Hey everyone! Today I’m going to be covering my Esper Inquisitor Captain Greasefang deck in Historic which I recently used to hit rank #2 with on the Arena ladder.
Greasefang, Okiba Boss hasn’t been that successful in Historic recently, in large part because most of the lists are too all-in on the combo, and this list goes a long way to try and rectify that. This is an aggressively-slanted creature deck that also has the combo as a powerful option but isn’t reliant on it, which puts the opponent in a tough position as they need to be able to stop both sides of the deck. I’ve also put up a video on my YouTube channel with with 5 matches of game play if you’re interested in seeing the deck in action.
The idea is you get Parhelion II into your graveyard, then cast Greasefang, Okiba Boss which will bring back Parhelion II from your graveyard with haste. Since Greasefang, Okiba Boss has 4 power, you can then immediately crew Parhelion II and attack with it, producing two 4/4 angel tokens with flying and vigilance which are also attacking. This produces 13 hasty damage in the air, leaves behind 2 4/4 fliers, and you can potentially do it again the following turn if you can get Parhelion II back into the graveyard, so it’s a really strong combo that can win the game out of nowhere.
The combo does have two main weaknesses though: in graveyard hate (which stops you bringing back Parhelion II) and instant speed creature removal (which can kill Greasefang, Okiba Boss before it has a chance to crew Parhelion II). Unfortunately these are both very common in Historic right now. Graveyard hate is in basically every deck’s sideboard because of the popularity of Izzet Phoenix and Rakdos Arcanist decks that struggle against it. Instant speed creature removal is also very common due to the presence of must-kill threats like Kor Spiritdancer, Dreadhorde Arcanist, Ravenous Squirrel, etc. so the metagame is pretty hostile towards Greasefang, Okiba Boss decks which is why the deck hasn’t seen much success recently.
With this in mind, I think the best way to build Greasefang, Okiba Boss decks is to run the combo in a deck that is capable of winning matches on its own without needing to rely on the combo – essentially having Greasefang, Okiba Boss as the plan B in the deck. Most lists I’ve seen (including my Mardu list I put out shortly after the release of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty) do have some sort of backup plan outside of the combo, but that backup plan is rarely good enough to win on its own, so if the opponent does have a way to shut off the combo, you’re essentially left with a backup plan that is a pretty sub-par Historic deck.
I feel like this particular list though is definitely capable of winning matches even when you can’t combo, which makes it very difficult for the opponent as they need to be able to stop the combo and your aggressive game plan.
The Combo Enablers:
Outside of enabling the combo, this is also a very powerful aggro tool since it allows us to start pumping our creatures as we build up a wider board, smooths our draws, and helps us dig towards important cards like Greasefang, Okiba Boss.
This list is essentially an aggressively-slanted creature deck, but we’re also running a lot of cards with connive which gives us really good card selection and means we’re very unlikely to be stuck with dead cards in the mid to late game which tends to be a problem in most other aggressive decks. It having flying is also great at enabling us to force through damage in the air against other creature decks and giving us a way to effectively block against a deck like Izzet Phoenix too.
Diviner of Fates: The connive on Diviner of Fates is another great way for us to pitch Parhelion II or any other weaker card into the graveyard, but the real strength lies in the seek ability. Since we have a lot of ways to discard in the deck, either through conniving or with Seasoned Hallowblade, Diviner of Fates essentially turns these typically card-neutral abilities into card advantage which is really strong!
This is great as it is a tool to allow us to dig for certain cards – if we already have Parhelion II in the graveyard, we can discard our weakest creature in order to try and dig for a Greasefang, Okiba Boss, or if we need removal, we can dig for a Skyclave Apparition etc. Additionally, discarding Parhelion II will either seek us another Parhelion II (which can be useful as a backup against single-use graveyard hate) or Esper Sentinel (which is really strong in a lot of matchups).
