2 Dispel
1 Feeling of Dread
2 Negate
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
1 Jace, Memory Adept

My only concerns with this list are the lack of lands and lack of dig. I almost always like at least 26 lands in my control decks unless I have alternative sources of mana. Even Bant Control, with its set of Farseeks and some number (often a set) of Think Twices, wouldn’t skimp on mana. Playing zero copies of Think Twice and Forbidden Alchemy feels wrong in this deck. The absence of Think Twice just magnifies the lack of lands. Similarly to my list, this list is not getting anywhere until you get to at least three lands, and even at three, the best you can do is hope for the souls to hold off the attack until you get a Walker on-line. Ok, sure, you have turn two Augur, but he’s not digging you into any lands, and he’s not digging you into a Think Twice that you can use to try to dig into lands. Maybe we can cut some of the seven main deck wraths or shave a Revelation or Blind Obedience to make room for some of my suggestions.

I’ll leave you with the list that I wanted to play on Saturday, but could not, due to the difficulty in obtaining a playset of a mythic rare within a day of release. I was going to keep it a secret for Edison since I haven’t really seen many people trying to do the same thing, but the truth is that I haven’t had much time for tuning and testing this, so, fellow hipsters, I’ll present you this list for discussion/critique/tearing apart:

Grixis Seer

Creatures (12)
4 Duskmantle Seer
2 Olivia Voldaren
3 Snapcaster Mage
3 Vampire Nighthawk

Walkers (3)
3 Liliana of the Veil

Spells (21)
2 Rakdos Keyrune
2 Cyclonic Rift
2 Dimir Charm
1 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Izzet Charm
1 Negate
2 Think Twice
2 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Devil’s Play
2 Dreadbore
2 Mizzium Mortars
3 Rakdos’s Return

Lands (24)
1 Island
2 Swamp
3 Blood Crypt
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Drowned Catacomb
2 Steam Vents
1 Stensia Bloodhall
4 Sulfur Falls
3 Watery Grave

This list is really about going all-in on Duskmantle Seer and optimizing his unique ability to draw you a ton of cards and making your opponent lose a ton of life (SPOILER ALERT: He’s actually doing the same thing to both players but don’t tell anyone). The obvious way to build around him is to play a low curve and make the loss of life from his trigger hurt your opponent more than it hurts you, then kill them quickly enough that the extra cards you gave them are irrelevant. In this situation, we’re basically looking at him as a slightly asymmetric Sulfuric Vortex tacked onto a 4/4 flier. What I’m proposing is a little bit different.

The problem with playing lots of low-cost spells is that we’re typically compromising power-level. It’s no secret that the power level of playable spells in a given format generally shares a positive correlation with the converted mana cost (i.e. more powerful spells cost more mana to cast). So if we’re going with the lower curve plan for Seer, the thinking is, “I need to play an aggressive deck that kills quickly, because I’m going to have a terrible late game if they live long enough to use all of those extra cards I gave them.” What if we could play spells that have no correlation to CMC? The answer I came up with was to play X-spells, overload spells, and flashback spells. Rakdos’s Return is particularly nice as it lets you get rid of all the extra cards you gave them (same thing with Lily’s +1).

There are a lot of different directions we can take this list. The spell-count is high enough that maybe it makes sense to play Delvers and be a little more aggressive. Maybe we should be running more one- or two-drop burn spells. Maybe Olivia is a bit too expensive and we need to cut her… is losing, on average, 1.5 life per turn from Seer too much (by comparison, the 1st place Naya Humans list from SCG Atlanta will lose 1.42, and 2nd place Human Reanimator list will lose 1.88)?

I’m still not sure I have time to get this list to a point where I’m happy enough with it to play it in Edison this weekend, in which case, I will probably fall back on some form of UWR (tempo and midrange are both pretty attractive) or retune Esper. Good luck to everyone else playing in the SCG Open this weekend!

“Evil” Tim Akpinar is one of Brooklyn’s finest durdlers. If there’s a top-tier control deck in the meta, you can bet he’s spent a minute taking it apart to see what makes it tick. If it wraths and draws cards, “Evil” Tim Akpinar approves.

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  1. […] saw Hunter Slaton hit all the right notes with another successful GTC sealed performance and a guest post from Tim Akpinar on the performance of his new Esper […]

  2. […] Grixis Seer Redux. Remember this? I’ve done a lot of tuning and testing this list on MODO and have been starting to see a […]



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