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Budget Magic: $99 (57 tix) Esper Haven (Standard)


নমস্কাৰ, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time again! This week, we are heading to Standard to play a deck built around one of my favorite cards (and one of my favorite mechanics) from Amonkhet: Esper Haven! Drake Haven (and Drake Havens five through eight, Faith of the Devoted) are the closest thing we have to an Astral Slide or Lightning Rift type payoff for cycling in Standard, and while neither is quite as good as the originals, both are extremely powerful, and even more so when considering the general power level of cycling cards in Standard. Perhaps the best part of using Drake Haven as a finisher in a controlling deck is that there are so many cycling cards you want to play anyway, including Cast Out, Censor, and Hieroglyphic Illumination, along with the cycling lands. This means that we don't really need to warp our deck to make Drake Haven work—instead, we just play the best control cards in the format (which also happen to be the best cycling cards) and let the Drakes fly! Anyway, let's get to the videos, and then we'll talk more about the deck.

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Esper Haven Deck Tech

Esper Haven vs. GR Energy

Esper Haven vs. UR Control

Esper Haven vs. WR Humans

Esper Haven vs. UB Cycling

Esper Haven vs. RB Aggro

The Deck

Esper Haven is fairly straightforward. As we talked about in the intro, we're basically a UW Control deck, splashing a little bit of black and using Drake Haven and Faith of the Devoted as finishers in conjunction with a ton of cycling cards. Otherwise, we have good removal, some counters, and a sweet sideboard plan designed to take advantage of the creature-free nature of our main deck.

The Payoffs

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The biggest challenge of making Drake Haven work is that the card is pretty slow, requiring us to take a turn off to cast it, and even after we get it on the battlefield, it usually takes a few turns to really start generating much value, since it's mana intensive. The good news is that, over the long game, the amount of value Drake Haven generates is often insurmountable. Even better, it's really hard to run out of action because whenever we make a Drake token, we are also drawing a new card thanks to cycling. 

Most of the time, our plan is to get a Drake Haven on the battlefield as soon as we have a chance, and then our first Drake tokens normally chump block to help us stabilize while we build up our mana. Eventually, we'll have enough lands (and additional copies of Drake Haven) that we'll start making multiple Drakes each turn, and at this point, it doesn't take long to shift into attack mode and close out the game quickly in the air.

Faith of the Devoted is basically Drake Havens five through seven, and running it alongside Drake Haven has a few major advantages. As far as the card itself, it's usually worse than Drake Haven, since it only drains for two once, while the Drake tokens can deal two damage each turn if they live, although the life gain is often very relevant in helping us stabilize against aggressive decks. As for the advantages, the two biggest are that running Faith of the Devoted along with Drake Haven gives us some redundancy with our payoffs and makes it much more likely that we'll draw one in a timely manner and get multiples on the battlefield eventually (which is really important in the late game). Plus, Faith of the Devoted gives us some protection from cards like Lost Legacy, which would be devastating on Drake Haven without the Faith of the Devoted backup plan.

Cycling

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The great thing about the cycling cards in our deck is that they are all cards we'd want in a UW Control deck even if we didn't have Drake Haven as a finisher, which means we don't really have to warp our deck to make our namesake enchantment work. Also important, all of these cards cycle for only a single mana, which is actually super important with Drake Haven / Faith of the Devoted. In the late game, we want to be able to cycle two or three times each turn and pay for all of our copes of Drake Haven and Faith of the Devoted, and doing this with two-mana cycling cards is difficult. 

As for the cards themselves, Censor is a great counter on Turns 2 and 3 but often loses its value quickly as the game goes along. Cast Out is the closest thing we have to Hero's Downfall in our current Standard and gets rid of any problematic permanent across the battlefield. Finally, Hieroglyphic Illumination is basically the "cycling matters" version of Glimmer of Genius. As we talked about before, all of these cards would be in our deck even if we weren't running Drake Haven, and all are even better in our deck when they are draining away our opponent's life or making Drakes.

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Irrigated Farmland and Fetid Pools give us even more cycling (bringing our cycling count up to 20), and the opportunity cost of putting them in our deck is super low. In the early game, they are slightly annoying enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands, and in the late game, they are Drakes, drain, and a new card. 

Combo Finish

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Pull from Tomorrow might be the best control card in all Standard, doing a pretty good imitation of Sphinx's Revelation and, when cast for x = 5 or more, often closing out the game thanks to the massive boost in card advantage. However, it is so much more in our deck! On level one, we can cast it for X equal to the number of mana we have minus the number of Drake Havens and Faith of the Devoteds we have and use the fact that Pull from Tomorrow makes us discard a card to our advantage by making Drakes and draining our opponent. More importantly, in the late game, Pull from Tomorrow gives us a super-janky combo kill.