Even discarding lands if you’re flooded is decent since Diviner of Fates will seek a land which is essentially thinning your deck slightly which improves your chances of drawing a non-land card, and you can sometimes hit Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire which essentially swaps one of your lands for a spell.
Ledger Shredder: This is probably the least consistent of the combo enablers in the early game since we’re typically not going to be triggering it until turn 4 on our own turn (unless we have Esper Sentinel). On the bright side, it will often trigger earlier during the opponent’s turn, it’s really solid in the mid game, it’s great against decks like Izzet Phoenix and Auras, and it’s just a generically great card too.
Ledger Shredder puts the opponent in a tough position where we get free value off the connive if they cast multiples spells in their turn so they’re often incentivized to play off-curve and only play one spell per turn which is great for us. Similar to Raffine, Scheming Seer, it having flying is also really important at closing games out against opposing decks with a lot of blockers on the ground.
This not only allows us to set up the combo with Greasefang, Okiba Boss on turn 3 (and play around sorcery speed graveyard interaction), but it’s also important as a more consistent way to ensure we can always pitch Parhelion II when we need. One of the downsides of Diviner of Fates and Ledger Shredder as combo enablers is that they won’t always allow us to pitch Parhelion II (if we draw Parhelion II after we’ve cast Diviner of Fates then it can’t pitch it and if we don’t have multiple spells we can cast in the same turn then we can’t pitch it with Ledger Shredder either).
The 3/1 statline and protection from destruction-based removal makes it great against controlling decks as well as making combat more difficult for creature decks, and unsurprisingly, it works incredibly well alongside Diviner of Fates. If we have Diviner of Fates in play alongside Seasoned Hallowblade, we can use the indestructible ability on both ours and our opponent’s turn to pitch the worst card in our hand and seek a new one of the same type which will consistently improve the quality of our hand.
I’m a huge fan of running this package of combo enablers as they’re all just generically good cards on their own while also happening to enable the combo. I really wasn’t a big fan of running cards like Goblin Engineer in the Mardu variants since it’s a great combo enabler, but a pretty awful card on its own if the opponent has graveyard hate. These cards on the other hand are all great cards at applying pressure and helping to close out the game even when we don’t have access to the combo.
The Other Cards:
The great thing about running all creature combo enablers as opposed to cards like Tainted Indulgence or Faithful Mending is that it enables you to run Esper Sentinel, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Inquisitor Captain which rounds out the aggressive game plan really nicely.
Esper Sentinel & Thalia, Guardian of Thraben: I’m a really big fan of running these together if you can fit them into an aggressive shell because they’re both great against a big portion of the metagame.
They both force the opponent to play off-curve (or provide card advantage in the case of Esper Sentinel) if they’re running non-creature spells, which really slows down what the opponent is trying to do. If they play off curve, it usually gives us an opening to either force a bunch of damage through or pull off the combo if they tap out to deal with our board. They’re particularly great against Izzet Phoenix, Auras, and control but they put in work against any deck running a decent number of non-creature spells like Golgari Food too.
The other main deck in the format that makes use of these cards is Humans, but the big drawback of running that deck is that it has an awful matching against Golgari Food and other bigger creature decks like Angels. This particular deck has a much better chance in those matchup because we have access to the combo to go over the top of the opponent’s game plan so we still get to make good use of Esper Sentinel and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in the matchups where they’re great, but we don’t have to worry about having really polarising matchups like the Humans deck does.
Inquisitor Captain: This is great as top end that helps both our aggressive and combo game plans. Being able to put two bodies into play is really nice top end that applies a lot of pressure and can help close the game out.
It’s also really nice at enabling the combo side of the deck as we can potentially hit Greasefang, Okiba Boss with it if we already have Parhelion II in the graveyard or we can hit a combo enabler with it if we already have Greasefang, Okiba Boss and need a way to pitch Parhelion II.
24 lands has felt like a good amount to me since you really need to be hitting your third land on curve in the majority of games, but you don’t want to be running too many or flooding out becomes an issue, especially if you’re drawing a lot of cards off your connive triggers.
