Bo1 Alchemy Esper Formula Deck Guide: Unlocking the Formula for Success

Discover the Formula Art by Joshua Cairos
Discover the Formula Art by Joshua Cairos

Hello fellow gamers, I know a lot has been said about Alchemy, some good and frankly a whole lot bad. Many questioned whether it’s a format anyone even asked for or needed. I, for one, am hooked. If you are a degenerate Magic player like myself your biggest opponent is not the one sitting in front of you – rather its burnout. I think that the standard rotation cycle is too long. You can only see the same lines of play so many times before you start reciting your opponents moves right before they make them.

The idea of an organic format that can change on the fly, to me, is quite exciting. WOTC has been taking a more active approach as of late as we saw with the spate of bans over the last few years. The way I see it, the nerf-hammer is a more welcome approach. I really miss playing with Oko, Thief of Crowns and Omnath, Locus of Creation among other offenders (at least they brought back one of these cards in a slightly less offensive fashion).

Even though Alchemy shares 98 percent of its DNA with Standard it really does feel like a different animal. The deck I am about to break down actually contains only 8 new cards from the Alchemy exclusive packs so you won’t have to spend too many Wildcards to jump in. Even with just 8 new cards, this deck plays completely different than anything in Standard today. Granted it has similarities to both Dimir Control and Azorius Control, but Discover the Formula and the cards from Key to the Archive‘s spellbook (plus the mana advantage) make it seem like you are piloting a brand new airplane. Let’s take a look at the list.

Alchemy Esper Discover by Josh
by DoggertQBones
Alchemy
best of 1
5 mythic
42 rare
10 uncommon
3 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Planeswalkers (2)
Creatures (2)
Instants (18)
2
Vanishing Verse
$5.58
2
Fateful Absence
$8.98
4
Divide by Zero
$1.00
2
Saw It Coming
$2.58
1
Soul Shatter
$2.49
1
Memory Deluge
$9.99
Sorceries (6)
1
Go Blank
$0.69
4
Doomskar
$19.96
Artifacts (5)
1
The Celestus
$2.79
Enchantments (1)
Lands (26)
1
Island
$2.99
1
Plains
$1.99
1
Swamp
$3.99
1
Field of Ruin
$0.25
1
The World Tree
$6.49
4
Deserted Beach
$35.96
4
Shipwreck Marsh
$63.96
60 Cards
$414.48
7 Cards
$3.61

Here is a quick rundown of the stats. I have played well over 100 BO1 ranked matches with this list. Its current record is 74-44 (63% win rate. 66% on the play versus 57% on the draw). Later on, in the matchup guide, I will break down the decks I am seeing most often.

First a quick run down on this list works. The early stages of the game are spent like any other control deck, preserving your life total, disrupting your opponent and always making your land drops. If the coast is clear on turn 4 to drop a Key to the Archive that is when things really start getting interesting. Untapping with 6 mana and ideally a Discover the Formula in hand can put you in such a winning position your opponent won’t be able to break your shields.

Let’s talk about Discover the Formula for a second and why it’s so obscenely powerful. On the surface drawing 3 cards for 6 mana is not a good rate by the standards of most card draw options. Two things put this over the top: One is that it’s drawing nonland cards which is of supreme importance once 6-plus mana is obtained; since it ensures you are hitting all gas. Secondly and most importantly is the perpetual mana reduction of your spells. I cannot emphasize how broken this effect is.

Take for instance Lightning Bolt vs. Lightning Strike, one is a solid playable that occasionally shows up in decks, the other is a format warping staple that WOTC is loath to reprint in historic much less standard. Casting multiples of Discover the Formula feels like cheating. How about a 2 CMC Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset, who can untap your 2 CMC Key to the Archive (and a land) for what is essentially a net 1 mana transaction. You get the point. This deck really plays out like a ramp deck in the guise of control. You are drawing so many efficient cards so quickly you just overwhelm your opponent.

