Hello Planeswalkers from across the globe! Today I’ll be talking in detail about Esper Dreadhorde, an archetype that has been a personal favorite of mine for quite a while, and that I keep tweaking and re-adapting to new metagames. This strategy has been a blast to play since the War of the Spark was released – gaining life, drawing cards, killing things, discarding their cards, then Command the Dreadhorde and EVERYTHING HAPPENS AGAIN! (sorry, been watching too much Dark recently)
An Esper Tap-out style of control deck that wins via exhausting the opponent’s resources and overwhelming them with card advantage.
- Consistent game plan of reducing the opponent’s options and getting ahead in cards.
- Has answers to almost every threat in the format.
- Plays some cards that aren’t usually played, that can catch people by surprise.
- Being three colors makes it very adaptable to any metagame, as you have access to many options.
- Takes too long to actually kill if the opponent doesn’t concede.
- Being an 80 card deck reduces the chances of finding specific cards quickly.
- Key cards rotating out of Standard in September.
Introduction to Esper Yorion Dreadhorde
The idea is to overwhelm the opponent in card advantage in a way that, if everything goes according to plan, will prompt them to concede without us having to get into combat. Almost every spell in our deck has inherent two for one potential, whether is by giving us extra cards, killing an opposing threat, or discarding a card from our opponent’s hand, all while leaving a permanent in play that can provide additional value later: Charming Prince blinking a creature to get its enter the battlefield trigger once more, Teferi Time Raveler returning anything to our hand to recast it and gain value again, or Yorion, Sky Nomad letting us make use and abuse every nonland card we have in play. And of course, you guessed it, if all that is not enough to get ahead of our opponent, Command the Dreadhorde will let us do all that too, all at the same time!
You might notice here that many of these permanents gain life when they come into play. That is a key aspect of this strategy, as you will need to keep your life total high to be able to cast a good Command in the late game. If you get to that point, you will be able to re-buy almost everything from your graveyard, as it will give you back almost all the life points you lose by casting it immediately. It is also important to understand that, even though the deck has the potential of creating these massive swings when casting the six mana sorcery, it is still absolutely capable of winning a game of Magic without ever finding its namesake card. Many decks will succumb to our initial card advantage engine and disruptive elements. For those that don’t, we still have a bigger game plan for the late game.
Why Esper Over Orzhov?
It is completely possible to play this archetype as straight Black and White, as many of the best cards in the deck are in those colors, but I think keeping the Blue in the deck is smart, mostly because of how good Teferi, Time Raveler is, both in our strategy and as a hoser for many other decks. Having access to counter-magic in the sideboard is also a good addition, and even though it is not going to be easy to leave up mana untapped all the time (since we are not playing that many instants), having access to cards like Dovin’s Veto or Disdainful Stroke makes things way easier against many threats like “Expansion / Explosion”, or just preventing planeswalkers and Elspeth Conquers Death from getting initial value when they come into play.
Let’s break down the main deck cards to understand why they are in the deck!
Card Choices by Group
- Fblthp, the Lost
- Treacherous Blessing
- Elite Guardmage
This group is responsible for getting our flow of resources going (in conjunction with Teferi, but he represents much more than that!). Like almost the entire deck, these are permanent-based and are easy to abuse with our flickering tools. One question you might ask is “how do we get rid of Treacherous Blessing”? The answer is “we don’t”. Most of the spells in the deck gain life, which negates the drawback of the enchantment, and keeping it in play will let us flicker it with Yorion to get three more cards. If we are in a desperate situation, we can destroy it with Teferi, but it will rarely happen.
- Thought Erasure
- Burglar Rat
- Basilica Bell-Haunt
This team is responsible for attacking our opponent’s hand. Our mana base is built to support UB on turn 2, and BBWW for Basilica on turn four. There will be scenarios where we are forced to search for an Island with Fabled Passage, which will prevent us from casting our four drop on curve, but most of the time we can plan accordingly and will have other potential lines. I have found that Surveil 1 has been amazing every time, which made the Dimir spell worth running over Agonizing Remorse. Of course, exiling can be relevant in many scenarios, but it’s usually much more important in this deck to make our spells and lands align correctly, rather than negating potential graveyard shenanigans from the other side, as we should be able to beat whatever our opponent recurs anyway. Basilica Bell Haunt is a great blocker as a 3/4, especially good at preventing hasty Nissa lands from attacking.