In terms of the actual lands themselves, running a lot of dual lands is very important since white is the primary color, but we also ideally want blue and black on turn 2 (for Ledger Shredder and Heartless Act) and need it on turn 3 (for Diviner of Fates, Raffine, Scheming Seer and Greasefang, Okiba Boss).
I feel like running a single basic is pretty important since Field of Ruin is still seeing play in UW Control and I’m also running a single copy of Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire to help protect against flood and also provide a land we can seek with Diviner of Fates that provides additional value.
I have had some games where I’ve struggled to hit both blue and black on turn 3 so I could definitely see an argument for replacing Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire with another dual land though. Finally, I’m not a fan of Raffine's Tower since we very much play like an aggressive deck in a lot of matchups and so can’t really afford to be running tapped lands when we want to be curving out to apply pressure.
Since the main deck is very streamlined, you don’t want to sideboard too heavily (apart from against creature decks where you cut Esper Sentinel and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben for removal) which allows you to run more narrow and targeted sideboard cards.
This makes the sideboard quite flexible so if there’s a particular matchup you wanted to improve, there’s definitely flexibility in the sideboard in order to do so (for example you could run 2 Witch's Vengeance in place of a Fragment Reality and a Heartless Act if you wanted to improve the Humans matchup).
Firstly against Izzet Phoenix (which is one of the most important matchups to have graveyard hate), Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is one of the best cards in the matchup and would tax all of your non-creature graveyard hate whereas Remorseful Cleric is unaffected.
Secondly, it works really nicely with Inquisitor Captain since you can hit Remorseful Cleric off the Inquisitor Captain ability (which is great in the matchups where you need it) and also keeps the creature count higher in the deck to reduce the chances of going below the 20 card threshold (this is definitely a consideration in games 2 and 3 since the opponent is likely to bring in graveyard hate against you which can bring you below the 20 card threshold and is kind of a disaster if you have an Inquisitor Captain in hand).
Finally, it being a creature also allows the deck to still be aggressive and apply pressure, where you would otherwise have to take a turn off from playing a creature if you were running something like Soul-Guide Lantern.
4 Skyclave Apparition & 4 Heartless Act: Esper Sentinel and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben aren’t great against very creature-heavy decks so I wanted to have 8 pieces of removal in the sideboard in order to swap in for them in those matchups. This does make the curve of the deck slightly higher, but that’s fine since you’re generally pivoting to a more controlling role in these matchups anyway.
Skyclave Apparition is great as removal for any cheap creature or non-creature threat which makes it great against any creature-based deck, or decks built around cheap non-creature spells like Golgari Food.
Heartless Act is my choice for a cheap ‘catch-all’ removal spell, but there are definitely other options that are worth considering. Vanishing Verse is a powerful card but there are a pretty big number of multicolored creatures that it can’t deal with so I’m not a huge fan of it since I want this slot to hit as many creatures as possible. Infernal Grasp is the best ‘catch-all’ removal spell, but dealing yourself damage in a deck that’s already running a decent number of shock lands and no incidental lifegain feels too risky.
Heartless Act not being able to kill creatures with counters is definitely a drawback, but the most common creatures it doesn’t kill in the format are in Izzet Phoenix (Ledger Shredder and Sprite Dragon) or Golgari Food (Ravenous Squirrel) and we don’t bring in Heartless Act in either of those matchups anyway so it will be cleanly killing the majority of creatures in matchups where we want it.
4 Fragment Reality: I wanted to dedicate 4 cards for the Golgari Food matchup since that’s a deck that has reasonable answers to both halves of the deck so it felt necessary to run something to try and slow them down. We need time to either pull off the combo or grow our creatures out of range of The Meathook Massacre and Fragment Reality has felt like the best option to me.