Key to the Archive is also a super nice addition. The draft pool for this card is arguably the best of any of the draft pool cards available in Alchemy today. The power level on most of them is nuts. Especially Time Warp and Approach of the Second Sun. Even the b-sides of this record are head-bangers: we have Doom Blade, Day of Judgment and even Regrowth can be amazing plus several other goodies.

Okay, let’s break down the list.


Card Choices

Hullbreaker Horror Art by Svetlin Velinov
Hullbreaker Horror Art by Svetlin Velinov

Instants

Jwari Disruption – This deck is extremely mana hungry and rarely runs out of gas. Having a smattering of dual mode cards can help you find that right mix of hitting land drops and holding up action for your opponent’s plays.

Fateful Absence – I was running Infernal Grasp as I am not overly excited to give my opponent a card with my removal but this card is so efficient. Plus hitting planeswalkers is very important thus it gets the nod instead.

Vanishing Verse – I wish I could run four of these, but there are too many multi-color spells out there to take that plunge. Cards you will often see that this cannot target include: Immersturm Predator, Tovolar, Dire Overlord, Kessig Naturalist, Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset, and many others.  However, it makes up for that by hitting some key targets like Sanguine Brushstroke and The Meathook Massacre.

Divide by Zero – It’s no surprise that this spell shows up in every one of my blue lists. With the prevalence of cards like Hullbreaker Horror and Lier, Disciple of the Drowned being able to bounce spells is huge. Not to mention the card advantage and flexibility this mathematical paradox provides.

Saw It Coming – This is great against dragons list, especially to target Tiamat and Town-Razer Tyrant, and it is vital in the control mirror match. I love the fact that with one Discover the Formula trigger and being foretold this is a single blue mana to counter anything, talk about value-town!

Soul Shatter – A spicy one-of to help you target planeswalkers and hit Immersturm Predator. Granted this card is a bit less relevant now that they nerfed Goldspan Dragon.

Memory Deluge – I was playing two of these when it occurred to me that Teferei, Who Slows the Sunset works better in the four-drop slot. (Teferi can provide card advantage just like Deluge). However, it is very nice when you get Discover the Formula triggers on this card as you get the discount twice (once as a regular cast and once as a flashback).  

Discover the Formula – I have already waxed poetic on this card above. One other key interaction I do like about this is that it will fetch your dual modal cards as well so in a pinch it can help you hit your next land drop. Make no mistake this is the card you are most happy to see in any game.

Sorceries

Sea Gate Restoration – With this and two copies of Jwari Disruption we functionally have 29 mana which is great in a deck that can make use of all of it just about every turn.  On the flip side (see what I did there?) this card is excellent in the control matchup if they ever tap out, it nets you so many cards you often just run away with the game.

Go Blank – This is not always the best card to have but oftentimes it can reliably invalidate certain strategies such as shutting down a big Agadeem’s Awakening or denying any action from an opposing Lier, Disciple of the Drowned.  

Doomskar – I am pretty much convinced that other than Settle the Wreckage this is the best board wipe ever released to the MTGA environment, and yes that includes Wrath of God. Being able to cast this on turn 3 and hiding it from Elite Spellbinder is what sets this apart from other such spells.

Artifacts

Key to the Archive – This is one of your keys to success. If often can provide a win condition in the form of Approach of the Second Sun. Time Warp, Demonic Tutor and Regrowth are also great finds to pull far ahead of your opponent.

The Celestus – This mana rock was almost an afterthought but it has performed admirably and I am happy to have it as a one-of only because of the legendary rule. The looting aspect can be great and those little life gain triggers add up.

Planeswalkers

Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset – With a total of 5 mana rocks in this deck, Teferi is a ramping machine. Not to mention the life gain can be really important against many aggro decks. Versus control matchups do not be afraid to -2 fast, often this way Teferi nets you card advantage as it costs your opponent a card to remove and you gain one to boot.

