Esper Control -- how do I beat aggro?

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I play in an aggro heavy environment, and I want to try something different than outaggroing aggro. So I've been trying different control builds, and the one I like the most is Esper control. However, I still struggle, and I'm not sure I'd do better than 50% wins right now, if that.

Control is brand new to me. If you play control, please help an initiate into the sect that is control magic.

Creatures (8)


Planeswalkers (4)
[deck]2 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/deck]

Other (23)
[deck]4 Azorius Charm
2 Dimir Charm
4 Dissipate
1 Sphinx's Revelation
2 Syncopate
4 Think Twice
3 Victim of Night
3 Supreme Verdict[/deck]

Land (26)
[deck]4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Island
1 Isolated Chapel
2 Nephalia Drownyard
4 Watery Grave[/deck]

Sideboard (15)
[deck]2 Appetite for Brains
3 Detention Sphere
3 Divine Deflection
3 Divine Reckoning
2 Duress
2 Paraselene[/deck]

[It's currently 61 cards, which I need to fix.]

I don't mind losing more often than usual just to try something different, but I would like to know how to make this better.

Cheers!




4 Dissipate feels like too much (especially considering the playset of Snapcaster Mages), and only 1 Sphinx's Revelation feels like not enough. Restoration Angel and Augur of Bolas are also some key Esper Control creatures that you aren't running. The Augur digs for key spells and is a relevant blocker, while the Angel can blink both the Augur and Snapcaster for excellent value. I'm really not feeling Obzedat in here for some reason, especially at 4 copies. Jace feels like a SB card for the control mirror matches.
Lingering Souls is common in Esper control as is Terminus. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage seems to be the Queen of Esper control.

I know this from too much experience; playing against Esper control is a little less fun than getting a root canal.
Also, the best control build against aggro is MBC, IMO. Check out my thread called 'Swamps Matter (Grixis Control)'. It's great vs. aggro, and good in the control mirror. I am still trying to tune the deck to compete with Jund midrange, however, so the build isn't quite final. I could use some more opinions over there, as well.
Above all else, you need your cheap removal to protect yourself ftrom aggro. Devour Flesh is terribly important for this.

Your deck is also too threat dense, so I would cut a couple of Obzedat and move Memory Adept to the sideboard in favor of Forbidden Alchemy so that you can chain through your deck early for cards like Sphinx's Revelation or Obzedat to put the game away, or more importantly, a super important land drop, and or an emergency dig for removal. A single Detention Sphere in the mainboard is super useful.

I prefer Rewind to Dissipate, but it's a shift that makes many players uncomfortable.
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You definitley want more spot removal. As suggested previosly,  removal spells such as Devour Flesh are very important..

Agreeing wiith the singleton Detention Sphere in the deck. Linering souls is also good for the early game and is especially useful in conjunction with sorin.

1 or 2 more Spinx's Revelations could be usefull as well.

A good bomb ive found while playing Esper control has been Drogskol Reaver

Also consider Vampire Nighthawk
100th post on 5/29/12 500th post on 8/20/12
Wow, thanks for all the great, quick suggestions. I will start making changes (but keep the ideas coming).
I like psychic strike more than dissipate if you're going esper. Let's you be a little more flexible with the mana, and the exile is only relevant against a small number of decks.

I found Carmen Sandiego before you were born unless you're Zlehtnoba.

Also, the best control build against aggro is MBC, IMO.

I have an emotional connection to blue and white, so for now I want to try Esper. Plus I want to recoup my investment in Snapcaster Mage. But I will look at your deck list.

I like the idea of having Obzedat in the deck. Drownyards just seems too slow as a win condition for me, and it's not going to beat your opponent fast enough on its own against aggro decks unless you're able to completely lock them down. 

That said, you don't really need 4. 2, maybe 3 will be plenty. 
I like the idea of having Obzedat in the deck. Drownyards just seems too slow as a win condition for me, and it's not going to beat your opponent fast enough on its own against aggro decks unless you're able to completely lock them down. 

That said, you don't really need 4. 2, maybe 3 will be plenty. 



It's simple human decency to have a faster win-condition than Drownyard; however, if you really want to make them suffer, Drownyard is the ticket.

On the other hand, if you want to induce rage-quitting, you definately need Tamiyo.
 
I like the idea of having Obzedat in the deck. Drownyards just seems too slow as a win condition for me, and it's not going to beat your opponent fast enough on its own against aggro decks unless you're able to completely lock them down. 

That said, you don't really need 4. 2, maybe 3 will be plenty. 

I agree 100% and I've changed it to 2x.