Their most powerful starts all revolve around their 1 mana cards like Gilded Goose, Witch's Oven, Ravenous Squirrel etc. and Fragment Reality cleanly deals with all of those very efficiently which goes a long way to slow them down (which is the best way to win that matchup from my experience), as well as dealing with Soul-Guide Lantern which is important to enable the combo.
It obviously doesn’t cleanly deal with Trail of Crumbs, but Trail of Crumbs is pretty slow if they don’t have it alongside either Gilded Goose or Witch's Oven, both of which Fragment Reality can deal with.
I prefer Fragment Reality over Portable Hole since it permanently deals with the threat (they’ll be running Mortality Spear and Boseiju, Who Endures as ways to kill Portable Hole and get their threat back) and it being instant-speed is nice upside.
If you’re really struggling for sideboard slots and there’s an extra 4 cards you wanted to fit in, I could see an argument to replacing Heartless Act and Fragment Reality with 4 Portable Hole which works to fill both roles and frees up an additional 4 slots in the sideboard, but it’s a fair bit worse than both of the cards you’re cutting, especially Heartless Act as you no longer have any way to deal with bigger creatures.
Best of 1:
The main deck is already very streamlined and efficient so I don’t think I would make any changes to it in best of 1. I could see an argument for potentially replacing 2 Ledger Shredder with 2 Remorseful Cleric since there are a lot more all-in graveyard decks in best of 1, but Esper Sentinel and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben are already great at slowing most of them down like Dragonstorm and Reanimator.
Unfortunately, they don’t tax creature-based graveyard combo decks like the Greasefang, Okiba Boss mirror or starts from Reanimator where they play Priest of Fell Rites on turn 2, so you could make that swap if you wanted to improve those matchups specifically, but that will generally make you less consistent in all other matchups.
Esper Sentinel and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben are both great in this matchup at slowing them down and forcing them to play off curve. Ledger Shredder fills a similar role where it punishes them for casting multiple spells in a turn and might incentivize them to play slower.
Remorseful Cleric is important at shutting off both Arclight Phoenix and delirium which is important at keeping Unholy Heat dealing 2 damage and prevents them killing Greasefang, Okiba Boss, Ledger Shredder, and Raffine, Scheming Seer.
Applying pressure in the early game while slowing them down with your taxing effects will put them on the back foot and will often provide a window to allow you to combo off which is very difficult for them to come back from. You should try not to keep slow hands in this matchup as it’s important to put them on the back foot and force them into the controlling role, as they can turn the corner very quickly otherwise.
They will tend to win the game if it goes long so it’s important to apply pressure early and slow them down so they don’t reach their powerful endgame engines quickly.
The main cards you should be looking to take out with Fragment Reality are Ravenous Squirrel and Witch's Oven (as they will massively slow down your aggro game plan if left unchecked). Other good targets are Soul-Guide Lantern to free up your graveyard so you can combo and Gilded Goose (to stop them getting ahead on mana or getting efficient activations off Trail of Crumbs).
Setting up the combo is probably the best way to win the game since it applies enormous pressure very fast, but be wary of both Soul-Guide Lantern and Fatal Push as those are the main ways they have of stopping you. If you can’t set up the combo, then you should prioritize growing your creatures with your connives to put them out of range of The Meathook Massacre and apply pressure, while taking out their blockers and engine pieces with your removal.
The main deck is already very well set up against control since you have Esper Sentinel and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben which slow them down, Seasoned Hallowblade which can be tricky to remove, and the dual threat of an aggressive game plan and a combo if they ever tap out.
The goal here should be to commit to the board early and then sculpt your hand with your connive creatures so that if they do tap out to deal with your board, you have either the combo, or a strong follow up to reapply pressure and close the game out.
The main card that can pose a problem is Narset, Parter of Veils since conniving isn’t optional so you will just be discarding cards instead, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue as you’ll usually be able to attack down Narset, Parter of Veils fairly easily – just make sure you don’t keep slow hands in this matchup, especially when you’re going second.