Enchantments

The Meathook Massacre – while not as efficient as Doomskar this card is still utterly amazing. It makes the black sac matchup cake. It also has the advantage of being able to kill cards like Immersturm Predator. Earlier iterations of my list where I was Dimir were running four of these. But once white was added Doomskar just became the better default option.

Creatures

Hullbreaker Horror – I love this lobster against the control mirror especially if you can cast him with enough mana for several instant speed responses to spells, it may end up dying anyway but it nets you so much card advantage because each of your spells has a free Divide by Zero (sans the lesson) attached to it. Also, Hullbreaker Horror is such a large body it makes it really hard for Red and/or Green decks to remove it, hence I don’t mind flashing it in as a surprise blocker even if I have to tap out to do it.

Lier, Disciple of the Drowned – Untapping with this wizard in play causes more auto-concedes than just about anything else you play. You will absolutely bury your opponent in card advantage. If possible only deploy Lier on the same turn you can protect it.

Lands

  • The mana is somewhat slow in this list but I focused on mana consistency over speed as you can see by the favoring of the slow lands (Shipwreck Marsh, Deserted Beach) over the Pathways.
  • You will note the single copy of The World Tree, it can come in handy for casting off-color Key to the Archive cards in the event they blow up your Archive. Also, it can enable a Containment Breach from the board if a Mana rock is not forthcoming.
  • Sadly, with a tri-color mana base we had to sacrifice some utility like creature-lands and Field of Ruin to achieve good consistency.
  • Finally, note that we only have one card that has double black casting cost (The Meathook Massacre) this should help you decide what way your Pathways fall.

Notable Card Exclusions

Blood on the Snow Art by Martina Fackova
Blood on the Snow Art by Martina Fackova

Duress – too many creature-centric strategies to risk blanking on this. If anything, I would consider Dread Fugue first. Save this for BO3 lists as a sideboard option.

Blood on the Snow – I had tried a Dimir version of this deck that featured various numbers of Blood on the Snow. One downfall is that Discover the Formula is a nonbo with this card. Not mentioned as this list stands now we only have 3 resurrection targets.

Professor Onyx – I did play around with Liliana in my Dimir versions of the list. I just think that this card is hard to protect and Lier and Hullbreaker worked better at the top end to take over the game. 

Geistchanneler – I played something like 40 games with this card and I do like it. I think my biggest issue is consistency. Sometimes it can be just a vanilla 1/3. Also, this card really makes you want to explore graveyard recursion to get full value. I was much happier with my results when I cut this card and didn’t focus so much on recurring cards.

Unexpected Conversion – I have seen many folks using this card and to be honest I have not tested it myself yet. I may give it a shot, it is such a weird and complicated mechanic and I am not certain it is worthwhile. One scenario I could see where it is good is versus the control matchup. If you could target all your Doomskar with the exile effect (which is pretty much a bad card in this matchup) you could fill your hand with a lot of gas. I think my other knock on it is the fact that it’s sorcery speed. Tell me in the comments if you have experimented with this card and how it worked for you.

Witness the Future – This is a card I used in conjunction with Geistchannler to get full use out of perpetual discounts. I think it was too random and inconsistent for my liking. It often amounts to a 3 mana cantrip which is not where I want to be.

Devious Cover-Up – I think the main knock on this card is the 4 CMC. Against the control match it’s amazing but against the rest of the field it’s actively bad.

Infernal Grasp – as mentioned before I ran as many as four copies of this in my deck. It is very good against dragons and to a lesser extent werewolves but it’s a liability versus black sacrifice and nearly dead against some control matches.

Path of Peril – if the meta starts leaning heavy into white weenie again this will make an appearance.

Feed the Swarm – I had this for Sanguine Brushstroke when I was strictly Dimir but of course vanishing verse is so much better.

Thirst for Discovery – we don’t run enough basics to make this worth it.

Shadows' Verdict – too narrow versus the field.

Baleful Mastery – too pricey when we have access to Vanishing Verse.

Bloodchief's Thirst – Great against aggro, slow and unwieldy against everything else.

Negate – love this card just too many dead matchups for it.

