Rebuilding Esper into Dakkon Blackblade

 

Welcome to another edition of the article series where I go over changes to my different EDH decks in detail (and where I trash them and rebuild them into something better).

There have been a number of my decks over the last few years that have been on the chopping block after disappointing performances and poor games, and many have been culled or changed. Much as I have done before, I rebuilt decks that just aren’t working; this may involve either changing some cards around deck to deck, changing who the general of the deck is, or completely overhauling the entire deck.

Now, with Rivals of Ixalan long since released and Dominaria on the horizon, I’ve been going over each set of changes and additions to my EDH decks, and man, have there ever a lot of them!

Today, we’ll be looking at what I’ve been brainstorming for our Esper list: changing from Halfdane-led copycat tribal, to classic Dakkon Blackblade. Let’s take a look!

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Years ago, I started a series of Random Friday articles dedicated to rebuilding my EDH decks, with the ultimate goal of making them all fun to play, and fun to play against. The plan is always to rebuild any decks that aren’t performing the way I wanted them to.

Thus far, I’ve built, retooled, and rebuilt several of my EDH decks in this series.

In 2012:
• I put together Arcum Dagsson, a dangerous general who could Tinker up win conditions at will here.
• The original incarnation of Karona, False God and her Allies, here and here.
• I looked at my initial attempt to build a Rakdos deck here, here, and here.

In 2013:
• Our Abzan deck was transformed from Ghave, Guru of Spores into Doran, the Siege Tower‘s “toughness matters” deck here.
• I’d changed my Boros list, from Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer into Brion Stoutarm‘s sacrifice-based deck here.
• The lovely Angela had changed our Dimir deck from Vela the Night-Clad to the milling-based Lazav, Dimir Mastermind here and here.
• I changed our Rakdos deck to Rakdos, Lord of Riots after the release of RTR here.
• I rebuilt the powerful Bruna, Light of Alabaster‘s combo-control deck here.
• I rebuilt the Planechase 2012 duo, Thromok the Insatiable and Krond the Dawn-Clad here.
Nekusar, the Mindrazer‘s Painful Wheel was built here.

In 2014:
• The Jeskai deck that finished off The EDH Project, Zedruu the Greathearted, was built here.
• Angela’s tribal Soldier build helmed by Coldsnap’s Darien, King of Kjeldor here.
• I went over my brainstorming and the final list I looked at for Khans newcomer Narset, Enlightened Master (who is just ultra-powerful), here.
• The first rebuild of our Izzet deck, from Nin, the Pain Artist to Melek, Izzet Paragon, was done here.
• I rebuilt our Clone and Shapeshifter “tribal” deck, Sakashima the Impostor, which is chock-full of copy effects, here.
• I went over the changes to our Equipment-friendly mono-white deck, Kemba, Kha Regent here.
• I looked at the changes to the budget-friendly Nath of the Gilt-Leaf here.

In 2015:
• I went over the changes to Commander 2014’s Titania, Protector of Argoth, my favourite of last year’s Commander generals, here.
• I rebuilt our U/R control deck, from Melek, Izzet Paragon into Keranos, God of Storms, here.
• I rebuilt the very first EDH deck that I’d ever put together, our Jund deck helmed by Adun Oakenshield, into one led by Kresh the Bloodbraided from Shards block here.
• I rebuilt our Boros deck again, this time changing it from Brion Stoutarm to Tajic, Blade of the Legion, a R/W control deck, here.
• I looked at a huge culling of my decks, where I disassembled Kemba, Kha Regent, Volrath the Fallen, Zedruu the Greathearted, and more here.
• I retooled two artifact-based decks: Karn, Silver Golem changed into creatureless artifact-based control, and our Esper deck Halfdane turned into Sharuum the Hegemon artifact aggro, here.
• I went over my first new Rakdos build of the year, building around Innistrad’s Olivia Voldaren here.
• After Olivia failed to be any good, I built a ‘new’ Rakdos deck (again), this time using Malfegor the Demon Dragon as general, and a hellbent theme here.

