Greetings, readers! This week marks the return to the Top Soldiers Of series, where I explain my picks for the top legends and non-legends alike in each color combination, in hopes that perhaps I give you, the readers, some ideas for the deckbuilding process in the future.
This week, we’ll be taking a look at arguably the most popular three-color combination, one that has represented strong elements of control and combo, and one that has drawn my ire, inspiring a rather vulgar catchphrase of mine. I, of course, am referring to the combination of blue with white and black that is Esper.
Esper is a combination that focuses either on strong control elements, with removal, counterspells and tutors, or focuses on a heavy artifact theme, with multiple catch-all silver bullets that are easy to tutor through the combination’s wealth of artifact-tutoring effects.
The combination’s generals tend to err on the side of infinite combos, so I personally frown upon their use, but I won’t deny they’re extremely powerful. That being said, we’re going to start with non-legendary spells first, beginning with:
#5 – Enigma Sphinx
Enigma Sphinx is a tad oddball in nature; Cascade has historically never functioned all that well with countermagic, but if you’re the type of player who adamantly despises countermagic with every fiber of your being, and you still want to play Esper, Enigma Sphinx is a wonderful choice for the top-end. Not only does it provide a recursive, threatening presence in combat, but it’s an 8-drop with Cascade, meaning whatever you find with it has the potential to be just as, if not more deadly.
Enigma Sphinx is arguably most useful in 5-color alongside threats like Maelstrom Nexus and whatnot, but if you’re feeling aggressive, or just want to build a Sphinx tribal deck, Enigma Sphinx is the card for you.
#4 – Thopter Foundry
Now, while one may look at Thopter Foundry and scream “COMBO! COMBO! OMG COMBO!”, the fact of the matter is, despite there being other cards you can add for an actual infinite combo, Sword of the Meek doesn’t go infinite with this. Yes, you can make a limitless amount of tokens, but you’re restricted by the amount of mana you have.
That being said, I think the card is honestly fine without Sword of the Meek, letting you get the most out of any artifacts that die to stray removal spells, or if you just want to gain a bunch of life when a sweeper threatens your board state. Sac outlets like these often get passed up, and I don’t see why. If you’re going infinite with this, it’s because your opponents let three (or more) combo pieces resolve. It really shouldn’t be frowned upon when you achieve something like that undisrupted.
#3 – Esper Charm
Esper Charm, like Bant Charm before it, is equal parts flexible and powerful; on the surface, the most oft-used ability will wind up being the Divination at instant speed, but there are situations that call for the Mind Rot; lategame, if you’re able to, say, flicker a Mnemonic Wall / Archaeomancer duo with Ghostly Flicker, you can continuously cast Esper Charm and grind your opponents out.
What’s not to be underestimated, though, is the Demystify option; while unexciting, sometimes you just need that type of effect against the Ghostly Prisons or Omnisciences you find yourself up against. The raw power that comes from options that useful is not to be underestimated.
#2 – Magister Sphinx
The cheap Sorin Markov, Magister Sphinx is as powerful as it is reputable. Sadly, if you’re playing against an Esper control deck, you can almost always expect to see this at some point in their line of plays, because of how great the effect is in a vacuum. You’re playing Esper Control, you’ve done nothing but cast Wrath of God and Counterspell variants to impact the board, drawing a bunch of cards off your Rhystic Study. Suddenly, a glacial-paced game where nobody’s taken damage becomes a Magister Sphinx walking in and doming someone for 30 or more damage.
The great thing about this sort of effect is it not only puts an absurd amount of pressure on the wayward victim of it out of nowhere, but it plays its politics equally well and awful. If someone has the board in a vicegrip, suddenly a lack of blockers could truly be their demise if you hit them with this effect, causing the whole table to reconsider sacrificing their army to get rid of the most grave threat to the table. Just be advised when using this effect, though, it truly is politically frail, and can draw quite a large amount of ire from its victim, despite how necessary this effect is if large lifegain effects are popular in your meta.
#1 – Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Perhaps this pick is a little biased for me, but Sphinx of the Steel Wind has to be one of my favorite combat-oriented creatures ever printed. For one, any creature with first strike, vigilance and lifelink is downright terrifying in a cluttered board state. It attacks, blocks, gains life, and makes combat a nightmare on offense or defense for any opponent looking to kill you.
Another great draw the Sphinx has is how well it plays in both reanimator and control, as a finisher or a strong reanimator target. Reanimated early on in the game, this thing can provide more pressure than a Serra Ascendant, letting you just punch at life totals while bolstering your own. In control, this is a great post-Wrath creature to drop, as it’s immune to Beast Within, Chaos Warp and Putrefy because of its protection from red and green. Sphinx of the Steel Wind is truly Esper’s Akroma, Angel of Wrath.
Now that we’ve covered the five non-legends in the color combination, it’s time to move on to the legendary creatures. Esper’s generals are both feared and reviled, as their reputation for combo-based strategies tends to dissuade people from wanting to play or play against them. That being said, I’m here to tell you why you might want to or not want to play these, so without further ado:
#5 – Merieke Ri Berit
Merieke is a rather interesting case for a general. For one, unlike Rubinia Soulsinger, she costs 3 instead of 5. For two, she remains tapped regardless of what happens to the creature she’s stealing. Lastly, if something happens to her, the creature dies rather than goes back to its owner, so it creates interesting scenarios when faced against combo matchups. Take that, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind!
