Esper EDH Decks…the future of EDH? (and my newest decklist)

For those who remember the discussion on the top 20 most annoying cards in EDH, atop it all, I listed Sharuum the Hegemon as the most annoying – not because as a standalone card he is outrageous or degenerate (He’s sure no Genesis Wave… thanks for that one Wizards… :p ) – but because he represents one of the most ridiculous triads of color in Magic, with the strongest and most… how shall we say….unappealing… way to win games.  Sharuum decks just have access to 1) way too much tutoring and 2) way too many 2 or 3 card combos that break down the game-state, and/or end the game immediately.

And the real problem -or perhaps one of the strangest, most fascinating phenomena I’ve seen in Magic deckbuilding – is that NO ONE is able to build a fair Sharuum/Esper deck!  It starts out pleasant enough, with innocent intentions.  I’ve heard it all before from multiple players… “Oh, I’m not going to run any crazy combos! My deck is fair, I promise!”… But no, it is as if Sharuum himself is bending the will of the pilot, and eventually, he breaks down and fills his deck with nuttiness.  I mean, why not play a deck with 6 or 7 tutor effects?  How about 6 different infinite combos?  Why not turn everyone’s life total to 10 in one turn (ugh, Magister Sphinx)?  The ability to resist this sort of power is just as difficult to resist the Dark Side of the Force, I’m sure.  I’ve seen countless players give in to the Darksteel Forge + Nevinyrral’s Disk combo.  Everyone who runs Sharuum also runs Sculping Steel – why wouldn’t they?  So why not include the little Disciple of the Vault and just see what happens?  Seems innocent enough right?  easy enough to deal with?

I mean, what’s so bad about Power Artifact + Grim Monolith?  It’s not so hard to answer, and you still need some sort of card to abuse that silly infinite mana with, right?  I’ve run this combo in my artifact Memnarch EDH deck (previously Arcum Daagson) for years now, and I rarely try to abuse it, unless someone comes after me.  I simply give them a little deterrent and say “If you attack me, I will deck you” – after all, what else am I going to do with this foil Stroke of Genius?  Draw myself cards and play my whole deck?? Yawn..

The point is, this game is full of degenerate combos, and EDH decks that have the ability to wipe out 1 or more players with their combos stand head and shoulders above some decks in terms of sheer power levels – but are they appropriate for your average post-FNM game? Or your casual EDH Tuesday gatherings?  It’s a really tough question to answer.  On one hand, they ruin the spirit of fair, fun-themed decks.  On the other hand, the guys that run these combo decks are doing players a favor – they are forcing them to adapt their decks and run the answers they should be – Krosan Grip, instant removal, other Disenchant effects, counterspells, etc.    Not all decks should be like Big Shitty Naya, which plays only fat creatures, 1-2 removal spells (Swords and Path) and plenty of dumb ways to get those creatures into play.  Yes, some decks really need to be versatile  – they need to be able to deal with almost any situation that should arise – including shutting down cheap combo decks…

With the advent of an officially recognized format (Commander) and Star City and other organizations (Legion Events, for instance, is running an 4-player EDH Challenge on the Magic Cruise 3) hosting competitive tournaments, it’s likely that we will see a format shift of sorts.  It seems almost inevitable right?  As soon as a format becomes popular enough, the spikes dig in and find ways to win prizes off of the casual events.

So what will happen when Star City hosts its first EDH Duel format tourney?  People will have to gear up and re-tune special decks that are meant to fight in a leaner, meaner 1 on 1 environment.  Yuck, right?  With 40 life, how is an aggressive beat down deck supposed to outrace or play fair with a deck that runs 12 tutors, 6 combos, a bunch of card draw and removal spells?  Can Rafiq.dec even be a contender?  He may just go from one of the more hated EDH generals to the savior that keeps the format balanced between Aggro combo and Combo combo… Wait another minute here! Rafiq himself is just the lynch pin of a combo piece deck.  Him + any assortment of equipment, pump effects and/or creatures that are impossible to block or have trample, etc.  Do we really want a format that degenerates into this?