Disdainful Stroke – love this card but also too narrow.

Syncopate – great when it works but frustrating in the late game to have this.

Inscription of Ruin – card is great but the exile effect for Go Blank seems more important these days. Also, with no copies of Geistchanneler to target this is less fun.

Absorb Energy – my main issue with this card is versus creature decks is it is pretty much an overpriced counterspell and Saw It Coming is better.

Lolth, Spider Queen – we have a hard time netting value from the queen as we have so few creatures and it often dies before doing much

Emeria's Call – I would be happy to see this versus dragons but it’s not that great versus most other decks.


Matchups

Lier, Disciple of the [card name=
Lier, Disciple of the Drowned Art by Ekaterina Burmak

This is a best of one guide so no sideboard primer here. But I did want to go over the matchup breakdowns since this deck has such a large sample size of games. I am listing them in the order or prevalence.

Dragons

Record: 16-8. 19.8% of the meta faced

It’s difficult to know exactly how many dragon matchups I have faced – there seems to be three to four flavors of this deck:

  • Mono-red (I am 7-1 versus mono red decks but some mono-red lists are more burn oriented)
  • Rakdos (I am 4-4 versus this color pie)
  • Izzet (4-1 versus Izzet but some of these may include turns or Izzet Formula)
  • 5-color for Tiamat (I am 1-2 versus 5 color)

If we add all that up, we are looking at 16-8 record and this would make this the most prevalent deck at 19.8% of the meta.

The short story is this is a really good matchup for us, while they can quickly deploy efficient threats, removal is even more efficient against it and our card-advantage will allow us to pull ahead. I also found that do not waste spot removal on Fearsome Whelp and save it for the cards that it will enable later.

Orzhov Clerics

Record: 17-4. 17.3% of the meta faced

If this deck continues to be so prevalent, we are well positioned indeed. I think that we are good at disrupting their game plan with board wipes and spot removal and they are less likely to punish us with creature lands. The few times I have lost to this deck is if they get a super fast start and no board wipes show up which is really just a bad beat.

Blue White Control Formula Decks

Record: 4-9. 10.7% of meta faced

There is some variance at play here because it seems like I lose often from not keeping up with my land drops (weird when nearly 50 percent of our deck is mana right?). It’s crucial that you hit your land drops when playing vs control.

Obviously, another big issue with our deck is we are heavily geared towards winning the creature matchup which makes up the vast majority of the meta. Tapping out versus these decks is not as bad as it used to be now that the specter of Alrund's Epiphany has largely been lifted. But the name of the game to winning this is more – that is more cards, more lands and also more patience. If I see someone lead off with a Deserted Beach, I am going into Land-Drop, Go mode.

In the end the victory usually comes down to resolving and protecting Hullbreaker Horror and/or Lier or alternatively chaining Time Warp and or Approach of the Second Sun. Just be patient.

Gruul Werewolves

Record: 7-4. 9.0% of meta faced

This was a tough matchup for me at first but recent tweaks to this deck seem to bring it back to our favor. The problem is you are often forced to use your spells on your own turn to prevent werewolves from flipping which may be ok too as you can target their creatures without fear of Snakeskin Veil if they are tapped out.

Mono Green Stompy

Record: 0-6. 4.7% of meta faced

So clearly, we are struggling against this deck as the record indicates. Luckily it has not seen a lot of play either. I think we have the tools to win this matchup; generally the card that is likely to get us is their creature lands as we only have one Field of Ruin. Hullbreaker Horror is obviously excellent if you can live long enough for it to matter. I think that with a larger sample size this could become a 50/50 proposition.

Mono White Aggro

Record: 3-2. 4.1% of meta faced

The name of the game is finding and resolving an early Doomskar after which winning becomes academic. If Doomskar is not forthcoming try to target the threats that will cause you the most damage with your spot removal.

Sacrifice

Record: 5-0. 4.1% of meta faced

When I looked back at this, I was surprised to see that it made up only 4 percent of the decks I had faced. I am sure as I was testing other decks earlier this archetype was much higher in popularity but must have since waned.

