After a short stint of playing meta decks for tournaments, I decided to go back to some jank. The tournaments were tough and unfortunately, I wasn’t putting up the stellar results against the meta decks when playing my own iterations of “meta”. Esper has been rife around Edinburgh recently and the chance of an invitational ticket for winning any event meant people were constantly playing straight meta decks to try and earn their spot to the finals (and a promo flooded strand too). Luckily the Invitational isn’t till June so there’s plenty of time to try grab a spot, but until the next set at least, I wanted to keep trying to play some of my own creations.
This week I was flicking through the binders and remembered that over the holiday season I’d picked up playsets of the Sagas whilst grabbing my last History of Benalia. I’d been told the cards were a bit useless but against my better judgment I love the art on them so was happy to grab them all at a reasonable price.
Kaya, Orzhov Usurper is a Planeswalker from the new set that people initially said was a weak card but I begged to differ on this one. After seeing its value on the Pro Tour (Mythic Championship?) against Mono Blue, it was a card I’d already had in my Knights deck to act as pseudo-life-gain/graveyard hate. Kaya has a range of abilities that on the surface level compared to other Planeswalkers might seem a bit underwhelming. The +1 Exiles up to two cards from target players graveyard and if a creature was exiled, we gain two life. The -1 allows you to exile a nonland permanent with converted mana cost 1 or less. Now although this doesn’t hit a lot in the current format it is a game changer against Mono Blue. Being able to cleanly hit their Curious Obsession (or the creature if they’ve tapped out and can’t hold dive down) can be pretty much game ending as you can prison out their threats until they run out of gas. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play against any of the Mono Blue players this week but if the matchup is as favourable as I predict, I’ll add on an extra segment at a later date.
The deck is made up with a whole host of White/Black control cards. With nearly all of the black removal spells being main boarded, we are looking to have an answer for any card our opponent plays.
Now, moving on to the Sagas this is where things get really interesting. The first, and arguably most important one, Fall of Thran is our build around card. This card is as ridiculous as it reads, destroying all lands then over the next two turns allowing the recursion of them. The trick here is that if we have enough graveyard disruption in our own deck, we can make this deal one-sided. We are running Remorseful Cleric to instantly exile our opponent’s graveyard or if we stack the triggers on our other saga, Phyrexian Scriptures, we can also get the same result along with a board wipe. This leaves our opponent pretty helpless if they are playing decks with no counter interaction. The beauty of this land disruption is that it’s technically fairer than other decks I’ve seen.
Both players need to attempt to rebuild the board and we are only getting four lands back so it’s a minor head start. Unless we have our engine going. Smothering Tithe is our mana and artifact advantage by giving us treasure tokens, but if our opponent has no lands to pay for it, then it’s a guaranteed token every turn for the foreseeable future. This alongside cards like Karn, Scion of Urza, Mastermind’s Acquisition or Dawn of Hope acts as our win conditions. The bonus as well if Kaya is still out our opponent will have a load of cards in exile and we can just ultimate Kaya dealing damage equal to the number of cards they own in exile.
The rest of the deck is built with Treasure Maps to scry to the cards we need. A bunch of sweepers; Mortify to deal with enchantments and The Eldest Reborn for big creatures or Planeswalkers we can’t interact with.
A quick note on the sideboard that is pretty important as well. The deck is tuned to prey on Mono-Red, Blue and graveyard decks (Sultai and Izzet) most of the cards are here to deal with those matchups and the Acquisition takes inspiration from the chromatic black decks of last season. However, I wouldn’t recommend siding in your Banefire into Esper matchups, mainly due to the fact that if you get it hated out by thought Erasure then you’ll likely end up losing. Leave it there till exactly when you need it or grab Revel in Riches once you have enough tokens. We’ve also got the usual anti-control cards and a couple of Nature’s Spiral and Tragic Poet due to the amount of Mortifies that are around now.
My first matchup was against an old opponent and I was pretty sure he was going to be on the dreaded Esper plan. He was piloting Esper prior to RNA and often had successes even with the lighter mana base pre the full set of shock lands. Now with his fully equipped deck that looked to be nigh unstoppable, I wasn’t entirely confident about the match. Beside me people were playing decks I’d much rather have faced, but just like drawing in Magic, your matchups are also subject to a sprinkling of luck.
Game one started out as all control matches go. I tried to play stuff and it was constantly either subject to a counter or removal. My hand was looking slightly thinner and I decided to clear off my opponents Kaya with Vraska’s Contempt but was pretty reluctant to due to the elephant in the match. Teferi, Hero of Dominara is the card I struggle with the most in this matchup and if I let him get too much card advantage I’ll fall way behind in tempo. It’s a weird thing playing a control mirror without having counters but both of us were locked into a game of chicken, with an overabundance of dead cards for other matchups we were in limbo until one of us made a move.
After getting a Karn down my opponent was starting to sniff out my plan. My own card advantage was causing havoc and I was reluctant to make a construct token as it would be wiped off too easily. After tucking away a Remorseful Cleric I knew I’d have to make a move soon. My Fall of Thran was ready and my opponent was tapped out post Teferi and had spent their mana countering my removal. This was it, I used Karn’s minus ability to grab the cleric and floated my mana. Thran resolves, my opponent is annoyed and baffled they have to chuck their lands away and the exile them all. Sadly, Teferi is such a monster of a card and my engines weren’t set up in time to deal with him. My board was as empty as my opponents and after letting the turns roll over a couple of times to see if I could draw anything, I decided to concede.