- Glass Casket
- Oath of Kaya
- Elspeth Conquers Death
The destructive elements of the deck. Again, notice how most of the cards in this category are permanents that we can re-use with Yorion later on. This is crucial, because it will mean that our Commands can be used as removal spells too. Mortify is the only one that has no real synergy with the deck (and I could see cutting it, depending on the metagame you are facing), but it is still good to have some instant interaction, while having a versatile answer to both Wilderness Reclamation and Nightpack Ambusher.
Blink and Value
- Charming Prince
- Teferi, Time Raveler
- Yorion, Sky Nomad
- Command the Dreadhorde
This package is what makes the deck so overwhelmingly powerful in the late game, and specifically gives you a good reason to be playing all these permanents in the first place. The combination of Charming Prince plus Yorion, Sky Nomad is what puts the archetype over the top of any other grindy strategy, essentially giving you access to unlimited resources once it gets going. The two drop will exile the flier, which will come back at the end of the turn, exiling everything else you want (including the Prince!). All those permanents will come back into play at the end of the opponent’s turn, which makes it impossible for them to destroy anything at sorcery speed (not even Ugin represents a solution here! and, most importantly, they know that whatever they play will face an Oath of Kaya or Elspeth Conquers Death end of turn. It’s a loop that is, most of the time, good enough to close out the game in a few turns, even faster if a Treacherous Blessing is in the mix to give you three extra cards every turn cycle. As we talked about before, if all this is not enough to win the game on its own, there’s always the possibility to re-buy your creatures and planeswalkers with Command the Dreadhorde (and your opponent’s stuff too, if you have the life for it!).
Tips and Tricks
- The possibilities with Prince and Yorion are endless, and you can find a wider range of lines of play with practice. For example, sometimes it might be correct to get the loop of two princes going, where you exile one of them, it comes back at the end of the turn to exile the other, and you keep them exiling each other until you get to play something else like Basilica or Elite. This trick also serves as a way to make a creature come back at the end of the opponents turn, because its ability says “at the beginning of the next end step”: when the second prince comes back, it is DURING the end step, and the other permanent will come back when the next one starts, which will be in the other player’s turn. This might be one of the most important tools in your arsenal, because it works exactly the same with the Yorion trigger, but that will let you do so with EVERY PERMANENT AT THE SAME TIME!
- Teferi, Time Raveler is very good at rebuying our own permanents. Getting back Yorion to re-cast will usually represent a huge swing in card advantage, and also will mean that Teferi will get blinked by the ability and regain his loyalty counters.
- Make sure to count correctly how much life you’ll have to pay with Command the Dreadhorde: even though most of our permanents will give us our life points back when they hit the battlefield, you need to have enough to pay in the first place – make sure you don’t kill yourself with it!
- Don’t be afraid of using Glass Casket or Oath of Kaya early on, even if the permanents you remove aren’t that threatening. You will be able to reuse them as soon as Yorion hits the table, or even rebuy them with Teferi later, so it’s better to just use your mana efficiently.
- If you have managed to get your opponent hellbent (that means, with zero cards in hand), you can get rid of any creature, artifact, or enchantment, by bouncing it with Teferi back to your opponent’s hand, and then discarding it with Basilica, Rat, or Thought Erasure.
- Command the Dreadhorde at instant speed (with Teferi +1 ability) is a real thing in this deck, and the sky’s the limit for the broken plays you can make with it. My personal favorite is getting rid of my opponent’s hand by playing it in their draw step, bringing back Basilicas and Rats that will make sure they don’t even get a chance to play what they drew.
- Fblthp is called “Felipe”. When War of the Spark came out, I build the first iteration of this archetype and called it “Esper Felipe”, even though I did not tweet it with the real name :(.
Like many other Yorion decks, sideboarding is much more linear compared to other strategies. If you add only 1 copy of something in an 80 card deck, chances are you will never see that card, so it won’t have any impact in the vast majority of games.
|Temur Reclamation||+4 Dovin’s Veto|
+2 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
|-3 Oath of Kaya|
-3 Elite Guardmage
-2 Elspeth Conquers Death
|Rakdos Sacrifice||+4 Cry of the Carnarium|
+2 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
+2 Kaya’s Wrath
|-4 Teferi, Time Raveler|
-4 Thought Erasure
|Bant Ramp||+4 Dovin’s Veto|
|-2 Oath of Kaya|
-3 Elite Guardmage
|+4 Cry of the Carnarium|
+2 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
+2 Kaya’s Wrath
|-4 Treacherous Blessing|
-2 Thought Erasure
-1 Command the Dreadhorde
-1 Solemn Simulacrum
That’s it for today guys, I really do recommend that you give this deck a try, as it is fun, competitive, and makes you work your brain in different ways that other decks don’t.