Brewin’ Shoes – Esper Reanimator Control Deck Guide
With Worlds 2020 wrapped up, the Standard metagame is gearing up to really lock itself in, as players gravitate towards the decklists shown to us by the world’s sixteen best. So, this week I really looked to take aim at the strategies those players employed. With only five decks between them and one not looking too impressive (Jund Sacrifice), we only really have to target four decks: U/W/x Control, Mono Red Aggro, Temur Reclamation, and Jeskai Fires. There is no clear counter to just smash these four lists or everyone would have just brought that to worlds, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to adjust something to have some nice tools for each in the full 75 available slots.
After the conclusion of Worlds, I really like Azorius Control; the deck just has some really nice tools to handle most things in the format. This led me to start this deckbuilding process with the core of that deck in mind. I also wanted to have some tools to beat all the actual Azorius running around. If you’ve been on the ladder much in the last week you’ll know this has led quite a few control players into Esper for things like Thought Erasure and black spot removal and sideboard options. So what makes us spicier than just an Esper Control list? I’m glad you asked…
That’s right fellas, Solar Flare is back. If you don’t remember, or didn’t play back in Avacyn Restored Standard, Solar Flare was a control deck with a hot reanimator finish. We may not have incredible discard outlets like Liliana of the Veil or busted reanimation targets like Griselbrand, but we still have some solid options, and even the ability to reanimate planeswalkers.
So let’s walk through our card choices one by one:
3 Dream Trawler: Our first guest needs no introduction. Everybody knows the power of Dream Trawler by now, and while it is sweet to put this into play on turn five with Connive // Concoct, it’s not always necessary. The better way to reanimate this is to find a way to put it into the graveyard while gaining value (We’ll get to those soon) and grab it back on the back end of Elspeth Conquers Death. Another sweet interaction is using the Trawler to put other reanimation targets into the graveyard, although that isn’t often needed when we already have six mana.
2 Vilis, Broker of Blood: Now this is the card we are really looking to pay five mana to put into play.; Vilis comes down and absolutely dominates boards, provided we are at a relatively stable life total. Vilis shreds opposing creatures, draws cards and ends the game in two to three hits. This is the closest thing we can get to Griselbrand this time around, although definitely something to sideboard out in matchups with control style decks where we want to lean more on Dream Trawler.
2 Liliana, Dreadhorde General: Our other less than obvious reanimation target. Don’t forget that Elspeth Conquers Death can also bring planeswalkers back to the party, and cool as it is to bring Teferi, Time Raveler back like any ol’ Azorius Control deck, we’re going a bit more exciting over here… Your opponent really won’t see it coming when you find a way to pitch this just before your saga rolls over to chapter three. Of course, Liliana is perfectly fine on curve as well and can completely dominate many of the top decks if resolved. Her plus ability threatening to ultimate forces control decks (who don’t always have the easiest time removing planeswalkers) to find immediate answers while her minus ability can provide one sided board wipes against midrange and enchantment decks.
3 Teferi, Time Raveler: A necessary evil. This card is completely essential to ensuring we don’t just lose to various aggressive strategies before sideboarding or in Best of One. There really aren’t a ton of cute interactions here, Teferi is just an incredibly powerful card and is capable of completely blanking decks looking to play on your turn (i.e. Temur Reclamation, Control, Simic Flash). Landing the first Teferi in a control mirror has proven to be quite important, and with tools like Thought Erasure we can more reliably ensure that for ourselves.
3 Connive // Concoct: Concoct offers a powerful recursion tool that fuels itself; it’s one of the most important cards in any Standard reanimator strategy; having the option of casting Connive as a situational 2 for 1 that can really destroy aggro and ramp decks really pushes this card over the top.I am truly astounded at the number of times I’ve cast the Connive side of this, so for me that really made the choice clear between this and Bond of Revival.
4 Elspeth Conquers Death: The other reanimate effect we are packing comes on the back third of a card with another part that’s also incredible. If you’ve been watching or playing high level Standard, you’ve surely seen this card running rampant. Now picture it putting Vilis, Broker of Blood into play after already blowing the opponent out with chapter one. Elspeth Conquers Death has truly broken out as an absolutely premier removal spell in this format, answering threats like Anax, Hardened in the Forge, various gods, planeswalkers, and even other copies of itself far more cleanly than other options.