In fact, I’ve had 3 or so EDH duel decks that I’ve been testing for quite a while, ever since the “highlander” format (60 cards, 20 life, no general) essentially died out and became EDH.  I found myself having to port them over to 100 card builds – and don’t get me wrong, it is always fun to include more cards into a deck… but I’ve found that these previously powerful aggro decks (mono black aggro, mono red burn, white weenie) are all so much weaker now that 40 life is the standard.  A well-tuned Combo deck can pretty much have its way with anything, especially now that Braids and Rofellos, two of the best generals in a duel, are banned entirely for being a) the enemy of fun and b) overpowered.  I remember the days of a turn 2 Braids and watching everyone roll their eyes or scoop.  Ok, they were right on that one.  I suppose if the tournament is a 4-player free-for-all, and there are three players at the table with aggressive decks, the combo player could be hated out with a team effort – but oftentimes, good combo players run just enough deterrents and defensive spells to hold off the weak-minded players who don’t know that the player is much more dangerous than he appears to be.  Again, this is why it can be a valuable lesson for casual players to occasionally play against Combo decks in a friendly kitchen-table setting.  People really need to give combo players a challenge, even if it means they’re playing a 2 on 1 or 3 on 1 scenario for a majority of the game.  If combo is allowed to run unfettered, they can play something like 36 lands, and 40 synergistic combo cards, 3-4 removal spells, 4-6 counterspells, and 12 tutors.  If your local group is alert to these “mean decks” as I once put it, they can keep the balance of power in check.  If you force the combo players to play fair utility cards,  you destabilize their ability to combo out ever so slightly, and you might buy your traditional EDH deck time to win.  What is even more interesting, the most-hated EDH card type by many players turns out to be the best answers to shutting down cheap combo decks -counterspells .   Your counterspell deck could become the good guy for once, if you run it against a known combo player!

It’s not to say that combo is running rampant – it’s just that, as I feel like EDH may take a turn for the competetive, one should be aware of the builds that exist out there, and know when to be a bit “vocal” at your table, and encourage other players to team up against the scape-goated “bad guy” playing a “mean” general.

And while this rant has continued for quite a bit, I must admit that Esper is extremely fun to play if built properly.  There is almost unlimited potential for wackiness if you put your mind to it.  You don’t need a deck with Demonic Tutor and its 5-6 common iterations, all of the best counterspells or card draw, and the quickest and dirtiest combos to still be very strong and very fun to play – so fun, in fact, that others are drawn in while watching it simply perform the wacky tricks it is capable of performing.

After nearly a month of conceptualizing, testing, revising, this simple Sen Triplets deck underwent the transformation that almost all Esper Decks has gone – from a simple deck based around a theme, with only 2 ways to win – to a powerful and synergistic deck that is capable of… Well, you’ll see…

I call the deck:  Sen Triplets…To Your Stations! You see, you only need 3 of the 4 “Stations” from the Fifth Dawn cycle of cards to do really, really nutty things – that’s one for each of your beloved Triplets!

Remember, there are two ways to build this deck:  cheap and fun. or Expensive and dirty.  There’s also a secret cheap and dirty option if you should choose it.  My version is designed without some of the more powerful combos/cards that I play in my Memnarch Artifact EDH deck, but feel free to “go there” if you have the means – just remember you may go from the fun deck at the table to the enemy of all rather quickly…

Starting in order of Converted Mana Cost:

Mishra’s Bauble
Mox Opal
Lotus Bloom
Lotus Petal
Intervention Pact
Slaughter Pact
Negation Pact

Leonin Elder
Disciple of the Vault
Skullclamp
Elixir of Immortality
Avarice Totem
Skycloud Egg
Darkwater Egg
Chromatic Star
Chromatic Sphere
Conjurer’s Bauble
Sol Ring
Sensei’s Divining Top
Expedition Map
Pithing Needle
Brittle Effigy
Executioner’s Capsule
Dispeller’s Capsule
Necrogen Spellbomb
Nihilist Spellbomb
Origin Spellbomb
Sunbeam Spellbomb
Flight Spellbomb
Aether Spellbomb
Enlightened Tutor

Etherium Sculptor
Painsmith
Riddlesmith
Leonin Squire
Time Sieve
Scroll Rack
Thoptor Foundry
Sword of the Meek
Artificer’s Intuition
Courier’s Capsule
Helm of Awakening
Mind Stone
Reshape

Lim-Dul’s Vault

Sculpting Steel
Blasting Station
Trinket Mage
Dark Tutelage
Second Sunrise
Vedalken Archmage
Sludge Strider
Auriok Salvagers
Tezzeret the Seeker
Future Sight
Ad Nauseum
Ethereal Usher
Netherborn Phalanx
Salvaging Station
Open the Vaults
Hive Mind
Myr Incubator
Sharuum the Hegemon
Summoning Station
Filigree Angel

Obviously, there is a budget way to build this deck – drop Sol Ring, Scroll Rack, Mox Opal, Enlightened Tutor, Sensei’s Divining Top and Pithing Needle, and the only cards wirth $3.00 or more are Dark Tutelage, Sharuum the Hegemon, Future Sight and Helm of Awakening  (all of which are easily replaced by cards like Scrabbling Claws, Moriok Replica, Fabricate, or any other fun cards you see fit).  Everything else, at first glance, is junk!  I once had a person cast Acquire on me, expecting some great artifact treasure to come onto his board, and the best thing he could get was… Sharuum?  Sol Ring?  Ugh.  For quite a while, I even ran Shared Fate, because it fit the Sen Triplets theme and I can use Scroll Rack and Divining Top to control what people get off of my deck.  It’s definitely worth considering.