Esper Sentinel and particularly Thalia, Guardian of Thraben are both great at slowing the opponent down and removal is also very important since their deck doesn’t do anything if you run them out of creatures. Because of that, you should basically mulligan any hand that doesn’t have a taxing effect like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, a piece of removal, or a fast way to combo.
In general, you’ll win this either by comboing off early, or removing their creatures and attacking. Conniving, especially with Raffine, Scheming Seer, is also great alongside Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or removal as it will allow you to filter through your deck to dig for more removal to try and run them out of creatures.
Do be wary of both Spell Pierce and protection spells like Slip Out the Back when trying to kill their creatures, especially if they’re consistently leaving mana open. Even though Heartless Act is more expensive, and gets shut down by Selfless Savior, I prefer boarding that in over Fragment Reality, since you almost always want to be targeting their 2 mana creatures with your removal, and Fragment Reality will always give them another Selfless Savior or Esper Sentinel which provides them with additional creatures they can continue to put auras on.
While Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is reasonable in this matchup since it taxes their removal and cards like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Chandra, Torch of Defiance, it does very little against their creature heavy hands and also dies to all of their removal.
I think bringing Heartless Act in is very important to be able to kill Dreadhorde Arcanist and Rahilda, Wanted Cutthroat on turn 2 on the draw, and while Skyclave Apparition is better in general (since it can take out graveyard hate and cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance), boarding in too many would mess up the mana curve and you’d have way too many 3 mana cards.
I’ve found this matchup to be pretty good overall: they struggle to play around turn 1 Esper Sentinel, you can gain a bunch of card selection from your connive cards, gain card advantage off Diviner of Fates, and you’re basically guaranteed to win if you ever pull off the combo, so you’re attacking them on multiple fronts which is difficult for them to deal with.
How you sideboard should also depend on your opponent’s exact list, if they’re more reliant on the graveyard and are running high numbers of cards like Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, then you should also considering boarding in Remorseful Cleric.
This is the only matchup where I board out of the combo mainly because affinity decks tend to run a very high amount of graveyard hate which makes the combo a liability. Instead, we switch to more of an aggressive deck utilising Skyclave Apparition and Fragment Reality to slow down their starts alongside Esper Sentinel and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben which taxes most of their cards outside of Ingenious Smith, Esper Sentinel, and Thought Monitor.
The idea here is to apply pressure, and keep their early artifacts off the board with Fragment Reality (to keep them off Thought Monitor), use Skyclave Apparition to take out important cards like Nettlecyst, and then sculpt your hand with your connive cards like Raffine, Scheming Seer (which they’ll usually struggle to deal with since typically their only answer for them is Glass Casket).
In general, you should try and only use Fragment Reality on their 1 mana artifacts or creature tokens (from Nettlecyst and Karn, Scion of Urza for example) and is our main tool to stop them getting to a fast Thought Monitor or a big Nettlecyst token – don’t forget you can also use it to kill their Treasure Vault for 1 mana, which is a complete blowout in the first few turns.
This matchup is largely a race from our side so you want to try and apply as much pressure as fast as possible. Esper Sentinel and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben are both great at slowing them down and Skyclave Apparition is really important at killing their Sythis, Harvest's Hand and Sanctum Weaver in the early game as well as giving us an out to the Nine Lives + Solemnity lock.
Getting the combo off fast is usually good enough to win, but they will be running Rest in Peace which they can tutor off Sterling Grove so you can’t necessarily rely on that. Them resolving Nine Lives can be problematic as it will slow our ability to kill them down a lot, but since we have so many ways to filter through our deck with the connive cards, we can usually dig for Skyclave Apparition as an answer for Solemnity and attack through the Nine Lives to win.
Selesnya Heliod Combo:
This is a matchup where they can outrace you to their combo if you don’t have interaction, so you usually don’t want to keep a hand without either a fast combo win or some form of interaction. In general, you’ll want to prioritize taking out their life gain enablers like Soul Warden if you can since that will stop them comboing off as well as stopping their Voice of the Blessed and Trelasarra, Moon Dancer from growing.
