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Esper Legends Standard Deck Guide – Why 28 Land Aggro Is Awesome

Aggro? Midrange? Who needs traditional archetypes when you have Esper Legends! Find out why DoggertQBones is such a big fan of this deck, why an aggressive deck plays 28 lands, and why this deck has been flying under the radar for too long!

Hello everyone!

Today I’m going to be covering a deck that hasn’t gotten much traction, but has a solid amount of results – Esper Legends. This weird aggressive/midrange hybrid was, as far as I can tell, was first pioneered by MTGO user crk. While it feels like that they are the only one playing this, for months now, I saw constant results from them playing Legends. Whether it’s a bunch of 5-0s in the League queues or good Standard Challenge results, this deck clearly seems like the real deal despite not having much popularity around it. Even when other players tried it, I saw good results from them too, so it begs the question – why isn’t this more popular? The answer, who knows? Metagames are weird and there are plenty of decks that I like (or liked) that don’t have the popularity I think they deserve. So it goes!

None the less, this deck has had the same relative base for awhile now, but crk has been slowly iterating on it time after time with each new list slightly more polished than the last. While they are constantly updating it, I have my own take on the archetype as well that, of course, isn’t terribly different, but may have small changes you like more as well.

Let’s take a look at the list!

Esper Legends
by DoggertQBones
Buy on TCGplayer $509.43
Standard
Aggro
best of 3
10 mythic
48 rare
2 uncommon
0 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+

While this deck is aggressive, we don’t start off with any one drops. It would be difficult to consistently cast a one drop in a three color deck, so we start at two.

Since the deck is Esper Legends, we have to play a large amount of Legends to make the deck function – to that end, we have 11 in the two drop slot alone out of the 13 twos. However, the far and away most important one here is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. This is probably the only viable deck in Standard that plays zero non-creature spells so Thalia is an absolute monster here. A one sided tax effect on a 2/1 First Strike? Now that’s a doozy.

Now on the opposite side of the spectrum, you may be wondering what the Phyrexian Missionary are for. This is a legends deck, and we’re going to break that rule for Missionary? Well, we want to ensure that we always have a turn two play as the game will functionally end if we don’t, but why not Tenacious Underdog? Well, first, I think it is very close, so Underdog could be a great choice for that slot as well. Second, Missionary gives us a lot for two mana – great defensive body, blocks Fable tokens well, and can be kicked to recur our best creature. Again, Underdog would be great as well, but being able to buyback a Sheoldred, the Apocalypse can be game winning.

Moving up the curve, we really get to the meat of the deck. There is a substantial power up between the two and three drops as this is where we can really get the ball rolling.

Unsurprisingly, the card we’re hoping for most often is Raffine, Scheming Seer. Not only is Raffine just a busted card, it’s better here when we’re trying to pressure the opponent more than your average Esper deck and it provides critical filtering which is important whenever we draw too many excess legendary creatures.

While Raffine is the star of the show, the rest of our cast is extremely strong as well. Closest in power, Adeline, Resplendent Cathar hits like a truck and hasn’t seen much play since Soldiers came around, but it certainly hasn’t lost its step. Toluz, Clever Conductor is also an unappreciated gem as it attacks well, blocks well, and can draw you minimum one card and maybe even multiple!

Finally, we reach the end of the curve with the four and five drops.

These explanations are simple – Ertai Resurrected gives us interaction while Sheoldred, the Apocalypse and Ao, the Dawn Sky are just busted. In crk’s most recent list, they only played two Sheoldred, the Apocalyse while I’m still very much on the three copies train. I could even see an argument for four as the card is just that good, but the deck already struggles with drawing multiple legends, so I try to avoid that when possible. However, if any other card in this deck deserves the four of treatment, its definitely Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, so keep it in mind.

So you may have been wondering, what is the point of playing all these Legends? What does this deck have over regular Esper Midrange? I’m not here to say this deck is better than Esper Midrange, but out of nearly every deck in Standard, potentially even the mono colored decks, Esper Legends may have the best mana base.

