While I certainly expected a ban or two to come out of the gate on Monday, I didn’t expect four cards to be taken out, let alone from a deck besides Temur Energy! Plenty of people will have written breakdowns on the immediate consequences, and the official announcement is a well written piece on the rationale behind the decision. If you read my previous article, then it shouldn’t come as a shock that I’m on board for these bans with the exception of Rampaging Ferocidon. Ramunap Ruins and Ferocidon essentially took the hit for Hazoret the Fervent. Ferocidon may not be the most embarrassing ban of all time, but it’s close.
So with the two best decks in the format on the ropes and a new set being released, which strategies come out ahead?
U/W Approach and U/W Cycling
Instead of saving us from the Temur menace, both of these control strategies were sunk by a play set of Negate and some extra planeswalkers. If Temur Energy ceases to exist, that takes out the best Negate strategy. But people shouldn’t get too excited, as these cards will still be present in other blue decks. After Magic Online updated, I immediately played a competitive League with U/W Approach, and my 3 Merfolk opponents reminded me why I shelved the deck in the first place. Decks with Spell Pierce and Negate are absolute horror shows after sideboarding.
The flip side is that the threats are likely going to be a lot easier to deal with in the abstract. Fumigate has a lot more value against Merfolk than it did against Temur. Spot removal also has a much higher impact when you can prioritize dealing with the lord and draw engine. You have more room to maneuver with the deck compared to when you had to focus your whole main deck just to ensure a respectable game 1 against Temur.
On top of that, red decks lost their second-best weapon against the deck in Rampaging Ferocidon. I was a bit shocked when I saw the Magic Online data on the U/W decks against Red. They didn’t just lose—they got absolutely thrashed! That’s with 7-8 life gain spells in the sideboard to help hedge against them! Even though the Red deck lost a life-gain hoser, curving out into Chandra is still going to be a difficult start to stop without turn-1 Authority of the Consuls.
Base-red Pirates (or normal Red) still has Hazoret and Chandra as scary threats that can drop down and beat you even if you’ve dealt with their hordes of creatures. None of the other aggro decks have shown the capability to do so—all they can do is disrupt your ability to clear the board. Once you’ve done so though, the onus is on them to dig out of the hole. With Red opponents, all too often you felt like you were playing from behind even when you successfully dealt with multiple waves of threats. In other words, Settle into Fumigate plays a whole lot better when they don’t have threats that ignore the Fumigate.
Okay, bad news is done—happy news time! U/W can run main-deck countermagic alongside play sets of Settle the Wreckage and Fumigate. Based on the supported tribes, just showing up and playing lands and spells will be enough to win some number of games. You know what games you win against Merfolk? And Vampires? Ones where you destroy their board more than once. After that it’s cleanup duty. It doesn’t actually matter what win condition you use—they just run out of resources and the game ends.
We also gain one very important card from Rivals of Ixalan that I had originally glossed over: Baffling End. While it may not be the best catch-all answer, it gives you something to do in the early game. I need to figure out how to make room for it. Originally I had only had 2 in the sideboard, but it may be correct to jam 3-4 main deck until the metagame settles.
Tribal Aggro: Merfolk and Vampires
All tribes got a boost from Rivals of Ixalan and it still won’t be enough… wait, what’s that? Wizards also destroyed the two best decks? That’ll do pig, that’ll do. If U/W and U/B Control decks rise up to take a bigger chunk of the metagame, expect Merfolk to be right there to keep it in check. One of the big question marks for Merfolk decks is going to be how aggressive they want to be vs. the synergy driven aspects that dominated Zombies decks.
Obviously, cards like Silvergill Adept and Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca are going to be cornerstones of the deck. What about Jungleborn Pioneer and Merfolk Branchwalker? Do you really want 16 2-drops in your deck? I’ve seen Merfolk lists with anywhere from 2-4 Tyrant* and some with zero plays over 3 mana. Some jam a bunch of Unsummon and others assume their Merfolk will naturally grow and focus on playing Spell Pierce and Blossoming Defense to protect their key pieces.
Vampires faces the same kind of question. Do you want to be a low-to-the-ground aggro deck or focus on grinding with Oketra’s Monument and Legion Conquistador? For now, I’ve only seen the more aggressive variants, typically focused around Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle, and Sanctum Seeker. Here’s a 5-0 list from Deburca:
Right off the bat, I want to be clear that I think Sultai Energy is pretty bad in its current form. It relied heavily on Attune with Aether and Winding Constrictor to do anything and benefited much more from the early mana fixing than Temur did. Can it be rebuilt to function? Certainly. Will it involve Winding Constrictor? I’d be very surprised if it did since every game without the Snake involves so many weak cards. Longtusk Cub and Siphoner both got much weaker in the early game, Walking Ballista is outright unplayable without Constrictor, and the big addition of Ravenous Chupacabra is BB, which is rough on the mana.
Meanwhile, the proponents of Grixis are having a field day because their version of the deck essentially went untouched. Their mana is also less dependent on Aether Hub because unlike Temur and Sultai, it doesn’t matter if their early lands come down tapped. Since it was a fringe deck, there’s no go-to list to just copy from, but the core is essentially this:
3-4 Fatal Push
4 Harnessed Lightning
2-3 Supreme Will
2-3 Glimmer of Genius
2 Vraska’s Contempt
4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
4 Whirler Virtuoso
2-4 Ravenous Chupacabra
2 The Scarab God
2 Torrential Gearhulk
Then mix and match your various check, fast, and cycling lands along with Aether Hub and a handful of basics and go to town. You have a ton of great sideboard options, including a ton of spot and mass removal, Duress, Negate, Spell Pierce and planeswalkers. This is your typical good-stuff deck. It lacks a lot of the synergy and early game the Temur decks brought to the table, but there’s a lot of raw power here. This is the best anti-aggro option for the deck since you get tons of good spot removal, Whirler Virtuoso, and Ravenous Chupacabra. Post-board you can justify sweepers like Sweltering Suns far more easily than the Temur or Sultai builds could.
U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift
Nothing has really changed in this deck, and just like every other blue deck, has exchanged a set of unfavorable matchups for fairer ones. Fumigate is a big game against half the expected field, so it makes its way back into the main deck and you plan on doing more unfair things in the meantime. Instead of going for grinding out creatures and using Trophy Mage, you’re back to cheating GPG into play with Refurbish and racing with lifelink or a huge Dino.
U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift
While there won’t be as many Thopters to bash through, Zetalpa, Primal Dawn is a good full-court player that can slam with the best of them and is hard to deal with. Meanwhile, Spell Pierce and Jace’s Defeat make an appearance against an opposing Negate and as a way to deal with an early Nissa post-board. While she may not seem scary, Nissa can dig for countermagic and Naturalize early while threatening lethal later. When combined with Tyrant of Orazca and natural cantrips, you can easily get dominated in a resource battle.
While I said the deck gained nothing, that isn’t quite true once we get to the sideboard. Sideboard Baffling End is a big deal, shutting down key creatures is well worth the potential of letting them net a 3/3 later in the game. You’d much rather deal with a random 3/3 than many of the better Vampire and Merfolk cards, and most of the time they won’t bother hitting it—they’ll save removal for God-Pharaoh’s Gift. If the metagame becomes particularly aggro-heavy it may be worthwhile to just start it game 1.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. These are just the primary archetypes that came to mind. With a brand new set coming out and the two top decks going down, the format is going to take a bit of time to settle down. Without the Pro Tour, it’s possible that we could see an open metagame for longer than we normally would. Or…
We could just play more Temur Energy!