Esper Deathblade

“Esper Deathblade” or sometimes just “Deathblade”.

Deathrite ShamanStoneforge Mystic

It has won 3 of the last 4 Legacy Opens, twice with Todd Anderson at the controls, & another time by Lauren Nolen with the now infamous “Notion Thief’ing” or as I found myself calling it, “Nolan Thiefing”. If you’re wondering what that other win was of the last 4 opens, it was UB Tezzeret by a Chris Anderson in St Louis.

So looking at the past month of Stoneblade success, & the next incarnation of Deathblade, which formed from Esperblade, which formed from UW Stoneblade, which formed originally with Mental Misstep in the format about 2 years ago. I think it’s safe to say this deck is not going anywhere anytime soon, & as of right now it’s the deck to beat.

First, lets look more specifically at those three decklists.
1st of 201 players, Lauren Nolen, SCG Legacy Open, Nashville, May-19th-2013

1st of 298 players, Todd Anderson, SCG Legacy Open, Baltimore, June-2nd-201

1st of 268 players, Todd Anderson, SCG Legacy Open, Columbus, June-16th-201

Lets make some comparisons between the lists, starting with the mana base.
Colors: 10-12 fetchlands, 0-3 basics, 7-10 duals
Utility lands: 2-3 Wasteland, 0-1 Karakas, 0-1 Creeping Tar Pit
Total lands 23-24
~Even though the deck is four colors, it’s really only splashing for green, so it is still largely three colors. Notice also, the number of Wastelands are not maxed out. On top of that, there are Deathrite Shamans to produce mana and cantrips, so the deck can pull off such a mana base. One thing that I find interesting is that in the most recent list, Todd Anderson cut one of each basic land (Forest/Island/Swamp) in exchange for another dual, & two more fetchlands. My guess is that Blood Moon type effects are not a concern at this time, & with enough dual lands in play opposing Wastelands will have a harder time cutting the Deathblade player out of one of their colors, not to mention that Deathrite Shaman can produce any color given a land in the graveyard.

Now lets look at the creatures between the 3 lists:
4 Dark Confidant 4 Deathrite Shaman 4 Stoneforge Mystic
0-1 Notion Thief 1 Vendilion Clique 1-2 Snapcaster Mage
~First, the regulars, in addition to the usual with Stoneforge Mystic, is the newer additions to Esperblade, which gives Deathblade it’s name, Deathrite Shaman & Dark Confidant. Dark Confidant has always been highly praised, but this is the first time in a while that it’s been this represented in the format & at the front of it. As far as Deathrite Shaman goes, it has only proven itself since the inclusion of Return to Ravnica in Legacy as the utility creature to run. These creatures, along with the singleton Vendilion Clique & 1-2 Snapcaster Mages provide not only a body, but every single creature in the deck provides either potential card advantage, utility, or even just card filtering. In a format as diverse as Legacy, the capability to influence so many different aspects of the game is one of the most vital aspects of a deck.

Now for those remaining non creature spells:
Planeswalkers: 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
~This will likely never change, Jace is the best planeswalker, it just does so much.

Disruption: 3 Force of Will 2-3 Thoughtseize 0-2 Inquisition of Kozilek 4 Swords to Plowshares 0-2 Abrupt Decay 0-1 Detention Sphere
~Nearly every list, not just these three, will have 3-4 Force of Will, with three being more common. There will also always be a small number targeted discard spells. Swords to Plowshares still remains the best creature removal so a playset will likely remain a staple. After that, some have started splashing a couple Abrupt Decays, but with Counterbalance / RUG on the decline, it ia not been found in most lists.

Card draw: 4 Brainstorm 0-1 Ponder
~If you are unaware by now, Brainstorm is a pillar card in the format, it plus a shuffle effect (usually a fetchland) allow you to draw three, and trade them for the two weakest cards from your entire hand. On top of that, Brainstorm can also act as defense against opposing discard by hiding cards to the top of the deck. While Ponder is the second most popular cantrip, the card advantage of Deathblade means it is largely fine with Brainstorm alone.

Stoneforge Mystic targets: 1 Umezawa’s Jitte 1 Batterskull
~The go-to targets for Stoneforge Mystic, the only other card I’ve seen main is a Sword of Feast and Famine in some lists, but usually that’s in the sideboard, or absent entirely.

