Standard Esper Planeswalkers Deck Guide: Planeswalking Through Phyrexia
Esper has historically been a very popular colour combination for control, usually containing discard, countermagic, Wrath of God effects etc. However, there is another subarchetype that is a long-time fan favourite and that’s Superfriends. The Superfriends strategy focuses on playing multiple different planeswalkers in addition to a swather of interaction.
The strength of such an approach comes from the fact that you have numerous interaction pieces in the deck like a control deck would, but you have a much more proactive game plan. This shell can actually shut the door on the opponent pretty fast. A popular play pattern starts with a wall of removal and sticking a walker at an opportune moment to press the advantage. Against some less-creature-dense strategies, you can deploy walker after walker and make them have to answer all the threats that are posed.
Table of Contents
As it’s a shell with a heavy focus on planeswalkers, let’s start off with each of the five different ones played in this deck.
It’s worth noting that in the original iteration of the shell there had been more unique walkers, but I decided that it’s better to streamline it a bit whilst still keeping the theme alive and well.
Last but not least, in most cases ulting the planeswalker translates into a win so I won’t spend too much time on that aspect of walkers.
Liliana of the Veil has been thought to be one of the best planeswalkers ever printed and I certainly don’t want to skimp on it. There are numerous reasons why I want to play her.
First, she costs three mana. Getting a walker early will warp the game around it much more, especially on the play. I want the opponent’s strategy to suddenly revolve around removing her from the battlefield.
On top of that, she’s a hard piece of removal on a stick. In order to make it as effective as possible, you kill the smaller creatures with your removal and let Liliana’s minus get rid of the biggest threat standing.
The plus is an interesting case of magic game theory perspective on resources. She rids both players of resources symmetrically so it would seem like it’s not of great benefit to you. Now, the efficacy of Lily’s abilities will largely depend on how you utilize her and how well the shell is prepared for it. In this deck, you can easily recoup the lost cards with the plethora of walkers that you have, contrary to the opponent. Basically, you’re temporarily stripping everyone equally off cards in order to regain all the lost material later.
One of the best walkers in Standard and possibly ever printed. The Wandering Emperoris the only walker that has flash and it has major in-game implications. With so many pieces of instant speed interaction in the deck, it is going to be hard for the opponent to gauge whether your holding up a counterspell of sorts or removal. They might pass back, afraid of getting their stuff killed. At which point, you can end step flash in The Wandering Emperorand start popping out Samurai tokens, hence advancing your board presence. Liliana into Emperor also curves nicely as you can use the -2 to exile whaterver is able to attack Lily. Such set-up is a true nightmare to deal with, mainly because all the creatures that would attack walkers get killed with removal or by other walkers.
Another frequent play is to end step Wanderer, make a Samurai, untap and boost it with a +1/+1 counter. From that point, you can iteratively make a token and pump something. This way we’ve just got a self-contained token maker.
Now we enter the territory of true heavy hitters. Teferi, Temporal Pilgrim’s main use is going to be his -2 to make a Spirit that will keep growing. It’s another type of a walker-made token like the previously mentioned Samurai. You can make it steadily grow by 2 counters thanks to your draw step and Teferi’s 0 ability.
Speaking of, Teferi can be used to provide a steady stream of cards, acting as your lifeloss-less Phyrexian Arena. It promotes interactive games where you trade resources back and forth, as you will have drawn more than the opponent at some point.
Whlie Teferi tempts you to prolong the game indefinitely, Spirits can allow you to assume a truly aggressive role, closing the game within just a few combat steps.
This is the most flex planeswalker. I think you could do without it, but I’ve found a single copy to be largely fine and diversifies your plan a bit. It’s quite unlikely to die in combat as it will only be attacked by one creature, which in turn can easily be killed with the plethora of removal that is in the deck.
The first ability is the best Flickerwisp impersonation with the exception that you turn off an opposing creature until the opponent’s end step, hence removing it preemptively from the upcoming opp’s combat.
The Eternal Wandereris another threat in our arsenal that can keep making tokens to create our little army.
Wanderer is unique in that it can ult as soon as it enters play. It’s a sort of Wrath of God where each player keeps a single creature. Coincidentally, only one creature can attack The Eternal Wanderer What you can do is first ult Wanderer and then add more threats with Teferi or Emperor. You can also edict away the one creature they kept with Liliana of the Veil.
Vraska, Betrayal’s Sting’s 0 ability is akin to the one of Teferi’s but it also proliferates. It’s particularly relevant in a deck full of loyalty counters on different walkers and +1/+1 on creatures which can be proliferated. Not only does it grow everything but it also allows you to ult the walkers faster, seemingly out of nowhere. Usually, opponents will calculate when you can use which ability as it’s predictable – once a turn. It’s trivial to calculate ahead of time when which walker can ult. Proliferate turns all that mental math sideways.
The -2 is a simple removal spell that turns off any creature into a Treasure. Preferably, your board position would be so that you wouldn’t need to use this ability but sometimes you may have to. Thanks to this ability, you can drop it on a field where there is a threat, neutralise it, and keep Vraska there.
All of those threats are surrounded by a large swathe of removal to ensure that your planeswalkers survive. The interaction suite is quite diverse to cover all different sorts of threats you may be faced with.
The best early-game Fatal Push impersonation. Its purpose is simple – kill whatever 1- or 2-drop you’re presented with. In some cases, it might even be able to kill a three-mana creature, at which point it’s a massive tempo swing. It shows a ton of efficiency to remove a spell that cost 3 mana with a spell that costs 1.
