Temur Energy is the best deck in Standard. It had a strong claim to being the best deck before Ixalan, and remained largely intact while most of its competitors were severely weakened by the rotation.
Temur was both popular and successful at this year’s World Championship, and it was William “Huey” Jensen’s weapon of choice during his dominant run. Today, I’ll walk you through the deck list that he, as well as Owen Turtenwald and I, brought to the event. It’s a straightforward version that maximizes the strengths of the archetype while also bringing a bit of spice to combat problematic cards.
Reid Duke, 5th place at Worlds 2017
What Makes Temur So Good?
Attune with Aether is almost a necessity for making multicolor mana bases function properly, and once you’ve gotten that far, the energy cards are among the most individually powerful creatures and removal spells the format has to offer.
Temur is also the only widely-played deck that has a favorable matchup against Mono-Red. (This will be the first of the controversial statements you’ll encounter from me today.) Mono-Red is an extremely punishing deck, and with Standard’s relatively small card pool, there isn’t a lot you can turn to in order to beat it. Whirler Virtuoso and a bunch of cheap burn spells is just about the best you can do.
To summarize: Temur has the best mana base of any deck with more than 2 colors. It plays with the highest concentration of the format’s most individually-powerful cards. It’s a favorite against the second-best deck in the format. And it’s a customizable midrange deck that’s difficult to attack, and improves after sideboarding in virtually every matchup.
Should You Play Black?
Leading up to the World Championship, the community’s answer was “yes.” Looking at deck lists from Magic Online and the SCG tournament series, far more than half of Temur players were opting to splash black for The Scarab God and possibly a few sideboard cards.
My answer after trying both is “no.” The Scarab God is an outrageously powerful card that lets you win otherwise-unwinnable games, and gives you an edge in the Temur mirror. You won’t find any argument from me on that topic. But while many players are quick to call the splash “basically free” due to Attune with Aether and Aether Hub, I believe that there is, in fact, a noticeable cost.
To put it more precisely, I think that the black version will lose a slightly larger number of games due to mana inconveniences than it will win because it has The Scarab God in place of the next-best 5-drop. This is especially true if Mono-Red remains a major player in Standard. Red’s chances of winning the matchup depend heavily on the Temur player stumbling with a tapped land on the wrong turn, or missing their second green mana to play Bristling Hydra on time.
When you cast Attune with Aether, you have to choose in that moment which color mana it’s going to give you. Often in the early game, your hand won’t lend itself to searching for a Swamp. After all, you have double-costs in two or three of your colors, and you have Rootbound Crags that want to enter the battlefield untapped. No problem. If you don’t have The Scarab God in hand, you can search for a different land. But then what if you draw your bomb card later in the game and are unable to cast it?
Aether Hub can more directly represent a source of all 4 colors of mana, but leaning too heavily on it is a bad idea. You never know when a spare energy that you save can translate into an extra Thopter token or an extra counter on one of your creatures—either of those things can determine the outcome of a close game.
If you do play black, it’s probably correct to play supplemental sources of black mana, such as 1 or 2 copies of Blooming Marsh. But then you have basic Swamp and Blooming Marsh as bad cards to draw absent The Scarab God. They negatively impact your ability to play Rootbound Crag untapped and can make it difficult to cast Whirler Virtuoso.
I prefer 3-color Temur to the version that splashes black. But one guy against the entire Magic community isn’t exactly a fair fight, and it remains to be seen if I’ll be on the right side of history on this one. If you’re an avid Temur player, I encourage you to try both versions. Just remember that for each time you’re rewarded with a Scarab God, there will be another game where your mana develops less than perfectly.
Our Main Deck
Most of the commonly-played cards that say “energy” on them are awesome, and you should play 4. Attune with Aether, Servant of the Conduit, Longtusk Cub, Rogue Refiner, and Harnessed Lightning are all slam dunks. Whirler Virtuoso is the best card in the format against Mono-Red, and as long as that deck makes up a large percentage of the field, you should maindeck the full 4. Bristling Hydra is similarly awesome, and I would play 4 if I could find the space, although our list at the World Championship only had 3 in an effort to keep the mana curve lower.
