Transcending the Meta & Evolving Control with Esper Transcendent

Awakening a Potential Sleeping Giant in Modern

This week we sit down with Francesco Neo Amati, progenitor of the Modern UW control community and Team Transcendent Facebook groups.  Amati has taken a new approach to modern control with an esper deck based around none other than Narset Transcendent.


CKL: How long have you been playing magic? What is the most memorable card/set for you?

Francesco Neo Amati: I’ve been playing Magic since Fall of 2009 (M10). The most memorable card is definitely Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and the most memorable set would be Zendikar, followed closely by M11 (Titans).


CKL: What is your greatest tournament success or best personal victory related to the game?

FNA: My best personal victory would be taking my brew, Esper Twix, to GP Charlotte in 2015 and beating UR Twin twice (2-0) and Bloom Titan (2-0). I fell short of having a shot at day 2, going 5-4, but I had won more games than I lost and the deck did exactly what I designed it to do: Beat Twin and Bloom.


CKL: Clearly you are most interested in control archetypes. Has that always been the case or have you experimented with other styles?

FNA: I experimented with Eldrazi Green during Zendikar, which was really fun and strong, but I’ve been predominantly UWx Midrange/Control since 2011.

CKL: What are your favorite cards to run in control style decks?

FNA: My favorite cards to run in control decks are Snapcaster Mage, Geist of Saint Traft, Lingering Souls, Planeswalkers, Celestial Colonnade, Ghost Quarter, hand disruption (especially Esper Charm), Path to Exile, Supreme Verdict, and Negate. Pretty much my latest competitive rogue, Esper Transcendent.

CKL: What is your best means to play MTGO, paper?  What types of events do you attend?

FNA: Due to my work schedule and other financial obligations, my best means to play is online, but I prefer paper. I typically attend local events and GP’s. I intend to play at more IQ’s and PTQ’s since the weekend is when I have the freest time.

CKL: What does your current list look like?

View in Tapped Out

FNA: I currently run a proactive Esper Control deck that takes advantage of Narset Transcendent, but is also designed to be heavily disruptive, synergistic, resilient, and versatile. The deck is comprised of many cross-performing and multi-functional cards, with intricate interactions and unique lines of play, that allow the player to navigate from various angles.

The deck’s general concept is to control the game through significant hand, battlefield, graveyard, and deck disruption, while generating value, stabilization, and pressure via Snapcaster Mage, Lingering Souls, Esper Charm, Batterskull, and Planeswalkers. Overall, it is a flexible Control deck that is designed to be viable vs various archetypes and adaptable against any meta.

CKL: What are the advantages of this style?

FNA: The advantages of this style are that its proactive and disruptive design allows it to keep unfair decks under control, while also being versatile and competitive across various archetypes (Aggro/Midrange/Combo/Control), especially vs decks that have been historically top tiered due to their popularity and representation such as Jund (70/30), Junk (70/30), Affinity (60/40), Infect (60/40), and Burn (50/50). In fact, this is the first time I’ve experienced these types of ratios vs these decks in this format. It’s complex, but very rewarding.

Unfamiliarity is another advantage for us. We’re pretty much alien to other decks and the format. Hence ‘E.T.’ Acronym unintended, but very suitable.

Key Design Elements:

1. Consistency/Value
2. Disruption + Pressure
3. Removal + Stabilization
4. Resilient Non-Creature Win Conditions
5. Cross-Performing, Multi-Functional Cards

Darrel Feltner (CKL) is one of the first players to played this deck on MTGO.  He has maintained close to a 60% win pct.

MTGO – 12/4/16
Record: 52-38
Win %: 58%

Vs. Tier 1: 33-26
Win %: 56%surgical

Testing Data by Archetype:

  • Infect: 5-0 (60/40)
  • Zooicide: 4-0 (60/40)
  • Jund: 4-0 (70/30)
  • Junk: 3-0 (70/30)
  • Affinity: 3-0 (60/40)
  • Ad Naus: 3-1 (55/45)
  • Grixis Control: 2-1 (55/45)
  • RG Breach: 2-1 (45/55)
  • Burn: 2-2 (50/50)
  • Suicide Bloo: 2-3 (45/55)
  • Bant Eldrazi: 1-2 (50/50)
  • Dredge: 1-8 (30/70)
  • GW Tron: 1-8 (30/70)
  • Lantern Control: No matches (40/60)

MU ratios are based on a collection of data from Darrel, other players, and Amati.