It's simple human decency to have a faster win-condition than Drownyard; however, if you really want to make them suffer, Drownyard is the ticket.

I have a very practical consideration to take into account as well, which is that my store does not allowed tied games. When time is up, whoever has the most life after 5 turns wins. This alone probably makes it impossible to place with a control deck, but I just want to try something different.

On the other hand, if you want to induce rage-quitting, you definately need Tamiyo.

I've decided not to get her, at least for now, for a number of reasons. I don't think she'll hold her value as much as Snapcaster Mage will post-rotation. If I'm wrong, please correct me.

Here is the updated deck list. Right now the list probably suffers from taking too much of the advice into account. I played one game with this list, and it feels better. I need advice on which cards I need more of and which I need fewer of.

Also, do I go with 25 or 26 lands?

Creatures (10)


Planeswalkers (2)
[deck]2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/deck]

Other (23)
[deck]2 Azorius Charm
1 Detention Sphere
2 Dimir Charm
3 Devour Flesh
2 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Lingering Souls
2 Psychic Strike
2 Sphinx's Revelation
3 Supreme Verdict
2 Think Twice
2 Victim of Night[/deck]

Land (26)
[deck]4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Island
1 Isolated Chapel
2 Nephalia Drownyard
4 Watery Grave[/deck]

Sideboard (15)
[deck]2 Appetite for Brains
1 Detention Sphere
3 Divine Deflection
2 Duress
2 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Paraselene
3 Terminus[/deck]

[It's still 61 cards, because I don't know what to cut.]
It's simple human decency to have a faster win-condition than Drownyard; however, if you really want to make them suffer, Drownyard is the ticket.

I have a very practical consideration to take into account as well, which is that my store does not allowed tied games. When time is up, whoever has the most life after 5 turns wins. This alone probably makes it impossible to place with a control deck, but I just want to try something different.

On the other hand, if you want to induce rage-quitting, you definately need Tamiyo.

I've decided not to get her, at least for now, for a number of reasons. I don't think she'll hold her value as much as Snapcaster Mage will post-rotation. If I'm wrong, please correct me.




You should make a point to fix that rule by playing Archangel's Light, since life is a terrible metric for how a specific game is going. Tamiyo is one of those things that is optional (and something I prefer to play over many of the other alternatives.)

@pz- You should play against a list that wins by making you play all of your spells and deck yourself while they continue to remove your things and reload their deck with removal. Frownyard is comparatively merciful to truly snaillish decks that plan to win 1-0-0, or my favorite, Sands of Delirium. Sands is especially fun against opponents who are too daft to scoop when they have no outs.
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You should make a point to fix that rule by playing Archangel's Light, since life is a terrible metric for how a specific game is going.

I may actually need to look into that...

Frownyard is comparatively merciful to truly snaillish decks that plan to win 1-0-0, or my favorite.

It may be a moot point, since the creatures (and Obzedat, Ghost Council) are often the wincon.

What do you think of the current list? Is 2x Forbidden Alchemy about right, or should I bump it to 3x?
I should add that if it is 1-1 when time is up and game 3 has not started, then the winner is determined by a coin flip. Not even Stuffy Doll will help in that situation.
You should have 4 azorius charm and 4 sphinx's revelation imo. Btw a friend of mine uses a few copies of barter in blood along with his other removal to dampen aggro decks. If i can obtain his list i'll post it up because he goes 4-0 almost every week and just tonight he beat my gruul deck wins which stomped every other matchup, even 2 mono black control decks.

Btw my meta has a mix of midrange and control atm so not many aggro decks, which i have taken advantage of ofc lol, by playing aggro.
..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />What do you think of the current list? Is 2x Forbidden Alchemy about right, or should I bump it to 3x?



Honestly, it's an awkward call because Forbidden Alchemy and Sphinx's Revelation make you blow through your deck way too fast together (and often take up precious space where you would otherwise have removal or threats, or utilities.) Rev nets you card volume at a mana premium (I've most often cast it as an instant-speed Tidings at 7 mana.), while Forbidden Alchemy is arguably even better than Impulse in terms of being affordable surgocal card selection (I want to alter one with a ninja being replaced by a doll or a straw man because of how often it becomes a card you need.)  Forbidden Alchemy enables Think Twice and Snapcaster Mage, but Sphinx's Revelation allows you to get second wind, so you have to decide for yourself which one you'd rather play more of.

I'd say Rev is the safe option, but Alchemy often rewards more thoughtful play.

