There's no doubt on anyone's mind when it comes to what you're going to have to tussle with in the first week of Ixalan Standard; after dominating the final weeks of tournament play before rotation, Four-Color Energy has a bigger target on it than the local shopping mall. No matter how sweet your brewski, no matter how tuned your listerino, you have to be ready to beat early Longtusk Cubs and late Scarab Gobs alike. Last week, Seth talked about how to strengthen an existing deck in Ramunap Red, but today we're going to talk about how to beat an existing deck in Four-Color Energy.
This is a rough outline of how this deck will be configured post rotation. Energy remains unchanged on virtually all axes – game plan, card choice, and power level. Despite the departure of Tireless Tracker and other pre-Ixalan powerhouses, Energy is nonetheless poised to continue its strong recent performance, and will only be aided by new technology out of the board such as Vance's Blasting Cannons.
So the question on everybody's lips is, of course, how to beat this strategy. The good news is that despite being very strong, Four-Color Energy is by no means unbeatable, as a number of key weaknesses mean it's possible to get the cane out of the cupboard and give them a damn good thrashing. Let's examine some of these weaknesses and discuss how to exploit them, before walking through a list or two.
Four-Color Energy's principal weakness is to decks that go bigger. Of course, it's not as simple as jamming four of everyone's favorite dinosaurian stomper and calling it a day – Ancient Brontodon can only do so much. In seeking to go bigger than Energy, you also need to keep pace with them. This is due to their capacity for blisteringly fast Attune-into-Longtusk Cub starts - slamming down huge six-, seven-, and eight-drops will only get you there if they arrive nice and early.
It's a tricky balance indeed – you need to attempt to go bigger through a ferocious one-two-three curveout while still being prepared for the late-game value onslaught of Skysovereign, Glorybringer, and The Scarab God. Finding the right initial answers and the right follow-up threats will be what makes or breaks the fortunes of any deck looking to go bigger than Four-Color Energy.
Energy excels at commanding the board when up against other creature-based strategies. When it comes to both board presence and control, generally speaking, Energy has the game locked down. Is there a way to contest this battlefield dominance? What a great question, thanks for asking – and yes, happily, there are at least two.
Firstly, given that Energy matches up so supremely well against creature-based strategies, why not simply play no creatures at all? Creatureless control decks have certainly enjoyed their time in the sun, and their second chance at this may be approaching. Fill a deck full of removal, card draw, and – most importantly – countermagic, and you're well on your way to neutering the raw power of the Energy plan.
Secondly, you can play creatures that simply outclass not only the all-stars in Energy lists, but also its removal to boot. This is no small order as Energy decks are full of the toughest and most efficient beaters in the format, but it can be done. Previous to rotation, ramping into Ulamog was a very effective foil to the Energy plan, so what are the ways we can emulate this strategy now we've landed in Ixalan?
Approach decks seek to win with a very old strategy, and I don't just mean it's been around since Approach of the Second Sun was printed. No, we're going all the way back to the sixth century – don't worry about the second sun, as it's actually all about the first Sun. Sun Tzu, that is: "The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities... It is best to win without fighting."
Attacking the matchup from a completely different angle is one of the most effective ways to tilt the Energy plan Off Balance. Cleverly neutralizing the main strength of Four-Color Energy, creatureless Approach decks don't seek to contest the board at all, instead using sweepers and removal to keep it totally clear. This robs Energy lists of their principal advantage in most Standard matchups, and puts Approach decks in an excellent position to contend with Energy's dominance.
If their Harnessed Lightning and Abrade all of a sudden become blank pieces of cardboard, and if Fumigates (and the speculative Settle the Wreckage) are working to keep the board nice and empty, Energy will have a tough time getting on the front foot as they rely so heavily on creatures. Approach lists did good work before rotation, but there are some important updates to be made.
Firstly, the absence of two-mana removal (farewell, Immolating Glare and Blessed Alliance) necessitate the red splash for Harnessed Lightning and Abrade, which are both industry-standard removal spells. Additionally, Ixalan's Binding shines like a beacon against both Gods and Planeswalkers – it suffers, however, both due to its cost and speed. Settle the Wreckage has enormous potential as a fifth sweeper, although can be played around and isn't great in multiples.
All in all, however, Approach decks are a great way to tangle with Four-Color Energy, as the lack of opposing creatures means so much of their natural strength is shut off as soon as the match begins!
While the mighty Dinosaurs in Ixalan may not compare to the enormous Eldrazi titans we were slinging around in Battle for Zendikar, there is still a plethora of powerful options to choose from when looking to go big on the battlefield. From the gargantuan Gishath to the colossal Carnage Tyrant, a dinosaur deck can severely outclass piddling little hydras and dragons. As long as these behemoths come down in a timely fashion, they will take the Energy player to task.
This deck seeks to get out of the gates like a Dromiceiomimus, developing its mana quickly and ramping hard and fast so as to slam gigantic monsters ahead of schedule. The best way to do this is by having an active Chandra on turn three to power out a red removal spell. From there, the uncontested Planeswalker will churn out extra mana so you can churn out stonking great dinosaurs.
With eight mana dorks, Attune with Aether and Ranging Raptors, the immense seven-drops that utterly dominate the board will come down a lot earlier than an Energy player will be ready for. Gishath, Sun's Avatar ends games insanely fast, and you'll always have a place for extra mana with cards such as Walking Ballista.
Additionally, this deck has a lot of play as a powerful midrange strategy. Ripjaw Raptor draws cards, Burning Sun's Avatar takes names, Regisaur Alpha kicks butt. Further Enrage synergies come in the form of Walking Ballista and its new running mate Bellowing Aegisaur, providing another way to go long if you end up needing to grind harder than Stannis Baratheon's teeth.
The reason this deck may seem a little light on top end is because it's critical to make room for both Chandra and the removal to protect her. The sequence of Chandra, add RR, deploy Harnessed Lightning/Abrade will be critical in making the speedy start we've established as essential against Four-Color Energy.
Outclassing the Energy player on the battlefield is a demanding but highly rewarding task, and ramping into massive dinosaurs may be the way to do it. This list Tyrannosaurus Wrecks Energy, leaving them feeling pretty dino-sore. Don't sleep on this deck, or you might get called a Bronto-snorus - it's as powerful and explosive as dino-mite!
There will be a lot to learn in the opening weeks of Ixalan Standard, and any number of new decks may emerge as contenders for the new premier deck of the format. In the meanwhile, Four-Color Energy remains a tried and tested winner, and you can safely expect it to do the rounds in the early stages of the format. Make no mistake – you have to be ready to beat it! Are there other weaknesses that Four-Color Energy has? How are you looking to succeed against it post-rotation? As always, I want to hear what you think! Get at me on Twitter - @rileyquarytower - or in the comments!
- Riley Knight