Hello, I’m Ammi Obejas, a Level 1 Judge who’s been playing Magic competitively for 5 years (since Rise of the Eldrazi). Today I’ll be discussing the “Esper Super Friends” list I piloted to 3 consecutive Game Day 1st place finishes, why I chose it, as well as general strategy and tips for playing it (with card-by-card analysis).
My search for what to play in Standard began with Dark Jeskai. I thought the powerful tools of Standard’s traditional Jeskai decks, bolstered with the addition of hole-filling black cards (namely Crackling Doom), would prove to be good against the field. While this has been born out by tournament results, I have some problems with it which I’ll be discussing later in this article.
My attention was then caught by the “Esper Super Friends” deck list Fabrizio Anteri played at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. While I do like the base shell of the deck and how it plays, there were some cards I wanted to change as I felt they underperformed. The major changes I made were cutting Hangarback Walker and Ruinous Path and adding Stasis Snare. Without further delay, the deck:
4x Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound
1x Tasigur, the Golden Fang
4x Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1x Ob Nixilis Reignited
2x Sorin, Solemn Visitor
3x Murderous Cut
1x Ojutai’s Command
1x Utter End
2x Secure the Wastes
3x Painful Truths
2x Reave Soul
3x Stasis Snare
1x Bloodstained Mire
1x Caves of Koilos
4x Flooded Strand
4x Polluted Delta
3x Prairie Stream
4x Shambling Vent
2x Sunken Hollow
1x Windswept Heath
The deck’s main plan is to control the board with spot removal and sweepers, then close out the game with Gideon or pumped tokens from Secure the Wastes. Alternatively, the deck can win with an animated Shambling Vent, Tasigur, or in rare instances, an Ob Nixilis or Jace emblem.
The main thing to understand about the deck is that it’s not a traditional Esper control deck. It’s trying to win through a superior board position, tempo and late-game card advantage. Your planeswalkers give you board presence without having creatures vulnerable to removal. Your own removal helps protect your planeswalkers. Your delve spells and other relatively cheaply costed spells let you get ahead on tempo by playing two or more spells in one turn. Finally, Painful Truths lets you draw ahead and your planeswalkers often require multiple cards to deal with.
One of the problems with the Jeskai decks is that, even with cards like Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise, they’re not good at making a comeback when behind. This deck has an amazing knack for completely swinging a losing situation. It has a strong proactive game plan and can turn the tides quickly against an opponent who’s seemingly winning. I’ve played many losing games with a very low life total (3 or less) completely swung into an assured victory in one turn. The deck is incredibly synergistic as each card dramatically bolsters the value of the others. There’s also a myth that the black splash in Jeskai decks is free. My testing with Jeskai showed that, while not completely false, the mana is often awkward. The mana in Esper Super Friends is much better, the only problem being occasionally you’ll get stuck off the second black for Languish.
Gideon and Sorin: These are the two pillars of the deck. Gideon helps you stabilize with Knight tokens as well as providing a “must-deal-with” threat that can close out games quickly. Sorin’s life-gaining ability gets you back into the game from a losing position and is often what you need to insure a win. One of the best plays you can make is Gideon followed by Sorin, +1 both and swing for 9 lifelink damage. It’s brutally difficult for an opponent to come back from.
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy: Not much to say here that hasn’t been said already. Jace is probably the best creature in Standard and his price tag shows. You might think that Jace wouldn’t be as good in this deck because of its high enchantment count, but he still provides excellent value.
Secure the Wastes: If Gideon and Sorin can’t get the job done alone, just add tokens! Secure the Wastes is an unbelievable beating when combined with the planeswalker’s anthem effects and there’s almost no countermeasure that can be taken to stop it. Sometimes you also flashback Secure the Wastes on your main phase with Jace and then just win next turn.
Painful Truths: It’s not good in every match up because of the life loss, but when it works it shines. You may be asking, why not play Dig Through Time or Treasure Cruise? The fact is the deck is already playing 3 Murderous Cut and a Tasigur, and adding either of those would be too many delve cards.
Silkwrap and Stasis Snare: Right now, between Deathmist Raptor, Den Protector, Hangarback Walker and Ojutai’s Command, exile effects are at a premium. These are two of the best removal spells in Standard. Stasis Snare in particular is criminally underplayed. Some might be reluctant to play them because of Dromoka’s Command, but that’s usually not an issue and playing more enchantments counter intuitively mitigates its effectiveness. As an aside, the fact is Ruinous Path is not the second-coming of Hero’s Downfall, it just sucks. It sucks because it’s not an instant and no amount of Awakening lands changes that. Stasis Snare accomplishes mostly the same goals at instant speed, including exiling active Gideons.
Dispel: Dispel is one of the best maindeckable sideboard cards in the meta. In particular, it’s very effective at combating Jeskai, though it has a use against nearly every deck. I’m playing Dispel over Fabrizio Anteri’s Duress because, even though it’s less flexible, it functions better in the late game and has a much higher blowout potential.
Shambling Vent: Another important piece of the puzzle. Shambling Vent can like Sorin, though to a lesser degree, get you out of a losing situation. Like everything in the deck, it combines well with Gideon and Sorin anthem effects. It also teams up with your other creatures to attack pesky enemy planeswalkers. Further, some turns you’ll want to not cast spells into an open counter or removal spell. For those turns Shambling Vent is a safe, useful choice.
Two things I want to note are Ojutai’s Command and Reave Soul. Ojutai’s Command is much worse here than in Jeskai without creatures besides Jace to return, but it’s still good. It takes the place of the second Ob Nixilis, because you never want to draw 2 Ob Nixilis and it serves a purpose playing open mana against midrange creature decks and Jeskai.
Reave Soul is an unfortunately important two drop. I tried Hangarback Walker, Seeker of the Way, and Fathom Feeder. What I concluded is that, besides
Jace, this deck doesn’t want a low mana creature. All three of those cards were poor both for offense and got run over on defense.
The other cards in the deck are fairly self-explanatory, so let’s move on to sideboarding. One of this deck’s few weakness is fast, early aggressive creatures that go under what it’s trying to do. Public enemy #1 is Atarka Red. This is why so many of the sideboard slots are filled with anti-aggro cards.
Vs. Atarka Red
–1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
–3 Painful Truths
–1/-2 Secure the Wastes
+3 Arashin Cleric
+1 Negate or Dispel (depends on what they’re running. Negate is for tokens).
+4 Surge of Righteousness
There’s little you can do against the Become Immense + Temur Battle Rage combo, but otherwise, it’s very possible to climb back from a low life total with Sorin. Pre- board the game favors them, but post-board you mitigate a lot of the problems.
Vs. GW Megamorph
– 1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
–2 Painful Truths
+1 Disdainful Stroke
+1 Silumgar’s Command
GW decks are outrageously bad against Esper Super Friends. The only games they can win are on-the-play fast aggro starts with Warden of the First Tree and Dromoka’s Command. I played GW in every Game Day and crushed it easily.
–3 Painful Truths
–1 Reave Soul
+1 Silumgar’s Command
Check out our video for our Battle for Zendikar Game Day Finals!!