With our first upgrade guide to our five Free-to-Play, 0 wildcard decks for the Gladiator format out of the way, let’s take a dive into improving another list using a minimal amount of our precious wildcards!
This week, we’re looking at turning our F2P Esper list into a budget-friendly Esper control list. The original, Free-to-Play version of this deck has some hints of a control theme, but focused more heavily on using primarily cheaper evasive/value creatures with some board control and card draw to round it out.
For reference, here’s the original list:
The deck, in practice, performs more like a mid-range deck that seeks to out-value your opponent and generally play with one-to-one removal options to keep the board in your favor. While this isn’t a bad plan, because of the limited card selection available, there are no counterspell options or tax effects available to really push the deck into a true control plan. Let’s take a look at our upgraded list:
For this version of the deck, we’ve added the following ten cards.
- Omen of the Sea
- Ob Nixilis’s Cruelty
- Didn’t Say Please
- Thought Collapse
- Narset, Parter of Veils
- Heartless Act
- Drown in the Loch
- Seal Away
These additions help to push the deck into a decidedly more control-oriented archetype, with most of the slots being devoted to adding a counterspell suite and diversifying the amounts of cheap removal to help stymie your opponent’s plan. Lastly, we also add some utility and card selection to the deck to help round out the control plan.
The added counterspell suite is what really differentiates this version of the deck from the previous version. By clearing out some of the less useful/synergistic creatures for counterspells, the deck becomes better at safely moving to the late-game and stopping the effects of high-value enter-the-battlefield effects, board wipes, or card-advantage engines that would otherwise push you out of the game.
Thought Collapse and Didn’t Say Please largely exist to act as common cancel variants with some upside, but also have synergy with Drown in the Loch, one of our hybrid removal/counter cards that relies on the size of your opponents graveyard. Neutralize, the only other “Cancel with upside” counterspell in the deck also has has the ability to cycle, making it a very useful addition in situations where a counterspell is less useful than trying to dig for a different threat or answer. Syncopate, the final new counterspell, offers an advantage over similar “pay X mana or counter” style spells by scaling somewhat well in late-game situations where you can hold up large amounts of mana while also having the added line of text that puts the countered spell into exile rather than the graveyard – and important option in dealing with a format that has a large amount of graveyard interaction.
Diversifying our removal options with a variety of cheap/utility spells makes the deck better at adapting to different situations. Heartless Act is one of the cheapest removal options available in the format that doesn’t have large restrictions placed on it. While it can’t permanently deal with creatures with counters on them, this is less common than encountering legendary creatures for similar spells like Cast Out. Ob-Nixilis’s Cruelty helps deal with many indestructible creatures in the format, with the added benefit if exiling them. While there are definitely larger creatures this spell won’t deal with, it’s utility is hard to pass up. Seal Away, similar to Heartless Act, is another very cheap form of removal to help deal with more aggressive decks.
I mentioned Drown in the Loch earlier, but I want to emphasize its versatility as a counterspell and removal piece for this deck. That it’s also a very cheap option at only two mana is just another reason why it deserves a spot in this version of the deck.
Our final two additions focus on adding and upgrading both utility and card selection. Omen of the Sea is an incredibly useful card draw spell, allowing you to dig more deeply for the cards you need at instant speed. The enchantment it leaves behind is also useful, giving you the final utility of essentially being a free scry for your board after its initial effect. Beyond the card selection, however, it’s ability to allow you to hold up or bluff a counterspell without necessarily wasting untapped mana shouldn’t be overlooked.
Narset, Parter of Veils is the first Planeswalker we’ve added to an upgraded list, and for good reason. This is easily the most powerful uncommon Planeswalker available in Gladiator (and possibly in Magic in general). The ability to dig four cards deep to find a non-creature spell is amazing at almost any point in the game against any archetype – finding a board wipe, targeted removal, or counterspell when you need it should never be underestimated. The static ability preventing your opponent from drawing more than 1 card per turn can be maddening for other control decks, easily shutting down many powerful strategies simply by remaining on the board. While most of our other upgrade cards are interchangeable with other cards, Narset provides a unique and powerful effect that simply can’t be replicated.
These ten uncommons and commons are a great start to upgrading your list, but if you’ve got a rare or mythic wildcard burning a hole in your digital pocket, there are some great options to upgrading this list available.
First, let’s take a look at what is probably the best investment of a rare wild-card in any singleton format: Fabled Passage. This card is useful in nearly every deck you can create in this format. This is the card I advise you craft before any other rares. While it’s not the most exciting card in the world, it does wonders towards improving two and three-color mana bases, especially within these budget decks. For this deck, I recommend removing one swamp to make room for Fabled Passage. Your next rare Wild Cards for this deck should go towards building your Esper land base, but these additions don’t need much in the way of explanation.
If your land base is covered, by and large the largest weakness of this upgraded list is finding a haymaker that can really close out the game. While the deck has some large creatures and maintains a variety of smaller threats to help end the game, most non-combo control lists are looking to resolve a large, hard to answer threat that can quickly end a game. With that in mind, here are to great game-ending options in each slot.
For your rare wildcard, Dream Trawler is one of the best end-game threats you can find for this color combination. Dream Trawler does basically everything you want in a game-ending haymaker: it draws cards, gains life, protects itself, and is evasive thanks to flying. In addition, its power increases whenever you draw cards – something this deck has plenty of ways to achieve. If you’re looking to close out a game, there’s almost no better way than resolving your Dream Trawler.
While I usually like to present only one option for these final slots, there are two great mythic options for this deck that close out the game in very different ways.
The first is Liliana, Dreadhorde General. Exactly like in our upgraded Mardu list, Liliana can be a win condition on her own, producing tokens, removing creatures, and has an ultimate that simply wipes out your opponent’s board while leaving yours entirely untouched. The difference here is that her other abilities are less synergistic with the rest of the deck. You’re less reliant on creatures, and while drawing cards from their deaths is valuable, there are few ways for you to trigger this benefit than you have in a dedicated sacrifice deck.
Our second option is Lyra Dawnbringer. Similar to Dream Trawler, Lyra is a huge, evasive, lifelink threat that can simply close out the game once it resolves. The difference here is that Lyra doesn’t protect itself like Dream Trawler does, making it slightly more vulnerable. That being said, it’s still one of the scarier options for ending the game quickly while protecting yourself. While Liliana is a game-ending value engine, Lyra will tend to close out games much more quickly once resolved.
If you find this deck fun, here are some additional cards at every rarity you can consider good inclusions in the deck:
- Disdainful Stroke
- Ill-Gotten Inheritance
- Sinister Sabotage
- Banishing Light
- The Birth of Meletis
- Ominous Seas
- God-Pharaoh’s Statue
- Baird, Steward of Argive
- Glimpse of Freedom
- Teferi, Time Raveler
- Murderous Rider
- Shark Typhoon
- Thassa’s Intervention
- Brazen Borrower
- Ugin, the Ineffable
- Kiora Bests the Sea God
- God-Eternal Kefnet
Finally, let’s take a look at one example of a fully fleshed out list with no Wildcard restrictions.
Control is an incredibly versatile archetype, and this list is just one way of approaching it. Esper control is a great shell that can lead to interesting deck building possibilities, especially if you’re looking to take advantage unique or unexpected win conditions. Do you have an interesting list you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments or share it on the Gladiator Discord!
We’ve got three more F2P lists to dive into in the coming weeks. If you have a particular list you’d like to see an upgrade for that I haven’t hit yet, let me know!
See you in the Arena!