The power of the deck is not in the individual cards, but in their combination as a whole – just like the Sen Triplets!  There are many synergies in this decklist, and as Besieged comes out, you can bet that the new Tezzeret will fit nicely in there (perhaps edging out my beloved Sludge Strider, which is just so nice at helping your life total hover at stable levels).

If you really want to get mean, you can cut the “Transmute” cards – Ethereal Usher and Netherborn Phalanx, which randomly have value outside of their tutor effect (hint: they get all of your best cards: Summoning Station, Hive Mind, Open the Vaults, Myr Incubator) – and you can run Demonic Tutor or Vampiric Tutor, since they are almost always better and more efficient.  I’ve found the Transmute to be slow, but I really like it since it can’t really be countered and sometimes killing an overachieving token deck with a Netherborn Phalanx is just so great.    Mindslaver is the glaring 6 drop that is missing from the deck – especially with the Academy Ruins in my build – you can include it in your build if you want, but I don’t have the heart just yet.

For the mana base, you can get as greedy or as cheap s you want. I recommend at the very least all 3 filter lands from Eventide/Shadowmoor, Arcande Sanctum from Shards, the 3 Vivid Lands from Lorwyn, and whatever else you can work in.  The old Painlands are fine – especially Caves of Coilos since your W/B lands are limited.  Ideally you’d want all 3 dual lands, 3-4 fetchlands (because they allow you to shuffle your library with Top and Scroll Rack), the three Shock Lands from Ravnica block, and then about 2 of each basic land.  My current build only runs 34-35 land, because of the low curve and copious amounts of card draw.  The only utility lands that are key are Tolaria West, Reliquary Tower, and Academy Ruins.

This deck’s worst enemy is Null Rod.  It absolutely shuts the deck down.  It is probably going to be a useful and more popular card in EDH over time, even though it is traditionally thought of as being quite un-fun (everyone loves to play mana producing artifacts, and this shuts them down too).

I am trying to think of a fair and fun answer to Null Rod, but Into the Roil is all I can come up with.  Remember: it’s important to keep a theme together for your EDH deck to produce as many synergies as possible, even if it weakens you against a few cards.  :)

I am also tempted to run Hurkyl’s Recall, because that returns Null Rod, OR it saves your board position if someone is about to activate a Disk (you have Needle as an answer), or casts Fracturing Gust (also great against this deck but not game-breaking).   The thing is, this deck can recover quickly, and it doesn’t mind having its artifacts in the ‘yard, so long as they come back again sometime.  So, as soon as I think of something to cut, I will add the Hurkyl’s Recall.

The greatest card in the deck is probably Artificer’s Intuition, which is essentially a blue artifact Survival of the Fittest – it lets you pitch anything to dig up this spectacular tool box of cards that I’ve assembled.  The Spellbombs are all useful in their own, self-explanatary ways. Pithing Needle and Brittle Effigy are great answers to a lot of threats.  Other cards like Sol Ring and Mox Opal help accelerate and generate key mana quickly.  It also serves as an outlet to discard Filigree Angel to fetch other artifacts in preparation for setting up a huge Open The Vaults.  Lastly, it tutors up my favorite 1-drop artifact of all time – Avarice Totem.  This card is endlessly amazing.  I am starting to think it should be in every EDH deck EVER, the more I see it in play…

Other cards to potentially use in SenStations (as I call it for short) besides Mindslaver and the new Tezzeret are: Treasure Mage (he will be so great! Better than Etherial Usher!), Time Spiral, Roar of Reclamation (if you sense the need to rebuild multiple times), and Soulscour, if you want to get really, really mean.  Mana Crypt and Mana Vault are notoriously missing, but I find them not that necessariy in the long run unless you go the Soulscour route, and they do draw a lot of threat from the table as you ramp up to it.

So there you have my attempt at a fun and nutty Esper deck that tries very, very hard to walk the line between fun and cuthroat, and so far, this deck is amazing to play and not too expensive to build.  I recommend giving it a try!  There is a good chance that this deck will turn into a “mean” version on the Magic Cruise (which I will be on in 2 weeks) if I sense some serious competition on the boat.  If so desired, I will post the mean version of the list as well.

(PS – Bonus points to those who shout out all the cheesey ways to win that I have hidden in the decklist…and believe me, there are quite a few)

Published in: on January 24, 2011 at 3:21 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great article and an awesome deck.

    My heart seems to be on the dark site :/

  2. Excellent deck, is there any way that you could include the combo’s? I would really enjoy making this build but I want to know what I need to attempt in the long-run. Also, if you could, include your land list? It’d be much appreciated.

  3. sharuum’s a chick.

  4. Sen Triplets and no Head Games? What is this????


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