The good news is we have a great matchup against them. The biggest difference maker has been the The Meathook Massacre. With this on the board and your ability to destroy opposing Blood Artist, The Meathook Massacre and Sanguine Brushstroke, you are easily able to sustain for a very long time until your superior card quality can take over.

Sacrifice decks can definitely match or exceed you in card advantage but their quality of threats is low without the passive ping effects mentioned above. Go Blank is huge against this deck to rob them of Agadeem's Awakening.


Tips and Tricks

Divide by Zero Art by Liiga Smilshkalne
Divide by Zero Art by Liiga Smilshkalne
  • As mentioned above it’s really important to try to accelerate your mana as fast as possible therefore it can be the right play to take some damage in order to cast the Key to the Archive on turn four. Of course, you need to read the board state before making that determination. For example, do they have potential haste creatures that could change the amount of damage you are going to take?
  • Make sure to cast Key to the Archive prior to playing your land in a turn if possible as you might want to discard the land to keep the drafted card. It’s fun times to discard a Memory Deluge to the drafted card.
  • Also don’t forget it’s totally fine to discard the card you drafted if it’s not great for the current game state. Remember we have a Lier, Disciple of the Drowned to fetch it later if need be.
  • Not that this comes up too often but casting Divide by Zero on an opponent’s Approach of the Second Sun on the second cast can prevent you from losing. Note that Approach of the Second Sun says the SECOND time this is cast you win the game, it doesn’t care about third or subsequent casts of this spell. Which is also some you should remember if you suspect your opponent might be playing this card.
  • If you are using Auto-Tapper, when casting Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset, you will have to manually tap your Key to the Archive because MTG Arena gives priority to all other lands before tapping the Key. This way Teferi can immediately untap it and get back 3 total mana for you.

There you have it. As you can see it plays pretty well against most of the field, sure there are tough matchups but a little luck and strong technical play can sometimes overcome these too. I hope you enjoy it and good luck!

Josh

Josh has been playing Magic: the Gathering since Ice Age (that came out in 1996 for you whippersnappers out there). He was a MODO grinder and early beta tester for MTGA where his handle is Parabolian. He is no stranger to Mythic ladder and has frequently finished in the top 1200. Josh loves to brew decks but he loves to win too. Sometimes those two interests align and sometimes he goes on epic losing streaks.

5 Responses

  1. marty says:

    I love the deck! Grindiest thing ever lol
    Curious about your take on approach, not losing via DBZ. Since it’s a cast trigger I don’t think it matters if it resolves? Or maybe it has to resolve in order for it to check if another spell of it’s name has been previously cast?
    Also I don’t think it cares about a 2nd copy, as the wording is “another spell named aotss this game” so a third, fourth, etc would also win the game.

    • marty says:

      ah ok so from Gatherer, the second, third, fourth, etc copy has to resolve in order for you to win. The first one does not have to resolve, however.

      https://gatherer.wizards.com/pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=426706

      • Josh says:

        Yeah. The spell counting effect if you will is a cast trigger so it doesn’t have to resolve. I had a game where the opponent cast galvanic iteration twice to triple Approach. (They had also cast it once earlier in the match, long game!) I used divide by zero on after everything went on the stack, so since Second Sun says “cast” not resolves bouncing the 2nd cast of it prevented the loss. I fully expected to lose that one too until I stopped and read the card

        • Josh says:

          Turns out I got this wrong, again for not reading the card, its the fact the person copied the spell that I was able to prevent it. Copies “Not Cast from your hand” do not trigger the effect. So using Galvanic Iteration on Approach the Second Sun is Pointless. It does also sound like the third or subsequent casts could also win you the game as long as they are cast from your hand. Not from your GY with Lier for example.

    • Josh says:

      Thanks. Yeah grindy indeed I am pretty sure avg match time is something like 8 to 10 min. Though you often get quick concedes from opponents who can’t win by turn 6.