So Battle for Zendikar is officially out and that means it is time to start polishing up some brews and getting to work against the field! Hopefully you got to check out our set review this time around. I threw out a ton of new ideas and concepts for decks, but now it's time to take that a step further.
While we can't know exactly what the metagame will look like, we can still approach it from a more generic angle. Typically, I would argue that the best generic approaches are aggressive decks and combo decks as you get to be completely proactive and therefore don't care much about what your opponent is bringing to the table. There is, however, a way to bring a fairly "generic" control deck into this sort of field, especially since we know more than nothing about what is going to show up.
For example, we know aggressive red decks are not going anywhere as most of their cards do not rotate and they pick up some new toys as well. This tells us that our control shell should probably not be weak to aggro, but outside of that, we still have a lot to fill in. We know that the core elements of the Esper Dragons control decks from the last year stick around, so we can expect there to be a deck that tries to go over the top of us and we should have a plan against that.
The rest of the format is mostly a question mark. Some deck is obviously going to play Siege Rhino. Some deck is going to play Jace, Gideon, Ulamog, etc. We can make some guesses as to exactly where, but for the most part, those are the unknowns that will be revealed at the Pro Tour. For now, if we want to build a control deck, we should take our knowns and then merge that with as much proactive play as possible. This is sometimes referred to as "Tap-Out" control, as opposed to "Draw-Go" control as the former does not prioritize Counterspells and reactive play as much as efficient, board dominating plays that it often makes on its own turn.
In Kamigawa era Standard, Tap-Out control decks were quite powerful. The legendary dragons like Kokusho, the Evening Star and Keiga, the Tide Star, had giant bodies that immediately impacted the board and if the opponent had a way to answer them, you were going to get value in return. Exiling things was hardly common in that era, so a Keiga Control Magic was all but assured aside from something like Faith's Fetters. Additionally, board dominating permanents like Vedalken Shackles were worth spending all your mana on due to power level alone.
These decks still played some number of Counterspells from Remand to Hinder and they would certainly use them. The difference is that Draw-Go control uses Counterspells as its primary game-plan, waiting until it can play a threat with protection. Tap-Out control supplements its threats and board presence with countermagic, making the opponent have to fight even harder to deal with your plays.-->
I wanted to translate The General concept of those Kamigawa-era decks into the modern age. The mana and incentives right now tend to all favor three-color decks, so I immediately began thinking about what three-color configuration best supported this style of play. Temur seemed to make the most sense to me as it would have the threats necessarily to make the shell work (thanks to red and green) while having the control elements to disrupt opponents playing a wide-range of stuff (thanks to red and blue).
Dragonlord Atarka was the perfect thing I was looking for. Here, you spend seven mana and get a gigantic threat that brings board control with it. That board control is "generic" in that it will almost always have a valid target in any match up, even if we can't predict what all of those matchups will be. Temur also delivers Sarkhan Unbroken, which is probably my favorite planeswalker in Standard. Sarkhan offers a very proactive package while still being exactly what control wants. Card advantage and board presence are always good things and if we can make the mana that Sarkhan grants you matter more often, I think we could have the foundation for a Temur control shell.
Borrowing from the knowledge I have of Esper Dragons, I wanted to try to make Silumgar's Scorn work in this shell. Because it is so cheap, it is one of the better Counterspells at protecting your threats and is easier to keep open mana for while doing other things. I am a big fan of Scatter to the Winds and Temur Charm, but those can be difficult to squeeze in while we cast Sarkhans and Sweepers. Of course, where there is Silumgar's Scorn, there are sure to be dragons around as well. We already discussed Atarka and Sarkhan does make dragons which turn on Scorn, but I still want access to others as well.
I think that Icefall Regent makes a ton of sense in Temur as we might have some difficulty dealing with larger threats as most of our removal is bound to be damage based. Icefall Regents also give us more fodder for a Sarkhan ultimate, which is unlikely to come up often, but might greatly matter when it does.