The top-end cards can be adjusted a little bit based on personal preference and whether or not you splash black. I think you should have roughly 5 top-end cards in your main deck, with 1 or 2 more in the sideboard. My deck was 1 spell different from Owen’s and Huey’s—they played 4 Glorybringer and 1 Confiscation Coup while I played 3 Glorybringer and 2 Confiscation Coup.
Confiscation Coup is one of my favorite cards in Standard. It’s the best card in the Temur mirror—even better than The Scarab God. (There’s controversial statement number two.) Having 2 is also great against Mono-Red as an answer to Hazoret the Fervent. Glorybringer is a bread-and-butter 5-drop that ranges from good to great in every matchup.
Most Temur decks will want 8 burn spells, although we cut down to 7 to make room for Essence Scatter, our best piece of technology for the event, courtesy of master deck builder Ben Rubin. Essence Scatter has been around for a long time but it’s never been anywhere close to as strong as it is now. Standard is all about creatures, and many of them are better dealt with by permission than by removal. Some important creatures, like Rogue Refiner and Torrential Gearhulk, are defined by their powerful enters-the-battlefield abilities. Others, like Bristling Hydra and Hazoret, are nearly impossible to kill once they hit play. Essence Scatter is great against all of them, and corrects some of the major weaknesses of Temur.
For the final slot in our main deck, we chose Commit // Memory as an extra catchall for troublesome cards like Hazoret and The Scarab God. It also came up a lot in practice (although no one played white at Worlds) that the game would come down to a crucial turn where a control player needed to resolve Fumigate or else lose the game, and a timely Commit could make sure it was the latter. Perhaps most importantly, having toolbox instants like Commit // Memory and Essence Scatter set us up to use Torrential Gearhulk in our sideboard.
I was skeptical of the Torrential Gearhulks when Ben Rubin and Huey first started talking about them. But after a day of playing with them, I became their biggest advocate. They wound up being “just okay” against the control decks that showed up at Worlds. But I found that they really shined against U/W Approach, where operating at instant speed is incredibly valuable, and in the Temur mirror, where going over the top with a powerful 6-drop is exactly what you want. They even go up in value in an environment where your opponent might not know your deck list.
A few of the funny-looking cards in our sideboard were chosen because they play well with Gearhulk. Glimmer of Genius and Torrential Gearhulk go together like peanut butter and jelly. An early Glimmer gives you the resources you need to reach 6 lands, and then the Gearhulk finds a powerful, proactive instant in the graveyard to maximize value. (By proactive, I mean that it will be great any time you resolve Gearhulk, regardless of game state.) Supreme Will is a versatile permission spell that doubles as a proactive play for Gearhulk.
Finally, 2 Appetite for the Unnatural in combination with 2 Torrential Gearhulks allows you to shred enchantment-based decks which could otherwise be natural predators of Temur. A perfect example are the W/B or W/B/x Annointed Procession decks that have been climbing in popularity since Ixalan’s release. These decks thrive when Temur cannot remove a resolved enchantment, but begin to fall apart when you can answer their key cards on a 1-for-1 basis. If these decks continue to grow in popularity, I would switch the second Appetite for a Slice in Twain to really rub salt in the wound.
The rest of the sideboard is straightforward. A few cheap cards to round out the Mono-Red matchup, and a play set of Negates against control. One card that I would consider including for next time is Sorcerous Spyglass. The Pithing Needle reprint has a lot of uses, but a few of the best are shutting off Heart of Kiran, Gate to the Afterlife, and Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin.
Sideboarding in this Standard format feels less cut and dry. In almost all matchups, you’re striving to have your threats line up as well as possible against your opponent’s answers, and your answers line up as well as possible against your opponent’s threats. Given that, it’s natural to adjust your sideboarding a little bit as you learn exactly which threats and answers your opponent are packing.