In 2016:
• I had reworked our five-color Ally deck, and changed the deck from Karona, False God to a more token- and combo-based General Tazri here.
• I finally sat down to build around Captain Sisay, a deck where “legends matter”, here.
• Two decks were merged into one as I merged the +1/+1 counter-based Skullbriar, the Walking Grave and our Abzan deck, Doran, the Siege Tower, into new +1/+1 counter deck Anafenza, the Foremost, here.
• I redesigned the five-color manabases for each of my five-color generals here.
• Our Jeskai deck, Zedruu the Greathearted, and our mono-white token swarm deck, Kongming, “Sleeping Dragon”, were merged together to form Narset, Enlightened Master, here.
• I rebuilt our Golgari deck, Skullbriar, the Walking Grave, and took pieces from Titania, Protector of Argoth, to form our new Golgari deck The Gitrog Monster here.
• I went over big changes to our Izzet control deck, Keranos, God of Storms, here.
• I went over some big changes to our Jund deck, Kresh the Bloodbraided, here.
• Our Temur deck was changed, from fun-loving Maelstrom Wanderer, to Khans bear-puncher Surrak Dragonclaw here.
• I looked at what our five-color Superfriends planeswalker deck, Progenitus, would look like after dropping the red cards and switching to four-color general Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice here.
• I went over the changes to our artifact aggro deck, as I added red to Sharuum the Hegemon, changing it into Breya, Etherium Shaper here.
• Our “copycat tribal” deck, Sakashima the Impostor, gained the use of white and black cards, and became our new Esper deck with the same theme, Halfdane, as shown here.
• I looked at the third of our four-color decks, led by partner generals Vial Smasher the Fierce and Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix (who were a surprise entrant in The EDH Battle Royale V), here.
• I went over the hostile takeover of our Mardu deck, instigated by Conspiracy II’s Queen Marchesa and the monarch mechanic, here.

In 2017:
• I looked at my build for my favorite general from Commander 2017, the highly-aggressive Saskia the Unyielding here.
• I went over our build for the difficult-to-brainstorm WURG color combination (which was our final four-color deck) based on partner generals Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa and Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist here.
• I rebuilt our BUWG deck, Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice, from a planeswalker deck, to “+1/+1 counters matter” here.
• I went over major changes to Saskia (over 20 new cards!) here.
• I rebuilt another of our four-color decks, Vial Smasher the Fierce/Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix by changing one of the partners; the new deck is Vial Smasher the Fierce/Thrasios, Triton Hero, as seen here.
• Taking advantage of Ixalan’s new “planeswalkers are legendary” rule, I retooled Captain Sisay with a host of new cards here.
• I rebuilt the Vampire tribal Commander 2017 precon around Edgar Markov here.

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COPYCAT TRIBAL:
Over the years, my Esper deck has gone through many generals. I started with a strange Esper control deck built around Halfdane where the theme was “power matters”, trying to have the biggest creatures for him to copy; this was quickly shelved, as it didn’t really work well. I have tried Sharuum the Hegemon, an artifact creature aggro deck, which morphed into Breya, Etherium Shaper as soon as the four-color generals were released. And finally, things came full circle when I changed back to Halfdane, but this time leading a “copycat effects matter” deck, built around all the Clone effects in Magic.

I have never been satisfied with an Esper general for EDH, honestly. Esper colors are in a strange place for multiplayer, where they aren’t really good at mana-ramping unless you include a lot of artifact mana; they are the most controlling (and slow) colors, making you the table’s “fun police” if you decide to play control; and for the most part, the Esper generals are all, for lack of a better word, boring. Much like the Boros color combination (R/W), whose generals have all been pigeonholed into just doing one thing (attacking), Esper generals by and large focus on being the control deck.

So until recently, I left our Esper deck as a Clone tribal deck, and I was fine with that. If Wizards never printed me a fun Esper general, I just wasn’t going to worry about building a good Esper deck.

The perfectionist in me hated that, of course.

So, with recent developments from Dominaria and new cards from Ixalan block being released, it is time once again to look at this color combination.

OLD-SCHOOL GREATNESS:
As an old-school player, I’ve always had an affinity for older cards, which is one of the reasons I went back to Halfdane to lead our Esper deck in the first place. I can remember the days when you could crack the mighty Dakkon Blackblade in a pack, and he was then (and still is now) a damn cool legendary creature to open and play.

Random fact: I still have a Chronicles copy of Dakkon that I’d opened in a Chronicles pack waaaaaaaaaay back in the day. That is a long time to hold onto one card.

I’ve always liked Dakkon as a theoretical Esper general, but I’ve also always had reservations about using him (which is why I never have). White/blue/black are not the colors of mana-ramping — unless you use mana-producing artifacts, so his “power/toughness equal to the number of lands you have” ability will not ever be all that spectacular. Having said that, I’ve always liked his potential, and I’ve always had the idea of a Dakkon deck on the back burner, just in case Wizards printed me more cards to go with him.

