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By: Moriarty, Josh S.
Mar 21 2012 9:05am
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With the Magic Online Championships Series (MOCS) format being Standard this month, I decided I would try my best to earn as many Qualifier Points as I could by entering only Standard queues. That way, if I did qualify, I'd be familiar with the format and therefore more likely to do well in the MOCS.

I started off by playing Delver, but that didn't last long. While the deck certainly felt powerful at times, all of it's matchups were 55-45 at best (ie it didn't crush any deck, but it didn't automatically lose to anything either).

That's not the kind of deck I like to play if I can help it. I'd much rather play a deck that has some amazing matchups, and maybe only a single bad one (although preferably no bad matchups if it's possible!).

Why do I prefer a deck like that you may ask? Because going into any tournament you should always have a good idea at what the metagame is going to look like, so why not play a deck that's great against the decks currently seeing play, rather than a deck that's decent against everything? It doesn't matter if your deck is weak against say UB Control, if that's not seeing any play.

Now what's good against the decks currently seeing play in Standard? Why, Esper Control of course!


Delver is like Vanilla icecream; Yummy, but there are better options.

So now that you've seen my list, I guess I should tell you what it's good against right?

RG Aggro  


I love playing against this deck. Basically your plan is to gum up the board with either Lingering Souls or a Blade Splicer, forcing them to overextend right into your Day of Judgment. Then you play a Sun Titan, bringing back a bunch of guys and killing them from 20 in a couple of turns. I know it sounds like I've simplified the matchup, but that's honestly how most games go. A couple things to note:

  • If they play a turn 2 Strangleroot Geist on the play, you might want to copy it with Phantasmal Image. Because of the way the stack works (active player's effects will go on the stack first, and therefore resolve last), if they attack and you decide to block with your copy, your Phantasmal Image will come back before Geist, and have nothing to copy unless there's another creature on the field.
  • Most versions of the deck rely almost solely on Hellrider for reach, so always keep it in mind.
  • Don't attack with more creatures than you have to, especially early game. The Sun Titan end game trumps anything they can do, so just make sure you survive till it's online.

 Sideboarding against RG Aggro:

-4 Mana Leak
+2 Divine Offering
+2 Wurmcoil Engine

Mana Leak comes out because you want to be proactive rather than waiting for them to cast something worth countering. Divine Offering comes in because one of the only ways you can lose is to a copy of Sword of War and Peace, and you want as many answers to it as you can (your other answer being Oblivion Ring. Wurmcoil Engine is there to diversify your threats in case of something like Surgical Extraction, and also gives you access to lifegain if you require it. You could play Timely Reinforcements to gain life, but the 3 drop spot is already crammed enough as it is.

Bu Zombies  

This is another really good matchup for you, although Day of Judgment isn't nearly as good versus these guys. Your game plan is the same as against RG Aggro, gum up the board then win with Sun Titan. Things to be aware of include:

  • Zombies actually packs a fair bit of removal, unlike RG Aggro. Thankfully it's all either -1/-1 effects, or sacrifice effects, both of which are pretty bad against you.
  • If you have no creatures on the field when you cast a Sun Titan, be wary of bringing back a Phantasmal Image, as they could kill your Sun Titan in response, leaving you with nothing to copy. Try and keep a Spirit token or something floating around so they can't Geth's Verdict you if you can.
  • Also when casting Sun Titan, keep their graveyard in mind, as they could easily use their own Phantasmal Image to copy your Titan and wreck you. Try and get them to use any Images before you cast Titan if you can.
  • Post board, some lists have a single copy of Sever the Bloodline and/or Black Sun's Zenith, so keep them both in mind for games 2 and 3.

Sideboarding against Bu Zombies:

-4 Mana Leak
+2 Celestial Purge
+2 Wurmcoil Engine

If you suspect they have Sword of War and Peace or saw it game 1 then also take out 2 Day of Judgment for 2 Divine Offering. Postboard games play out the same, except you have better answers for their Geralf's Messenger, and access to lifegain. Be aware that their Phantasmal Images can copy your Wurmcoil Engines too.

Wu Humans  

I really like the Humans deck, mainly because it's the best home for Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Coincidently, it's also their best card against you.

  • Because of Thalia, Lingering Souls gets a little quite a bit worse here, although it's still insane if they don't have it. If they do have Thalia, then Blade Splicer gets much better. Blade Splicer really shines in this matchup actually, as the Golem token can single handedly hold back their team, giving you plenty of time to find a Day of Judgment.
  • Remember that you can use Phantasmal Image to get rid of Thalia (she's legendary).
  • Be mindful of Honor of the Pure, it can really mess up your blocks if you don't plan for it.

Sideboarding against Wu Humans:

-4 Mana Leak
+2 Divine Offering
+2 Gut Shot

Offering is against Sword of War and Peace as always, and Gut Shot is to take care of an early Champion of the Parish or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. I don't bring in Wurmcoil Engine here because they can easily Fiend Hunter or Leonin Relic-Warder him away. You can bring them in if you want protection against Surgical Extraction though if you want.