The sideboarding suggestions I’ll offer represent what I would do if I had no special information about my opponent’s deck. Examples of small adjustments you could make are to bring in a third Confiscation Coup if you think your Mono-Red opponent has brought in 3 or 4 Glorybringer against you, or keeping in an extra Whirler Virtuoso if your Temur opponent is packing a ton of planeswalkers.
Temur Mirror Match
Temur vs. Temur feels like a more or less traditional midrange mirror match. In a traditional midrange mirror, going a little bit bigger will give you an advantage. In other words, if your opponent has 5 top-end cards, you’ll have an advantage if you have 6 top-end cards. I stress a little bit bigger, because if you go overboard, you can leave yourself vulnerable to the aggressive Longtusk Cub draws and be either dead or severely on the back foot by the time your big cards can be relevant. Keep in mind that your deck has a limited ability to draw extra cards, and that the matchup does have a strong tempo element. If you want to jam half a dozen 6- and 7-mana spells, you do so at your own risk.
Longtusk Cub is a passable card, but it’s the only creature in the deck that can be easily 1-for-1ed at no loss. Therefore, I consider it a flexible slot on both the play and the draw. Most Temur players will never cut a Longtusk Cub when on the play, which is a totally fine strategy. But it makes sense to take a more defensive posture when you’re going bigger.
Mono-Red is a close matchup, but I’m confident that Temur is a favorite. Whirler Virtuoso, Bristling Hydra, and cheap burn spells do a great job dismantling their early aggression, so it often comes down to whether or not they can produce an unanswered Hazoret the Fervent. Because Hazoret is so difficult to answer, and because you can get burned out by her ability and by Ramunap Ruins, you have to be ready to put a clock on the Red player. Every point of damage you can sneak in counts, and cutting the number of draw steps you give them is a great way to get an edge. The challenge is finding the right balance between attacking and playing around haste creatures.
Don’t over-sideboard. Mono-Red has remarkable staying power, and if you pack your deck full of cheap cards, you risk losing to them in a long game. My rule is to never go below three 5-mana cards.
When things go well, playing against U/B Control can feel like playing a midrange matchup. If you make them desperate enough to start tapping out on their own turn for answer cards of The Scarab God, then anything can happen. Unfortunately, Search for Azcanta is an easy way for them to break this pattern. If the control player can stick one early, and then start sitting back on permission spells, then all you can really do is start jamming your creatures and hope one sticks. Since they have few or no board sweepers, Whirler Virtuoso is a potent threat.
With our proposed deck list, there are two approaches you can take to this matchup. The first (and probably better) one is to play like a Fish Deck or a Delver Deck. You stick an early threat and protect it with permission spells. The second one is to treat it more like a control mirror, perhaps going as far as to sideboard Appetite for the Unnatural to kill Search for Azcanta. If you employ this strategy, you want to operate as much as possible at instant speed, and use your Negates to prevent them from resolving Glimmer of Genius.
U/W Approach is harder to beat in game 1 than U/B Control, but easier to beat after sideboarding. Their answer cards are more expensive, which makes them more vulnerable to permission spells.
Essence Scatter provides an interesting guessing game post-sideboard. From my experience, some number greater than half (but much less than all) of your U/W Approach opponents will sideboard in Torrential Gearhulk against you. Keeping 1 Essence Scatter in the deck sounds like a fine way to hedge your bets.
Whirler Virtuoso is weaker here as it’s bad against Fumigate. Settle the Wreckage should be very much on your radar, but the good news is that the basic lands you get become very relevant after sideboarding. Doing things like attacking with your second-best creature and 2 Thopter tokens can put them to a tough decision.
I’ve claimed that Temur is the best deck in Standard, and it’s no secret that it’s going to be one of the most popular ones for the foreseeable future. People will be gunning to beat it. But the fact that it’s a customizable deck with a wide range of threats and answers can allow you to stay one step ahead. If you want to have a successful career with Ixalan Standard, there may be no better way to spend your time than mastering Temur.