Energy decks are the best and most well-rounded decks in Ixalan Standard. Playing an Energy deck for an upcoming event should be a serious consideration for every tournament player. It has put enough results to prove itself to likely remain among the best decks for the duration of its existence in Standard. Since the core of the deck remains a midrange creature shell, many of the different versions look similar and can be attacked in the same ways. These attacks on Energy have been routinely unsuccesful, ranging from overloading on sweepers with Fumigate and Settle the Wreckage, cheating God-Pharaohs Gift into play, or the tried and true simplicity of Hazoret the Fervent. The results of the Pro Tour are in, and Energy is just on another level. Despite only representing 50% of the field, 14 of the 20 decks with eight wins or better were Energy, and 40 of the 60 decks with seven wins or better were also Energy. That's a pretty clean sample from Magic's biggest stage.
Standard breaks down in a typical metagame with a handful of pillars.
The various Energy decks interact with these four pillars in very similar ways, yet the games are different enough where matchups can swing from one Energy deck to the other. There's no denying Energy is the best performing archetype, so the important decision moving forward is just which Energy deck to play? What edges do you get with these choices, and why? The "big three" to talk about are Classic Temur, Four-Color Energy with at least Scarab God, probably Vraska, and perhaps Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and Sultai Energy, which is often a Winding Constrictor deck. All these decks have associated strengths and weaknesses in addition to catering to a certain playstyle.
The most popular and arguably the most consistent version of Energy. Classic Temur has the best mana of any energy deck and plays an extremely curve-out reliant midrange game plan. This makes you slightly more streamlined and consistent against aggro and control decks. These lists are quite proven to be effective, which makes most lists look close to identical. Huey has only changed a few cards since his win at the World Championship. If you love midrange, enjoy consistency, and rely on extremely tight play rather than tech, Classic Temur is for you.
This is likely a point of contention, but in my testing for the Pro Tour I have found Temur to have a good matchup against Sultai. If you manage to not get overrun early by lots of two-drops, Glorybringer and Skysovereign generally take many of the games. Temur is also great against most Four-Color Energy decks. Their deck has way too much spot removal and bad mana and you often capitalize on that.
Temur gives you a slightly better matchup against various Hazoret the Fervent decks than four-color variants, but probably not quite as strong as straight Sultai. Better mana and more Confiscation Coup for Hazoret or pesky vehicles give you an advantage.
The combo matchup is very similar to the four-color decks, but for speed and efficiency sake I think Temur once again finds itself in the medium tier. Having Abrade makes you superior to Sultai, but not sporting The Scarab God or Vraska, Relic Seeker makes you worse against the graveyard and God-Pharaoh's Gift itself.
As much as Temur has tiny edges here and there to the rest of the big three Energy decks, you are a slight underdog against The Scarab God and Vraska versions. Personally, my record against them is good, but it is a skill matchup and you are certainly behind on paper. Tip: I highly recommend playing Supreme Will, (or Disallow, which I played at the Pro Tour), to counter both Vraska and The Scarab God, mitigating their edge in the matchup. It also is great against Control decks where you want to counter post-board creatures and spells.
This build is interesting because in many games and scenarios it acts in the exact same manner as Temur. You have almost the exact same mana base with one Swamp, and the exact same deck list with some black finishers. Even though I prefer Temur, I have a lot of respect for this deck. If you like a more controlling deck, flashy tech and complete "I win" cards like The Scarab God, then this deck is for you. This is a great choice to win a tournament, as a lot of the power of this deck comes in variance. Variance has a bad association among Magic players, but this deck essentially is looking to increase the effectiveness of its top end while decreasing consistency. Furthermore, The Scarab God is insane – though Temur decks have three Confiscation Coup, which can result is some pretty random game outcomes. Note that its very nice to be able to "trump" the Coup on the next turn with Vraska and using the -3 on your stolen God, which is why it's paramount to play both.
This is the best deck if the entire tournament were Energy mirrors. The Pro Tour was half Energy, and since this deck is good against most other Energy decks, there is a lot going for Four-Color Energy. Your combo matchup is likely the best assuming you are running three Abrade, while Vraska and The Scarab God provide you with added large scale interaction to stop them from executing their shenanigans.
Your Hazoret matchup is slightly worse than Classic Temur, and significantly worse than Sultai's. Tip: Don't skimp on Chandra's Defeat, as without two Glorybringer you have fewer outs than normal against Rampaging Ferocidon.
The control matchup is quite similar to the Red one, and you are about the same as Classic Temur but still a bit worse, and a lot worse than Sultai. While your threats are a bit more clunky, if you do get a Vraska or The Scarab God going it's quite powerful.
Sultai Energy is a Modern deck in a Standard format. A ton of two-mana creatures and 12 one-mana spells really allow you to get underneath most Standard decks. You even have Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf in the form of Longtusk Cub and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Sultai is the most aggressive of the Energy decks, but don't mistake that for thinking you have a poor late game. You have the old Constrictor/Ballista core, with a package of powerful energy cards and high-impact cards such as The Scarab God and Hostage Taker. If you like Modern, aggro and good outright synergy to overpower your opponents, then you should play Sultai.
Sultai Energy is by far and large the best Energy deck for beating Hazoret decks. You have a suite of eight awesome one-mana spells that are all excellent against them in Fatal Push and Blossoming Defense. You have a Ballista/Constrictor plan that none of the other Energy decks have, providing you with many lopsided games. You also have the most and best answers to Hazoret itself, thanks to Vraska's Contempt, Die Young and Hostage Taker. While some may argue Whirler Virtuoso is the best card you can find, they are missing the point that Sultai as a whole gives you the best shot at beating a Red deck.
Sultai also has a huge leg up against the control decks of the format. If you've played Energy, you know that having a two-drop completely changes the matchup. Games are almost unwinnable if you don't play a Cub or Servant. Sultai has the most two-drops with Constrictor and Siphoner added to the mix. Blossoming Defense also gives you an awesome and cheap "counter" to help snowball a win. Duress is another avenue to cheap success against control, which all together leaves Sultai as a favorite against control.
The lack of red means you don't have Abrade to deal with God-Pharaoh's Gift efficiently. Of course, you do have Hostage Taker, but this doesn't provide you with the same flexibility. You also generally don't have Confiscation Coup, which can be a huge swing against a Gift, Gate to the Afterlife or Angel of Invention. Even though you have more aggression than red versions of Energy, the lack of Glorybringer mitigates your ability to punish more normal draws out of God-Pharaoh's Gift decks where they are hardcasting Angel of Inventions or Hostage Taker. Seth Manfield won this matchup in the finals of the Pro Tour, and for the most part I think most Energy decks are favored in this matchup, so I wouldn't be too worried.
While we are once again talking about skill matchups on paper, I side with the Temur strategies. Glorybringer and Coup are still a huge beating, and additional Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship add even more tools for these bigger Energy decks to stabilize against you. This shouldn't deter you from Sultai, just know what you are getting into if you choose this deck – spend a good portion of your testing against the Temur decks. Tip: I like that Seth played Vraska's Contempt main where most of his team didn't, which helps against opposing Glorybringer and The Scarab God.
- Steve Rubin