[Spoilers] [Article] Ashiok, Nightmare Muse in Therosian-Standard Esper Control

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Hello! I’m back, with an article on checks script uh, Standard. Um. That format.

Hey, Sushi ~ can’t I write about Modern or EDH or Pioneer instea- No? It has to be Standard? Fine. Oh, and I’m Aqua. This article contains spoilers for Theros: Beyond Death. By continuing to read this article, you subject yourself to these spoilers and blah blah blah. Let’s get into it!

Still with me? Good.

Why is Ashiok So Good?

Ashiok, Nightmare Muse is a hell of a card, plussing to make 2/3s that draw cards with Ashiok’s ultimate. The minus is almost like Nicol Bolas, Dragon God’s plus, but it bounces a problem permanent as well as forcing the opponent to exile a card. The ultimate draws three of their best cards, for free. In a lot of ways, I’m reminded of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. The only issue is that Ashiok doesn’t draw cards for the short term. Luckily, lots of cards in Standard do just that, while stopping the opponent from doing that. I’m looking at you, Narset. Kaya, Orzhov Usurper does some things for us too, from exiling card from graveyards to exiling Glowspore Shamans or Gilded Geese to exiling more things to then draining our opponent based on the number of cards they have exiled. Have I mentioned that Ashiok exiles things? No? Ashiok exiles things.

Why is Esper Control so good?

On the topic of planeswalkers, Teferi, Time Raveler is one of the best cards printed for Control in a long time, letting us flash out our wrath effects and our card draw while also stopping all interaction from our opponent and drawing cards and bouncing things. Wow. To help Teferi in his quest to stop our opponent from doing anything relevant ever is Narset, Parter of Veils, fresh from Tarkir. This card shuts off opposing card draw, and was powerful enough to get restricted in Vintage. Our sweepers do sweeper things, as the mana is good enough to play Kaya’s Wrath in a three-color deck, and Ritual of Soot helps against opposing Bonecrusher Giants and Gruul Spellbreakers. The most uncommon wrath I’ve seen in Standard is Single Combat. This card’s never seen the light of day in anything but EDH, and for a good reason: it lets our opponent recast their threats before us. Imaging casting a Single Combat and keeping an Ashiok, then plussing it to make a blocker. We’d quickly run away with the game by ulting Ashiok, and even if we never get there, an endless stream of 2/3s is very good.

Mix, Mix, Mix

Esper’s spot removal is vast, from Murderous Rider to Mortify to Oath of Kaya to, uh, Ashiok. That’s right, in addition to winning the game and making an endless supply of creatures, Ashiok bounces things, too.

I also wanted to touch a little bit on Oath of Kaya. In many decks, like Esper Stax or 5c Niv Fires, Oath reads like a sorcery-speed Lightning Helix. In this version of Esper Control, the drain ability becomes very relevant. We play a full playset of Teferi, Time Raveler, as well as our Ashioks and Narsets. Murderous Rider has extra utility by giving us a little bit of life padding against Mono-Red or Golgari Adventures. Mortify is our mainboard answer to Experimental Frenzy, Wilderness Reclamation, and more importantly, Fires of Invention.

Wait, what?

Ashiok does that too?

Oh. I mean, our mainboard permanent answer to those cards. Right…

Construction is Key, AKA The Things That Ashiok Can’t Do.

How do we draw cards? Well, with Ashiok-

Actually, drawing cards is the one thing that Ashiok doesn’t do. Good thing the rest of our planeswalkers give us some form of card advantage! Small Teferi gives us cards when he bounces something, and Narset’s minus is an activation on Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. We also have a card I’ve heard good things about in Limited but never had the chance to try it out myself. I’ve moved it to Standard to see how it functions. It’s Nessie, the Lochmere Serpent. To think an unblockable 7/7 that draws cards and comes back wasn’t enough, they also gave it Flash.

In case you don’t know how devastating flashing in a blocker to eat your opponent’s Bonecrusher Giant or trade with their Questing Beast can be, you can read my UR Rhinos article here.

We play a number of counterspells as well: Dovin’s Veto, Sinister Sabotage, and Mystical Dispute. These cards secure the win for us by stopping anything that messes with our planeswalkers: Questing Beast, Sorcerous Spyglass, or just straight creatures that smash our face in. They can also help by forcing through an Ashiok against control.

I don’t want to spend much time talking about why counterspells are good, but I did want to talk about why I chose these particular ones.

In the mirror match, Dovin’s Veto is your best card. While your main game plan of ‘stick Ashiok and go to town’ doesn’t change, Veto gives you a way to stop opposing Ashioks and protect yours. Mystical Dispute is up there too, being a bad Mana Leak that happens to be very good against control, Hydroid Krasis, and the UW tempo deck that I see appearing with Theros with the addition of Staggering Insight. It’s an easy 4-of for the deck, but you definitely want to board it out against Gruul Aggro. In that matchup, Aether Gust is much better.

Adieu

We have a number of win conditions, from Lochmere Serpent to Ashiok to- actually that’s it, but that’s fine. An army of 2/3s and a 7/7 unblockable recursive card drawing engine should get the job done eventually. On the off chance they don’t, the opponent’s best card will do the job. I have to say, there’s something rewarding about killing an opponent with their own card.

Our sideboard is usually fairly straightforward, with some combination of Aether Gust, Noxious Grasp, Ritual of Soot, Narset, Parter of Veils, Devout Decree, and Lochmere Serpent.

Where and when to bring these in should be easy, but what do you take out? Against control, you don’t want very many of your wraths, and against non-blue midrange, cut Narset. Against Fires, cut Kaya and Sabotage. Against aggro, cut Nessie and Narset.

But never…

Never cut Ashiok, Nightmare Muse.

Closing

In conclusion – Ashiok is very good. Could it be the next Teferi, Hero of Dominaria? Maybe. Let us know what you think by tweeting at us @wubrguk or joining our Discord.

Thanks for reading my rant about Ashiok, and I’ll see you next time!
Aqua

TLDR: Ashiok gud.

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