Best MTG Decks Guide – Esper Control for MTG Arena Standard

Ever since the printing of Teferei, Hero of Dominaria, Esper Control has become a dominating force in MTG Arena. Thanks to its suite of highly efficient removal spells and versatile planeswalkers, the Esper Control archetype has taken over the Standard format. Magic: The Gathering’s latest set – War of the Spark – introduced a plethora of new cards that gives Esper Control an unneeded power boost.

When designing our Esper Control deck we decided to account for both Arena Play and Traditional Play. Since Arena Play is only a single game it’s imperative that our deck is able to function absent a sideboard. Keep in mind, this isn’t a definitive list that should never be altered. There are many viable cards for Esper Control and we encourage tweaking the deck to suit your preferred playstyle.

Additionally, we’ll only be running 60 cards in the main deck. While you can always add more, this is the standard deck size, allowing for better consistency in starting hands, draws, and general performance. Dual lands are obviously helpful but prioritize obtaining the normal spells first before using your Wildcards on lands. Remember, a lot of our spells are multi-colored, so we strongly suggest running Guild Gates if you don’t have a lot of Rare lands.

Below is a complete breakdown of every card in the main deck, along with why we decided to use them. We will also go over the general game plan of the deck if you are new to playing control in MTG Arena. For a quick view of our entire Esper Control decklist, go here.

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General Strategy

When playing control, it’s important to understand that you may not be in the lead right away. You are playing for the long game, so if your opponent deals some damage early on don’t panic. This deck is packed with removal and life gain, giving us some fantastic sustainability as the match progresses.

At the start, you want to focus on taking care of potential threats that will give your opponent an advantage. This includes draw spells, powerful enchantments, creatures that provide mana, or planeswalkers.

For example, if you are up against Mono-Red, slow their momentum by countering draw spells such as Risk Factor or killing creatures like Runaway Steam-Kin. Inversely, if you’re up against another control deck, aim to remove critical pieces from their deck such as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Kaya, Orzhov Usurper, or Search for Azcanta.

Once you start deploying cards such as Thief of Sanity or Hero of Precinct One, start applying a bit of pressure if your foe is playing passively. Inversely, if they are the aggressive deck don’t try to race them. Our deck isn’t capable of outputting a lot of damage in one attack, so just stall and use removal spells on key creatures. Don’t let the size of some monsters fool you, creatures like Hostage Taker, Crackling Drake, and Goblin Electromancer can become very dangerous if used correctly. Remember, if you hit someone with Thief of Sanity, it’s okay to take a card from them that doesn’t do much for you. Sometimes it’s better to remove critical cards from your foe’s hand rather than ones that are useful for you.

Finally, our goal is to drop one of our planeswalkers – preferably Teferi, Hero of Dominaria – and take over the entire game. Since Tefari can untap lands, you will be able to play more spells which is convenient since he allows you to draw a card too. He can also put permanents back into their owner’s deck, stalling the game and wasting your opponent’s time. Once the ultimate ability is set off, it’s just a matter of time before you exile every threat they deploy and even their lands! This is when your bigger removal spells such as Enter the God-Eternals comes into play. Don’t be afraid to stall or grind the match to a halt, especially if you are in the lead. If your opponent develops an unyielding hatred for Teferi then you’ve done your job.

Playing control is all about patience and proper threat assessment. If you want to smash your opponent, we suggest trying Mono-Red Aggro or Sulti Midrange instead. However, for those desiring to crush the spirit of your opponent then give Esper Control a try.

Card Discussion

Creatures

Thief of Sanity x4: One of the main ways to win the game, Thief of Sanity provides needed utility and board presence. Its cheap casting cost and powerful triggered ability allows this specter to take over entire matches. Any card exiled by this creature is placed face down, giving your deck even more unpredictability. Great against any archetype, Thief of Sanity gives you card advantage while draining your opponent’s life total. What’s not to like?

Hero of Precinct One x4: Outside of lands, there are only nine mono-colored spells in our deck. This means that Hero of Precinct One will almost always produce tokens as the game progresses. While you can certainly win with this army of Human tokens, Hero of Precinct’s main function is to provide our deck with a steady stream of blockers. There are a lot of aggressive decks in MTG Arena and this creature does a wonderful job mitigating damage intended for you.

Instants

Absorb x4: Our only hard counterspell, Absorb is terrific for shutting down any problematic spell. Given our collection of removal spells, we are looking to use Absorb against planeswalkers, enchantments, instants, and sorceries. Additionally, the three life it provides is a nice way to pad our life total against aggro or burn decks.

Chemister’s Insight x4: Solely used to refill our hand, Chemister’s Insight is a nice, consistent draw spell. Even though four mana for two cards isn’t anything special, the card’s “Jump-Start” mechanic secures it a spot in our deck. Effectively having eight draw spells will help keep our hand filled with answers and give us something to do if we draw too many lands.

Mortify x2: Simply put, Mortify is an effective removal spell for creatures and enchantments. It’s cheap and gets rid of any threat on the board. We suggest being a bit more conservative with Mortify since your other removal spells deal lower amounts of damage, allowing you to remove smaller toughness creatures. Mortify is best used against more substantial threats such as Hydroid Krasis or Crackling Drake. It’s also an instant, so don’t be afraid to use it on your opponent’s turn.

Tyrant’s Scorn x2: I love spells that offer multiple choices, so we had to work Tyrant’s Scorn into our list. Its first option lets you get rid of most cheap problematic creatures such as Thief’s Sanity, Jadelight Ranger, Runaway Steam-Kin, Tempest Djinn, and Goblin Electromancer. The second mode is useful for just bouncing higher mana-cost creatures, allowing you to either stall the damage or counter the creature when it’s recast.