That being said, there are some interesting routes to go with her. She’s a good control general if combo is a bad matchup for you (which it shouldn’t be if you’re playing control, but I digress), and she’s a hilarious rattlesnake, as no one will dare attack an untapped, not summoning-sick Merieke. With effects such as Thousand-Year Elixir, you can also make for some hilarious situations where you turn Merieke into a powerful assassin instead, making her hilariously useful. Clone that Prophet of Kruphix for value!
#4 – Sen Triplets
Triplets is definitely a control matchup’s worst nightmare, as you can just pick them when they have an abundance of cards in hand, cast their threat, and then have them use their own Hinder on it. In general, being able to pseudo-Mindslaver the threat of the table, while powerful, is expected, and politically fragile at best.
Don’t get me wrong, the effect is incredibly powerful, though, especially given the fact that it’s relatively easy to just jam Mindslaver in the deck and call it a day. It’s also really easy to clear the board of nonland permanents and then use Sen Triplets to lock the threat of the table out of the game by stealing all their gas while the rest of the table moves to kill them (by swain). Despite that, though, just the concept of that seems unfun, and while I admit there’s a lot of power and unique plays in Sen Triplets, the fact that the entire table will descend upon you with unbridled fury just makes me not want to play the deck.
#3 – Oloro, Ageless Ascetic
Personally, Oloro is my favorite Esper general, but by far, the top two are just in a league of their own. Oloro just sits there and gains you life while you bubble and build a fortress of card advantage, exhausting your opponents of resources while you sit at a comfortably high life total, not really caring what your opponents are doing. Then, Oloro gets off his chair and begins showering you in even more card advantage, eventually winning the game either through some dumb infinite combo or by using Exsanguinate or the like.
What makes me so drawn to Oloro is that you gain life whether or not you control him. Basically, from the start of the game, you have an emblem that gives you 2 life on each of your upkeeps, which in and of itself is amazing. You can devote your entire game plan to some combo like Sanguine Bond / Exquisite Blood and survive aggro not ever having to cast your general, and still force it through with Pact of Negation, Foil and Mindbreak Trap, which is amazing to me. Overall, I believe Oloro is very powerful whether or not you go the combo route, but he’s my personal pick for an Esper control list.
#2 – Zur the Enchanter
Zur is by far one of the format’s most well-known generals; he shows up, grabs Vanishing, and is suddenly impossibly hard to interact with. By far, Zur is one of the format’s best Voltron generals, which is why he’s starting to demand a higher and higher price tag.
Overall, Zur is quite annoying when he has Vanishing attached to him, and then gets progressively worse as he bubbles with Solitary Confinement and prevents all forms of counterattack. While Krosan Grip is very powerful against him, there’s not much else that really deal with him before he becomes too powerful to stop, and it’s rather frustrating sometimes when you just don’t have the resources required to stop decks like this because they literally demand you to stop them.
#1 – Sharuum the Hegemon
Sharuum is by far one of the game’s most well-known legendary creatures, introduced for utility and reviled for combo. With a Phyrexian Metamorph or Sculpting Steel in your graveyard, you can return it, have the original die to state-based actions, return it with the Clone, and repeat the process ad infinitum with something like a Blood Artist on board to kill your opponents with.
It’s an annoying combo, for sure, but it’s not the only one it’s capable of. Generally, you’re going to tutor artifacts a lot, so the Triskelion / Mikaeus, the Unhallowed combo works, among others. In general, Sharuum is one of the game’s most potent combo generals, and even if you don’t try to have infinite combo with it, tables will kill you first regardless, just because it’s impossible to trust that sort of thing; Phyrexian Metamorph and Blood Artist are great creatures on their own, so why wouldn’t you run them? Whoops, you accidentally went infinite, well, guess things happen sometimes.
And there you have it, my picks for the top Esper cards! Next week will likely continue the series with Grixis. Until then!
Check out my previous articles here:
Adapting to EDH Metagames:
Part 1 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1177
Part 2 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1252
Part 3 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1317
Part 4 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1370
Part 5 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1454
Building on a Budget:
Dragon’s Maze Prerelease Weekend:
Hits & Misses of:
Dragon’s Maze -http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1870
Innistrad - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2586
M14 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2295
Theros - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2508
Born of the Gods - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2800
Legen-Wait for It-Dary:
Part 1 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1606
Part 2 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1595
Part 3 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2214
Part 4 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2278
Part 5 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2303
Part 6 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2310
Part 7 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2323
Part 8 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2336
Part 9 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2341
Part 10 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2525
Part 11 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2617
Part 12 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2691
Part 13 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2822
Part 14 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2933
Let’s Talk M14:
Painting a Target:
Planeswalking and You:
Stacking Up Commander 2013:
The Slippery Slope:
The Top Soldiers Of:
Azorius - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2640
Bant - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2907
Boros – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2854
Dimir - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2653
Golgari - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2760
Gruul - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2669
Orzhov - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2681
Rakdos - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2663
Selesnya - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2677
Simic - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2900
Trial & Error: