I didn’t attend Grand Prix Atlanta last weekend. Instead, I chose to spend some time with my family and friends, and to make a short appearance in the MOCS playoffs, running back basically my same list from the Pro Tour. Weirdly enough, the deck I played seemed to change from Draw-Perfect Temur to Draw-Two-Land Temur and I exited the tournament quickly. I did keep my eyes on coverage all weekend across the globe for the triple-Standard-GP weekend, and one thing I noticed, regardless of which GP I was watching, was that no one wanted to watch any more Temur or 4c Energy matches.
Everywhere I looked, someone was annoyed at the prospect of watching another Temur Energy mirror, or even Energy decks playing against anything else. It seems that Energy has gotten more staler than the Cheerios my kids hide between the couch cushions. While I do agree that the energy mechanic has come close to running its course after being a dominant strategy since Matt Nass was spinning Aetherworks Marvel into Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on turn 4 at a 100% success rate at Pro Tour Kaladesh, the question really is: Is Temur Energy too dominant? Does something need to be banned?
Well, energy is a unique mechanic in Magic. It’s an added resource that can give you an advantage against someone who does not use the additional resource. It’s sort of like having more cards than your opponent because when you’ve produced enough energy, any of your energy sinks such as the already banned Aetherworks Marvel, Whirler Virtuoso, or something less commonly played like Dynavolt Tower produce an added effect on the game at nearly no additional cost.
The energy cards should in turn be a little worse than your average playable Standard card, but the energy cards are costed aggressively, making a card like Rogue Refiner such a good card when energy matters. If Rogue Refiner didn’t produce energy when it came into play, we’d likely still see it played as a 3/2 draw a card for 3. The fact that it gives you 2 energy is just another bonus, making your other cards better.
Once you’ve reached the midgame and you’ve cast an Attune with Aether, a Rogue Refiner, and a Whirler Virtuoso, and connected just once with your Longtusk Cub, you’ve already produced 9 energy. Let’s say that you managed to not use any of that energy and all of your creatures died to 1-for-1 removal. At any point in the game, if you draw a Whirler Virtuoso, you drew a card that essentially reads:
Make four 1/1 Thopters when this comes into play.
When your opponent draws their 3-drop, it likely doesn’t scale as well as this. So having this ability to play with an extra resource over your opponent is a big reason for the overwhelming popularity of the deck.
As of right now, I don’t think the Temur Energy archetype is too dominant, but it’s definitely one we need to keep an eye on. While Temur Energy is still a great deck, it’s been beaten by a variety of archetypes, and the more and more the energy decks prey on each other, you will notice other decks start to have some success because of an open window. Decks like God-Pharaoh’s Gift, Ramunap Red, or Approach Control decks will find openings in soft metagames to punish these Energy decks that are now cannibalizing each other. This was evident by the finals of GP Atlanta, weekend when my teammate Ben Stark was able to reach the finals with a unique take on Ramunap Red, losing to Alex Lloyd on Esper Approach, another deck Ben Stark worked on throughout testing for Pro Tour Ixalan. What can I say? They don’t call Ben Stark the best Constructed player in the world for nothing.
Temur Energy is essentially the Jund of the format. It’s an excellent midrange deck that can attack any deck in the metagame, but as we all know, the more wide open a metagame becomes, the less effective Jund decks get.
Does something need to be banned?
As of right now, my answer is “no”—we don’t need to ban anything out of Energy archetypes.
First of all, we’re early in a new Standard format, and the existence of energy in just one block makes it difficult for any new cards to disrupt the already great shell formed by just including all of the Kaladesh block cards within one archetype.
The only thing that’s ever changed in Temur Energy decks is the top end. It started with Aetherworks Marvel into various Eldrazi, moved to the Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai combo, and then we realized that the archetype was so good that all it needed was a few Glorybringers.
This means two things to me: First of all, the Energy deck won’t improve much, if at all, as more and more sets hit Standard, and secondly, other decks will catch up to Temur Energy, potentially even surpassing it.
So yes, maybe Temur gets some more top-end threats out of new sets to improve slightly, but it’s really hard to compete with Glorybringer and The Scarab God as finishers within the archetype, so Temur’s power level will stay flat while other decks get better.
Ixalan is heavily tribal themed, meaning that it likely needs all of the block to fully come together in Standard to compete with another whole block of cards. We definitely see some powerful cards across the tribes such as Regisaur Alpha and Hostage Taker that could be centerpieces in tribal decks if the support were there, but we have to wait and see what Rivals of Ixalan brings to the table to catch up to an already completed energy block.
If you had to pick a card, what would you ban?
Okay, so now that I’ve said my peace on why I want to keep energy flowing in Standard, some of you will assuredly disagree with me. So let’s play devil’s advocate.