I'd also recomment 25 land. 26 gets a little too floody without cycling lands, manlands or something more self-sufficient than the Innistrad utility lands.
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Forbidden Alchemy is best at two copies in most decks that want it, but frankly I'd rather just have 4x Sphinx's Revelation. And 4x Azorius Charm is auto-include in this deck, because bouncing to the top of the library wrecks your opponent's tempo and screws his next draw. I'm not sure about maindecking Dimir Charm here; I think the best Esper is mainly Azorius splashing black for Drownyards and some access to removal. Obzedat at 2x is money, however, so your black sources will have to be able to cast him reliably as well.
Planar Cleansing is also good in the side, and you could maybe even squeeze one in the main deck.
I would consider taking out the sorins for a number of Liliana of the Veil to give you even more early answers to stuff like t3 Geist of Saint Traft or Boros Reckoner.  She also allows you to benefit more from the discard since you run snapcasters and potentially Think Twice and Lingering Souls.

There was a cool list on channelfireball recently that I liked, I believe it was posted about a week ago.  Just check the new videos section, the title is something like 'Esper Standard Event'.  The main focus on winning is drownyard/jace but I felt it gives you more play than these versions that run augur/angel.
Dig the list. It's been stated above that Drownyard/Jace is the main focus on winning...and to even add to your chances of quicker victory, you could run
x2 [C]Curse of the Bloody Tome[/C].


    


On the other hand, if you want to induce rage-quitting, you definately need Tamiyo.

I've decided not to get her, at least for now, for a number of reasons. I don't think she'll hold her value as much as Snapcaster Mage will post-rotation. If I'm wrong, please correct me.





I think it's a safe bet that Snapcaster will hold its value better than most of its contemporaries. The card's popular in Legacy or Vintage or whatever it is they call type 1 these days.
Btw a friend of mine uses a few copies of barter in blood along with his other removal to dampen aggro decks. If i can obtain his list i'll post it up because he goes 4-0 almost every week and just tonight he beat my gruul deck wins which stomped every other matchup, even 2 mono black control decks.

Actually, I would be really interesting in seeing this list if you can get it.

I'd say Rev is the safe option, but Alchemy often rewards more thoughtful play.

I like the notion of rewarding thoughtful play.

I'd also recomment 25 land. 26 gets a little too floody

Done, thanks!

I would consider taking out the sorins for a number of Liliana of the Veil to give you even more early answers to stuff like t3 Geist of Saint Traft or Boros Reckoner.  She also allows you to benefit more from the discard since you run snapcasters and potentially Think Twice and Lingering Souls.

There was a cool list on channelfireball recently that I liked, I believe it was posted about a week ago.  Just check the new videos section, the title is something like 'Esper Standard Event',

I found it. It relies heavily on Jace and Liliana (which I don't own, but I agree would be good). For next FNM I think I will try the Sorin version, and then I'll re-evaluate.

So this is the updated version. The only real changes are one less land and +2 Azorius Charm / -2 Dimir Charm. I must say I like Dimir Charm's third ability though. It is also useful in messing up the opponent's strategy. I wish I had room for both.

Creatures (10)


Planeswalkers (2)
[deck]2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/deck]

Other (23)
[deck]4 Azorius Charm
1 Detention Sphere
3 Devour Flesh
2 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Lingering Souls
2 Psychic Strike
2 Sphinx's Revelation
3 Supreme Verdict
2 Think Twice
2 Victim of Night[/deck]

Land (25)
[deck]3 Drowned Catacomb
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Nephalia Drownyard
4 Watery Grave[/deck]

Sideboard (15)
[deck]2 Appetite for Brains
1 Detention Sphere
3 Divine Deflection
2 Duress
2 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Paraselene
3 Terminus[/deck]

This is what I'll play test with the next few nights and then I'll see if I need to make more changes (but keep the advice rolling, I really appreciate the help).
Lose the Counterspells. They just suck these days and many Aggro decks have Caverns or can just go under the counters.

You need a minimum of 5 sweepers, preferably 6 or 7 after sideboard.

3 or 4 Sphinx's Revelation; not only is it the best noncreature spell in the format, its the way you stabilize after pushing off the early Aggro.

You need less mana-taxing removal like Victim of Night and fewer expensive 5-mana-plus win conditions, and play cheap, expendable creatures and removal like Augur of Bolas, Tragic Slip, and Detention Sphere.
I'm not feeling the maindeck Devour Flesh at 3 copies for some reason.
Lose the Counterspells. They just suck these days and many Aggro decks have Caverns or can just go under the counters.

