The new-and-improved DJ from a few weeks back apparently still needs some fine-tuning, folks.  We’ll get to that shortly, however…
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IS ESPER ARTIFACT AGGRO POSSIBLE???
I know…all that work, and I’ve come full-circle and ended up asking the same question I started with.  Before you break out the pitchforks and torches, let me explain why I pose this question again.
Last night was the inaugural test drive of our finalized Sharuum Community Project Esper aggro deck.  It was a very interesting and eventful experience.  I very quickly discovered two things:
-Yes…it is possible to play a non-degenerate Sharuum build.
Robert Burns was not screwing around when he wrote the infamous stanza, “…The best laid schemes of mice and men…Go often awry.”
(Which leads to two further discoveries – one, that Robert Burns wrote “Auld Lang Sine”, and two, I still have absolutely no clue what an ‘Auld Lang Sine’ actually is…)
Now, the deck played wonderfully, and actually was called out mid-game by another player as being “the least threatening” deck at the table.  Arguably the most threatening thing it did all night was to Sharuum in Darksteel Forge – and this happened at the two-and-a-half-hour mark of the game.  I paid retail for everything the deck did, from Akroma’s Memorial to Mimic Vat to Spine of Ish Sah.
The problem is that, once again, the deck played out like a control deck.  Here’s a rough list of the things the deck accomplished:
-Imprinted Duplicant on Mimic Vat solely to help keep various Praetor shenanigans in check.
-Spine Of Ish Sah-ed an opponent’s Vedalken Orrery.
-Strategically wrecked the Mimeoplasm player’s game with Mystifying Maze.
That was about it.  I found no mana acceleration, and was out-raced by every other player, forcing me to play defensively the entire game.  When I finally was able to attack someone for lethal damage, it was with a tandem hasted attack with Sharuum and Magister Sphinx.  (Which was very satisfying – see below…)
I’m hoping this is an anomaly, but it does sort of match my dry test run with the rough list a few weeks back.
RESULTS – FIRST TEST RUN
What It Did Well:
-Hit land drops.  I’m pretty sure I did not miss a single drop until well into the late game.
-Handle critical threats.  I feel like the correct mix of removal and tutors was in place; I saw the correct answers at the correct times without having a hand overflowing with them.
-Stay under the radar.  I sat at thirty-seven life until the last few turns.
-Protect its’ graveyard.  Thanks to Volrath’s Stronghold and Academy Ruins, I was not touched by Mimeoplasm triggers until very late in the game, after the Forge came down and I had the Vat/Duplicant setup.
What It Did NOT Do Very Well:
-Be aggressive.  Other decks (notably ones with green and black in them) were able to find bigger threats faster, and I spent a bunch of time doing things like sitting on four lands and Mystifying Maze.
-Race.  Lightning Greaves on Scarecrone does not compete well with Hydra Omnivore, or Geth, or Mimeoplasm. 
-Draw cards.  I had Vedalken Archmage in my opening hand.  I discarded it on about turn twenty after my hand was flooded by someone else’s Minds Aglow after always having a better play than running it out for four mana and hoping it would stick long enough to give me some value. 
Other than that, the next best thing I found was Thirst For Knowledge on turn eight or so.  It drew me three lands.
-Not draw the correct amount of lands.  I drew a lot of land.
-Leverage Mycosynth Golem.  This may be a scratch after all.  I had it in my hand at one point, and realized that it would cost me 9 to play.  Looking at my hand, I had Enigma Sphinx and Sharding Sphinx, so I would be seeing a slight discount at best, but I’d still have to put up quite a bit of colored mana.
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Again, I’m not throwing in the towel here.  To be perfectly fair, the deck is really fun to play, and realistically performed in a way that is very much in line with my usual control sensibilities.  The problem is that I don’t want it to do that.  This is not the aggro machine that I was expecting it would play out to be.  Despite having twenty-seven creatures, the ones that came up were simply too underwhelming by the time they were viable.
What Needs Fixing?
If I were to tweak things right now based on this performance, I’d probably look to do the following:
-Add more acceleration.  Sphinx Of The Steel Wind on turn eight is a great way to let someone else draw an extra card from their Decree Of Pain.  Steel Wind on turn five is a whole different ballgame.
-Add more draw.  Get Careful Study back in the deck.  Compulsive Research.  Maybe stuff like Ancient Craving or Blue Sun’s Zenith.  The deck should be powering through early draw to both optimize plays and prepare for Sharuum’s trigger to hit as quickly as possible. 
Potential Core Issue
-The fundamental problem is still that green and red decks just do aggro better on a like-versus-like basis, and worse, are a prevailing strategy at the moment.  Their creatures are bigger, cheaper, and faster.  Enigma Sphinx into Tempered Steel is fantastic, until the player next to you untaps and just plays Avenger Of Zendikar.  You’re not winning that race.
Potential Fixes
-Give in to control.  It’s possible this deck is able to be a viable, non-degenerate deck if it reinvents itself as a synergistic control build, leveraging some of the better threats (Magister Sphinx, Wurmcoil Engine) through extra removal, protection, and recursion.