After sideboarding things got a lot harder. I was able to resolve an early Kaya and Thran but my opponent had a Thief of Sanity sideboarded in and this was just milling me for most of the game. I decided to play this one out a bit longer to see if I could draw anything useful. My opponent was drowning in cards at this point so the advantage of the land destruction was more a pothole, rather than the explosive turn I’d hoped for. Once again Teferi came down and in good spirits, I played the game out to see if anything could save me. I could have used Kaya’s ultimate but the fact my opponent wasn’t even bothering with her led me to believe they must have had plenty of answers at the ready.
Thankfully the game was enjoyable and I wasn’t completely blown out by Esper. I think splashing for counters in the main deck would be worthwhile but again I wanted the Sagas to shine in this one so they already occupy the spot. I made a similar deck with Smothering Tithe/ Emergency Powers with Revel in Riches as the win condition that once again, has an unfavourable matchup into Esper. Whether it’s a series of bad draws or just the power of countermagic, Esper is very powerful and can pray on these sort of combo decks without hesitation. Luckily, this was the only Esper matchup I had for the evening and moving through to match two I was hopefully optimistic.
Match Two was against a standard Storm deck using Thousand Year storm and Primal Amulet. I was really underprepared for this matchup and got punished heavily against it. I’d left Cleansing Nova and artifact removal out of the deck (forgetting Mortify doesn’t hit artifacts) and should have probably had a couple in my sideboard.
Game one my opponent was able to get all their piece out before me, running a gate package without nexus and I was able to stifle the Guild Summits as and when needed. These gave him a massive card advantage and I knew that since I couldn’t deal with the Amulet until the flip, I’d have to bide my time. The Amulet flips after casting four spells and then has the advantage of tapping to act as a copy of the spell. This means you can hold up twelve mana, cast a Banefire for ten and have an uncounterable twenty damage coming at you. There was a window of opportunity I’d have to stifle this but unfortunately, I couldn’t draw my Fall of Thran in time.
The second game went a bit more smoothly. After knowing my opponents plan I was able to side out a lot of the useless cards and bring in some heavy hitters of my own. I brought Lyra in to act as a distraction on Turn five that he had to deal with, otherwise, I’d have a perfect creature to start putting a clock on them. Thankfully, Kaya appeared early and resolved without a hitch. I was slowly removing cards from my opponent’s graveyard whilst biding my time. Fall of Thran was in hand and so was the cleric, I’d generated the mana I needed to play them both and was just waiting for the tap out to happen. After letting my opponent Growth Spiral and Circuitous Route to flip there Amulet now was the time to strike. I floated my mana again and cast Thran, then sacrificed the Cleric exiling all of their lands (at this point it was around thirteen as well.) My opponent was not happy about this. Looking at Kaya sitting on six loyalty meant I could ultimate, swing with Lyra and that would be enough to get them. This was a great win here and the deck’s combo was executed perfectly.
Game three I fell behind by not drawing anything useful till about turn ten and it was essentially a nongame. Granted I could have arguably Masterminded a Cleansing Nova from my binder to deal with the Sunbird’s Invocation and 45 treasure tokens on the board but apparently, that would have been a bit of bad etiquette as tournaments tend to stick to sideboard cards. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t pull a win against this deck, again the counters would have been handy as my opponent sided some in against me but I still think with better draws I would have been able to get through again.
Match three was against Mono-Red and I could finally put the deck up against something that it was meant to be favourable into. The incidental life gain from Kaya alongside the vast amount of sweepers had me hopeful.
The first game was looking to be a close one. I had some early interactions with Moment of Craving and was able to keep the board relatively clear. I accidentally tried to play Ritual of Soot on turn three so my opponent knew I had a sweeper whilst keeping their board for another turn. Thankfully I was able to rip a Wrath off the top and played two in a row, leaving their board empty for me to start to set up on. My opponent was getting low on cards and I had saved the mortify just for Experimental Frenzy if it was going to come down. That is the card I was most afraid of, I didn’t want to tap out and let them start playing off the top of their deck when I was sitting on five life. I decided that if I was going to win I’d have to be a bit bolder. I used the Mastermind’s Acquisition to grab Lyra, Dawnbringer from the sideboard and hoped my opponent would just kill me in the next two turns. Thankfully I was given some breathing room after my opponent used his mana to cast Risk Factor, I let him draw three rather than taking four damage. Lyra resolved and although my opponent was refilling their hand, they couldn’t hit the spells they needed. I was ready to go back up to a comfortable life total and grind the rest of the game out but my opponent decided to concede instead.
Game two my opponent got a bit mana flooded and after several board wipes from myself, I’d been able to tutor Lyra and have pretty big construct tokens from Karn with Kaya also being in attendance to keep my life total up. They had sided in Rekindling Phoenixes to act as a recursive threat but I was able to use single target removal and the sweep the token up with something to deal with it. Although it was a two for one against me, this trade often had the benefit of some life-gain so it would mitigate a shock later essentially. I made sure I was putting enough pressure down to threaten them whilst also holding Lyra back in case of a Banefire but at that point, he’d drawn too many lands in a row and couldn’t respond to my board state. It was pretty unfortunate as the deck only runs twenty lands and he’d drawn seven of them. I’d offered him time to pile shuffle before the match but again sometimes it’s luck of the draw in these scenarios.
I think the Red match up is heavily favoured as you can even side in Revitalize to give card advantage and gain three life as well. I was able to deal with every Runaway Steam-Kin that resolved and this meant they couldn’t get the silly mana advantages that Red has when it pops off.
Overall the deck was really good fun to play. It was semi-control but with more fun win conditions that the meta decks but was subject to weaknesses due to that. I think the main flaw was having four Kaya’s Wraths vs some cleansing Nova’s and will be a sideboard tweak at least. I’ll be playing this deck again to see if it has better matchups into other decks before retiring it as it was so much fun having three sagas on the go at once.
My Showdown pack Contained: