The Complete Guide to Sultai Energy
Sultai Energy, unlike Temur Energy, hasn't been around in Standard for that long. The deck originated soon after Ixalan was released, and is a hybrid between traditional Temur Energy and the Black-Green Constrictor decks we saw doing well before rotation. When Andrew Jessup won the first Open of the season, many players chalked it up to him being a good player, or not putting much stock in the first major result after the release of Ixalan. It turns out his win was no fluke.
When preparing for the World Championship, my team identified that Sultai Energy was a good deck. We opted to go ahead and play Four-Color Energy for that tournament, because we thought we had more of an edge over Ramunap Red and Energy mirrors. In addition, at The World Championship competitors would play around a card like Blossoming Defense at every possible opportunity. That is a unique tournament where each competitor has access to all the decklists. The other factor is that we didn't expect a ton of different decks to show up at the World Championship. Had we known there would be so much control, Sultai might have been the correct choice for Worlds.
In any case, the deck was put on the shelf. As Temur Energy continued to do well, I didn't expect myself to play Sultai Energy at the Pro Tour. Sultai doesn't have any terrible matchups, but the cards it is the most worried about are Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer. Once Energy decks started adding colors and shaving Glorybringers for The Scarab God or Vraska, Relic Seeker, Sultai Energy looked a lot more appealing. Sometimes minor shifts in the metagame make a deck that you put on the shelf look a lot better, and that's what happened for Pro Tour Ixalan.
Once we picked up the Sultai deck, it started smashing pretty much everything that we had been planning on playing at the Pro Tour. Even though this was only a couple days before the tournament, the results were too strong to ignore. We tried to improve on Andrew's list from the Open, and we thought surely there was some hole we could improve upon, like cutting Blossoming Defense from the main deck and adding Essence Scatter. In the end though, the list that some of my teammates played was the exact same main deck Andrew played some weeks ago, while mine was two cards different.
My change was adding two copies of Vraska's Contempt to the main in place of a Hostage Taker and a Walking Ballista. I like having access to Vraska's Contempt as an all-purpose flexible removal spell. In most games you would rather not draw two copies of a card like Walking Ballista, so it made sense to me. Hostage Taker also isn't going to be a reliable removal spells in many spots, unless you are able to cast it on turn five with a Blossoming Defense for backup. Vraska's Contempt is most important against Ramunap Red, so if that deck starts to lose popularity I could see moving them back to the sideboard.
Going into this weekend, I like where my list sits in the metagame. I'm not going to say I'm for sure running back the same 75 in Atlanta, because I honestly don't know yet. What I can say is that the deck is a strong choice, and talk about the intricacies of sideboarding with the deck. While the main deck is almost the exact same as the stock Sultai lists that have been floating around, some of the sideboard cards are not, and that is one of the easiest spots to get an edge.
Versus Temur Energy and most versions of Four-Color Energy
These are likely the most important matchups for Sultai Energy. I am grouping all of the base Temur energy decks in this category, not the Four-Color Energy decks that play black for Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, because those are not nearly as popular and are also easy matchups. Against Temur, you are the aggressor, and you desperately want a hand with a Longtusk Cub or Glint-Sleeve Siphoner in it. If you are able to stick one of these powerful two-drops and have a Blossoming Defense to protect it later, the games can be very easy.
On The Play
OUT: 4 Fatal Push
On The Draw
Over-sideboarding is a very easy thing to do, so avoid that mistake! The biggest thing is taking out Fatal Push, which most players haven't been doing with this deck, or at least not taking out all of them. Almost all Temur players will be taking out their Longtusk Cubs when on the draw, and even if they do have Longtusk Cub in their deck on the draw, it won't be very good. Hostage Taker and Vraska's Contempt are good answers to it. Once you realize that the opponent will be sideboarding out Longtusk Cub in favor of additional removal spells, it becomes an easy decision to take out all the Fatal Pushes on the play.
You need to control the first few turns of the game and get a threat on the table the opponent will have a tough time answering. Nissa, Steward of Elements is a card that is always going to be much better on the play. After sideboarding most games involve you casting a two-drop, the Temur player killing it, and you needing a follow up. Nissa, Steward of Elements fills that role nicely. The Scarab God is the backup plan in case the game goes long.
Oftentimes with Sultai you have excess energy, so if you are able to target a Whirler Virtuoso with The Scarab God or steal one with Hostage Taker, then you can use the opponent's Whirler Virtuoso against them. Overall this matchup is quite close, and can often come down to timing a Blossoming Defense well. If you can respond to a removal spell or even a Confiscation Coup by giving your creature hexproof, then oftentimes the removal in the Temur decks becomes over-taxed and they run out of answers.
Versus Ramunap Red
We built the Sultai deck so that it would be favored against Ramunap Red, in a similar way to Temur. Ramunap Red can win, but you have answers to all the threats they can present, even Hazoret the Fervent. After sideboard, Ramunap Red may bring in Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance to make things a bit more problematic. I actually prefer the game one matchup to the postboard games, provided the Ramunap Red player sideboards correctly.
What happens is the games often become drawn out after sideboarding. The Ramunap Red player will keep in all their removal to keep your creatures off the board, so it often just comes down to who draws more gas. The other easy way to win is to play a Longtusk Cub while having a ton of energy in play to save it from opposing removal. The fact that you have life gain options means that you often aren't as worried about the super-fast starts like other decks are.
On the Play
On the Draw
This is another spot where we aren't sideboarding too much. On the play, you want to be a bit more threat-heavy and shave on Fatal Push. Fatal Push is a lot better on the draw, and when you are on the play you care much less about opposing Bomat Courier. Die Young is a good answer to Hazoret the Fervent and Rampaging Ferocidon, which are creatures Fatal Push does not match up well against. On the draw, you want to have all your removal to make sure you don't get run over immediately.
Whenever Deathgorge Scavenger comes in, another three-drop should come out to keep the curve balanced. This means some number of Rogue Refiners or Rishkar, Peema Renegade. This isn't as much of an energy deck as Temur Energy, so it's actually okay to board out Rogue Refiners.
Versus White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift
This matchup is pretty tricky as far as sideboarding. There are a ton of cards you want to bring in, and not a ton that are obvious to take out. I'm not confident I sideboarded perfectly against Pascal in the finals of the Pro Tour, because I hadn't played the matchup before. You have enough tools that the Gift deck is forced to audible to an alternative plan involving boarding in more creatures, and not relying on Refurbish. Deathgorge Scavenger is your best friend.
On the Play
On the Draw
This is how I recommend sideboarding. Fatal Push isn't great once again, though you can sometimes kill a Fairgrounds Warden the turn the opponent casts it if you leave some in. I don't recommend bringing in Negate. The combination of Deathgorge Scavenger and Duress is generally going to be enough to stop Reurbish. Holding mana up can be a liability since you want to be the one pressuring the opponent. I do like Essence Scatter, though, since after sideboard their plan is relying on five-mana creatures to win.
Versus the Mirror
I was lucky enough to not have to face off against the mirror at the Pro Tour, though I expect Sultai Energy to be more popular this weekend at the Grand Prix. This is the one matchup where Glint-Sleeve Siphoner can be a liability, because Walking Ballista gets rid of it easily.
On the Play
OUT: 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
On the Draw
OUT: 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
If for some reason you expect your opponent to board out Walking Ballista, or if they aren't playing Walking Ballista, then this sideboard plan changes. Try to use Hostage Taker and Fatal Push when the opponent is tapped out, as Blossoming Defense can be a game-changer.
These are only a few of the matchups in Standard, but arguably they are also the four most popular decks at the moment, and what I expect to be prevalent at tournaments this weekend.
Thanks for reading,