-Voltron.  Up the equipment package at the expense of some of the existing creatures.  Again, rely on the solid threats, and back them up with Stoneforge, Stonehewer, and lots of swords.  Sphinx Of The Steel Wind with Batterskull and Sword of Light and Shadow on it is a powerhouse.
-Break from the ‘Esper aggro’ mold and give in to elements of ‘Goodstuff’.  I’m not advocating deserting the theme completely, but rather letting the colors do what they do best through some strategic changes.  Archmage becomes Consecrated Sphinx, Mirrorworks becomes Rite Of Replication.  Changes along these lines will make the deck stronger overall, if not move it in a slightly-less interesting direction.
Looking Forward
Two games do not represent enough seat-time to properly gauge how well this deck works.  I’m going to play it a few more times as-is to see if things change, and move forward from there.  One thing is for certain – I’m enjoying being back behind the Esper colors again. 
I’m not giving up on this thing.
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ABOUT THAT “ANGER MANAGEMENT” THING…
I guess you can’t just flip the switches overnight.  Who knew?
I know that somewhere in the archives I detailed an experience playing a game with a certain Geth, Lord Of The Vault player who was a bit prone to griefing, whining when things were’t going his way, and getting heated up and confrontational.  Now, again – I’m firmly claiming pot-and-kettle here.  I am prone to pulling the same emotional responses myself.  And – as usual – I mean no ill-will to the persons involved in my stories here.  I really don’t – Next week is always a new week, and we’ve got an all-inclusive great bunch of players at our LGS.  I really mean that.
That said, this is my soapbox.  Once in a while, I’m entitled to talk some $#!t and revel in the glory of it all. 
This is absolutely one of those times, ladies and gentlemen.
There were five players in the game that occurred last night: Sakashima, The Mimeoplasm, Edric, Spymaster of Trest, and our old friend Geth.  From the start, the geth player was going to run his Sharuum build, but I had beaten him to the punch, so he switched over, noting that he’d have to play the “evil” deck instead.  He spent a good chunk of the game making comments about how hardcore the deck was, and how it was capable of some crazy degenerate plays.  
Of course, his tune changed after a while.  He got very antagonistic toward the Mimeoplasm player, who is still in the process of learning the format, and was incredibly smug and vocal when he was able to shut down plays the guy made. 
Eventually, of course, this drew the ire of the rest of us, and we started to put him in check.  Not long after I Strip-Mined his Cabal Coffers and the board was wiped, he had a turn where he drew, played a Swamp, and said, “Might as well pass…it doesn’t really matter since you guys are just ganging up on me anyway.”
Déjà vu, straight up.
Not to far further in, I assembled my Duplicant/Mimic Vat, and managed to catch him with it as we was attempting to equip Geth with Skullclamp.  He was visibly irritated at that point.  During my turn, I played Sharuum into Darksteel Forge.  At this point, he started making comments aimed at getting the other players to target me.  
“Someone needs to deal with that.”  
“I can make his whole deck go away.”
“He’s a huge threat”
It kept going like this until Geth was played again and he started to go down the milling path a second time.  In response to my Duplicant, he went for the Caged Sun the Sakashima player had in his yard.  Sakashima attempted to remove it from his yard.  Geth very snappily replied, “Activate again and target it again in response.”  He was then out of mana.  Sakashima shrugged and responded by playing and activating the Elixir Of Immortality in response via the Vedalken Orrery he had out.  The room erupted in roars, and Geth went very visibly into the tank.
The next turn, he untapped, and declared that he was tapping all of his lands for twenty-two mana.
“Seems fine.”, I said.
He played Geth.  “Does this resolve?”
“Sure”, I said.  “But in response to you activating him, I’m Vat-ing in a Duplicant to exile him.”
He started fuming a bit and making some comments about what was going to happen.
“Fine…remove Geth from the game”, I said calmly.
He blew his top.
“NO, YOU DON’T!”
I leaned in, grinned, and calmly said, “As soon as you activate Geth and pass priority, I will activate Vat and remove him from the game.”
He promptly started grabbing things from various yards, clearly setting up for a big next turn.  Caged Sun, Lightning Greaves, and so on.  He was also now discussing how he was going to mill me out of the game.  (Laughing, he points at the deck and bellows, “It’s what this thing does!)  He ends the turn tapped out, and passes to The Mimeoplasm.
I stand up and start pacing, trying to get rid of the nervous energy.  The last time this went down, I lost and had to suffer the feeling of yielding the upper hand to this guy.
Not this time.  Not again.
A few minutes later, the Mimeoplasm finishes his turn and passes.  I look over at Geth.
“Tapped out completely?”
He nods.
“Any creatures?”
He shakes his head.
“Good.  Akroma’s Memorial.  Magister Sphinx targeting you.  Swing at your head with him and Sharuum for ten.  That do it?”
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Yeah…screw proper threat assessment.  Sometimes the right play is the one that makes you smile all the way home.
àDJ