The section above talked about a twist on Fatal Push, this is our version of Doom Blade. By and large, it will kill any creature that you see. Most importantly it covers Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, all the Soldiers, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker.
It will not shine against prototype creatures from Brothers’ War so if you see an uptick of those, consider rearranging the choices of removal.
Arguably the best edict effect ever printed. It’s a very clean way to get rid of a planeswalker or any early-game creature. Even in the face of walkers that make creatures, Sheoldred's Edict circumvents that thanks to its wording.
Unpredictably flavour-wise, it does kill Sheoldred, the Apocalypse quite easily.
Our best catch-all answer to any threatening permanent that you may be presented with. Void Rend is instant speed, unconditional, and cannot be countered. This is the definition of the most versatile interaction spell one could play.
Grasp of Darkness with proliferate. Similarly to Vraska, it can uptick all sorts of counters on our permanents. -4/-4 will kill most early creatures but will start falling short when it comes to four-drops. Still, early it will act as basically unconditional removal with the nice proliferate buff later.
We also play full four copies of Depopulate aka Wrath of God. This effect is particularly strong in this shell as wrathing the entire board leaves the opponent with nothing and you with all the planeswalkers. It almost feels like it’s no longer a symmetrical effect but a one-sided carnage.
Best of One
The Best of One list is the same as Best of Three. However, I would generally discourage from playing such interactive decks in Best of One, as you should be able to adjust properly in post-board games.
This deck cannot really be adjusted for playing on the budget. The manabase has to support three colours and planeswalkers, by their sheer nature, are all rares and mythics.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
|+2 Duress||-4 Depopulate|
|+2 Negate||-2 Drown in Ichor|
This deck matches up great against all the point removal as Abradeor Cut Down does not kill planeswalkers. While it does remove tokens, it is still a very unfavourable exchange. Planeswalkers also run away with the game pretty easily. I would happily play against Grixis with this deck.
Mono White Midrange
|+4 Disdainful Stroke||-3 Cut Down|
|+2 Pilfer||-3 Drown in Ichor|
Another example of a grindy match up where having planeswalkers as your source of card advantage is great. It is, admittedly, worse than against Grixis as there are more creatures to pressure the walkers. On the flipside, Depopulate shines here and is a sort of a reset button.
Planeswalkers might be pretty clunky in the face of numerous early creatures. We really heavily on our removal in order to stay alive. Temporary Lockdownis there to catch us back up in the early turns. I could see re-adjusting the sideboard in a Soldiers-heavy meta to have more cards to side in and, consequently, more walkers to cut. When it comes to the question of which walker should be cut, I’d err on the side of cutting the top end in order to keep the curve low.
Mono Blue Tempo
|+2 Negate||-4 Depopulate|
|+4 Duress||-3 Cut Down|
Mono Blue’s removal is quite awful, so if we stick one walker in play, we should be good to go. Liliana of the Veil‘s edict is particularly strong against [ their threats as well.
The big difference between the two decks in the match up is that, when a threat resolves, we can easily kill theirs and they can barely remove ours.
Mono Red Aggro
|+3 Temporary Lockdown||-3 Vraska, Betrayal's Sting|
Very similar to Soldiers. I cut Vraska as it’s card draw ability loses us life which is antithetical to the need to stabilise as soon as possible. However, even if we clog up the ground they can still burn us out. That’s why life total management is key. You should think twice before shocking in, using a painland, or deciding not to block. Last but not least, The Wandering Emperor’s minus ability gains us life and it will be very much relevant.
Esper Walkers Mirror
|+4 Disdainful Stroke||-3 Cut Down|
|+2 Negate||-3 Go for the Throat|
|+2 Pilfer||-4 Drown in Ichor|
|+4 Duress||-2 Depopulate|
The mirror is all about sticking your walker and protecting it. It might come down to a weird stand-off at first where nobody wants to commit first and when one person does, each player will keep slamming their threats turn after turn, essentially turning into a chess-like game. Post-board each person will have a ton cheap interaction so you shouldn’t rush too much. You should use Duress as both a card to clear the way and get the info on what’s happening in the opponent’s hand.
Tips and Tricks
- If the opponent has no creatures, you can play Drown in Ichor on your own creature just to get the proliferate effect.
- The opponent may fizzle Cut Down if they boost their creature’s stats so that the total exceeds 5.
- The Wandering Emperor can use its abilities if it enters that turn, not necessarily the opponent’s turn. In practice, it means that you can flash it in during your own combat to e.g. put a counter and give first strike to your own creature.
- The Eternal Wanderer’s plus ability, when played on an opposing creature, will send the creature away until the opponent’s end step, hence removing it from the upcoming combat.
- With Vraska, Betrayal's Sting zero ability, you can not only proliferate loyalty counters but all the other types of counters such as +1/+1 counters put with The Wandering Emperor.
- You may use Vraska, Betrayal's Sting‘s minus ability to turn your own creature token into a Treasure if you want to have access to more mana or appropriate colours. It might be especially useful if you’re planning to cast a Wrath of God effect and clear the field anyways.
- The Wandering Emperorand The Eternal Wanderer both make Samurai tokens, but they are different. They are 2/2s with vigilance and 2/2 double strikers, respectively.
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So, you say you only left 5 of unique Planeswalkers, yet there are 7 in the Bo3 version. Is it an older version, before the reduction to five?