Old School Magic 93-94 – Esper Skies
Welcome to Old School Month on Eternal Central. We’re looking at a different Old School 93-94 deck each day of the month. Today’s deck is Esper Skies, named for playing Esper colors (the modern name given to Blue-White-Black), along with Moat and a handful of flying creatures (“skies” is a historical term in Magic for decks that were heavy on flying creatures).
Constructing Esper Skies
The theme of this deck is to play creatures that will fly over your Moats, while keeping other more pedestrian creatures at bay. It packs a ton of removal alongside a handful of counterspells to keep the opponent from doing anything too nasty. It is a Blue-White aggro-control deck at heart, that can switch to a slower control role, or can go aggressive by casting a creature and following up with Armageddon. Here is a recent test list.
This deck only splashes black for two very high impact cards: Demonic Tutor and Mind Twist. Mind Twist will often win the game by wiping out your opponent’s hand, and Demonic Tutor functionally doubles the frequency you would see the most powerful card(s) in your deck, while also giving you the ability to find exactly what you need, when you need it. Hymn to Tourach is a consideration for any deck with black, but the double black in the casting cost requires that you retool your mana base in order to reliably cast it on time.
Serendib Efreet is the most efficient and hearty flying creature available, and can easily be cast on the second turn with a single Mox. Serra Angel is a bit more mana, but is also a great finisher. Air Elemental is almost as good, but taps to attack, and can be Red Elemental Blasted, so is slightly worse than Serra. Finally, Phantom Monster is a decent threat and fits in nicely to the 4 mana slot, but one that dies easily to Lightning Bolt. It is the next flying creature I’d play, but in this build there are intentionally no creatures that die to Bolt or Chain Lightning, in order to strand some of the most commonly played removal in the opponent’s hand.
Timetwister is a powerful card, but probably not right for this deck, in that we want to accrue our own advantages, and give the opponent access to less outs to our threats (or to Armageddon).
Constructing a Mana Base
Blue and white are the most important colors, so the dual land and basic land configuration are configured around having more of that first and foremost. I like having a couple of basics to provide outs to Blood Moon, and after that the specialty lands like Strip Mine can be considered. 3-4 Strip Mines is probably appropriate in this build, because we’re trying to capitalize on the tempo potentially gained by dropping and early flying threat, and then backing it up with disruption of all types.
Lots of artifact acceleration is welcome here, because not only are we powering out efficient monsters, but we’re also packing card advantage mechanisms like Tome, Braingeyser, and Mind Twist, all of work best with access to lots of mana. So this deck kind of straddles the line between big mana control deck, and tempo Armageddon deck. 25-26 total mana sources is usually enough, but this can be scaled up if you frequently face a bevy of land destruction.
Designing the Sideboard
White usually provides the strongest sideboard options in 93-94, as can be seen in the sample sideboard pictured above. Dust to Dust is great for handling artifact-laden strategies, while Blue Elemental Blast and Mirror Universe are great against burn decks and aggressive creature strategies. Various Circles of Protection and Greater Realm of Preservation can help fill the gaps.
I like to bring Preacher and Psionic Blast out of the sideboard against other Serendib Efreet decks, so that you can reliably control the airways. Swords to Plowshares and Wrath of God come in against the creature swarm decks.
There are plenty of other options in these colors, but think about cards that have multiple applications across opposing archetypes, and that you can flexibly sub in when and where need be.
Playing Esper Skies
The game plan is simple for this deck. Get enough mana in play quickly to play a threat like Serendib Efreet or Jayemdae Tome, and then back it up with counters and removal, and ride it to victory. Most of your threats are somewhat homogenous and interchangeable, so don’t get too attached to a creature, unless you are confident that protecting it will lead to a quick win (or can hold off an enemy counterattack).
Armageddon should be used carefully when you can press and advantage already on board, or if you think you can draw out of it faster than the opponent. To this end, sequence your land drops carefully, and hold back some mana if possible beforehand.
Ten Opening Hands with Esper Skies
Here are ten randomly drawn opening hands with the deck (in order, and not manipulated in any way), and a few brief words with how I might look to play said opening hands.
Opening Hand 1
Featuring mana, removal, countermagic, and Ancestral Recall, this hand is a snap keep.