Now how about that sideboard:
2 Meddling Mage- a 2/2 body that also provides disruption
2 Supreme Verdict- uncounterable board wipe
1-2 Thoughtseize- more discard for opposing combo decks
1 Force of Will- a 3/1 split was common in Esperblade and the new breed have retained the split
2 Surgical Extraction or 2 Relic of Progenitus- some form of graveyard hate should always be found in any legacy deck
1 Detention Sphere or 1 Vindicate- one can hit lands, while the other can hit multiples of the same permanent, like an army of 2/2 zombies, or multiple spirit tokens.
1 Disenchant- artifact / enchantment destruction.
0-3 Geist of Saint Traft- against some decks sideboarding in a Geist of Saint Traft can be devastating
Other 1 of’s not found in all 3 sideboards:
Notion Thief, Path to Exile, Snapcaster Mage, Celestial Purge, Counterspell, & Hydroblast

Now that we’ve taken an overlook at cards found in the decklists, lets try to figure out why this next generation of Deathblade is basically replacing what is known further back as “Esperblade”.

The differences:
The last Esperblade Trophy, 1st place of 279 players, Lauren Nolen, SCG Legacy Open Cincinnati, February-17th-2013

~First things obvious: the mana base is one less color. There are a fewer lands overall, with no Wastelands. There is also an Academy Ruins / Engineered Explosives setup, while the Deathblade lists have foregone this strategy.

~Creatures: more Snapcaster Mage, no Dark Confidant & no Deathrite Shaman.

~Spell Pierce & Counterspell are in Esperblade, while Deathblade has only Force of Will.

~Lingering Souls has basically “trended out”

~Sideboard notes: Meddling Mage is in for Deathblade, while Geist of Saint Traft, some graveyard hate, & more disruption remain largely the same, even if the specific cards that fulfill those roles are different.

Now that we have looked at the past, lets look at the future:
What are the popular decks in the format? Well based on the past couple months, the top decks look something like this:
~Stoneblade, more Deathblade than Esperblade.
~Show and Tell strategies, both Omnitell & Sneak and Show.
~RUG is still around.
~BUG, the vast majority being Shardless.
~Merfolk hasn’t pulled off a trophy, but it has a lot of top 8/16 placings.
~Jund.
~Ad Nauseam storm type decks, mostly ANT, fewer TES.
~Maverick has just enough showings to still take some notice.
~Combo Elves.
~Death and Taxes has seen a surge since the last Legacy Grand Prix.
~UB Tezzeret has seen an increase.
~American Delver is another deck with higher numbers recently.
~Dredge & Reanimator just aren’t going away as they keep popping up here & there.
~Tin Fins, speaking of Reanimator strategies, is another specific archetype that has seen an increase in success as of late at some level.
~Lands just pulled off another top 8 out of nowhere, proof that almost any strategy if pushed just enough, can still get the right matchups & if played by a good pilot, pull off a top 8 often enough to keep it on the radar.

~Between discard & counterspells, Deathblade has a strategy against the opposing combo decks.
~With Umezawa’s Jitte & Batterskull alone, Deathblade can cover opposing creature based strategies.
~If the opposing aggro strategy is fast enough, Deathblade can disrupt the early turns with discard & Force of Will so that Deathblade lasts long enough to put out a Stoneforge Mystic & drop whichever equipment is more helpful for the given situation, or even just buy a couple more turns gaining life with Deathrite Shaman.
~The card advantage of Snapcaster Mage, Jace, & Dark Confidant alone are always vital in any match up.
~Despite the diversity of Legacy, even in the most extreme matchups Deathblade still has a fighting chance due to its early disruption and pitch counters.

In conclusion: Right now, if you only test against one deck in the format, this is this one. If you consistently have problems against this deck & plan on playing in a true Legacy environment, then you either need to make your sideboard strategy strong against this deck, or switch your strategy all together. Even though I personally push a fringe deck, I am a strong believer in playing the best deck in the format. Why? Because the best deck is just that, the best deck. When someone says “oh you’re playing that deck, anyone can play that deck”. One can only respond with “That’s right, this deck is so good that anyone can play it”. In a game that is so diverse with so many factors coming into play, anyone that says “I’m going to play the best deck no matter what” is something that can be completely understood.

In the end, you need to play this deck or be prepared for it, because right now it is the deck having the most success.

Until the next one,
~Feline Longmore

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