BW Tokens  

BW Tokens is a deck that's very near to my heart. Watching Luis Scott-Vargas play the original BW Tokens to a 2nd place finish at Pro Tour Kyoto is what got me into Magic (and was also the first competitive deck I ever purchased).

Sadly, this deck's much clunkier than the original. It still packs a punch though, and has been starting to show up a lot more now that people are no longer prepared for it.

  • Try and get as much value as you possibly can game 1 from each of your Day of Judgments. If you try and 1 for 1 them you will lose.
  • Because it's so easy for them to create hordes of tokens, try not to play Sun Titan until you have a couple Phantasmal Images in the graveyard if you can help it, as it's very easy for them to double/triple block to kill your Titan.
  • Try and take note of how many Sorin, Lord of Innistrad they are playing, so well as any other black permanents. It's possible that you want to bring in Celestial Purge against them, depending on their exact list.

 Sideboarding against WB Tokens:

-4 Mana Leak
-1 Phantasmal Image
+3 Ratchet Bomb
+2 Negate/Celestial Purge

You can't afford to be holding up Mana Leak only to be beaten down by a couple of tokens. While the matchup isn't the greatest game 1, Ratchet Bomb turns it completely around. Ratchet Bomb + Sun Titan = Game Over Tokens. You can even use the Bomb to blow up their enchantment buffs if they have multiples out.

UW Delver  

Remember how I said at the start of the article that pretty much all of Delver's matchups are around 50/50? Sadly that's true for this matchup too, but there's not a whole lot you can do about it (other than always draw your Lingering Souls, that card is INSANE against them!).

  • Play it safe. If they don't have a decent clock on you, then you have no reason to run your stuff into their counters.
  • Because they have access to Gitaxian Probe, try and remember what cards they know you have and what cards they don't, especially lands.
  • I know there's not much good info here for you guys, but it's the one matchup you really need to play in order to get a feel for it.

Sideboarding against UW Delver:

-4 Mana Leak
-1 Day of Judgment
-1 Go for the Throat
+2 Divine Offering
+2 Gut Shot
+2 Ratchet Bomb

Mana Leak comes out again here. I know what you must be thinking "Moriarty you always side out Mana Leak! Shouldn't you just take it out completely?". The answer is no. Leak is a great catchall card for game 1 when you don't know what you're up against. But for post sideboard games, you much rather have specific answers for your opponent's threats.

Post sideboard things get easier, but just play smart. After you've played the matchup a few times you'll start to get the feel of it.


"So many good matchup's Moriarty! What's the deck weak against?"

Two decks, UB Control and Wolf Run Ramp. The former is almost nowhere to be seen anywhere, the aggro decks are simply too resilient for it. Wolf Run Ramp (The straight R/G version with 4 Primeval Titan, 4 Inkmoth Nexus and 2 Kessig Wolf Run is the deck I'm talking about, you're actually ok against other Ramp decks) is a really tough match due to their lands. You have no good way to interact with Inkmoth Nexus except for Spirit Tokens, which would be fine if it wasn't for Kessig Wolf Run giving them trample.

The problem against UB Control should you happen to face it is also a land, specifically Nephalia Drownyard. Most games go where you hit them a couple times with various creatures, they kill them, you hit them, they kill them then mill you out. Occasionally they stumble and you just kill them but it's rare.

Thankfully, neither matchup is unwinnable if you're willing to devote some sideboard slots. Wolf Run can be beaten with more counters (You see I have 2 Flashfreeze in the board against them), and by playing some number of Ghost Quarters either in your main or side.

UB Control on the other hand, is pretty cold to an Elixir of Immortality. You can either fetch it up using Trinket Mage, or just let them do the hard work for you by milling it into your graveyard with their Nephalia Drownyards, then you can recur it with either a Sun Titan or a Buried Ruin.

And that's all the main decks in Standard that I've encountered so far in the queues. If you think that UB Control and Wolf Run Ramp are on the decline (like I do), then Esper Control is the deck for you! I hope you've enjoyed my Primer, and please let me know in the comments if there's anything I've missed.

I've just downloaded Camtasia, so I'm hoping to record a Daily Event or two in the next couple days for you guys, so you can see how the deck plays out for yourself!


A couple of points by gamemaster32 at Wed, 03/21/2012 - 17:26
gamemaster32's picture

1. Welcome to Puremtgo (this looks like it's your first article)

2. Thanks for the large font for us old folk with poor eyes.

3. You certainly seem to have done your homework. I love the analysis and direct discussion about SB plans. You look like you have a good feel for the deck and can be well positioned for the metagame (you know...for the 7 hours it looks like this before it adjusts.)

4. Nice graphics.

5. I look forward to your upcoming video article.

All in all, great first outing! I look forward to more of your work.

Echo what Keya said + maybe by Paul Leicht at Wed, 03/21/2012 - 18:39
Paul Leicht's picture

Echo what Keya said + maybe think about Ghost Quarter as a sideboard option should your problem decks (UB control and RG-WRun) start showing up.