Shards of Alara: Esper Artifice Review (Part 2 of 2)
With Jund available as an opponent deck, my nemesis this time could be no other than Sam. In addition to loving the shard of Jund, Sam also happens to have a devour deck of her own that she delights in playing. For my part, I’d be leading the more thoughtful and pensive shard of Esper into battle, though certainly not a shard without its own formidable resources. In our analysis of Esper Artifice, we found it a solidly-built skies deck with some unique artifact twists. Now we’d see just how well that strategy paid off. Our notes from the three matches are as follows…
On the play, Sam leads with a Savage Lands. My land- a Swamp- isn’t so fancy, but it does permit me to deploy an early Executioner’s Capsule. I’m torn on the card- part of me thinks I should play it as surprise removal from the hand in response to one of her devouring nasties, to obtain blowout-level card advantage. However, after my experience playing against Jimi piloting Esper, I know well the chilling effect the Capsule can have. I’d often sit there with it on the board protecting a strong creature by keeping it in my hand, and I’d like to see if it will yield similar results here.
Sam’s turn 2 consists of a Mountain, while I drop an Island and a Tidehollow Strix. Sam finally fields a body next turn, though, with a Hissing Iguanar, while I build my mana base with an Obelisk of Esper. So far so good, and I swing in for 2 with the Strix to draw first blood.
Sam returns the courtesy on turn 4 by attacking with the Iguanar, then adds a Goblin Deathraiders. My only play is a Courier’s Capsule, and I pass. Next turn, leads with a summons of a second Hissing Iguanar, then attacks with the first Iguanar and the Goblin for 6. I pop the Executioner’s Capsule to knock out the Iguanar, then trade the Goblin for my Strix to slow the assault. Still, I lose 3 life from the new Iguanar’s special ability, and am down to 14. Still, the momentum shifts as I untap and play the Sharding Sphinx, and now we have a game.
It’s now turn 6, and Sam drops a Sprouting Thrinax and a Dragon Fodder to restock her arsenal. Over to me, I swing in for 4 with the Sphinx, both taking Sam down to 14 and giving me a 1/1 Thopter token. I then add an Esper Battlemage and a Windwright Mage before passing. Next turn, Sam comes in for 3 with the Thrinax, and I let it through. I fire back for 6 with the Windwright Mage and the Sphinx, taking Sam to 8 (and gaining 2 life in the process). I then play a Sanctum Gargoyle, recalling my Executioner’s Capsule from the graveyard, but I can’t drop it without using my last Black mana. Having better plans for it, I pass.
Now turn 8, I use that mana to trigger my Battlemage to kill Sam’s Hissing Iguanar during her upkeep. She swings for 3 with the Thrinax, but the game’s all but over. Next turn I swing for 10 in the skies for the win.
Although I have no way to really know how the turn-1 Executioner’s Capsule fared being played early until I deconstruct the match with Sam later, I figure it didn’t do me any harm to deploy early and I do it again this game. Otherwise, we’re just laying land until turn 3, when Sam trots out an early Sprouting Thrinax. I’m a little anxious as my only good play is an Obelisk of Esper, and I cast it before passing.
Sam starts the beats on turn 4, taking me to 17 with the Thrinax before adding a Jund Battlemage. I play a Cloudheath Drake, looking to stall the red zone. Nothing doing- the Thrinax’s Saproling-spawn ability gives Sam all the courage she needs to go aggro, and in it comes. I opt to let it pass, taking 3 more. She then adds a Goblin Deathraiders, and triggers the Battlemage to add a 1/1 Saproling token to the battlefield. I stabilise a bit with a Tower Gargoyle, making the prospect of her attacks much less profitable.
Not to be denied, Sam swings with the Thrinax on turn 6, and I block with the Gargoyle. The Thrinax dies and is replaced with a trio of Saprolings. She adds one more with her Battlemage, then drops a Hissing Iguanar. If this all wasn’t quite enough, she then finishes off the wounded Gargoyle with a Shock, triggering a ping from the Iguanar. I’m down to 13 life, Sam is untouched. Back to me, I play an Esper Battlemage. And pass.
