Esper Control Deck Tech

Hello everyone, and welcome to my first (hopefully not last) deck tech for Gladiator. I’m gonna do the proper thing, considering we are super early in the format; set up what exactly Gladiator is.

The Rules of Gladiator

Gladiator is a 100 card singleton format, intended to be played primarily on MTG Arena. Many of the rules of the format are shared among other singleton variants, while also providing a unique experience.

  •  The matches are Best of Three, 1v1 and a starting life total of 20. Matches operate under the timer set by MTG Arena (unless otherwise specified by a tournament organizer). 
  • Decks must contain a minimum of 100 cards. There are no sideboards, and thus no utilization of “Outside the Game” effects (Fae of Wishes, Mastermind’s Acquisition, etc) and no Companions. You may still include these cards in your deck, however the previously mentioned effects will not be in use. 
  • The legal cardpool features every card available on MTG Arena (including cards introduced by Historic Anthologies, and Arena New Player Experience). 
  • Cards with rules text specifying the number of legal copies in your deck supersede format rules. This currently applies to: Persistent Petitioners Rat Colony, Seven Dwarves 
  • Gladiator utilizes a banned list, which is as follows: Oko, Thief of Crowns

Please note: everything in italics is pulled straight from the Gladiator Discord. If you are interested in the format, and not already over there, please get in there. With that out of the way, let me tell you about the deck that immediately caught my attention:

Esper Control

View this deck on Scryfall

Esper Control

Creatures (7)
Instants (21)
Sorceries (14)
Enchantments (12)
Planeswalkers (8)
Lands (38)

Now, you may look at this decklist and say tell me ‘Braxton, this deck isn’t easy’ or ‘Braxton, this deck isn’t very budget friendly’. Maybe even ‘Braxton, this deck isn’t doing anything overly fun’. And to that, I say; ‘you’re correct!’  However, let me tell you a little about me; I love draw-go Magic.  Every format that I can play control in, I am happy.  Just my style of Magic, I suppose.  I know it’s not everyone’s thing, but for me, it’s what I enjoy.  I have already built other decks (that aren’t control) and maybe I’ll write up an article on them.  However, this is the deck that immediately got my attention.

Tyrant’s Scorn, Art by Svetlin Velinov

I played most of these cards when the different Esper Control lists were viable in other formats. Basically, I missed casting Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and wanted to do that again. Since this deck may not draw too much attention, I want to take my time to make sure that the proper points are made, and why these cards are what I chose. I’m going to put a bunch of detail into my win conditions. The interaction cards are mostly interchangeable, and as a Gladiator meta is created/evolves, they will certainly change.

Win Conditions

So, let’s start with cards in this deck that I believe are my win conditions. I will list all of my creatures first; none will end the game on the spot, but with the way the deck is built they all function to close out the game.

Kunoros, Hound of Athreos: This doggo offers me great interaction for its cost. 3 mana, 3/3 body, lifelink and vigilance for big keywords. But, the graveyard shutoff was what really caught my attention because it makes sure cards like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger are not able to grind me out of resources and lose the card advantage battle.

Murderous Rider: Not a whole lot to say here. Hero’s Downfall with two life loss, then a 2/3 lifelink body. Does what I need it to do, and does it well.

Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths: Really good card for me to be able to put in play, and it doesn’t need to survive to get my value out of. At worst, replaces itself with a card, maybe several.

Angel of Grace: A lot of good stuff for this card. 5/4 with flash, allows me to not die on a turn, then can be exiled to reset my life to 10. Plays very well with the next card I am going to list, and it will be apparent why.

Lyra Dawnbringer: What isn’t to love about this card? I don’t think much needs to be said; it wins games

Dream Trawler: The same thing I said about Lyra. I’ll keep this short; card is great, play it. Mana pips hopefully aren’t an issue for you by the time turn 6 comes around.

Lochmere Serpent: This card was on the chopping block for the initial list, but after playing it, I love the card. It’s the perfect draw-go win condition, and it has good abilities. The return ability on this card is actually relevant with escape as an ability.

That’s the list; all 7 of them. However, as far as non-creature win conditions go, there are a couple more. In my eyes, 11 other win conditions, bringing us to the grand total of 18 win conditions.

Gideon Blackblade: A very good, low converted mana cost threat. Pushes damage through, and can be played on a turn that mostly isn’t bad to take off, or easy to hold onto and play with interaction up.

Kaya, Orzhov Usurper: This card is really good. Escape is something control doesn’t want to deal with, and Kaya makes sure that’s not a thing. Ultimate has a chance to close out a game if it goes long enough.

Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis: While escape is something control doesn’t want to deal with, a threat that has it is perfect for control, especially considering the cards in our graveyard do mostly nothing. All 3 modes on Elspeth are relevant.

Ashiok, Nightmare Muse: Might be among my favorite planeswalkers to play in control, and I haven’t played it much. The card is super powerful.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria: I don’t feel much needs to be said about Teferi here. He terrorized standard, continues to dominate in pioneer and older formats, and I hope will do the same in Gladiator.

Liliana, Dreadhorde General: I love this card. Liliana makes bodies to block with, deals with multiple threats, and has a game winning ultimate. And the fact that this card also has the ability to draw you cards? Yes please.

Elspeth Conquers Death/The Eldest Reborn: These sagas are great turning point cards. Removal, then progressing into a threat in play, whether it’s your own or one of your opponents.

Commence the Endgame/Enter the God-Eternals: These cards do a bunch of work, and give bodies to turn the game around.

Finale of Glory: This card can win games, or it can keep you alive. If you cast it for x=10, good game. 

There were a couple threats that were in the deck initially, and some that almost made it. Chromium, the Mutable, Kiora Bests the Sea God, and Nezahal, Primal Tide all were considered. Kiora Bests the Sea God and Nezahal were cut for the simple fact that they were 7 mana, sorcery speed threats. It was a tossup between Chromium and Lochmere Serpent and I went with the cheaper card, but Chromium has built in protection, so it may be the better. If you’re looking to play standard and build this deck, pick the serpent. Otherwise, test both out.

This concludes my already lengthy breakdown of a total of 18 cards in my 100 card deck. If this is something you enjoyed, I would be willing to break down why I chose my interaction cards. However, if I put this much detail into all of them, it would be forever. So I’ll just end here. 

Oh, by the way, this is what I plan on piloting for a long time in Gladiator. Hopefully, I can one day entertain the title of ‘Premier Control Pilot of the Format’ but time will tell. Have fun everyone!