4 Radical Idea: If you didn’t see it on the surface, this is a way to put our targets into the graveyard. Leaving blue mana untapped to cast this also bluffs countermagic, allowing us to get away with opponents deploying threats slowly quite often. It is also a card you can put into the graveyard itself with no downside. This is a far superior choice to other options for putting cards into the graveyard like Discovery // Dispersal, Mire Triton, and other random self mill because this lets us choose cards we want to put into the graveyard from our hand. The deck will absolutely not function without this card, as weak as it looks on the surface.
4 Thought Erasure: People often consider this card a good enough reason to go Esper with control in itself. The fact that it could (if rarely) put a reanimation target into the graveyard on the surveil is just gravy. Thought Erasure is a key card in many major matchups, including Jeskai Fires, Temur Reclamation, Azorius Control, Simic Ramp, and even Mono Red if you aren’t immediately dying and can snag Embercleave or Torbran.
4 Shatter the Sky: Four mana wraths are really good as it turns out. Everyone is high on this card by now, and for good reason. If an aggressive player overextends into a Shatter the Sky, they can easily lose the game on the spot. Necessary for those matchups; easy to sideboard out against other strategies.
3 Thirst for Meaning: Another instant that can bluff countermagic as well as fill our graveyard. This also does it all in one turn for three mana, as opposed to over two turns or for four mana. Despite that, Thirst can make for some clunky draws which is why it has made its way down to three copies.
2 Eat to Extinction: This was originally just a single copy, but the amount of things Eat to Extinction answers cleanly have made me bring it up to two. The possibility of putting something nice into the graveyard with this is again, gravy. Gravy? Eat to Extinction? Other options to consider here would be cheap removal, like Tyrant’s Scorn or Glass Casket. Another option for killing creatures or planewalkers is Murderous Rider, but the life loss hurts, as well as the 2/3 body on the back half just has a tendency of turning on cheap removal that was previously dead in the opponent’s hand.
And that just leaves the land. The mana base can definitely be clunky at times, as well as painful; I chalk it up to the price we must pay for greatness. Now let’s go over the game plan for those of us who have not played Solar Flare before.
Turn one we do absolutely nothing. Sold on the deck yet? Our mana base is a bit all over the place so in all seriousness, we almost always play a temple on turn one, making cards like Opt a bit of an awkward fit here. Turn two we have more options with Thought Erasure or Radical Idea available depending on the hand and situation. Turn three we really want to be playing something to put a reanimation target into the graveyard. This can include a jump-start cast of Radical Idea or Thirst for Meaning, but Teferi is also available if we need to slow the game down. Turn four is classic Shatter the Sky territory, but this is where we really can start to use the tools we feel are necessary to keep the board clear or bluff permission (the opponent doesn’t need to know we have none). Finally, on turn five we can slam some reanimation. Elspeth Conquers Death may not reanimate immediately, but it is by far the better spell as it is removal and then lets us cast spells on the turn the reanimation happens, allowing for bluffed permission once again or any other spells we may have. It is also the only way to reanimate Liliana, Dreadhorde General. Once we have something huge on the board, we should pretty easily win from there as we have been granted some pretty unbeatable bombs in this standard.
So what about if we aren’t living in magical Christmas Land you ask? We are just a control deck with some nice finishers, and that was always what made Solar Flare good back in the day. Nasty combo deck by day, fine control deck by night. Every game can play quite differently depending on how you choose to play it and what you need to answer. Some games, like against control, we just do some random card drawing and target their hand while we attempt to sculpt a hand of bombs and wait for a mistake to be made. Other games we get to go straight for it with a turn five Vilis after a boardwipe and attempt to take the reins immediately. The options are all in the deck, and with the amount of card filtering provided, you can often see many of them in each game. Now let’s get to the last important thing to touch on here, the sideboard.
