Esper Narset in Pioneer
This week I was finding myself more involved in the competitive side of Pioneer in preparation for some local events. Inevitably, this resulted in me playing some Dimir Inverter in an attempt to learn its matchups and lines so I could take it down more often. I expected to be blown away by the power of the deck given its status… but I just wasn't. Of course, the deck is potent and consistent, but playing it left some things to be desired. This revelation drove me towards innovating the Inverter deck and taking this new version to the events. To me, the big problem with Inverter is that the combo utilizes creatures. This is not too important when the creatures are being used to combo off, but in the fair situations it became a problem. The cards were just fine, nothing more. Thassa's Oracle in particular, felt awkward when played in a fair manner. All it seemed to do was turn on otherwise redundant removal in my opponent's hand as they continued to beat my face in. I also noticed that against anything that wasn't all-in aggro, I indefinitely wanted more Narsets to try and lock down my opponent's card draw, but I simply couldn't find the slots.
With this in mind I returned to a deck I had been looking at during the first weeks of Pioneer, Narset- Day's Undoing. I could never quite get the shell right, but now the hard work had been done for me by the Inverter players… all I needed to do was modify an already solid shell.
The basic goal is to cast a Day's Undoing with a Narset, Parter of Veils on board. This allows us to draw seven, whilst our opponent will only draw one thanks to Narset's static ability. Although this doesn't win us the game, such a swing will usually result in an insurmountable advantage. From here all we have to do is leisurely push to the finish line.
In addition, we have a few cards that help aid our combo in Teferi, Time Raveler and Geier Reach Sanitarium. Teferi allows us to cast Day's Undoing during our opponents draw step. Since our opponent has already drawn their card for turn, they will now draw zero from the Day's Undoing, which is even more devastating! Geier Reach Sanitarium on the other hand works very well with Narset. Should we activate it during our opponent's upkeep they are forced into looting. This results in them not being able to draw their card for turn thanks again to Narset's static ability.
Now, the eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that when we put all of these pieces together we create a hard lock against almost every deck in the format.We strip their hand to zero using an instant speed Day's Undoing, and then proceed to force the loot every turn so that the opponent can never draw another card. For good measure, Teferi will stop any Instants coming from our opponent in the case they draw any. You should note that Castle Locthwain and a couple other lands will stop the hard lock since they can be activated on our turn, thus allowing them to draw. This is awkward, and there is an argument for additional copies of Sorcerous Spyglass in the sideboard to answer the problem, but currently I don't think it is a big enough weakness to warrant those spots.
The rest of the deck is very similar to Dimir Inverter. We of course kept the all-star package of Thoughtseize and Fatal Push. These are the most efficient interactive spells in the format, and you'd be silly not to max out on them. Thoughtseize gets an added boost alongside Teferi. He allows us to cast the spell in our opponents draw step, giving us more information and even making the card relevant in top-deck scenarios.
I've also decided to stay on two Hero's Downfall as is becoming the norm. The card is obviously good in creature match-ups, without being dead against the likes of Inverter and UW Control. The same can be said for the two Mystical Dispute that have been carried over, whilst the playset of Opts simply allow us to dig for what we need when we need it.
Here is where the deck begins to look a bit different to its Dimir cousin. Whilst I have maintained some number of Dig Through Times, I did shave one copy, brining us down to three. This helps with streamlining the deck in the early turns and thanks to the full four Narsets, we're not missing any late game grind. The other small change is the swap from Thought Erasure to Collective Brutality. Collective Brutality is one of those cards that you can always find a use for. The primary reason for the swap is that Brutality gives us a way to keep the board clear in the early turns, thus increasing the likelihood of a Teferi or Narset sticking around.
The remaining parts of the shell take a leaf out of the UW Control book. Supreme Verdict is another way we can keep the board clear, with the added benefit of not being countered by a Mausoleum Wanderer. Finally, we have a single copy of Gideon of the Trials. Gideon is a concession to a few factors. Firstly, we do need to actually win the game at some point and Gideon is one way we can do that with a low opportunity cost. Secondly, Gideon is very efficient in the Inverter-ish mirror. It prevents their instant win and stops the Inverter beatdowns, while increasing our threat density. The combination of these two factors makes it very hard not to play one copy, even if he isn't the best card in any given match-up.
Now the swap from straight UB or a UW deck to Esper initially concerned me from a mana-base perspective… especially given that we are running three Geier Reach Sanitarium. The other thing that worried me is that once I'd finished constructing the deck it was still in dire need of win-conditions, potentially stretching the land base even further.
These concerns turned out to be nothing more than initial worries. This is partially thanks to an increase in the land count to 26. Whilst this may seem like a lot, the Opt s allow us to find what we need and the Collective Brutalities can give any excess lands a use.
The win-condition problem has been solved with a pair of Shambling Vents and a single Castle Ardenvale. Not only are these more than workable during a fair game, but they diversify our win-conditions, meaning it's less likely we get cheesed out by Sorcerous Spyglass.
Why Play This over Inverter?
Now of course Inverter is the tried - and proven - Combo-Control deck in the metagame, which begs the question why swap? The answers are simple, people are expecting Inverter and Inverter is everywhere. By swapping the combo to a slightly different axis, we juke a surprising amount of the anticipated hate. Not only this, but as I said above, Narset is simply insane in the “mirror” so being able to max out on those gives us a real advantage.
It's hard to specify one area where this list is better than Inverter. It's more that it gains a little bit of additional utility from each of its cards. It's not a new deck as such, just the next step in the evolution of the Dimir Inverter archetype.
Going forwards in Pioneer I will be playing this deck and I urge Inverter players, along with everybody else to do the same as I genuinely believe this deck has what takes to be the next big thing.
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