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Vanishing Verse Art by Chris Seaman

Standard Esper Control Deck Guide

Tired of the same old metagame decks that have been around for the past couple seasons? Here’s something a bit different for the control player in all of us. This deck is specifically tuned to the current ladder metagame, which consists largely of creature decks. Let’s dive in!


[sd_deck deck=”uWJBUQvUi”]

Esper Control Decklist

Why Esper Over Four-Color Control?

While having access to Binding the Old Gods is a strong draw to four-color control, there are some significant downsides. In addition to your mana base being slightly less consistent, you are also likely to be playing more come into play tapped lands which can hamper your ability to play on-curve and can be particularly punishing in the aggro matchups. Another drawback is the difficulty of routinely having double white pips on turn 3 for Skyclave Apparition, a Foretold Doomskar, or even turn 4 for Archon of Sun's Grace.

Stretching the mana base to four colors also makes it difficult to play a creature land like Crawling Barrens or the Modal Double Faced Lands like Emeria's Call and Sea Gate Restoration. In short, the leaner mana base of Esper positions us much better against aggressive decks and allows us more freedom to include utility lands.

Card Choices

Doomskar Art by Piotr Dura
Doomskar Art by Piotr Dura

Yorion, Sky Nomad

In addition to being a “free” 4/5 flyer, it synergizes extremely well with both Omens, Mazemind Tome, Glass Casket and Skyclave Apparition, Elspeth Conquers Death, etc., threatening a late game value engine that is very difficult to overcome.   

Glass Casket

Excellent removal for difficult to deal with threats (think Seasoned Hallowblade, Anax, Hardened in the Forge, boards involving Selfless Savior). Additionally, it has great synergy with the 4 Skyclave Apparitions and Yorion as you can give the opponent a token, put the token under Glass Casket, rinse and repeat. 

The Birth of Meletis

Birth of Meletis’ stock has gone back up as the wall actually blocks a lot of the aggressive creatures (Brushfire Elemental seems to be at an all time low). Ensuring we hit our lands on curve and getting a second white source to allow us to easily cast Skyclave Apparition or Doomskar is nice as well. Finally, every enchantment provides extra utility due to the 4 Archon of Sun’s Grace.


We are a control deck, and we don’t always have time to foretell a Saw it Coming, so some two mana counters against Rogues and Sultai are necessary. It also hits key cards like The Great Henge, all the adventure spells, Showdown of the Skalds, Embercleave etc. and can protect our Archon or help force through a key spell.

Omen of the Sea

This is the premier 2 mana card draw spell when you have Yorion to blink it for value. Both Omen and Mazemind Tome are better than Behold the Multiverse in this deck, specifically because they are permanents that can be blinked. 

Heartless Act

Efficient creature removal that hits most of the key threats in standard currently. 

Vanishing Verse

The biggest upgrade that Strixhaven offers the deck, and the primary reason to dip into black. This two mana spell not only gets rid of most creatures at instant speed, but the exile gets around indestructible or on death benefits, and it can even answer a The Great Henge or an Embercleave at instant speed as well. The versatility of this effect for two mana is incredible. 

Mazemind Tome

I think this is one of the most underrated cards in standard currently. Our deck is built to control the board and take the game long, so not only are we often getting to activate it multiple times, but with Yorion it can be as much as a draw 7 over the course of the game. Being able to scry to answers and gain life against aggro means that even in those matchups it isn’t as bad as some other card draw effects could be.

Omen of the Sun

A solid anti-aggro card with all the 1 toughness creatures running around, and a nice effect to have with Yorion and Archon.

Skyclave Apparition

Another highly underrated card currently, this deals with anything that is four mana or less, and even though it does die to Bonecrusher, the resulting tempo you gain from it can still be enough to stabilize. 

Midnight Clock

I’ll admit it, this is a pet card of mine. It is obviously excellent against Rogues, but also just allows you to trade resources 1 for 1 once you have it in play, knowing that you will get a new hand. You can even foretell cards like Saw it Coming and Doomskar to get a new 7 with interest! Occasionally the ability to ramp from 3 to 5 and cast a Doomskar or Elspeth Conquers Death a turn early can also be game-changing. 

Saw It Coming

All-purpose counter magic. I would play more, but we are somewhat of a tapout control deck and I’ve found that we don’t always have time to foretell them, making them a bit slow against the slew of current aggressive decks.

Elspeth's Nightmare

Often 2 of the 3 modes are relevant, and it can be an absolute all-star against decks like Rogues or Cycling where it often acts as a 3 for 1.

Niko Aris

An incredible combo with Archon, where playing this on turn 5 can immediately create 3 2/2 flying lifelinkers. The +1 can also set up the ability to recast a Yorion for additional value or get in with a Dream Trawler for a lot of damage. On its own, it is a solid card draw engine that scales with the game. 

Archon of Sun's Grace

Archon gives you the ability to stabilize against aggro and also go really wide and close games quickly. Combined with Elspeth Conquers Death to recur them, these can be a difficult threat for opponents to deal with. 