4 Thief of Sanity: When your opponent’s “dead” removal comes out, this little guy comes in. Absolutely incredible against other control decks, Fires of Invention, Wilderness Reclamation, and pretty much any other slower deck. Just be wary – if you take a game two with this, removal could make a return in game three.
1 Agent of Treachery: See an unbeatable bomb in game one? Feel free to reanimate this guy.
2 Sephara, Sky’s Blade: The far superior option to Vilis, Broker of Blood in aggro matchups. Which of these cards is in the main or side depends on how much aggro you expect to see in your meta. Hard swap between the two when needed.
4 Aether Gust: Playing Islands in your deck? Don’t like losing to red? Play Aether Gust, and play four. Take out slower cards like Eat to Extinction. It of course also hits green spells, so bring it in if you want some nice interaction in those colors.
Now, I’ll give a brief summary of some matchups we can expect to see and the strategies, best cards, and sideboard options for each.
Mono Red Aggro
Believe in the Cleave, baby. Where Azorius Control has a pretty good matchup here, we give up some points in the matchup to having a third color, as well as not running as many cards to stem the bleeding. On the other hand, red removal has a hard time dealing adequate damage to kill any of our big threats. Look to get the biggest creature we possibly can onto the board as quickly as possible, while slowing early bleeding with cards like Teferi and Shatter the Sky. If you find yourself playing against Mono Red super often, Sephara can be in the maindeck instead of Vilis. Speaking of the Sephara/ Vilis swap, that’s exactly the first step to our sideboard options here. We can also cut the two Lilianas and Eat to Extinctions for the four Aether Gusts. I do feel we have a worse matchup here than Azorius Control does, but it definitely is still winnable, especially after sideboard.
Now here is where I’m really glad to be playing this deck. We really have a lot of tools here, starting with Thought Erasure in the early game, and going up to all of our big threats. Teferi is very important in this matchup, and Liliana will win the game by herself if we don’t run her into an immediate Elspeth Conquers Death from the opponent. The matchup still takes some skill to navigate, but the payoff to playing this deck instead of their deck is right here in this match. In the sideboard we have Mystical Disputes as well as Thief of Sanity both looking really good here. Things like Shatter the Sky (Not all of them), Vilis, and Connive // Concoct can come out to make room for those to go in. Just be wary if Thief of Sanity performs well in one game, removal could come back in from your opponent in the next.
Teferi, Time Raveler is the MVP of this match by a mile. Reclamation is forced to answer him immediately to get back to playing their game as intended, and actually aren’t incredibly well tooled to do so. Another great card here is Thought Erasure to rip Reclamations straight from the hand, as well as Elspeth Conquers Death to remove them from the board. In this matchup, we can definitely look to go for the reanimation early and pressure our opponent quickly before they can rebound from our early interaction. Out of the sideboard, Revoke Existence is a good option here, as are Mystical Dispute (to beat their counters), Agent of Treachery, and even Aether Gust sometimes or Thief of Sanity to really “get ‘em” for a game. I’m not totally in love with Aether Gust in this matchup provided we have other ways to remove Reclamation from the board but it is an option, and we do have plenty of cards to bring out in Shatter, Liliana, Eat to Extinction, and sometimes Connive // Concoct.
Another match where Thought Erasure really shines, but a lot of our main strategies are actually very good here. Teferi bounces can line up quite well to create some awkward turns for opponents, Elspeth Conquers Death conquers every threat in their deck, and Eat to Extinction finally gets its time to shine. Our cards as a whole really line up well against theirs, and once we slow the game down to one for ones, we are capable of going over the top of them quite easily with huge fliers. After sideboard we have access to Aether Gust, Revoke Existence, and even Agent of Treachery. Mystical Dispute can also be considered if you are expecting counterspells from the opponent. In matchups like this where most of our cards are good, things like Radical Idea can be trimmed, or you can look to just drop the whole top end of the reanimator package like Vilis and Connive // Concoct. Either way, I consider this matchup to be quite good, having faced it many times on ladder so far already.
I’ve got to say, after playing a few hundred games or so of Bo1 on ladder with this deck already, I’m impressed. It is quite good, and more importantly, very fun. So there you have it, get out there, wipe some boards and reanimate some fatties! Until next time,