The Standard metagame is becoming pretty well established. There aren't that many different archetypes in the format, and the two most popular archetypes are still Ramunap Red and Temur Energy. Looking at the previous Standard, this should come as no surprise. Both of these decks didn't change much with the addition of Ixalan, and they were already Standard powerhouses.
Today I want to go deep into how to best approach the matchup, from both sides of the table.
During my preparation for the World Championship, the two decks I wanted to be most prepared for were Temur Energy and Ramunap Red. In the end, I was unable to find a deck that was strong enough against both of these decks as well as other random strategies that could potentially show up. The black splash in the Genesis list was so that we could have access to The Scarab God, which can be a mirror breaker.
This deck performed well for me against the decks I was expecting. I was actually able to go 4-0 against Ramunap Red, which helped propel me to a 5-3 Constructed record overall. Unfortunately, the matchup against Blue-Black Control with this Four-Color Energy deck isn't quite as good as the straight Temur Energy deck.
Four-Color Energy wants to turn into a straight Temur Energy deck after game one. There is a reason why we decided on 23 lands, and that is so that you have the ability to board out the Swamp and both copies of The Scarab God. This is a matchup where you need good mana early in the game, even if your Servant of the Conduit dies, which it does most of the time. This means there usually isn't a good opportunity to search out the basic Swamp.
The Scarab God is a high-impact threat, but you don't need too many expensive cards here, and Glorybringer is plenty good enough. The plan is to have more removal so that you aren't dying to the early plays of the Ramunap Red deck. Game one is very close, and dependent on the dice role, so it's important to try and get an edge after sideboard. Chandra's Defeat is one of the best cards to have against Ramunap Red, as oftentimes they do board in additional copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and it becomes necessary to have some answers to that planeswalker.
They key is that once the first couple creatures have been dealt with, Temur Energy wants to be able to race Ramunap Red. Bristling Hydra and Thopter Tokens are some of your best weapons, so use your energy wisely. Once the Ramunap Red player has the ability to start attacking with Hazoret the Fervent, you need to have a stronger board presence than the opponent and have already attacked them down below their starting life total. Hazoret the Fervent is the scariest card, and if they have it on curve, on the play, the Ramunap Red player usually wins, but many times it doesn't start attacking at the right time.
The way I sideboard against Ramunap Red on both the play and draw with Four-Color Energy is:
IN: 1 Abrade, 2 Chandra's Defeat, 2 Deathgorge Scavenger
OUT: 1 Swamp 2 The Scarab God 2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
These changes may not seem like that big a deal, but just a few cards can really make all the difference. Deathgorge Scavenger provides a nice way to buffer your life total and deal with Earthshaker Khenra, that may be lurking in the opponent's graveyard. Many times, Deathgorge Scavenger gets hit by an opposing burn spell, but that's okay. We really don't want Chandra, Torch of Defiance here, as it almost always gets immediately taken off the board by the Ramunap Red player the turn after you cast it. With all the haste creatures and direct damage, planeswalkers are easy to answer for Ramunap Red, and this isn't the four-mana threat you want in the matchup.
This plan worked out well for me during The World Championship, though I played many close matches against Ramunap Red, and one of them I likely should have lost if my opponent didn't make a mistake. While I like the sideboard plans of the Four-Color Energy deck, the most popular version of Temur Energy right now is that of newly crowned World Champion William "Huey" Jensen.
Huey is a bit more focused on having a good Ramunap Red matchup in game one, and a bit less focused on Energy mirrors. Whirler Virtuoso is one of the best cards against Ramunap Red, and he has maxed out on it, while the Four-Color Energy version I played only had three. Essence Scatter is hit or miss here. Holding up two mana is a pretty big liability, as sometimes you don't have the right opening to use it, especially on the draw. Of course, if you are able to counter on of the larger creatures in Ramunap Red, it is huge.
This list also has access to more answers to Hazoret the Fervent. Both Commit and Confiscation Coup are nice ways to deal with the God, though they do take slots away from other expensive spells you could play instead. The sideboard plan here is similar to the Four -Color Energy deck, as you don't need to change too much. Here is what I recommend doing:
IN: 1 Abrade, 1 Chandra's Defeat, 1 Confiscation Coup, 1 Aethersphere Harvester
OUT: 2 Essence Scatter, 1 Commit // Memory, 1 Glorybringer
Since you are bringing in a five-mana spell in Confiscation Coup, I'm okay with going down to three Glorybringer. The deck ends up having more cards that are universally good rather than something unreliable like Essence Scatter. The creature base is strong, so having a few more removal spells really is going to help, as normally when the Temur Energy deck doesn't get run over it can find a way to win in the late game.
Overall, I believe that Temur Energy is slightly favored against Ramunap Red, but the games are usually very close and come down to combat math. The finals of The World Championship was a great showcase of the matchup, and you can check out the replays here.
These were some really good games, and if Javier plays optimally in game four we should have gotten a deciding game, as he didn't need to chump with his Rampaging Ferocidon. That said, it was a difference of one point of damage, and it is an easy mistake to make. The games often come down to these incremental points of damage, so I would still recommend playing the deck you feel most comfortable with in this matchup. A good Ramunap Red player will beat an average Temur Energy player most of the time.
While Temur Energy doesn't sideboard a ton in the matchup, the Ramunap Red deck has many more tools at its disposal. In fact, this can sometimes mean too many sideboard options, as you want to be able to go a bit bigger after sideboard, but still can't afford to play too many expensive cards. Hazoret the Fervent is the most important card from the Ramunap Red side, and if you have too many expensive cards it becomes too difficult to attack with the God.
The other reason you don't want too many expensive cards is that the deck doesn't always hit its fourth land on time. The deck is 24 or 25 lands, so there will be sometimes when you have to operate off three lands for a few turns, and if that is the case you need to have cards to cast. Nothing is more frustrating than sitting there with three lands in play, and Hazoret the Fervent, Chandra, Torch of Defiannce, and Glorybringer all in hand, and that happens more than you would think. This is what Javier Dominguez took to a second-place finish at Worlds.
Game one is more or less a coin flip, and based on the die roll, however many times the Ramunap Red player can make their deck worse than their game one deck by not sideboarding correctly. I prefer having different sideboard plans based on the play or draw. When looking at the Ramunap Red sideboard, you could make the case for every single card being good against Temur Energy, but I would be careful before over-sideboarding. Here is my recommendation:
IN: 2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance, 4 Rampaging Ferocidon
OUT: 4 Ahn-Crop Crasher, 2 Abrade
IN: 2 Glorybringer 4 Rampaging Ferocison
OUT: 1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance 1 Soul-Scar Mage 4 Ahn-Crop Crasher
Honestly, I believe Rampaging Ferocidon and Ahn-Crop Crasher are very close in power level. Ahn-Crop Crasher can get blocked by Whirler Virtuoso or Servant of the Conduit, but is more likely to get in immediate damage. Rampaging Ferocidon will be better if the opponent doesn't have removal, as it will put the opponent in a tough spot. Whirler Virtuoso is one of the most annoying cards in Temur Energy, and Rampaging Ferocidon provides some protection against that. Overall, Rampaging Ferocidon seems slightly better than Ahn-Crop Crasher, and I think playing both would be too many three-drops.
On the play Chandra, Torch of Defiance is much better than on the draw. It is pretty unlikely the opponent has a good way to pressure Chandra when you are on the play and have it on turn four. On the draw, however, you are immediately vulnerable to Glorybringer, and the opponent might already have a Bristling Hydra in play. That is why I like having zero on the draw and three on the play, as it really does make a big difference.
Notice that I'm only bringing in two cards that cost four or more mana, even though there are more cards in the sideboard that could come in. When on the draw, you are forced to try and play a little bit more of a long game with Ramunap Red, and Glorybringer is a reasonable option. Removal is a bit more important on the draw as you want to be able to get the first Longtusk Cub or Servant of the Conduit off the board.
Looking at both sideboard strategies, the takeaways are you don't need a ton of sideboard cards in order to shift the matchup after sideboard. I would recommend playing many games here to get a feel for how they actually play out, as in-game decisions can often be more important than what cards are in your deck. My plan for this weekend is to play Temur Energy, as I feel like it is slightly favored against Ramunap Red and I know the matchup well, but that doesn't mean it is a bad idea to approach the matchup from the other side.
Thanks for reading,