Opening Hand 2
With plenty of fast mana and some great business cards, this is a good hand, but features a liability in that we only have one blue mana source so far. If that blue source gets destroyed we’re multiple turns away from casting our countermagic. I’m going to keep this however, because I’m weighing that risk with the upside of potentially Mana Draining into something sick like Demonic Tutor plus Mind Twist/Balance, or something of that ilk. High risk, but high reward.
Opening Hand 3
Unlike the last opener, this hand is high risk, low reward. We’ve got removal for days, but barely enough mana to get going, and not much in the way of card advantage. In short, there’s not much compelling reason to keep this hand, given the risk of being hamstrung on mana. Let’s try fresh six.
With a ton of powerful cards, this is once again a risky hand. I’m going to keep it anyway, and search for either a Time Walk or any reusable mana source with the pre-game scry. We can cast Black Lotus in to Ancestral Recall on the first turn, with mana to also cast Disrupting Scepter on turn one. Alternatively, if we’re playing against an aggro deck, we can simply drop a Moat on the first turn with Lotus, and then wait to draw in to blue mana to get ahead with Ancestral. This is easily worth the risk.
Opening Hand 4
Without reliable mana to cast our spells, we need to ship this one back, sadly.
Once again, we’re hamstrung on mana. The argument can be made that if we simply draw a white mana source in the first couple of turns we’re on our way to cast everything, but I don’t even like what we’re casting, as Armageddon just blows up our own lands that we’re struggling to find with this hand. With a bunch of slow cards and not enough mana to cast anything besides Chaos Orb, we probably want to send it packing for a chance at a better five.
Well, this hand isn’t great, but it has a couple of mana sources, a piece of removal, as well as two huge bombs that can create a ton of card advantage if we can stay alive long enough to use them. Not ideal, but fine for a mulligan to five.
Opening Hand 5
A mix of mana, removal, draw, and more means we can happily keep this one. We want to find another blue source to get Counterspell online sooner, rather than later.
Opening Hand 6
We have a few mana sources, disruption, and a Jayemdae Tome. But we only have a single on-color source of mana in the hand. I think we can do better with a mulligan.
This hand has a lot of options, including a first turn Serendib Efreet, Mind Twist, or Braingeyser, all fueled by Black Lotus. With our pre-game scry we’re going to seek any type of mana source. I think I’d prefer to lead with Scrubland and Black Lotus in to Braingeyser for 2 here, because if we can find more mana, we can get the rest of the hand rolling, and Mind Twist is more likely to make a huge impact in a few turns if so. By giving ourselves more cards in hand we potentially have recurring resources (like lands), which is a better path to victory than simply depriving our opponent of a few cards to start the game, and hoping they get mana screwed.
Opening Hand 7
With plenty of mana and a couple of actions spells that address different threats, this is a keeper. Moat can handle many creatures, while Dust to Dust can blow up Tome and other important artifacts that are liable to put us behind.
Opening Hand 8
With Library, Strip Mine, and plenty of mana, this hand is a keeper. Consider leading with Strip Mine, in order to bait out an opposing Strip Mine, before deploying your Library of Alexandria and going to work.
Opening Hand 9
We have mana, a threat, removal, and the potential to draw cards down the road with Jayemdae Tome. I’d keep this hand, and lead with a first turn Serendib to put our opponent on the back foot to start the game. If we’re playing against Blue-Red Control or something else without Disenchant, but that does have Counterspells, I’d play the Jayemdae Tome instead, to make sure it arrives in play before countermagic is online.
Opening Hand 10
Library of Alexandria and a ton of fast mana to fuel the Jayemdae Tome make this an easy keep. If the opponent can immediately deal with Library we have Tome to start getting ahead, and if not, we’re likely to simply milk Library to a grindy win. We do not yet have the requisite mana to cast Demonic Tutor and Moat, but the each represent powerful effects that can lead to wins against different types of opponents.
There are plenty of shells for Serendib Efreet to flourish in Old School 93-94, and this is merely one example, packing a bunch of the most efficient spells in the format, in a forward leaning aggro-control build. It is kind of mundane as far as originality, but is certainly fun to play with from time to time.
Stay tuned to Eternal Central for more sick 93-94 brews all month long. Thanks for reading.