Well, there was one card in the Dominaria release notes that really jumped out to me and made me want to build him:

His sword, the Blackblade, is still around! That is a super cool throwback, and really made me feel nostalgic, so I just knew that I had to dig out a copy of the Esper general and build around him.

So we had our new Esper general. What was the focus of the deck going to be?

I figured going into brainstorming that the basic gameplan of the deck would be “get lands into play, make Dakkon huge, and general-kill people with 21 general damage.” Simple enough gameplan, but are there enough support cards for this in Esper colors?

Well, this was actually helped by Ixalan block.

THE IXALAN BLOCK TRANSFORM CARDS:
Part of the issue I had when brainstorming Dakkon decks before was that you’d only really want to run so many lands in the deck (my EDH decks normally average around 40 or so lands), meaning that even if you’re hitting your land drops every turn, you’d still want more ways to get lands into play to pump up Dakkon, and that’s not easy to do in U/W/B.

Ixalan block gets around the 40 land restriction by introducing one of my favorite cycles of cards in recent memory, the transform cards. These are spells that transform into lands, each with triggers that could actually be met in an EDH game, meaning that if I ran them, I’d be running more lands in the deck without actually running more lands.

As if I needed more reasons to love this cycle of cards!

All I had to do was build the rest of the deck around their various transform triggers, and I’d have a way to actually “mana-ramp” in Esper colors! I thought this was immensely useful, and quickly set to work gathering the various transform cards in these colors.

This was the start of my brainstorm list:

The Ixalan transform cards:

Transform lands (10)
Search for Azcanta
Arguel’s Blood Fast
Legion’s Landing
Conqueror’s Galleon
Azor’s Gateway
Treasure Map
Thaumatic Compass
Profane Procession
Dowsing Dagger
Golden Guardian

Ten spells that turn into land, out of 59 cards, is a pretty good number of extra lands!

What I like about all of these cards is that they’re all actually quite playable in EDH as standalone cards (let alone turning into extra lands to pump Dakkon with). Search for Azcanta, Azor’s Gateway, and Treasure Map let you filter your draws. Arguel’s Blood Fast gives you a version of Greed, letting the deck run some extra card drawing. Profane Procession even gives the deck repeatable removal, which is excellent in a longer game.

Between Blackblade Reforged and the Ixalan block transform lands, I knew I had something spicy to start with. So what else could the deck do?

MANA-RAMP IN A NON-GREEN DECK:
The next question I had to ask myself was a big one: was there enough mana-ramp in blue/black/white to run this deck, or could I find enough to make it work?

This was the list of ramp effects I started with:

Esper mana-ramp cards:

Mana-ramp (11)
Dreamscape Artist
Burnished Hart
Solemn Simulacrum
Kor Cartographer
Oblivion Sower
Sword of the Animist
Explorer’s Scope
Druidic Satchel
Mirage Mirror
Wayfarer’s Bauble
Crucible of Worlds

It turned out that there were a surprising amount of ways to put extra land into play in the Esper colors. Of these cards, I was most excited to try Oblivion Sower, as I’ve always had a soft spot for that guy in multiplayer, and I think he’ll be excellent in here.

A DIFFERENT WAY TO MANA-RAMP:
Along the same lines as those last cards, one outside-the-box way to mana-ramp is to steal lands from other players, with cards like Annex. Every land that I steal would of course pump Dakkon, but would have the unfortunate side effect of pissing people off, so I hesitate to try this.

These are the Esper thievery spells that steal lands:

Annex cards:

Creatures (1)
Herald of Leshrac

Thievery (6)
Annex
Blatant Thievery
Expropriate
Confiscate
Volition Reins
Lay Claim

Like I said, the main reason I wouldn’t want to try this approach is that I can see the entire table ganging up on me afterwards. Still, it’s good to know this route exists.

SO THEN WHAT?
Realistically, this is what I’ll be asking myself until Dominaria is fully spoiled and I know what I have to work with. I know that I want the deck to be able to put extra lands into play, and I know that I want it to play as many Ixalan transform lands as it can, but from there, what do I do with the deck?

Unfortunately, this is where I’m have to leave this piece for now. I’ll be working on the Dakkon deck until Dominaria, but I have yet to decide if I want this to be a control deck, an aggressive deck, a deck built just around the general-kill, or what. I honestly don’t know yet what the plan will be. I really haven’t decided yet.

There will be a followup piece later on, and I’ll be going over exactly what I did to build the deck. Until then, I look forward to trying out the transform lands and ramping in colors that can’t normally do so! Thanks for reading!

 

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