The story of this past weekend will go down in the history of great achievements in Magic history. The performance put on by Brad Nelson, his brother Corey Baumeister and Brian Braun-Duin was incredible. These three guys all played the same 75, and worked together preparing for the event. Seemingly the only way their Temur Energy deck could lose was if they had to play each other – which didn't happen until the semifinals, which all three players advanced to. This was true dominance, I'm not sure there has ever been a more dominant showing by three players preparing with each other.
I am very happy that my friends and members of my Pro Tour testing team were able to do so well. Spoiler: both BBD and Corey are new members of Team Genesis, so that means I was the only Genesis member who had a bad tournament. Part of me thinks that I could have been right there with them had I chosen to play a different deck at Grand Prix Denver. These three guys didn't prepare alone – I was actually talking with them leading up to the GP, and had access to the exact Temur Energy list they sleeved up. Leading up to the tournament, I had been having slightly better results with Ramunap Red online, so In the end I wasn't sure what to play and made the decision I thought was safer. Ramunap Red is a deck I know inside and out, and have already had a lot of success with. It is also one of the top decks in the format, so I thought I was making the right decision. I felt more comfortable sideboarding with Ramunap Red, but making the safe deck choice is usually wrong. Here is what I played.
I am very happy with this list of Ramunap Red, and it isn't that far off from what I played at the Pro Tour. However, I relied too much on my online testing. Decks showed up at the Grand Prix that I very rarely see played in the online metagame, and that was the story of my tournament. The first round of the event started with a bang: Plains, Authority of the Consuls! Before long my opponent had a Crested Sunmare in play and was making Horses, and I already regretted my deck choice at this point.
Players were ready for Ramunap Red, as it had a huge target on its head and was the most played deck at the Grand Prix. I was forced to face off against cards like Authority of the Consuls a lot. I actually beat Mono-Black Zombies five times in the Grand Prix, one of the matchups that is supposed to be bad for Ramunap Red. Many players have been cutting Magma Spray, but I really advise against that because of this matchup. The Sweltering Suns are nice as well. I was ready for the most popular decks, but not the brews.
Ramunap Red is a very good deck, but it doesn't leave a ton of room for out-maneuvering your opponent. Many games involve simply playing creatures on curve and hoping the fourth land is there to cast Hazoret the Fervent or Chandra, Torch of Defiance. There are other decks in Standard that lead to more interactive games, though, and opportunities to make better decisions than the opponent is where great players gain the greatest advantage. In a 15-round tournament when you can only afford to lose twice, it is important to try and get every possible edge.
While it's true that there were Ramunap Red decks in the Top 8, there were also many more that didn't do so hot, and I fell into that group, wishing I had played Temur Energy. So, is Temur Energy that much better of a deck than other choices in Standard? After all, the results that Corey, BBD, and Brad put up seem to indicate that is the case.
My opinion is that Temur Energy is a very good deck, one of the best in the format, but it isn't a deck that is too powerful for Standard – so hold off on those banning calls. That makes the results from this weekend even more impressive. The Temur Energy players were featured a lot on camera, and seemingly every match they were able to outplay the opponent.
What makes this list so special? Honestly, this isn't very different from a lot of the lists that were popping up online the week before the Grand Prix. Many players opted to splash The Scarab God as a mirror trump, but clearly that is not a requirement. Some of the choices that do help this list stand out are important though. There are four copies of Bristling Hydra here, and that is the best possible card against Ramunap Red. It may seem like a small difference, but most other Temur Energy builds seemed to only have three Bristling Hydra main.
Another card that really seemed to overperform is Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, as this isn't a card everyone is playing two copies of main deck. We know about how tough it is for Zombies to beat Skysovereign, and this was one example of how players can improve their Zombies matchup, and Zombies had a poor weekend as a result. I also witnessed the one copies of Rhonas the Indomitable do a lot of work as another heavy hitter that dodges most removal spells.
There are some smart small decisions that add up here, but there is nothing that hadn't already been tried before. The blue cards in the sideboard mean that this deck can help shore up some of the bad matchups for games two and three. Game one, this is a deck with a ton of threats and a handful of removal, which doesn't match up well against combo and control. This is okay in general because creature-oriented decks are generally the most popular strategies.
However, when you are forced to square off against one of the more difficult matchups, the four copies of Negate become incredibly important. Being able to counter the right spell can be huge. For instance, against Ramp if you can Negate their Hour of Promise they may not be able to accelerate fast enough to beat you. Most of the cards in the sideboard are versatile, so they can come in for a number of different matchups. Confiscation Coup Is great in the mirror, but you can also steal cards like God-Pharaoh's Gift or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in matchups where boarding it in might seem unintuitive.
This Temur Energy deck will reward a player who knows it well, and understands the gameplan for each matchup. This was the case where I wish I had played a deck not because I believe it is the best deck in the format, but it would have given me the best chance to win the tournament. There wasn't a ton of hate for the Temur Energy, but there was a decent amount of life gain effects to fight Ramunap Red. There aren't many individual cards that completely wreck the Temur Energy deck, but there is one that can be extremely good.
I am referring, of course, to Solemnity. Moving forward we may see more of this card since it completely stops the Temur Energy player from getting energy, and there really isn't enchantment removal being played right now. Making all the energy creatures much worse, as well as Harnessed Lightning doing nothing, is pretty significant. But even considering the danger of Solemnity, the issue is that most white decks will struggle against Temur Energy in game one.
For players looking to have the best possible Temur Energy matchup, I recommend playing a deck that naturally has a good matchup against it in game one. While Brad, Corey and BBD somehow dodged the God-Pharaoh's Gift decks, I believe that is the most difficult matchup for Temur Energy. The Jeskai Gift deck seems to be the newest – and perhaps best – iteration of the various God-Pharaoh's Gift strategies.
Mike Sigrist was playing for Top 8 in the last round with this deck, and there were a handful of players who made the Top 16 with it. This is essentially an update to the Blue-Red Gift deck that had been gaining momentum. The white may not seem super important, but being able to cast all of your fatties is a pretty big deal. Angel of Invention being played on turn five against Ramunap Red is quite strong. Also, this version is able to play Cataclysmic Gearhulk, which is backbreaking for Zombies. That isn't a ton of white cards, but the cost to adding more Aether Hubs and replacing Mountains with Inspiring Vantage is also quite low.
The other major difference between this build and other God-Pharaoh's Gift builds is the addition of four Trophy Mages to the main deck. Unlike other versions of the deck with cards like Refurbish to get God-Pharaoh's Gift into play, this deck needs to have at least one Gate to the Afterlife in order to win most games. With creatures like Walking Ballista, Insolent Neonate and Mausoleum Wanderer, it is easy to put your own creatures into the graveyard. The goal is to get six creatures in the graveyard consistently, and with four Trophy Mages it is very easy to have a Gate to the Afterlife. Also, if the opponent does have something like an Abrade, it becomes necessary to have a second copy of Gate to the Afterlife to win.
Temur Energy is a midrange deck without a fast clock, and very little graveyard interaction. The only graveyard interaction some versions play is in the form of splashing black for The Scarab God. While it is possible we see Temur Energy add more Abrades to make this a better matchup, the rising popularity of the Jeskai Gift deck should still be scary. I'm looking forward to seeing if players can adapt to the rise of Temur Energy for Grand Prix D.C.
Thanks for reading,