Two weeks ago Frank Lepore played Esper Rally on Modern Monday. The creator of that deck stopped by to give us some additional insight on the deck as well as his own thoughts about its future.
Hi everyone! My name is Jamie Blanchette, and I’m here to talk about my Esper Rally deck, which I played into Day 2 at GP Detroit. First, a little about myself: I’ve been playing Magic since 1995 in and around Montreal. My greatest Magic accomplishments include making Team Canada for the 2012 World Magic Cup and opening Timetwister in a Zendikar pack. I’ve Day 2’d 6 of my last 9 GPs, with one in every format: Limited, Standard, Legacy, and now Modern. I always bring brews to events.
I first brewed a Standard Rally deck in May 2015, with Purphoros. I built three copies so two of my friends could also play it at a GP Toronto. Two of us made Day 2, and one of us cashed. I also scored a feature match for Round 10. It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Rally the Ancestors, and I was excited to brew with the card in Modern.
Brewing Esper Rally: Before I built this deck, I asked myself three questions:
How much do I want to Rally for?
Modern is a turn four format, so I don’t want Rally to cost more than four mana. I settled on a Rally for two.
What are the best one and two cost creatures to Rally back?
Before finding the perfect shell, I tried a few subpar versions of the deck: a green one with Satyr Wayfinder, Greenseeker, and Llanowar Mentor, and an artifact version with Arcbound Ravager, Disciple of the Vault, and Perilous Myr. Finally, I landed on Esper colors. Hedron Crab and Magus of the Bazaar formed the base of Extended Dredge, and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy has a similar effect, so I decided to use those creature to fuel my Rallys. I also wanted them to be useful when I reanimated them, so I included Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat with the Viscera Seer sac outlet. Seer also helps find the next Rally.
How can I win without Rally?
At this point, the deck had plenty of low-power creatures and only one win condition. I wanted a way to win by playing my silly creatures without necessarily drawing Rally, but I needed that condition not to interfere with the Rally plan. Bridge from Below was a perfect fit. With Bridge, casting Rally generates tokens which make the Rally better. In lieu of the instant, we can simply sacrifice a bunch of creatures on turns 3-4 to grow a Zombie army. The tokens pile up fast between Viscera Seer, Bloodghast, and fetchlands. One way to stop Rally the Ancestors is to hold up mana and counter it. Bridge answers this problem by providing recurring board presence at almost no cost, pressuring counterspell decks to tap out. It also doesn’t hurt that Bridge largely ignores Relic of Progenitus, one of the most elegant answers to a Rally. By a game’s third turn, we usually have enough information to know whether to commit to a Rally plan or a Bridge plan.
How can I interact with opponents?
Since I don’t usually win before turn four, I needed a way to slow down faster opponents. My first version had no interaction, and would lose to Modern’s glass cannon linear decks. I needed to play interaction that didn’t destroy my opponent’s creatures, since doing that would exile my Bridges. I tried Sidisi’s Faithful… and it was amazing! Bouncing a creature with Faithful even generates Zombies if we have Bridges in the graveyard. We can also use it like a sacrifice engine, bouncing it to play again and make more Zombies. When we cast Rally with many chump blockers on the board, it’s better not to bounce our opponent’s creatures, and to instead bounce one of our own. With the extra cards in hand to loot away, we can activate Magus of the Bazaar to dig for the next Rally.
Another interactive card that works with Rally, Tidehollow Sculler, slows down combo decks and disrupt control decks. We can sacrifice Sculler to Viscera Seer with his enters-the-battlefield ability on the stack, allowing us to take cards from our opponent’s hand permanently.
Here’s how the deck turned out:
4 Hedron Crab
4 Magus of the Bazaar
2 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
1 Drowned Rusalka
3 Viscera Seer
1 Bloodthrone Vampire
4 Zulaport Cutthroat
2 Blood Artist
4 Sidisi’s Faithful
4 Bridge from Below
3 Ideas Unbound
4 Rally the Ancestors
1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
1 Watery Grave
1 Godless Shrine
3 Hallowed Fountain
4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
2 Marsh Flats
2 Pithing Needle
3 Lone Missionary
1 Felidar Cub
1 Ronom Unicorn
4 Tidehollow Sculler
The main startegy of the deck is to play small creatures that can put creatures in your graveyard. Hedron Crab, Magus of the Bazaar and Jace are very important on the early turns, Ideas Unbound is a alternative. On the third turn, you have a number of options with the following example being common:
Activating a looting effect, before playing your land often leads to a Viscera Seer that can sacrifice any Bloodghasts that have returned from a fetchland and sacrificing them to generate tokens before they come back again. Once I had 16 Zombie on turn 3!
Mulligans are very important in Modern, and this deck is no exception. Hands without engine cards like Magus of the Bazaar or Hedron Crab are close to unkeepable, but hands with less cards weaken the Magus. His power changes between games based on the amount of mulligans taken and whether we’re on the play or the draw.
This deck offers many possible lines, and the correct one is not always intuitive. Looting and scrying are some of Magic’s more challenging mechanics to master, and it also takes time to learn how to properly sequence so many activated abilities. We play more of a tempo-based defensive game than other decks, since we never want to destroy opposing creatures. A key factor in succeeding with Esper Rally is understanding when to switch from that defensive position to an offensive one, something the deck can do easily thanks to reach from Blood Artist. With Bridge from Below in the graveyard, a sacrifice outlet quickly turns into a win condition, since Zombies generated from sacrificing creatures can also be sacrificed to deal more damage with Blood Artist.
Deck Weaknesses and Future Ideas
Merfolk, Affinity, and Abzan Company are this deck’s worst matchups. They all have a way to sacrifice creatures and exile Bridge from Below, and put a lot of pressure on our life total, itself weakened by the manabase. We’re also soft to hosers: specifically, Grafdigger’s Cage and Rest in Peace. Against Cage, Bridge from below is our only out, since Esper colors lack efficient answers to artifacts. Rest in Peace can be destroyed by Ronom Unicorn or Felidar Cub, but still has an immediate impact on our graveyard and makes it tough to claw back into a game. The Unicorn creatures also deal with Blood Moon, and Magus of the Moon can be delayed with Sidisi’s Faithful and a basic Island. I lost twice to Burn at GP Pittsburgh, which explains my Lone Missionarys. Missionary makes the matchup favorable, but if Lightning Bolt sees much more play over the next few months, this deck will have a hard time keeping its engine creatures on the battlefield.
Some cards I’ve tried or would like to test in the future:
Strong against Affinity and blocks Relic of Progenitus.
Faerie Macabre, Surgical Extraction
Free grave hate that stops Abzan Company from gaining infinite life before we can go off.
Path to Exile
Removes flying beaters and Affinity’s manlands without removing our Bridges.
Was great before Dismember showed up everywhere. Can resolve as early as turn two and dominates the board with a Hedron Crab
Skirsdag High Priest, Pack Rat
I like to shake up my board plans to keep opponents on their toes. These cards synergize with the deck without relying heavily on the graveyard.
Leyline of the Void
Leyline ensures Bridge from Below never gets exiled, but i’m not a fan of Leylines in general. They ask too much of our opening hands.
Feeling of Dread
A Fog effect against fast decks that doesn’t cost a card if we mill it.
Glimpse The Unthinkable, Memory Sluice
Other mill effects that tested badly since they weren’t creatures themselves.
Shadow Over Innistrad Cards
Has potential here. A two drop that synergizes with Magus of the Bazaar and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. We also can go hellbent very easily.
Just The Wind
We already play four bounce effects with Sidisi’s Faithful, but having a instant bounce spell can prove very important in our harder matchups. Returning a creature land like Inkmoth Nexus or a Company combo piece without losing a card thanks to madness could win us some games
Brewing decks like these is so much fun, and getting results with your own creation is one of the best feelings in Magic. Don’t be afraid to test out new strategies and challenge the big decks. But also feel free to try this one out!