Sorceries

Enter the God-Eternals x2: This is an absurdly strong card that lets you take out creatures, make a blocker, reduce their library, and gain some life. While the mana-cost is on the higher end, Enter the God-Eternals is a terrific late game card that can swing entire matches. Remember if you have the original Zombie Army token on the field and play a second copy of the card it will grow your current token, not make a new one.

Kaya’s Wrath x1: Sometimes you just need to clear the board of threats. We only decided to mainboard one copy since we will filter through our deck quickly and it’s rare that we need to take out the entire field. Kaya’s Wrath is also nice because it gains us some life, making it great for punishing players who overextend. Consider bringing the second copy in from the sideboard if you’re against a creature-focused deck.

Thought Erasure x4: Discard spells are always impactful, so we are running a full playset of Thought Erasure. This is a fantastic card to have in your opening hand because discarding the right spell can disrupt your opponent’s entire game plan. It’s also cheap, allowing us to use it in the early game when mana is scarce or later on without making too big of an investment. Plus, the Surveil mechanic is just a nice way to dig through our deck.

Enchantments

Oath of Kaya x2: If left alone, Oath of Kaya can accrue a lot of life over the course of a match. Given our big planeswalker package, the enchantment punishes opponents for being aggressive. Unless they are running a lot of life gain, Oath of Kaya can quickly swing a match when left unattended. Drop this early and enjoy the incremental life gain for the rest of the match.

Planeswalkers

Liliana, Dreadhorde General x1: This is the most flexible slot in our deck. Liliana is a solid planeswalker that allows us to present threats, remove creatures, and draw cards. It’s rare that she ever wins us a game outright, but Liliana offers a lot of potential power for six mana. Even though you’ll rarely use her ultimate ability, Liliana still offers a lot of utility in the late game.

Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord x1: You’ll inevitably lose creatures during a match, so Sorin lets us return them to the battlefield. In this particular deck list we won’t drain all his loyalty counters on the first activation since the highest converted mana cost among our creatures is three. His static ability, which provides lifelink to your creatures during your turn can help against aggro decks. You shouldn’t underestimate the ability to deal one damage to creature or planeswalkers either as it helps remove problematic permanents.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria x2: The main win condition for this deck is Tefari, Hero of Dominaria. All his loyalty abilities are terrific, giving us a way to deal with everything on the board. Our goal is to ultimate Tefari and then systematically exile everything they own. There’s a high chance your opponent will concede by the time this happens, but it’s a great way to finish the game.

Teferi, Time Raveler x2: Think of this less as a planeswalker and more of a protection spell. Denying your foes the ability to cast Instants whenever they want is fantastic and shuts down other control decks. Plus, you can always hit your opponent with a surprise Thought Erasure or Enter the God-Eternals. We do recommend sideboarding Teferi out against creature-focused decks, as there are simply better options available.

Sideboard

Our sideboard is designed to offer us alternate methods of dealing with creatures, counterspells, or planeswalkers. This can be customized to fit your needs, but we found having a nice suite of cards gives us extra options for games two and three. Remember, the sideboard should be the last set of cards you unlock in MTG Arena. Focus on building your deck first and using spare cards for your sideboard if you’re out of Wildcards. This is simply our recommended list if you don’t know where to start.

Matchups

Aggro

Early aggro decks have always been a favorite of the Magic: The Gathering community. Their low mana curve allows them to pump out an army of creatures that stack on damage quickly. These decks will try to kill you as quickly as possible. Because of this, you’ll need to focus on dismantling any board presence they possess and stopping spells that refill their hand. Once they’re out of cards and out of creatures, you can regain control. Be careful about getting your life total below 10 when facing Mono-Red as they can kill you with just a few burn spells.

Midrange

One of our tougher match ups, Midrange decks still aim to beat us to death, but over a slightly longer period of time. Early on these decks will try to cast ramp and spells like Vivien, Champion of the Wilds to propel them ahead of their opponents. Stopping any type of advantage-focused cards will help slow the game down, allowing you to gain more mana and fill your hand with threats. Currently, Sulti and Bant Midrange are the most common decks in this archetype. Do. Not. Let. Hydroid Krasis. Resolve.

Control

Needless to say, a control mirror match is going to take a long time to finish. Playing against control is all about timing, as there is a high chance they are running counterspells and removal like you. Take your time and only attempt to cast your planeswalkers if they are tapped out of mana or if you have a counterspell available. This is a game of patience, so use your removal on any creature that hits the board. You never want your opponent to have more cards than you, because that typically means they’ll have more answers.

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Collin MacGregor

Collin MacGregor is a freelance writer from New Jersey and the one person who enjoys playing the support class.

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2 Comments

  1. I’m a fan of control decks, but mono blue just can’t compete against any decent decks on MTG arena. I used most of my wild cards to make this deck hoping it was the answer. I’m 0-11 now. I do understand control, this deck doesn’t work

    1. Control is in a bad spot right now in general. When this guide was written it was still a popular strategy and top of the meta, but thanks to M20 aggro/midrange decks are now the standard. I would recommend removing counterspells and draw spells. Replace them with good removal spells like Noxious Grasp. Also just use 4 of both Teferis and cut the rest of the Planeswalkers. Elite Guardmage is also a great creature to replace Thief of Sanity. You’ll need to morph it into a Tempo deck if you want it to succeed in ranked.

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