New Ways to Beat Energy Decks

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
11/15/2017 11:00:00 AM
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Temur Energy – sometimes with a splash of black – is the most popular strategy in Standard. A given Standard tournament likely will have close to half the field playing some variant of Temur Energy. This leads to the obvious question of whether Temur Energy and energy in general is too strong. Do we need to ban a card like Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, or Aether Hub? My answer is that while the Energy decks are certainly strong, they can be beaten, and the format is still pretty fun with Temur Energy as the best deck.

Desert Red

Heading into last weekend's tournaments, Sultai and Temur Energy variants were the primary targets on player's minds, yet in the finals of Grand Prix Atlanta it was Esper Approach and Desert Red clashing for the title. Not only are these not Energy decks, but they really aren't decks we've seen much at all. Each deck is a spin-off a known archetype, as Esper Approach is similar to straight White-Blue Approach, while the Desert Red deck of Ben Stark can be compared to Ramunap Red. These decks are seemingly well set up to combat what the Energy decks are up to. The Desert Red deck actually aims to be able to beat Temur in a long game.

While this is a mono-red deck featuring Ramunap Ruins, it is not that aggressive. You do have the capability of going turn one Bomat Courier into Kari Zev, Skyship Raider on turn two, but the focus is more on having a high density of removal, at least in game one. By removal, I mean burn spells, planeswalkers and creatures that deal damage. Looking through the spells, a very large number of them have the ability to deal damage to opposing creatures. Considering midrange decks like Sultai and Temur Energy are chalk full of creatures, the plan is pretty solid.

The combination of Abrade, Shock and Lightning Strike are what we traditionally see in Ramunap Red decks, and all three are present here. What we don't normally see is Magma Spray making its way into the main deck. Ben's deck isn't going to win quickly, making the ability to deal damage directly to the opponent a bit less important. Magma Spray makes a lot of sense, as playing a longer game against a creature like Scrapheap Scrounger isn't going to be fun. There are also two copies of Treasure Map, which are your form of late-game card advantage.

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Treasure Map is going to be good when your opponent isn't putting on a lot of pressure, and the high density of removal makes it less likely the opponent will be able to run away with the game early on. There are some traditional early threats, but similar to Ramunap Red, four mana is where the true payoff is. However, in this case that doesn't necessarily mean Hazoret the Fervent. In fact, there is only a single copy of Hazoret in the main deck. There are two more copies of Hazoret is the sideboard, but with players coming prepared with cards like Confiscation Coup and Vraska's Contempt, the red deck needs to look for alternative options.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance is the go-to. It's an all-star here, and I would even consider playing the fourth copy in the main deck. The plan of removing all the opposing threats and then having Chandra, Torch of Defiance left over to use as a win condition tends to work out pretty well. Sand Strangler is another four-mana card and one of the main reasons this deck has been dubbed “Desert Red.” It's also very good at picking off creatures in the midgame.

This deck relies on Deserts pretty heavily, as having one in play is necessary when casting a Sand Strangler. It happens to match up pretty well against the three-drops in Temur Energy like Rogue Refiner and Whirler Virtuoso. Sand Strangler is a card that Ramunap Red stopped playing because there were too many four-mana cards when including four copies of Hazoret the Fervent, but this version of Red actually wants Sand Strangler more than Hazoret as it is on theme for controlling the board.

The deck is almost like a pre-boarded Ramunap Red deck against the Energy matchups. This is pretty smart in the current metagame, considering how popular the energy decks are. We see Glorybringer more often after sideboard, but here they are in the main deck. There are also 25 lands to help ensure you are able to get your big threats into play on time. Dunes of the Dead acts as a value land, as you can sacrifice is to Ramunap Ruins and get a Grizzly Bear for your trouble.

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This is a crazy deck, and one that only a player like Ben Stark would actually play at a Grand Prix, but sometimes big risks pay off. It's a good example of how testing a deck that is very different than what we normally see can be quite rewarding.

Esper Approach

The Esper Approach deck that beat Ben in the finals of the Grand Prix also hit the metagame in a perfect spot. Most decks including Temur Energy have been sacrificing their matchups against control, and Ben made his Red deck much worse against control in order to have a better Temur matchup, which cost him in the finals. The biggest reason to add black to Approach is the addition of Fatal Push.

We heard how Alex Lloyd had been playing straight White-Blue Approach up until Atlanta. We saw a Jeskai Approach deck that splashed Harnessed Lightning Top 8 the Pro Tour, so why not go the other direction and splash Fatal Push? Fatal Push deals with the most problematic creatures, as getting an early Longtusk Cub off the board can easily be the difference in a game. The main issues Approach decks have is stabilizing the board, since their late game is always going to be great.

While you do have to make some sacrifices in terms of the mana base, it seems to worth it. Alex even has gone to Vraska's Contempt in the sideboard as another powerful answer for an opposing planeswalker or God. We see Approach decks relying heavily on Settle the Wreckage, which seems to be working out. I rarely see players not attack with all their creatures, as you always must worry about not having enough time to win once the opponent does get to seven mana and casts Approach of the Second Sun.

The key to winning with Approach decks in general is knowing your gameplan. Game one is going to be easy against most matchups. The plan of casting Approach of the Second Sun is unlikely to be disrupted, as not many decks are playing countermagic. However, against the Energy decks after sideboard, you can no longer rely on Approach to win the game. You are forced to switch to a Plan B, and actually sideboard out Approach of the Second Sun. You want to be able to bring in high powered creatures, and The Scarab God works nicely here.

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Against Approach decks, the industry standard for Energy decks is boarding out as much removal as possible. This means that a card like Confiscation Coup may very well be resting in the opponent's sideboard and you get to safely get The Scarab God into play. Torrential Gearhulk is the more traditional win condition of choice in the Approach decks that don't play black, and we also see those here. Regal Caracal is a win condition too, but it is even more productive against the aggressive decks like Ramunap Red.

I was surprised to see Alex beat aggro deck after aggro deck in the Top 8. Traditionally, Ramunap Red and Mardu Vehicles are the worst matchups for the Approach deck, so if Approach is beating those decks, what is it losing to? We did see Alex have some pretty spectacular topdecks, so that likely played a role in things as well. We didn't see control do particularly well at the Pro Tour, but that doesn't mean playing control right now would be a bad choice.

Energy decks are adding more cards like Magma Spray, Abrade and Confiscation Coup to their main deck. The reason is that many players think control is not very popular right now, and they are willing to just give up game one. If that is how people are thinking right now, control might in fact be the perfect choice in the current metagame, and the addition of black in the Esper Approach deck seems to have shored up a lot of the holes in the straight white-blue version.

Blue-Red Flyers

The last deck I want to talk about is a spicy Blue-Red Flyers deck, and recently we have seen some out-of-the-box blue-red tokens deck trying to win in the air. Energy decks primarily have threats that are trying to attack on the ground, and though Whirler Virtuoso and Glorybringer are still important flyers in Energy decks, they can only do so much against a giant army of Thopters.

The deck is quite literally all-in on flyers. It even plays Glorious Anthem, err I mean Favorable Winds, to beef up the creatures! We haven't seen much of decks like this, but that is because building a deck like this is unintuitive. Favorable Winds is not a card that screams Standard-playable, yet here it is, and in fact there are enough flyers to make it good. Siren Stormtamer is a card that sees play in aggressive Pirate decks, and can later protect one of your more expensive threats like Glorybringer.

The opponent is forced to use up removal on Siren Stormtamer. We also have Hope of Ghirapur as an early flyer, and being an artifact is nice too. There is a small improvise theme because of Maverick Thopterist, so any cheap artifacts are going to be important. This deck aims to make as many Thopters as possible, and Whirler Virtuoso and Pia Nalaar are nice additions to the Thopter makers. Thopters not only do a nice job of attacking, but they can also be used to crew vehicles. This deck naturally plays the best vehicles in the format, which also happen to have flying – Heart of Kiran and Aetherspere Harvester boost up the artifact count, while being significant threats.

This deck is full of synergy, which is how it gets its power. A good draw from the blue-red deck can easily run over Temur Energy. There are simply too many flyers to answer all of them, and alongside a Favorable Winds they can easily outclass the size of any flyers that the opponent might have. Lightning Strike and Shock are flexible removal spells that help clear the way.

Standard continues to evolve, and it seems that while Energy decks are still on top, players are finding ways to beat them.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield




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