With the rotation of Battle for Zendikar and Shadows Over Innistrad blocks, Energy decks are poised to continue as a major force in Standard for the foreseeable future. Energy as a mechanic exists in both Kaladesh and Aether Revolt, providing a larger card pool to work with than any of the tribes found in Ixalan. For the recent months, Temur Energy has been the deck to beat – utilizing the best of the energy block coupled with the outright power of the best card in Amonkhet with Glorybringer. Temur was so dominant that some players began splashing black to include The Scarab God, a card that has since proven to be among the most powerful and tough-to-answer cards in Standard. The Scarab God is certainly the best and most well-rounded card from Hour of Devastation.
Early Ixalan Standard has shown Hostage Taker to be in the "Glorybringer / The Scarab God" group of "best card in a low-power set," creating a huge incentive to play them. These are all very fair cards, and none of them are necessarily oppressive. However, they all have a large and immediate impact, specifically against the creature-based decks that have been especially popular recently.
Hostage Taker is awesome. You get a huge threat that provides huge blowouts. Coupled with The Scarab God, you also get to potentially run it back when they answer it with a removal spell. Hostage Taker can also disrupt your opponent's artifacts, which provides a huge amount of utility. In the current Standard metagame, this allows you to deal with Gate of the Afterlife / God Pharaoh's Gift, Heart of Kiran, and can even disrupt the new Grixis improvise deck.
Since Hostage Taker is so strong, especially in combination with The Scarab God, it's natural that perhaps a Sultai Energy deck has a place in the format. Andrew and Danny Jessup, took a list to a win and a Top 4 finish at the last SCG Open.
One of the strengths of Sultai as well as why it's an efficient deck is that if you look closely you'll notice it is structured quite like a Modern deck. Your only spells are Blossoming Defense and Fatal Push, which are quite efficient when trading mana with your opponent. Blossoming Defense counters any and all removal, which ranges from 2-4 mana. It also provides a nice synergy with Hostage Taker, letting you protect it in order to untap and cast their creature more often. Fatal Push is generally going to go after your opponent's midgame plays as well. Longtusk Cub and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner are your Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant. Jokes aside, both of these cards give you the ability to snowball an easy win and also be reasonable late-game cards even though they are your two-drops of choice. The one knock I have on this deck is that Winding Constrictor is just not the same without Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Verdurous Gearhulk. Even so, Constrictor/Ballista can still be a potent weapon, particularly against Ramunap Red or Grixis Improvise.
Sultai benefits from one of the best tri-colored mana bases in Standard. And, of course, with Energy decks you get access to the best land in Standard – Aether Hub. As Sultai, you get eight fast lands, which play nicely with your 16 two-drops and 12 one-mana spells. On top of that, you get to play however many Fetid Pools you want.
After making a few changes, I started to play a few leagues on Magic Online. I moved The Scarab God to the sideboard and replaced it with a Verderous Gearhulk. Then, I cut all the Duress in favor of a Spell Pierce, a Lost Legacy, and a Dispossess as they are more potent and this is more of a tempo deck that needs a huge beneficial effect if you spend mana on discard.
Unfortunately, I found the deck to be a bit lackluster. Quite often I had hands full of too many creatures, missing land drops or just having various midrange and control decks tear me to shreds. I even scrapped a League that I had recorded, as I went 1-4 and got severely screwed over many times. As it turns out, this was a repetitive pattern as opposed to an anomaly. You are extremely weak to Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance, which is problematic. Winding Constrictor is just a 2/3 for two mana a bit too often.
Moving forward, I would recommend a more midrange style of Sultai Energy. I do believe that Sultai could work – the lands are still good, and the core is still solid too. Hostage Taker is a strong card, but could find a more consistent home without the need for cute cards like Blossoming Defense or Winding Constrictor combos. The entirety of the Constrictor, Rishkar, Ballista package should be cut, and perhaps some Blossoming Defense with it. Without Nissa and Gearhulks, Winding Constrictor it's just poor, especially since you don't have energy sinks from the extra energy obtained from Constrictor (such as Whirler Virtuoso). Longtusk Cub is already good if you get it rolling, so the synergy with Winding Constrictor is minimal to irrelevant. A Servant of the Conduit shell may be the next step for Sultai. Servant gives you a faster Hostage Taker, which leaves you less vulnerable to blowouts when they can remove it effectively. I'm envisioning something closer to Temur Energy, but utilizing Siphoner and Hostage Taker with a bit more mana sources. This will make you a better The Scarab God deck, and mixed in with more removal – as opposed to Blossoming Defense – will allow you to have more relevant midgame plays.
Thanks for reading.
- Steve Rubin