For the first time in a long while, the Pro Tour took place a considerable amount of time after the set release. This meant that the format was established for the most part, and barring some insightful last-minute innovation (which most teams didn’t have), our job was to figure out which version of which popular deck we were going to play.
From the get-go, I knew I didn’t want to play Mono-Red. I know it did well at the Pro Tour, with multiple 9-1 and 8-2 lists, but I just don’t think it has a good matchup versus Temur—I went 4-0 against it at the PT, and our list had a clunky mana base and only 2 Hydras.
After that, I tried a bunch of different decks, including Tokens, Vehicles, and control archetypes, but I kept running into the same problem—I could not beat Temur post-board. Pre-board, it was easy. You just Fumigate them and win most of the games, but once they brought in counterspells and enchantment/artifact removal, it became very hard to win. None of those decks had a cohesive sideboard plan against Temur (they were already main decking all of it, after all), and all became significant dogs once Magma Spray became Negate.
After we were resigned to the fact that Temur was the best deck, we had to figure out which version to play: straight Temur, straight Sultai, Sultai Red, or Temur Black. For me, Straight Sultai was out—I thought Harnessed Lightning and Whirler Virtuoso were just too good, and didn’t like Ballista now that Red skimped on 1-drops. We explored the option of Sultai Red, since Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is amazing, but found that Chandra was the best 4-drop, and that deck really couldn’t support both early black and red mana. Your Hubs were too taxed, so your Whirler Virtuosos became much worse. This left Temur and Temur Black.
Initially, my inclination was that straight Temur was better—it was what I played at Nationals, and the mana worked. Most people seem to think of the 1 Swamp as “almost free,” but in reality, it isn’t. A lot of the time you have to Attune for Swamp and it messes up your curve, or you can’t afford to Attune for Swamp, so it doesn’t count as a black source. That’s not even to mention the times where you draw Swamp and Rootbound Crag, and it makes you want to throw your deck in the trash.
Playing black comes with two great cards, though: The Scarab God and Vraska. In my opinion, those cards weren’t worth it, but all of my teammates thought that they were, and given that I am one person and they are 15, and I wasn’t really that confident in my evaluations, I decided to go with what they thought was best. In the end, Matt Ness played straight Temur and Martin defected to Mono-Red, but everyone else played Temur Black, or, as we started affectionately calling it in testing (which was apparently coined by Gerry), “Draw-Perfect Temur,” because that was basically the only way you could cast all of your spells.
This deck plays just like a normal Temur Energy deck, but you’re giving up consistency for a more powerful late game. Glorybringer and Skysovereign are strong cards, but The Scarab God is undoubtedly the most dominant of them all if you can cast it. Once you’re already playing black, then it isn’t a big stretch to play Vraska, which is good in the mirror, great against tokens (which we expected more of), and good against control.
A lot of people were splashing black, though. Our real innovation, if you can call it that, came in the form of Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Most people played 1, Piotr Glogowski played 0, and Christian Hauck played 2, but we played 3, which I believe no other team in the tournament did. We just found the card to be excellent against almost everybody—it was a way to have a decent game-1 matchup against a deck like tokens (which, again, we expected more of), while also being great in the mirror, especially if you were on the play. In our deck, we actually used the mana ability from Chandra quite a bit, to accelerate cards like Vraska or The Scarab God with an activation into play.
Other than that, our list was standard. We agonized for about 15 hours on which 5-drops to play, and eventually decided we couldn’t afford to play main-deck Confiscation Coup because you often didn’t have double-blue when we were already going for double-red for Chandra. Glorybringer would be much easier to cast. We couldn’t utilize the aggressive component of Glorybringer as much as straight Temur decks can, because we only had 2 and they are great in multiples, but it’s still a combination of threat plus removal spell (much like Chandra), and a way to attack opposing planeswalkers. After sideboard, we take it out a lot, though.
There are usually two types of games in the mirror—the ones that snowball, and the ones that stagnate and drag on forever. For the first type of game, being on the play is a tremendous advantage since every card in the list is maximized if you’re on the play, and often doesn’t work on the draw. A turn-2 Longtusk Cub goes from being a must-remove-or-lose threat to a card that you might not play before turn 5. Chandra goes from threatening an ultimate quickly to a removal spell that gains 2 life.
If you’re on the play, pressure your opponent—they’re not great at reacting. If you can stick a planeswalker into a board that is at least on parity, you can often just ride it to victory. You can keep mana up to Harnessed Lightning their Glorybringers, for example, whereas they cannot afford to do that to yours. Our deck was a little more susceptible to this kind of draw than normal Temur since we had worse mana and more expensive cards, so we stumbled more often.
