Legacy Esper with War of the Spark
- Christopher Brunner
Now that War of the Spark is out, oh boy, did we get some powerful white cards! Blue and white might just be the biggest beneficiaries in this new Magic set. And with new planeswalkers and powerful counterspells, Esper might be on the rise in Legacy.
War of the Spark features more potential Legacy payables than any other Standard-legal set for years. Are they enough, however, to eventually shake up the format? I believe so. Control decks will especially obtain upgrades, and I think that Esper will be a new strong contender for tier 1 control decks in Legacy.
War of the Spark contains great cards printed in white, blue, and black. Let's start with the one that will have the biggest impact in Legacy… at least in my opinion:
Teferi, Time Raveler
Three mana planeswalkers are always interesting for Eternal formats, and Teferi, Time Raveler's passive ability is amazing. It not only lets you win every counter war, but it also completely shuts down every counter magic your opponent plays. I especially like the addition of black in Esper because Teferi's +1 ability allows you to play discard spells like Thoughtseize or Hymn to Tourach at instant speed, for example, at the end of the opponent's draw step. The -3 ability allows Teferi to protect himself while the card draw generates card advantage. Plus, here is another reason for me to add black to the list: Baleful Strix shines as a tool in protecting your planeswalkers. It's also possible to gain some extra value by bouncing Snapcaster Mage or Baleful Strix back to your hand.
In a meta that is all about non-creature spells, an absolute counter like this for two mana is nuts. Show and Tell? Nope. Jace, the Mind Sculptor? Maybe next time… Dovin's Veto is one of the best sideboard cards possible for W/U and it's strong enough that you should think about slots in the maindeck for the card.
Liliana's Triumph is simply a Diabolic Edict – with two upgrades. First, you no longer have to target your opponent, which is mostly irrelevant, but it might matter if your opponent tries to redirect it with Misdirection or has a Leyline of Sanctity in play. Second, the bonus of controlling a Liliana is nice and Liliana, the Last Hope is one of the best planeswalkers in Legacy right now.
I'm not really sure about these cards… They each have an interesting floodgate ability versus combo or control decks, so they might see some play.
This is the list that I submitted to my local Legacy tournament.
|Esper Control by C. Brunner - Legacy Tournament in Hamburg|
|3Flooded Strand||4Baleful Strix||4Brainstorm|
|1Island||3Monastery Mentor||4Force of Will|
|3Marsh Flats||3Snapcaster Mage||2Liliana's Triumph|
|1Plains||4Swords to Plowshares|
|4Polluted Delta||3Hymn to Tourach|
|3Underground Sea||2Jace, the Mind Sculptor|
|1Liliana, the Last Hope|
|2Teferi, Time Raveler|
|1Council's Judgment||2Damping Sphere||1Disenchant|
|1Liliana, the Last Hope||1Supreme Verdict||3Surgical Extraction|
To get off to a good start, I chose a common Grixis Control list and cut red for white. I swapped Kolaghan's Command for two Teferi, Time Ravelers, and a Vindicate; upgraded two Lightning Bolts, two Fatal Pushes, and two Diabolic Edicts for a playset of Swords to Plowshares and two Liliana's Triumphs. While the removal package felt like a straightforward upgrade to me, Teferi and the Vindicate felt less of a card advantage machine like the Command, but more as universal answers. These universal tools to remove / bounce something like Blood Moon or Back to Basics allowed me to cut the basic lands to one each.
Another big upgrade was replacing Gurmag Angler with Monastery Mentor. Mentor takes games over all by himself, allowing you to win more games in time. I upgraded from two Anglers to three Mentors because in losing Command, Liliana, the Last Hope becomes your only remaining option to rebuy your creatures from your graveyard.
Losing Pyroblast obviously hurts the most, but gaining Dovin's Veto as an absolute counterspell and Council's Judgement as a universal answer in return helps lower the pain.
Because the deck is a slow midrange-control hybrid, your combo- and big-mana-matchups are naturally bad. One of my cards of choice here is Damping Sphere, which is really underplayed in my opinion. It not only restricts the number of spells your opponent plays (which is crucial against Storm), but it also shuts down the Sol lands and gives decks with Cloudpost a thread they must answer. Flusterstorm and Surgical Extraction are additional tools to keep the combo player in check until you resolve your clock.
Zealous Persecution is one of my favorite cards in Magic. Compared to Marsh Casualties, the card feels like its instant-speed version with an upside. Especially when combined with Monastery Mentor, the power gain is not something to underestimate.
With around 60 players, the tournament in Hamburg was relatively big. I went 4:2 and finished 17th which was okay. My matchups were:
|Mono B Reanimator||2-0|
The deck felt pretty good and consistent during the tournament. The losses against Storm and Grixis were close, but so were the wins against Reanimator. All in all, the deck barely gets free wins, but you get all the tools you need, so that you have no un-winnable matchups.
This tournament and three leagues on Magic Online (2x 4:1 and 1x 3:2) were enough to get some initial conclusions about matchups and the deck itself.
Teferi, Time Raveler is powerful and flexible.
I was surprised how good a resolved Teferi on an empty board can be. Every Force of Will is absolute; your opponent's counters are blanks; an end-of-draw step Thoughtseize or Hymn to Tourach feels fun and won me games. Sometimes, you generate absurd situations like responding to a Thespian Stage activation copying Dark Depths with a Vindicate at instant speed. Teferi's -3 ability also gives you great flexibility to bounce nearly everything that bothers you on the board, except planeswalkers. Once again, the synergy between your discard spells shines.
Dovin's Veto can't replace Pyroblast.
I stopped counting how many times I wanted a Pyroblast postboard. This card is just so powerful in Legacy, especially when you lack good answers to blue planeswalkers, like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or the new Narset, Parter of Veils. Veto is good and I never regret playing him, but Pyroblast is just on another level.
The new Narset, Parter of Veils is a powerhouse against blue decks.
In the Hamburg tournament and in one Legacy league, I lost to Grixis Control because of an unanswered Narset. This card in slow blue mirrors is just ridiculous. Grixis Control and Miracles are both light in creature threads. Both play minimum eight cantrips and something like Jace or Baleful Strix. To shut down these cards while gaining fresh cards with Narset's minus ability really is an advantage. Even when going against aggressive blue decks like Grixis Delver, Narset can buy you time and find you answers like Supreme Verdict or other removal spells. Therefore, I might replace a Surgical Extraction and the disappointing Hydroblast (rarely boarded anyway) for two Narsets in the sideboard. I still can't find a place for her in the maindeck though.
I really enjoy playing Esper Mentor. This deck is a control deck with the possibility to finish the game quickly by setting up a protected Monastery Mentor. Teferi, Time Raveler feels like a good addition to the deck that is a) good against decks with many instants, b) harmonizes with your discard spells, and c) gives you a temporary answer to nearly everything. I recommend this deck to everyone who would like to play the new Teferi in Legacy.
That's it for now! As always, feel free to ask your questions in the Comments section below.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.
Check out our War of the Spark page if you're interested in picking these up before everyone else catches on!