Introducing (Pioneer) Esper Dragons

Ahhh Pioneer. What a refreshing sight to see. With all that’s been going on in the Modern and Standard worlds, it’s refreshing to see something new, let alone, something as huge as Pioneer. This non-rotating format ranges from Return to Ravnica forward and began with just five fetch lands on the initial banned list (before Felidar Guardian, Oath of Nissa, and Leyline of Abundance were added).  Overall, this scope of Magic’s history features rather affordable options for manabases contributing to a greater sense of deck choice for players who may have previously avoided UR decks in Modern based on the price of Scalding Tarn, for example.

Today I will be covering my favorite deck of all time; Esper Dragons. Popularized by Shota Yasooka during Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad, Esper Dragons utilizes the value generated by Dragonlord Ojutai, Dragonlord Silumgar, and various Planeswalkers. Shota posted great results with the deck, recorded a top 8 finish, but lost in the semi-finals of the PT.

For a Pioneer version of the deck, we will be using the core elements of Shota’s deck with a few very powerful additions from sets outside of the scope of that season’s Standard format. 


Shota Yasooka’s Standard Esper Dragons [PT Shadows Over Innistrad 04/2019]

Creatures (10)
Dragonlord Ojutai
Dragonlord Silumgar
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

Planeswalker (1)
Ob Nixilis Reignited

Spells (22)
Clash of Wills
Foul-Tongue Invocation
Grasp of Darkness
Languish
Painful Truths
Read the Bones
Silumgar’s Scorn
Transgress the Mind
Ultimate Price

Land (27)
Caves of Koilos
Choked Estuary
Island
Port Town
Prairie Stream
Shambling Vent
Submerged Boneyard
Sunken Hollow
Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Anguished Unmaking
Dark Petition
Dead Weight
Dragonlord’s Perogative
Duress
Infinite Obliteration
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Negate
Sorin, Grim Nemesis
Virulent Plague


Pioneer Additions

With an increased card pool in Pioneer, we can explore options like Thoughsieze, Supreme Verdict, Teferi, Time Raveler, Chromium, the Mutable, Fatal Push, Jace, Architect of Thought, and Dovin’s Veto. But what exactly do these cards bring to the deck?

Here’s what I’ve initially come up with for a Pioneer version of Esper Dragons:


Logan’s Pioneer Esper Dragons [11/2019]

Creatures (9)
Icefall Regent
Dragonlord Ojutai
Dragonlord Silumgar
Chromium, the Mutable

Planeswalkers (5)
Teferi, Time Raveler
Jace, Architect of Thought

Spells (21)
Silumgar's Scorn
Thoughtseize
Fatal Push
Foul-Tongue Invocation
Disallow
Supreme Verdict
Treasure Cruise
Languish  
Lands (25)
Hallowed Fountain
Watery Grave
Godless Shrine
Choked Estuary
Port town
Mystic Sanctuary
Castle Vantress
Island
Plains
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Despark
Dovin's Veto
Archangel Avacyn
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Teferi, Hero of dominaria
Disallow
Infinite Obliteration
Mystical Dispute
Languish
Settle the Wreckage
Monastery Mentor
Detention Sphere


I’ve had to eliminate some other go-to card advantage/removal options used in other Pioneer decks to make room for cards like Foul-Tongue Invocation. I definitely packages like Torrential Gearhulk/Dig Through Time when playing more traditional Control decks, but here we need to take advantage of the dragon synergies that we have at our disposal. We’ll keep our Planeswalker suite limited to Teferi, and Jace, Architect of Thought in contrast to many other Walker-heavy Control decks in the format. But why no Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy? Honestly, it comes down to the amount of room in the deck. This list is full includes a hefty nine creatures as it is, so the space for an additional 2-4 copies of a very vulnerable two-drop Jace are limited. You really want to put the focus on holding Silumgar’s Scorn on turn two with Disallow, Foul-Tongue Invocation, or Teferi on three. This deck has an agenda and it needs to be established right away.  

Dragon Package

Just like in my Ojutai primer, Ojutai shines here and gets all the praise being one of our most effective and lethal engines in the deck. Dragonlord Silumgar can come down and steal an Oko (or really anything your opponent needs for their own combo/engine assembly) and give us that much needed edge with some sizeable stats to boot. Icefall Regent is functions well as effective “removal-on-a-stick” and can be a good way to jam up the board until you can land one of your more potent dragons. With this much value in a creature package, the pressure you can mount and cards you can accrue can quickly overwhelm your opponent. This is the main reason I am drawn to this deck. Also, being able to play Teferi to cut off instant speed removal spells or interactive spells is key in protecting your dragons. This deck also has some great tools for the aggro matchups in Fatal Push, Foul-Tongue, and access to some of the best sweepers in the format. 

Interaction

With so many ways to pressure the board, how do we interact with our opponent in a consistent manner? It all starts with Thoughtseize on one and Counterspell…erm, I mean Silumgar’s Scorn on two. Silumgar’s Scorn my be the best counterspell available to us outside of Disallow another nothing else is even remotely close (so long as we have dragons in our deck to upgrade its effect). Scorn can be both a Force Spike without dragons and this is often effective enough on its own. Having this active on turn two is great as it provides some great tempo for you early AND late game. 

Lands Package

We also have card advantage built into our lands thanks to Throne of Eldraine as we are playing one copy of Castle Vantress and two copies of Mystic Sanctuary. Castle Vantress allowing us to scry to smooth out our draws is great in a deck where there aren’t a lot of spells that draw cards. Mystic Sanctuary allows us to rebuy the most impactful spells in our graveyard. Being able to Treasure Cruise and then put it back on the top of our library is great and allows us to continue to dig for more answers as long as we have enough material in our graveyard to support the Delve cost.

The Maybeboard

There are a few tools that didn’t make the cut but are certainly in consideration for deck slots.  Here are a few of those considerations:

  • For top end card advantage, Dragonlord’s Prerogative may edge out one copy of Treasure Cruise because we don’t do a great job of filling our graveyard to fuel Delve and the uncounterable clause may come in handy against other counterspell decks.  
  • Lavinia, Azorius Renegade would fit into the deck as a way to combat the decks that produce large amounts of mana with just a few lands — especially, Mono G Devotion decks.
  • Spectre’s Shriek can provide another important one-mana discard spell to get out in front of your opponent’s set up.
  • Last Breath, Seal Away, and Stasis Snare are also very good removal options that are worth consideration.
  • If you’re interested in considering additional Planeswalkers, I would start with Liliana, the Last Hope as it can function as removal for small aggressive creatures AND recursion of our late-game threats when that is relevant.

Discussion