The most common answers to this question are Attune with Aether or Aether Hub. This is a reasonable stance. Aether Hub and Attune with Aether provide energy decks with smooth mana bases, and also provide a small amount of value for the energy sinks within the deck like Longtusk Cub and Whirler Virtuoso. Losing the mana flexibility would also pigeonhole any Energy decks into playing the same threats. 4c Energy would no longer function, so we’d be left with just Temur Energy. The problem is, this may actually neuter the deck, and I think just making the deck less powerful is good enough. Decks like Sultai Energy and even Electrostatic Pummeler decks would also be hurt by these bannings, so it’s not the road I’d choose.
I like Attune with Aether and Aether Hub if energy themes get softer. Aether Hub for instance, really impressed me in the U/R Control deck from days past. The deck only ran Harnessed Lightning, Glimmer of Genius, and Aether Hub as ways to generate and use energy. The payoff for playing a few small energy subtheme cards made Harnessed Lightning a better removal spell later in the game, and made your mana better throughout the game. Nothing more, nothing less. This is an awesome use of energy.
Attune with Aether is the same for me. I really like how it’s a subtle improvement to the Longtusk Cub/Winding Constrictor decks. A card that gives a small energy boost makes these decks more competitive and by no means too powerful. Attune with Aether on turn 1 into a turn-2 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is an awesome synergy that should remain in Standard.
Other answers I’ve heard are Rogue Refiner, and Bristling Hydra. This honestly doesn’t make much sense to me at all. Rogue Refiner is a great card, and it is one of the cards that makes these energy decks tick, but it’s a balanced card for Standard assuming that it’s only a cog in a small energy engine. Decks like Seth Mansfield’s Pro Tour winning Sultai Energy deck use Rogue Refiner in the ways I suggested, along with Attune with Aether, as a way to pump a Cub once, or have energy at the ready for an unchecked Glint-Sleeve Siphoner.
The logic behind Bristling Hydra is basically the logic behind almost any creature with hexproof. Some players just don’t like the hexproof ability, which is understandable. Bristling Hydra is actually a pretty balanced hexproof creature, as you need energy prior to it entering the battlefield to protect it with its trigger on the stack. As an energy sink, it’s fairly weak, not giving you much value for using 3 energy to pump it unless you’re protecting it from a spot removal spell. As a 4-drop, I don’t think Hydra is huge problem.
Okay, so if it’s none of those cards, what would you ban then?
Well, the card I’d look to first is Whirler Virtuoso. Whirler Virtuoso makes Temur Energy and its variants the most difficult to attack. Whirler Virtuoso acts as an energy sink that allows you to topdeck an army of creatures after a long game, while also being a quality 3-drop early in the game.
Whirler Virtuoso provides you a stream of blockers to protect planeswalkers or your life total against aggro decks, while also providing you multiple bodies of threats against control decks trying to play a 1-for-1 removal game with you.
Whirler Virtuoso is the only energy sink left that instantly provides you value through effective card advantage. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner can draw you an extra card a turn, but you can’t cast it, pay 5 life and 10 energy to draw 5 cards immediately. The advantage you get is turn by turn, giving an opponent time to mitigate its value.
Longtusk Cub is another energy sink, but it’s a perfectly balanced one. It can snowball and create free wins when unchecked, but despite how big it gets, a removal spell like Fatal Push will always be able to deal with it on a 1-for-1 basis as the game progresses, while Whirler Virtuoso will instantly generate a ton of value, making a single removal spell often ineffective.
While it’s more subtle than Aetherworks Marvel, Whirler Virtuoso is what makes Temur Energy such a tough deck to beat. If we wanted to shake things up in Standard, I’d look at Whirler Virtuoso, attacking the best energy sink instead of the smaller more versatile energy cards that play well in other version of energy decks with less powerful energy sinks.
Was the energy mechanic a mistake?
Well, I love the subtle energy synegies like Attune with Aether charging up an Aether Hub enough to give you near perfect mana throughout the game, or allowing your Harnessed Lightning to take out a 5-toughness creature. What I don’t like about energy is all of the different ways we are able to use this added resource as a huge advantage throughout the game in the form of additional creatures or cards. Aetherworks Marvel was obviously a mistake. Even using energy to find more cards and casting them for free was enough to make this card very good, but when you add in the potential for hitting huge Eldrazi, it was a nightmare. Whirler Virtuoso allows you to put a few extra creatures onto the battlefield for no mana and no cards, just a leftover resource from your cards that were already pretty solid on their own.
I don’t think energy was a mistake. The energy sinks that were created with the mechanic were. If every energy sink got better on a 1-for-1 basis, like a Longtusk Cub getting bigger, and a Harnessed Lightning killing bigger creatures, or generating value at a slower clip like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, energy would be a brilliant mechanic. Some of the payoffs were pushed a little too far this time. I have full confidence that if Wizards were to add additional resources to Magic again, they will learn from energy.
I, for one, am looking forward to Rivals of Ixalan and how it may shake up the current Standard metagame. In the meanwhile, I’m going to look forward to the Pro Tour and focus my attention on Modern.
Do you think something should be banned in Standard? Let me know your thoughts.