I can definitely try removing them. I notice playing that just the idea that I might have counterspells is enough to make my opponent supercautious, even when I don't have them in hand. This would allow me to add either more sweepers, spot removal, or, my initial thought, put Dimir Charm back in.

You need a minimum of 5 sweepers, preferably 6 or 7 after sideboard. 3 or 4 Sphinx's Revelation; not only is it the best noncreature spell in the format, its the way you stabilize after pushing off the early Aggro.

I agree to some point, but I don't want to underemphasize the strength of Obzedat, Ghost Council, which is often the wincon. Once the council is in session, the board sweepers are usually not relevant. I will look at adding more Sphincx's Revelation, however. Right now I just own the 2x.

You need less mana-taxing removal like Victim of Night and fewer expensive 5-mana-plus win conditions, and play cheap, expendable creatures and removal like Augur of Bolas, Tragic Slip, and Detention Sphere.

I only have 2x 5-mana win conditions. I have 3x Augur of Bolas. I removed Tragic Slip because it was pretty rare that I could use it in its morbid mode. I have 1x Detention Sphere. If Dimir Charm doesn't work out, I will try Tragic Slip again or, alternatively, Ultimate Price.

I'm not feeling the maindeck Devour Flesh at 3 copies for some reason.

I like Devour Flesh because it has the potential of dealing with Predator Ooze, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Geist of Saint Traft, etc. However, whether it is a 2x or 3x, I'm ambivalent about. I can experiment.

I like the card, but it feels like it belongs in the side. Your sweepers give you good chances in game 1 anyway. Dimir Charm deserves a maindeck home because it's still removal against aggro and it stops Rakdos's Return against control/Jund midrange (which is very important).
I like the card, but it feels like it belongs in the side.

What would you replace it with?

Slightly updated version without counterspells and adding Rest in Peace to sideboard. My last list also had some typos, which I've corrected both here and in that posting.

Creatures (10)


Planeswalkers (2)
[deck]2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/deck]

Other (23)
[deck]4 Azorius Charm
1 Detention Sphere
2 Dimir Charm
3 Devour Flesh
2 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Lingering Souls
2 Sphinx's Revelation
3 Supreme Verdict
2 Think Twice
2 Victim of Night[/deck]

Land (25)
[deck]3 Drowned Catacomb
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Nephalia Drownyard
4 Watery Grave[/deck]

Sideboard (15)
[deck]2 Appetite for Brains
2 Duress
2 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Murder
2 Paraselene
2 Rest in Peace
3 Terminus[/deck]

I've also ordered 2x Liliana of the Veil. While I like Sorin better at some emotional level, I've never been able to get him to ultimate, and I think Liliana of the Veil might be more practical. If I do make the switch, do I still want Lingering Souls?
If you're running Lili, it probably needs a third Snapcaster to get some more efficiency from the discarded spell.
I can't quote on this phone, but regarding Devour Flesh, I would rather see targeted temoval in the mainboard. You need to be able to hit what you want, especially since your meta is aggro-heavy. For those matchups where you sacrifice is requires, you bring it in. What cards in your Meta require you to run it, and how often are those cards alone on the board?
I've also ordered 2x Liliana of the Veil. While I like Sorin better at some emotional level, I've never been able to get him to ultimate, and I think Liliana of the Veil might be more practical. If I do make the switch, do I still want Lingering Souls?



If you're worried about aggro, you should stick with Sorin. You don't need his ultimate. Lingering Souls and Sorin's emblem make a big difference vs. aggro.

I can't quote on this phone, but regarding Devour Flesh, I would rather see targeted temoval in the mainboard.

I'm certainly willing to try it. Which removal spell would you recommend? How about -3 Devour Flesh, +1 Lingering Souls, +2 Tragic Slip?

I can't quote on this phone, but regarding Devour Flesh, I would rather see targeted temoval in the mainboard.

I'm certainly willing to try it. Which removal spell would you recommend? How about -3 Devour Flesh, +1 Lingering Souls, +2 Tragic Slip?




How are you going to activate the morbid on-demand? If your deck had a sacrifice outlet I'd go with the Slip in a hurry, but I'm not sure how effective it would be otherwise. If your meta is as aggro-heavy as you suggest (it's in the name of the thread!) then I would mainboard the Dimir Charm as a testing point. It kills lots of aggro stuff and is still useful in other matchups.

On another note, chump-blocking with Lingering Souls tokens could be a way to activate morbid for Tragic Slip if you're running enough copies for it to be consistent.
Probably not the best advice, just giving an experience explanation: Curse of Death's Hold is so mean.. Aggro decks are like.. well, all my creatures die.. so yeahhh.