With that core base in mind, I went to brewing and arrived at the following:
I noted before that I wanted to maximize Sarkhan in the list and having a decent number of high-impact one-drops made sense to help enable this. Unlike Kiora who untaps a land, Sarkhan only generates mana at sorcery speed so you need to use it immediately or lose it. This made me lean toward removal spells that could help protect Sarkhan but also to Dragonmaster Outcast, who can be a very strong finisher when played with protection or a distraction.
When you play Sarkhan into Dragonmaster Outcast, your opponent needs to deal with two threats before you untap or you Threaten additional value. And because Sarkhan replaced itself immediately, even if the opponent goes two for two to rid you of these threats, you still come out ahead. Also, with seven mana out I can play Sarkhan, play Outcast, and have Silumgar's Scorn up to protect the outcast, which is a very efficient turn. Also worth noting that Outcast produces dragons that turn on Scorn.
The sideboard tries to cover our bases by having a lot of support for control decks as well as additional ways to interact with the hyper-aggressive decks early on. Against midrange, we can usually win simply through card advantage and spells that go over the top along with occasional support from the board. It is possible that we want one less Crumble to Dust, but with so many crazy good lands in the format right now, it feels like that might be right.
Tips and Tricks
-You can cast Radiant Flames with less than three colors of mana to have your Icefall Regents survive!
-Brutal Expulsion and Clutch of Currents combo well with your countermagic, so deal with larger creatures that way.
-Clutch of Currents can be a creature in the late game, but keep in mind that you need to target a creature with the Unsummon ability to do so.
-Playing Atarka and then immediately casting Clutch on it will protect it from sorcery speed removal like sweepers while giving you an extra comes into play trigger.
A Different Direction
Temur naturally has a ton of creature support in its slice of the pie, so I wanted to explore strategies that better took advantage of that aspect of the color. You can very easily arrive at a creature-heavy midrange or control deck if you leverage utility creatures enough. Conveniently enough, Collected Company is still in the format and might be the best possible thing to pair with a host of utility creatures. Heck, Dragonmaster Outcast even seems like a natural inclusion with Collected Company, so we might as well start there!
When going down the Collected Company path, I want as many cards in my deck that can be found by CC as possible. This means that if possible my utility, my removal, my mana, and my win conditions should all come in nice one-to-three-mana creature packages.
I think this list accomplishes those goals pretty well. We have a nice mix of utility (Stratus Dancer, Harbinger of the Tides, Jace, Den Protector) while having a nice assortment of beatdown creatures (Savage Knuckleblade, Dragonmaster Outcast, Deathmist Raptor). On top of that, we gain even additional threat from Lumbering Falls if and when we gain access to enough mana to operate normally. We even get to have a rather low mana count thanks to eight mana-producing creatures in the maindeck, all of which get us to four mana on turn three. Four mana is where both of our primary engines lie, so shortcutting directly to that mana point is rather big for us.
Speaking of engines, Collected Company is great and all, but with only four allowed in our deck, I wanted to find another way to add consistency. Kiora draws us two cards a turn pretty regularly, pulling in the same card advantage and while you do need to spend mana on the creature you dig up, she has a way to net you mana through her first ability which helps smooth things out. Also, both cards are quite strong against control, especially with the Den Protector + Deathmist Raptor synergy pressing things further.
There are a lot of things that playtesting needs to hammer out with this list. For example, right now I could not make room for Undergrowth Champion. Do we have enough access to turn one green mana for our Honored Hierarchs to not get upset at us? But for a starting point, I am pretty excited by the idea of Temur Company. (Temurs Company Too!)
Temur might be the biggest winner with the release of Battle for Zendikar. The deck needed slightly better mana and it got a dual land along with Lumbering Falls to help that out. Additionally, Kiora and Radiant Flames both work so well in various shells of the deck that you will be hard pressed to find a Temur list without one of these. Anger of the Gods was solid, but it stretched your mana even further than it already was. Sarkhan provides a lot of incentive to try out the Temur color combination so I hope that conditions are finally right for him to start showing up!
Temur is not the only place to go, of course. Clans like Abzan got a lot of interesting tools while losing many of the cards that defined the deck just a few weeks ago. Next week I would like to explore where the Abzan clan is headed in the new world of Standard. Until then, thanks for reading!