Next turn Sam successfully baits my Executioner’s Capsule by dropping a Thunder-Thrash Elder and devouring two of her Saprolings. Obviously I can’t permit a 7/7 to linger, so I pop the cap and off it goes. Thanks to her Iguanar, the whole sequence still costs me 3 life. She then swings with the Goblin Deathraiders, and I take the trade with the Drake. For my part, I kill off the Iguanar with my Battlemage, then drop a Filigree Sages.
Now turn 8, Sam swings for 3 with her trio of Saproling tokens. I kill one with my Sages (taking 1 from the Iguanar for it), and am down to 4 life. Passing to me, I kill off her Battlemage with my own, using the Filigre Sages to untap it and thus get two triggers from it. It’s all for naught, though- next turn Sam cycles a Resounding Thunder and claims the win.
Three games, three first-turn Executioner’s Capsules? Why not. The next spell cast is Sam’s turn-2 Rip-Clan Crasher, which crashes in for an early 2. Next turn, I get a very promising Windwright Mage and pass. Sam plays another of those pesky Iguanars, after swinging in for 2 more with the Crasher.
Now turn 4, I draw us even with a 2-point attack from the lifelinked Windwright Mage after killing off her Igunanar with my Capsule. This puts an artifact in my graveyard, which gives the Mage the added ability of flight. Sam drops a Golbin Piker after a third swing with the Crasher. Back to me, my attack is thwarted by a timely Shock, and I have nothing else. Pass. As it happens, Sam’s turn is a blank too.
I play a turn-6 Courier’s Capsule in an attempt to refill my hand, but being stuck on three land means I can’t drop it and use it on the same turn. Back to Sam, she swings in for 4 taking me to 12, then plays a Carrion Thrash. I’m in trouble. I get out of it next turn with an Oblivion Ring on the Thrash, and I’ve another in my hand I’ve been saving, but Sam’s relentless attacks take me to 8 life and that’s even before she adds another Iguanar and a Goblin Piker.
I try to buy time with a Tower Gargoyle, but even I know the jig is up. Sam alpha strikes for 6 next turn, then drops a Shock to win.
Thoughts & Analysis
One of the little behind-the-scenes factoids about us is that Sam has a special incentive program for winning that’s designed to both keep her sharp and give her some immediate rewards. Each time she beats me for a playtest, she wins a booster. I had a couple Shards of Alara boosters laying about, so she claimed the both of them with her pair of victories. In a nice bit of synchronicity, each pack had a foil rare- a Mycoloth and a Predator Dragon– each a perfect fit for her own devour deck and she won them playing Primordial Jund. The universe can be a funny oul’ place.
As for Esper Artifice, it’s a fairly-solid intro deck that does an excellent job of introducing you to the Esper, although it does rather feel like this shard got the a bit of the short shrift. Jund has devour, Bant exalted, and Grixis unearth, but the only ‘mechanic’ here is the synergy that results from having a nearly all-artifact deck. When it comes together- as it did in game one- the results can be very hard to stop. But just as often you’ll have games where you don’t quite get your pieces assembled, and you’re rather easy prey for your opponent. In game three I’d had an Executioner’s Capsule and two Oblivion Rings, but they availed me little when I couldn’t establish much of a board presence.
There’s a lot of upside here, though, with two very solid rares in the list. The Sharding Sphinx is nice, if a bit pricey (though there are ways to reduce the cost). The real all-star is the Master of Etherium. Not only is he relatively cheap and easy to cast (needing only one coloured mana), he immediately buffs every other creature you have. He’s an absolute beast in this deck in all but the worst cases, and will never be unwelcome.
Otherwise, the deck is solidly-built, if a little draw-dependent. You have the aforementioned removal options, as well as some ‘combo-ish’ synergies like the Esper Battlemage and the Filigree Sages. While the Onyx Goblet and Marble Chalice will more often than not just take up space, the creature list has relatively little junk.
Hits: Another hit for Shards of Alara, with a deck that does a great job illustrating its shard; very good synergies between cards, especially with the Master of Etherium; solid removal package
Misses: A few filler cards in the list; deck is a little bit backheavy and has the usual vulnerabilities associated with that sort of curve; a bit lacking in early defensive capability
FINAL GRADE: 4.20/5.00