FNA: I’ve put in a lot of passion and work into this deck. I was hesitant at first, considering the stigma surrounding Narset, but I was confident after I had experienced it vs several top tiered decks. I’ve done extensive homework analyzing the format, which directly correlated with the way I aspired to design this deck’s non-linear concept and game plan.

One of the most difficult challenges of designing this deck was accepting that this deck could control without counters. I had to let go of everything I thought I knew about the archetype I’ve been playing since 2011 and had to adopt a different philosophy, one that focused on proactive disruption and anticipation advantage, while also taking control of the board state – much like BGx has always done. Once I embraced that idea, I ran with it and this deck began to come together to become the deck that it is now.

In general, I think Control hasn’t been approached correctly in the format outside of Tron, Jeskai, Lantern, and Grixis. Wafo’s style of Control, Draw Go, while strong, durdles too much and is best suited in a known meta, like an FNM or a smaller event, like an IQ. Like White, Blue has to be accepted as a support color. Red, Black, and Green are the best colors in the format right now, followed closely by White for Path to Exile and its strong/versatile sideboard cards.

Relying on counters is not a reliable or effective way to control in Modern, especially with all aggression and variance in the field. Not to mention – Cavern, Vial, drawing counters at the wrong time, just to name a few. Modern has many decks that are unforgiving and will punish you for giving them a window of opportunity.

In retrospect, I think it was Eldrazi that really forced players to think outside the box and adopt different strategies, which also spawned new decks, and even revived the viability of tapout Control – focusing on interacting with the board and resolving powerful Walkers like Gideon Jura and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Since then, Planeswalkers have played an important role in many decks, especially those at 4 cmc as we’ve seen in Jeskai Nahiri, Skred, Sun & Moon, etc.

From my experience, a proactive/disruptive approach to control combined with removal (and some hard counters, like Dispel/Negate to compliment the hand disruption) + pressure/win cons is a more viable direction for Modern. This philosophy is what encapsulates Esper Transcendent’s design and gameplan, and one of the reasons why I decided to design it.

CKL: What are the disadvantages and how do you attempt to overcome these challenges?

FNA: The disadvantages are its steep learning curve, being a little soft to top decks and threats we can’t respond to (spells, Planeswalkers, Artifacts, etc.) and Burn (one advantage counters have, but Narset’s final threatens these types of decks) – at least Game 1 – and our two most unfavorable, but manageable, matchups: Dredge and Tron. While we do have the tools and gameplan against them, they’re the deck’s toughest MU’s.

The learning curve can be overcome through lots of practice vs a variety of the top decks in the format, and acclimating yourself with the deck’s core, sideboarding, and lines of play.

Playing Dispel/Negate/Engineered Explosives/Surgical Extraction in the sideboard can help shore up top decks, non-creature threats, and Burn.

Dredge can be mitigated by attacking their graveyard with cards like Surgical Extraction and Ravenous Trap, but also playing life gain spells, wraths, and removal with Exile effects, such as Path to Exile, Celestial Purge, etc. Runed Halo can be utilized as well to name Prized, Ghast, GGT, and/or Conflagrate.

Tron is manageable through our hand disruption/Negates + Surgical Extraction while applying pressure via Lingering Souls, Geist of Saint Traft (if you’re on it), Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and Narset Transcendent (her -2 can allow us to flood the board with Spirit Tokens or cripple their hand with Esper Charm. Her final threatens to lock them out of the game). Tip: Don’t blow your Esper Charms. It’s one of the best cards vs them since they play at Sorcery speed. It’s especially clutch to instant speed Mind Rot them at their draw step to prevent being blown out by their strong top decks. It’s especially clutch after they Sanctum of Ugin. It’s a similar strategy that I used in Esper Twix vs Twin and Bloom. Last but not least, remember to Rebound and Flashback!

CKL: Which cards are most important to your deck’s strategy?

FNA: The most important cards (the core) to the deck’s strategy in the main are Snapcaster Mage, Lingering Souls, Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize, Esper Charm, Serum Visions, Path to Exile, Blessed Alliance, Supreme Verdict, Narset Transcendent, and Gideon Jura, followed closely by Gideon, Ally of Zendikar (the deck’s way to turn the corner and apply pressure) and Batterskull (for recovery and stability). In the side, it would be Engineered Explosives, Celestial Purge, Negate, and Surgical Extraction.

CKL: Where else can we learn more about and keep up with Esper Transcendent’s progress and development?

Decklist on Tapped Out

Team Transcendent – Facebook Community

Esper Transcendent Primer

Esper Transcendent – Twitter

Esper Transcendent – Reddit