Last week, we explored the Standard metagame on the Control side of the Force with Jeskai Lotus.
This week was dedicated for me to exploration for combo decks but everything changed when I came across this Esper tokens decklist that I named Esper Raven.
The list made it to top 16 of a Standard Challenge on MTG Online, and despite a lot of inconsistency in the build, there was definitely something there. Primarily, the deck is very well positioned against Liliana of the Veil thanks to its many tokens, the ability to grind with the Disturb mechanic, and its ability to thwart aggressive decks with the best removal of the format. I knew there was something here, so I tinkered around with it, and arrived here.
The key to this list is that it’s good against deck with spot removal and it can deal with the best threats that midrange deck can have. To be honest, the deck might not be tier one in a meta where enchantment removal is played, but in all the other matchups, you will feel comfortable. Many components of the deck allow you to be aggressive, but also allow you to switch to be more controlling, the clear definition of a midrange deck. This will become clear as we go through the cards in the deck and the reason they’re there.
The Enchantment Package
These are the central pieces of the deck. They are the cards without which the deck would not be viable. Wedding Announcement allows you to clog up the ground against creature decks starting turn three, and then in three turns, your creatures will be much more threatening.
The card Ominous Roost is more discreet since its release and creates Birds which can only block other fliers, an important against cards like
The Flashback package
Now let’s talk about cards that allow you to trigger Ominous Roost. The first half of these are flashback cards that you can easily discard or mill for free value. In the original list, we had Otherworldly Gaze and Faithful Mending, but I found these cards too slow, and the value produced did not compensate for the loss of tempo during games.
I preferred to integrate Homestead Courage and Tenacious Underdog which gives a more aggressive aspect to the deck and gives you the role of the aggressor rather than having to respond to what the opponent is doing. There is also the option to play Malevolent Hermit against control decks, but there are still too few of them to warrant its main deck inclusion.
The biggest reason to play this deck, in my opinion, is to have access to unconditional removal of Rite of Oblivion. Very similar to Vanishing Verse which allowed Esper to dominate the previous meta before Dominaria United, Rite of Oblivion being able to exile anything is excellent. The deck certainly does not lack tokens to sacrifice to get rid of cards like Sheoldred, the Apocalypse or Reckoner Bankbuster.
The Disturb Package
Now that we’ve started playing with the graveyard, let’s not stop there. Almost all of the creatures in this deck are able to come back from the graveyard thanks to the Disturb mechanic, which ensures you get more Ravens as the game progresses.
Lunarch Veteran is an early drop that gives you time to deploy your strategy as you slowly accumulate life.
Dennick, Pious Apprentice is multifaceted as it has Lifelink to protect you early and protects the other cards in your graveyard by making them untargetable to effects like Graveyard Trespasser or Chapter 3 of The Cruelty of Gix.
Finally, the last addition to the deck is Devoted Grafkeeper which does an amazing job of filling up the graveyard, but also allows you to tap down enemy blockers in order to deal even more damage or kill the opponent’s planeswalkers. In combination with Rite of Oblivion, your opponent often has to keep three creatures back to block or risk a large attack!
The last cards that make up the deck are more or less flexible, but it would be criminal not to play Raffine, Scheming Seer in a deck that has a lot of creatures and plays with the graveyard. It’s your power play when you need one, either on defense because she’s hard to kill, or on offense when you have an army of birds in the air.
The original list was playing 3 copies of Disdainful Stroke, but the card is extremely poorly positioned in a metagame with a lot of three mana power plays. I think you still prefer cards like
I personally went for an aggressive composition with three copies of
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
The meta is very diverse when it comes to the composition of the midrange decks of the format, Mono Black, Esper, Grixis, and Jund and it is more relevant to understand the individual strength of the cards rather than applying strict rules.
Against deck with a lot of creatures, you will often choose to integrate more removal and play the role of the controlling deck, conversely, if the opponent keeps a lot of spot removal, you can rely on grinding them out with your recursive threats.
Versus Midrange Strategies
|+1 Disdainful Stroke||-2 Lunarch Veteran|
|+2 Void Rend||-2 Homestead Courage|
|+2 Ao, the Dawn Sky||-2 Devoted Grafkeeper|
|+1 Malevolent Hermit||-1 Cut Down (if +1 Infernal Grasp)|
|+1 Infernal Grasp (if more than 2 Sheoldred)|
Versus Non Black Aggressive Strategies
Against decks that only have the aggressive plan, you must take the role of the controlling deck and sideboard accordingly. The longer the game goes on, the more your chances of winning increase. Cards like Ominous Roost can become a weakness if you only draw them.
Versus Blue Control Matchups
|+2 Disdainful Stroke||-3 Cut Down|
|+1 Spell Pierce||-2 Lunarch Veteran|
|+1 Rotten Reunion|
|+1 Malevolent Hermit|
Your strategy is quite problematic for control decks and you only have to maneuver against strong cards like Farewell, so a few counters should do the trick.
The rest of the sideboard is very flexible and I’ve selected a few one-offs that you can change if you feel some match-ups are more difficult than others.
Tips and Tricks
- You can use your birds from Ominous Roost defensively against Fliers, but they’re much more useful when attacking, especially if you have Raffine, Scheming Seer, so don’t trade them too quickly.
- Don’t forget that you can Blitz Tenacious Underdogfrom hand as well, not just the graveyard!
- It is often better to make tokens with
than to draw cards. The exception is if you believe your opponent is going to play The Meathook Massacre soon.
- Remember to time when you flashback your spells.
and Tenacious Underdog can create lethal attacks with Devoted Grafkeeper when your opponent does not expect it.
- You can use Rite of Oblivion on a creature with Disturb to replay it from the graveyard.
I think this deck has a lot going for it, and it will be more or less strong depending on the metagame as it counters Black Decks’ strategies well. At this stage, I recommend that you get an idea of the synergies and see if this tier 2 deck can earn a place on the podium alongside the greatest!
I hope this article is useful for you to understand the whole universe of the meta with Dominaria United and I’ll see you next time for another next crazy deck tech.