First off, this deck obviously makes the best use of Plaza of Heroes than pretty much any other deck in Standard (5C Jodah has us beat). Not only is this an untapped Esper land, but its also a utility land that we can use to insulate one of our threats later in the game. Now that’s value!

Plaza is great and all, but the real reason this deck can shine is the channel lands. It’s really easy to forget their text, but with each Legend you have out, their channel abilities cost 1 less. So you aren’t really playing 28 lands in an aggro deck, you are playing a 21 land aggro deck with 7 MDFCs and 4 additional utility lands. That is a pretty excellent deal if you ask me, and since these MDFCs are free to play (no life or tapping needed) and have relatively powerful effects attached to them, it is a really strong pull to play this deck.

While this deck definitely looks a bit wacky, the curves you can have should not be underestimated and the utility you get from your mana base is literally unparalleled in all of Standard.


BEST OF ONE

Bo1 Esper Legends
by DoggertQBones
Buy on TCGplayer $528.77
Standard
Aggro
best of 1
13 mythic
45 rare
2 uncommon
0 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+

While this deck would be a bit risky in Bo1 due to the slower curve and lack of interaction, it could still be viable there. To that end, I removed the interactive cards that perform better in Bo3 (Loran of the Third Path and Ertai Resurrected) and replaced them with better Bo1 cards (The Wandering Emperor, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, and Ashnod, Flesh Mechanist).


MATCHUPS AND SIDEBOARD GUIDE

Raffine, Scheming Seer from Streets of New Capenna
Raffine, Scheming Seer Art by Johannes Voss

Grixis Midrange

INOUT
+1 Loran of the Third Path-1 Phyrexian Missionary
+2 Go for the Throat-2 Harbin, Vanguard Aviator
+3 Make Disappear-2 Toluz, Clever Conductor
-1 Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor

Standard’s most popular deck, and like it is against most decks, this is a pretty 50/50 matchup. A lot of what it’s going to boil down to is how effectively they can answer your curve and if they have a Sheoldred, the Apocalypse on turn four. Since we’re a completely proactive deck game one, your only plan is to curve out as best you can and hope that it overwhelms them.

The post board games aren’t much different, but I would say it’s a bit easier for us compared to them. Our plan remains the same, but we have more answers to Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse as those are going to be the two problem cards the vast majority of the games. Keep applying pressure and play around

Mono White Midrange

INOUT
+1 Loran of the Third Path-2 Phyrexian Missionary
+3 Make Disappear-2 Ao, the Dawn Sky

Another midrange deck, another relatively close matchup. The big dynamic here is how many little creatures they can put in your way before they start playing the haymakers that you can’t really deal with. Our creatures line up relatively well against theirs, but once they reach the mid game, they can quickly take over if we aren’t ahead by enough.

Thankfully, boarding does make this matchup easier as having access to interaction is a pretty big deal and countering one of their 4+ mana plays could easily be game winning if you have enough aggression to back it up.

You can’t really afford to play around board wipes unfortunately as under committing is likely to punish you, so I would just keep jamming and hope things work out.

Izzet Artifacts

INOUT
+1 Loran of the Third Path-2 Phyrexian Missionary
+3 Make Disappear-2 Toluz, Clever Conductor

I haven’t faced it much, but I do believe this matchup is favorable for us. We are functionally an aggro deck, which Izzet hates to see, but we’re not too susceptible to their cheap interaction which makes it harder for them to stop our game plan. Better yet, even if they make it far enough to play a Cityscape Leveler or Skitterbeam Battalion, that doesn’t at all mean the game is lost for us. Since we have multiple avenues to apply pressure, the game is all about beating them down before they can make a full recovery.

Like the other matchups, there isn’t too much to play around, you really just have to keep developing and beat them down.