While our focus has been on cycling so far, it's important to remember that both Drake Haven and Faith of the Devoted trigger when we discard a card as well. In the late game, we can use this to our advantage by casting a huge Pull from Tomorrow on our opponent's end step, untapping, and passing our turn to intentionally discard to hand size and get a huge stack full of triggers. Since we passed our turn without spending any mana, we can spend it all on our triggers, make a board full of Drakes, and potentially drain our opponent out of the game!

Non-Cycling Removal

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Unfortunately, not everything can cycle, so we have some non-cycling removal as well. The main focus here is to stay alive long enough to take over the game with our Drake Havens, which means much of the focus is killing creatures on the first few turns while we are waiting to start making Drakes for chump blocking. Both Blessed Alliance and Immolating Glare give us efficient ways to deal with attacking creatures, while Blessed Alliance can also gain us a bit of life to help us stay alive while we are waiting to Drake over the game. Fumigate, on the other hand, gives the deck a way to clean up an entire board full of creatures, which is important against GB Energy / Delirium, Zombies, and Mardu Vehicles.

Non-Cycling Counters

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While we don't have a ton of counters in the main deck, we do have a few to help us fight through other control decks and keep things like Aetherworks Marvel off the battlefield. Spell Shrivel might seem like a weird choice, but it's more budget friendly than Disallow and easier to cast than Void Shatter. More importantly, exiling is actually a major upside in a world of embalm, aftermath, and recursive threats like Scrapheap Scrounger and Dread Wanderer.

The Sideboard

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Most of the sideboard is self-explanatory, with Lay Bare the Heart, Sphinx of the Last Word, and the rest of the counters fighting control and Renewed Faith and Fumigate helping against aggro. However, I did want to take a minute to talk about Glyph Keeper. The basic idea here is that, since we don't have any real creatures in our main deck (and fighting through Drake Haven with targeted removal isn't really practical), opponents will probably remove most of their targeted removal when sideboarding. In response, we can bring in Glyph Keeper, which is difficult to kill normally and even harder to kill once most removal is sided out. This leaves us with a super-hard-to-deal-with evasive threat that can close out the game in just four attacks. As a creature, it also avoids whatever cards out opponent might bring in specifically to answer Drake Haven (like enchantment removal or Negate), while also giving us another hedge against Pick the Brain, Lost Legacy, and friends. 

Wrap-Up

All in all we finished our matches 3-2, and things played out almost exactly as we predicted: we crushed midrange and control thanks to the insane amount of value Drake Haven can generate when the game goes long but struggled against some really fast aggro decks. While we have the ability to beat those decks if they start out a bit slow or we have a removal-heavy draw that can keep us alive until we gets our enchantments online, fast aggro certainly feels like our hardest matchup. I'm not 100% sure how to fix this problem, partly because Drake Haven and Faith of the Devoted are simply slow cards, and there really isn't a way to speed them up, and partly because it would be hard for our deck to cut cycling cards for non-cycling cards that might be good against aggro because then we weaken our payoffs, and having Drake Haven and / or Faith of the Devoted without any cycles is really rough. That said, the archetype feels like it has potential, especially for a budget deck, so if you have some ideas about how we can shore up the aggro matchup while still staying on a budget, make sure to let me know in the comments!

Ultra-Budget Esper Haven

The bad news is there really isn't a good way to make an ultra-budget version of Esper Haven—making the mana somewhat functional is just too expensive, especially when you consider that cycling lands are super important to the deck. The good news is that we can make a UW Haven deck for about $60 that looks pretty powerful. The biggest downside of this build is that we lose Faith of the Devoted and Fetid Pools, but we get even more removal in their place, which will hopefully help against aggressive decks and shore up one of the deck's worst matchups. The other big cut is dropping to two copies of Pull from Tomorrow, which is painful because the card is super good, but at $5 a copy, there's just no way to make a full playset work in an ultra-budget list. All in all, I think this build loses a bit of consistency but hopefully makes up for it with a slightly better aggro matchup, I think you could try something like this casually or at a FNM and probably win some matches. 

Non-Budget Esper Haven

The non-budget version of Esper Haven doesn't get any huge changes but instead just some small (but meaningful) upgrades. First, we get Disallow as our go-to counterspell over Spell Shrivel, which is helpful since it can fizzle an Aetherworks Marvel activation or an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger trigger. Second, we upgrade the mana base, dropping Evolving Wilds for more dual lands. We also squeeze another Fumigate into the main deck to hopefully help against aggressive decks. Finally, we get Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the sideboard over Glyph Keeper in the "come in and steal the game" role. All in all, these upgrades are helpful, especially the better mana base, but the deck should play more or less like the one in the videos in most matchups. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. If you're looking for a way to make use of your new cycling cards and like controlling decks, give Esper Haven a shot. It's a lot of fun to play and fairly competitive! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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