If the player on the defensive manages to stabilize the early rush, then the game becomes very grindy. This is where our version shines, because The Scarab God and Vraska will win all grindy games.
If you’re on the play, your goal should be to snowball the game as hard as possible. If you’re on the draw, your goal should be to extend the game as much as possible so that your trumps can take over. For this reason, I board very differently whether I’m on the play or on the draw.
Versus Temur, on the Play
Versus Temur Black, on the Play
Versus Temur, on the Draw
Versus Temur Black, on the Draw
If your opponent has Glorybringers and Chandras, then you want Chandra’s Defeats because they are a huge tempo swing. If they have Scarab Gods, Vraskas, and Skysovereigns, they are much worse. If you’re unsure, sometimes you can board in one.
Cub is good on the play since it can be a main game plan, but worse on the draw. Abrade is the opposite. If I’m on the play, I’d much rather play a turn-2 Cub than a removal spell. If I’m on the draw, then I feel like I have to kill their 2-drop, and therefore don’t have time to cast my own. Nissa, Steward of Elements is also excellent on the play since they can’t do anything about her, but not good enough to bring on the draw, when it’ll usually just be attacked to death immediately.
Boarding out Glorybringer may seem weird, but you’re bringing in Confiscation Coups already, and you can only play so many 5s. Besides, people often side in Chandra’s Defeat against you, and it’s a good way to protect yourself from that a little bit. If they kill a Chandra or a Virtuoso it’s not so bad, but if they kill Glorybringer it’s often devastating.
Versus Ramunap Red
This is a good matchup—certainly one you can lose, but good nonetheless. They aren’t that fast nowadays, and you have plenty of cheap removal, and two cards that are nightmares for them to deal with: Bristling Hydra and Whirler Virtuoso. It’s for this matchup that you want red the most, since no black card comes close to doing what Virtuoso does against them. As an aside, I keep seeing lists with 3 Whirler Virtuosos, and I think that’s an enormous mistake.
Post-sideboard, things get much better for you. They hardly improve at all (sometimes they board zero cards, or Chandra’s Defeats that have very few targets, or swap 3-drops), whereas you gain another four cheap removal spells and two ways of dealing with Hazoret. Since you have so much cheap removal in the deck post-board, Hazoret is the main way you lose games, so having two more answers is good there.
Confiscation Coup is also fine to use to steal a 2-drop (or an eternalized Earthshaker Khenra), which removes an attacker and often generates a blocker and some energy. But mostly, you should save it for Hazoret unless you’re confident that you can beat it anyway.
The match here plays similarly to Mono-Red, except that they have flyers that hit hard, so Whirler Virtuoso is even more important. Try to manage your life total so as not to die to Unlicensed Disintegration, but for the most part I feel that you can adopt an aggressive role after stemming the bleeding, and should do so at the first opportunity since their creatures (Scrounger and Toolcraft) are very bad at blocking.
Versus U/W Control
This matchup is bad game 1—you’re soft to Wrath effects. You have two good ways to win: Stick an early Cub, or stick an early Chandra. Both of those are hard to deal with and have semi-fast clocks, so that’s your best way of stealing a win. If you don’t have either, then just play your hand and hope they can’t deal with it—you’re not beating Fumigate anyway. Matignon didn’t even play Fumigate in his list, though, so perhaps that matchup is a bit easier now.
Your sideboard here is going to depend a little on what version they’re playing (you don’t want Appetite if they don’t have Cast Out), but regardless of what they have it’s going to get much better for you. You bring in two more cheap planeswalkers that can give you continuous advantage and 4 counterspells that can deal with either their sweepers or their kill conditions. While in game 1 the U/W deck has all the control and can just do things at its own time, in post-sideboarded games that changes, and the Temur player is the one who dictates the pace. I feel that you’re as favored in games 2 and 3 as you are unfavored in game 1.
Despite me hating the mana, the black splash is probably worth it. It’s worse versus red, but sort of better against everyone else, even throwing in the couple of random games you lose because you have a Swamp. The Scarab God is just that good of a card, and dominates any board state on which it is left unchecked.
If I were to change anything, it’d probably be Glorybringers for Skysovereigns, like Piotr Glogoswki did, but this is going to depend a lot on the metagame. Skysovereign is kind of a joke against certain archetypes, while Glorybringer is always serviceable, and most Temur players played more Abrades main deck than we did. Still, this is a change that I will try more in the future before playing the deck again. Past that, there isn’t much more that I would change—if you expect as much Temur as in the Pro Tour, a main-deck Vizier of Many Faces is also a possibility.
Regardless of what you do, though, the core of the deck is going to stay the same, and it’s going to remain very strong at least until Rivals of Ixalan comes out. If I had another tournament tomorrow, I would play a version of Temur Energy.