Their deck really struggles against removal unless they get lucky with top decks, so take out their key combo pieces and then use your connive cards to filter through your deck for more removal (to keep them off their game plan) and apply pressure or set up your combo.
This matchup is pretty similar to the UW control matchup except for two facets: they run more removal instead of counterspells and have Territorial Kavu as a way to stop you attacking on the ground. For this reason, I like bringing in a single copy of Skyclave Apparition as a way to remove Territorial Kavu and you could potentially go up to more copies if you see they’re also running graveyard hate like Unlicensed Hearse (you don’t have to worry about Grafdigger's Cage though since it doesn’t stop the combo).
Similar to the control matchup, you want to apply pressure early, utilize your taxing effects to slow them down, sculpt your hand with connive cards to try and set up the combo when the shields are down, or have good creatures in hand to continue applying pressure.
One major difference here is that the main sweeper of choice for Niv decks is Deafening Clarion which deals 3 damage to each creature so you should prioritize conniving to get +1/+1 counters on Ledger Shredder and Diviner of Fates so that they’re not killed by Deafening Clarion (this is also important in order to play around Lightning Helix).
Tempo is a huge advantage in this matchup for us so it’s crucial you don’t keep a slow hand – Esper Sentinel and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben starts are ideal but if you don’t have them, you should never keep a hand without a 2 drop creature.
Embercleave Aggro (Mono R/ Gruul):
You switch into more of a controlling role in these matchups so we cut Esper Sentinel and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben for removal. Your creatures are pretty decently sized so can block fairly effectively, but they can force through damage with Embercleave if you’re not careful so it’s generally better to use your removal early in order to keep them off Embercleave.
They’ll really struggle to beat the combo so try and set that up quickly if possible, but if not you can usually stabilise since you can commit to the board pretty fast and you’ll tend to outgrind them in the late game assuming they don’t land an Embercleave.
This matchup can be tough as they’re the more streamlined aggro deck so you’re forced into the controlling role. They also tend to go a lot wider faster than the Embercleave aggro decks so your single target removal can be too slow in certain scenarios (finding room for Witch's Vengeance in the sideboard will really improve this matchup if you want to target it more).
Having said that, your creatures are fairly good at blocking and they will really struggle to beat the combo if you can assemble it, so your goal should just be to stabilize, don’t make any risky attacks, and try and set up the combo. Make sure to sculpt your hand with connives so you have a stable board which will then allow you to turn the corner.
Tips & Tricks:
- Always be wary of the 20 card threshold on Inquisitor Captain, especially if the opponent has graveyard hate or exile-based removal like Portable Hole as casting Inquisitor Captain and it unexpectedly not triggering can lose you the game if you had other viable options.
- The opponent can kill your connive creatures in response to the trigger which will prevent you from drawing and discarding – always bear this in mind when choosing your target for Raffine, Scheming Seer.
- Always consider all of options you could hit off Diviner of Fates and Inquisitor Captain before planning your turn. For example, if you have Parhelion II in the graveyard, it’s usually best to cast Inquisitor Captain or Diviner of Fates (to get the seek) pre-combat in case you hit Greasefang, Okiba Boss.
- If you do come across a creature with +1/+1 counters when you’re running Heartless Act, don’t forget you can remove the counters with it which can sometimes work as a way to kill it in combat.
- You can Fragment Reality your own creatures either in response to removal or to dig for a particular card like if you have Inquisitor Captain in play and need to hit Greasefang, Okiba Boss or Skyclave Apparition. This rarely comes up but is worth remembering as it’s won me a couple of games so far.
This deck has been a ton of fun to play and is really strong too. I’ve been working on ways to get Greasefang, Okiba Boss decks to work in Historic for a while and it feels great to finally have a build that can enable the combo consistently and is also really resilient. Thanks a lot for reading!