Azorius Soldiers

INOUT
+2 The Wandering Emperor-4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
+2 Brutal Cathar-1 Harbin, Vanguard Aviator
+2 Cut Down-2 Loran of the Third Path
+2 Go for the Throat-1 Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor
+2 Sunset Revelry-1 Ertai Resurrected

Out of all the matchups, you’re going to be boarding the most for the aggro decks. Here the plan is quite simple – you are now the midrange deck. You will use your cards defensively to keep your life total high, then ideally, you will win out with your card quality. Thankfully, we have a lot of creatures that are well suited for defense, so this makes it easier. Try to use your removal sparingly as, although you want to preserve your life total, saving it for high priority targets like Siege Veteran or Skystrike Officer is substantially more important as either of those can run away with the game.

Once you can gum up the board enough, it should be easy enough to win off the back of Sheoldred, the Apocalypse or any of your fliers.

Esper Midrange

INOUT
+1 Loran of the Third Path-2 Phyrexian Missionary
+2 Go for the Throat-2 Harbin, Vanguard Aviator
+3 Make Disappear-1 Ludevic, Necrogenius
-1 Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor

This is a relatively similar deal to the other midrange decks, but I would argue is probably a smidge easier. Esper is looking to be a faster midrange deck as well, so you’re really both using a very similar game plan. To that end, your best bet, per usual, is to just curve out. They have less powerful interaction, so as long as you’re mindful of their Make Disappear and The Wandering Emperor, you can get quite far ahead if they ever stumble. You should look to play on your main phase once they have four open mana as you’ll put them in the bind of whether to counter an important play of yours or deploy The Wandering Emperor, so keep that in mind.

Speaking of The Wandering Emperor, I’m on the fence if you want it here, but so far I’ve been on the no side. The card is great and potentially nabbing something like Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is obviously awesome, but considering we want to keep in Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and we aren’t looking to hold open mana in game one, I think it’s too obvious what we would be going for which makes it easy for Esper to play around it.

Mono Blue Tempo

INOUT
+2 The Wandering Emperor-2 Loran of the Third Path
+2 Go for the Throat-2 Ertai Resurrected
+1 Unlicensed Hearse-1 Ao, the Dawn Sky

Mono Blue has been picking up steam lately, so its important to know how to tackle the matchup. You’re not going to believe it, but you have to be as aggressive as possible! Who would’ve guessed?

The most important factor for this matchup is not letting them do anything for free. Whether you want to stop them from deploying a Haughty Djinn or a Thirst for Discovery, pressuring their resources is the best way to win this matchup. If you play too conservatively, it is trivial for Mono Blue to convert that into a sizable advantage, so keep jamming threats until they die or you do. Now, I’m not saying you have to indiscriminately play your best card every time at the first opportunity, you can try to play around counterspells, but don’t do a weak play around turn three as they can capitalize on that very hard.


TIPS AND TRICKS

Dennick, Pious Apprentice Art by Chris Rallis
Dennick, Pious Apprentice Art by Chris Rallis
  • While useful when applicable, don’t save Phyrexian Missionary to kick unless you truly have nothing better to do. While I love Gravedigger, it’s weaker than most of your other plays. The utility makes it good, not the effect.
  • This is pretty common advice, but I would avoid using Loran of the Third Path‘s activated ability if I can help it. I would only use it if you are in truly dire straits.
  • I mentioned before, but your Channel lands are discounted one per Legendary creature, so most of the time, they’ll be one or two mana activations.

End Step

Esper Legends is a unique deck as it’s kind of aggro, kind of midrange, and uses a specific synergy that nobody else gets to take full advantage of. Realistically, there’s no proof that this is better than Esper Midrange, but I feel that this deck has been criminally underrated as crk has been performing well with it for months. Maybe it’s just another cool option, but maybe it’s a really powerful deck just waiting to be broken.

Thank you for reading!

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DoggertQBones
DoggertQBones

Robert "DoggertQBones" Lee is the content manager of MTGAZone and a high ranked Arena player. He has one GP Top 8 and pioneered popular archetypes like UB 8 Shark, UB Yorion, and GW Company in Historic. Beyond Magic, his passions are writing and coaching! Join our community on
Twitch and Discord.

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