A different take on Esper.
I'll be upfront with you here: right now, in standard, esper is the bad guy. He's got all the answers, practically all the control cards, the feel-bad cards, the ultra-efficient plays, the best counters, and most of all, he's everywhere. In your LGS, in Arena, he lurks in every queue, in every corner, watching, waiting for the perfect moment to tear your deck to shreds.
Esper's got a target on his back, that's for sure. All sorts of decks are thinking of him during construction, and those aggro lists have been gunning for him ever since Guilds of Ravnica was released. With all this in mind, you may think me crazy for trying to build esper, but let me tell you: I am crazy.
Like most midrange decks, the primary gameplan is to curve out, consistently applying pressure and developing our board while shutting down whatever our opponent throws at us. But honestly, just doing that and nothing else sound boring. Not just boring, but weak, too. If you thought that was all I'd be happy with, then you haven't been paying attention to my deck techs!
We've got two nested gameplans because of how well they synergize. First is our amass plan. Dreadhorde Invasion will spit out 1 power every single turn and only gets better with 2. 3 might be questionable, depending on your opponent. Losing 2 life a turn is already putting yourself on a clock. Losing 3 might be too greedy.
But let's not dwell on that. It will rarely come up.
Gleaming Overseer is a fantastic way to protect the amass token and allow it to get through to our opponent or their planeswalkers. Also, with Dreadhorde Invasion, we really want a 6-power token to connect with something at least once to replace all the life we've lost to it and Overseer is a great way to do that.
The other gameplan is that one card I can't seem to (or want to) get away from, Divine Visitation. It turns all of our tokens into serious threats, and we have a lot of token generators. Tithe Taker, Seraph of the Scales, Liliana, Legion's Landing, and Overseer all make tokens. What's really powerful is, if you don't have an Army token when you have a Visitation and an Invasion on the field, you get a 4/4 angel. The Invasion tries to make a 0/0 Army, but Visitation turns it into a 4/4 angel. With 2 Invasions, that's 2 angels. Now, of course, your opponent can let your Army live if you already have one, but how long can they ignore an Army that's growing bigger and bigger and has lifelink? The combination is crazy good.
The rest of the deck focuses pretty hard on interaction. Cast Downs, Thought Erasures, Vraska's Contempts, etc. I chose this over things that advance my own plan (such as another copy of Visitation, amass cards, or token makers) because of the shape of the meta right now. The decks you see on Arena are either White Weenie, Mono-red, or, if you play in the Traditional queue, a lot of control, mostly Grixis.
Against aggro, I need to be constantly removing their threats and win by running them out of gas. Against control, I need to have the interaction on the turn they play their threat because whatever they play usually has to be answered instantly.
I do want to mention the two one-ofs, Liliana and Bontu. Liliana is fantastic: we get a lot of creatures we don't care about, either small amass tokens or vampires from Adanto, the First Fort, and we can turn those into very valuable card draw. It's pretty much the same for Bontu, except he can turn extra lands into draws as well. It also shouldn't be ignored that Lilly makes a 4/4 angel on her plus when Visitation is out.
Also, a quick mention for a card you've probably noticed is not here: Thief of Sanity. There's honestly just too much removal going around right now, and this deck would rather use its turn 3 on Overseer or Mortify.
A quick rundown of what I've got in the sideboard:
For walker-heavy decks, usually control, there's Elderspell, Dovin's Veto, Dawn of Hope and Gideon Blackblade. I run into these types so often in the traditional queue on Arena I almost just ran Veto mainboard. I've also got a couple Kayas for specifically grixis control, as they often run some number of The Eldest Reborn and I don't want them grabbing something good. The lifegain also helps counteract the amount of life I lose to Invasion. Those games can go on long enough that it's a real problem.
Moment of Craving is for aggro matchups. I've debated how many I want. Likely more than 2 in a non-Arena environment.
Finally, the 3 Quench. Seems like an odd addition, right? Thing is, it's absolutely essential against bant midrange. They really want to play God-Eternal Oketra on-curve or have Frilled Mystic to back up a powerful play, and Quench is exactly what I need to disrupt that.
I've played this deck more than other I've ever put up here. The intention was that I'd take this deck to the GP coming up at the end of this month, but after tweaking and testing over and over, I've decided I can't, so I've put it up for a deck tech here.
Why can't I take it? Two reasons. Firstly, and not quite as important, is the aggro matchup. I've shored up a lot of my weaknesses by adding in more removal and holding onto the 2 Legion's Landings, as well as changing my removal up to fit as well as possible. It used to be a lot different, but the mix I have now I think is pretty good. Plus, the Tithe Takers and Seraphs are naturally powerful vs aggro. Thing is, I still rely on Invasion, which whittles my life away, and slow, on-curve interaction. Against WW, which uses mostly exile removal and can interact with my Visitation, I'm always at a disadvantage.
The second and decisive reason is the grixis control matchup. No matter what I do, I just can't end up with a list that's favorable. I do have 2 cards, Invasion and Visitation, which are extraordinary powerful in the matchup, but they're not enough. Everything I cast gets removed and I just don't have enough of the right interaction to deal with a Liliana or Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God when cast on an empty board.
Against jeskai or esper control, I'm actually feeling pretty favored. The lack of Bedevil really helps Liliana and Gideon Blackblade out of the board shine. They do have the interaction to remove a Visitation or Invasion, but they usually aren't able to keep it coming like grixis and can rarely cast their Teferi, Hero of Dominaria on an empty board.
One thing I will mention: The Eldest Reborn has waaay over-performed. With control lists usually having only 1 walker out and with no real graveyard interaction popular in the format right now, Reborn can single-handedly win a game. Yes, they can just wait it out and remove the walker after the last chapter, but that means they've lost 3 cards to my one.
Another sequence I've found is really powerful: turn 1 Landing, turn 2 Tithe Taker, turn 3 Gleaming Overseer. Turn 4 almost always flips the Landing and gives me mana for a Visitation, and that right there is a recipe for a cheap instant speed 4/4 every turn until the end of the game.
Finally, Thought Erasure is best played on turn 4 or 5 in this deck (when not playing aggro), I've found. Getting that Bolas or Teferi the turn before they can cast it is key.
And that ends the tale of my baby, esper midrange. I was really hoping to break Visitation before rotation, but it doesn't look like it's quite ready yet. Luckily, I've still got a lot of time to do it.