While I normally like the exiling sweepers over Doomskar currently, this deck can get away with these because we have so many exile effects to deal with problem creatures (Vanishing Verse, Glass Casket, Apparition, ECD). Getting rid of every creature against aggro, instead of just some of them as often happens with Extinction Event, is a big deal. Finally, the ability to sweep the board as early as turn 3 can be very powerful.

Elspeth Conquers Death

ECD is especially nice in this deck because we actually play enough creatures and planeswalkers where the third chapter rarely fizzles. Additionally, the ability to exile troublesome permanents and put opponents in a noncreature tax loop for a couple of turns with Yorion can be extremely useful.

Dream Trawler

An underutilized control finisher that is difficult for most decks to deal with and can lock out aggro once it comes down. It plays especially well with the many card draw effects, and having this on board when your midnight clock goes off is about as good as it gets.

Emeria's Call

An alternate win-con at a relatively low cost, and a way to keep our land count high while protecting against flooding.

Sea Gate Restoration

This card is much better than I gave it credit for when it first game out, and because of the way this deck plays out it is not unusual to draw 4 or more cards off of this utility land. As with Emeria’s Call, it also allows us to keep our land count high while protecting against flooding out.

Field of Ruin

We’re not playing Lithoform Blight, so this is our best answer (along with Heartless Act) for a Faceless Haven.

Tips and Tricks

Niko Aris Art by Winona Nelson
Niko Aris Art by Winona Nelson
  • Don’t be greedy! The few matches I’ve lost with this deck usually resulted from taking a line with more card advantage against an aggressive opponent, rather than taking the lower card advantage line that would essentially lock them out (for example, blinking a Mazemind Tome on 3 counters rather than just gaining the 4 life with it).
  • Set a stop for when Midnight Clock is about to go off. This allows you to tap midnight clock for mana before it gets exiled. 
  • Set up your Doomskar by blocking with your Skyclave Apparition so the sweeper clears the token away (if playing against a very savvy opponent, you may need to be subtle about this).
  • Be aggressive with your Archons. It is often correct to run them out on turn 4 rather than sandbagging them to get immediate value.
  • The deck is mostly white mana intensive, then blue, and then black in distant third. Prioritize getting double white before a second source of the other colors.
  • Related to the last note, in post-board games where you bring in Kaervek and Bloodchief’s thirst, double black becomes a priority over double blue.
  • Cement your advantage by drawing additional cards and controlling the board before beginning to put counters on crawling barrens.
  • Since shards are enchantments, Niko and Archon are best friends. If you have an Archon in hand and a different turn 3 play, try to save Niko until you have an Archon down.

Sideboard Guide

Kaervek, the Spiteful Art by Daarken
Kaervek, the Spiteful Art by Daarken

Mono-Red (Favorable)

+2 Kaervek, the Spiteful-2 Saw it Coming
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-1 Midnight Clock
+1 Doomskar-2 Mazemind Tome

Mono-White (Favorable)

+2 Kaervek, the Spiteful-2 Saw it Coming
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-1 Midnight Clock
+1 Doomskar-2 Mazemind Tome
+2 Shark Typhoon-2 Negate

Gruul (Favorable)

+2 Kaervek, the Spiteful-2 Saw it Coming
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-1 Midnight Clock
+1 Doomskar-2 Mazemind Tome

Rogues (Favorable)

+2 Test of Talents-3 The Birth of Meletis
+2 Mystical Dispute-2 Elspeth Conquers Death
+2 Duress-1 Dream Trawler
+2 Shark Typhoon-2 Niko Aris
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-2 Archon of Sun’s Grace
+1 Glimpse of Freedom-1 Doomskar

Temur Adventures (About Even)

+2 Mystical Dispute-1 Midnight Clock
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-3 The Birth of Meletis
+1 Doomskar-1 Mazemind Tome
+2 Kaervek, the Spiteful-2 Niko Aris

Winota (About Even)

+2 Shark Typhoon-2 Negate
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-2 Saw it Coming
+1 Doomskar-1 Midnight Clock
+2 Kaervek, the Spiteful-2 Mazemind Tome

Naya (About Even)

+2 Kaervek, the Spiteful-2 Saw it Coming
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-1 Midnight Clock
+1 Doomskar-2 Mazemind Tome

Sultai Ultimatum (Unfavorable)

+2 Duress-3 The Birth of Meletis
+2 Test of Talents-2 Glass Casket
+2 Mystical Dispute-2 Doomskar
+2 Shark Typhoon-1 Skyclave Apparition

Final Thoughts

If you enjoy drawing cards half as much as I do, I know you’re going to enjoy some Esper Control. Let me know how you do and feel free to reach out with any questions on Twitter or on Twitch. Here’s hoping the clock strikes midnight when your Dream Trawler is on the board!

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Matt has been playing Magic since 2010. He streams regularly on Twitch and recently completed at the Zendikar Rising Championship.

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