After Energy’s impressive performance at Pro Tour Ixalan, as well as the several Grand Prix that have followed, including GP Portland this past weekend, there have been murmurs of discontent among the greater Magic community about the dominance of the deck. This is due in large part to the fact that there currently doesn’t exist a deck that can currently beat it on a consistent basis, and those that supposedly boast a positive matchup can only go as far as calling it 55/45 in their favor. Some players are even going as far as to call for a ban. Last week, Mike Sigrist wrote an article on Channel Fireball, which you can read here, in which he detailed why Energy is perhaps too good for this Standard format. Here is why I think that despite it being far and away the best thing to be doing in Standard, Energy shouldn’t get the ban hammer.
Why It’s Too Good
First of all, it’s important to understand why Energy is where it is, on top of the dog pile. The idea behind energy, that it’s an additional resource for players to manage in-game is an exciting idea from a gameplay standpoint, as it makes Kaladesh unique and offers a new set of challenges to players. The question, “was Energy a mistake?” is asked a lot, and I think the answer is no, it was not a mistake.
In terms of gameplay, Energy is a very interesting mechanic that rewards players for playing perfectly with it, but doesn’t punish players for not using it optimally. This is nearly ideal for a Magic mechanic. However, the main error with Energy came in the balancing of cards. Because Energy was one of the main features of Kaladesh block, Wizards of the Coast understandably wanted to push some Energy cards so that they would be Standard playable. What happened is that it went too far, and the cards individually, as well as collectively, better than anything else Standard. Let’s look at some of the cards.
Longtusk Cub is an unexciting 2/2 for 2 on its own, but is both an Energy producer and user, making it the ideal two drop for the strategy, and far outgrowing the other creatures on the board given enough Energy, even from just attacking, not requiring much help.
Rogue Refiner is simply good value. A 3/2 for 2 is a good blocker and drawing a card when it enters means it replaces itself at minimum, a valuable inclusion in most decks that can cast it. However, the added two Energy onto it makes it an energy creator and not a user.
Two of the cards listed above are both Energy producers and consumers, while one is an Energy producer. What you’ll find is that no Energy cards are solely consumers, and more often than not they are both producers and consumers. While from a design standpoint this is a good thing, lest the mechanic become entirely parasitic, it is responsible for the dominance of Temur Energy in Standard. Does Longtusk Cub really need the ability to produce Energy when it hits the opponent? Does Whirler Virtuoso really need to have a thopter’s worth of Energy when it enters the battlefield?
The issues with these cards is that they’re all individually very strong cards regardless of format context, and together synergize to the point that there really isn’t anything to compete with them on power level. In order to better illustrate this, let’s compare the current Temur/4-Color Energy list to a traditional Standard tribal deck. In tribal decks, the strategy really is “strength in numbers”. The more of that creature type you get in play, the more powerful your board presence and the better off you are. However, each of these cards individually aren’t terribly exciting. In Temur Energy, each Energy creature acts almost as a creature in a tribal strategy, helping feed the overall theme of the deck and getting more powerful as more of this creature type are played. These creatures, unlike those in traditional tribal decks, are very powerful on their own, leading Temur to feel more like an unbeatable tribal deck than the midrange deck it disguises itself as.
Why It Shouldn’t Be Banned
While this Temur Energy deck is far and away the best deck in Standard, a ban would do more harm than letting the deck remain in Standard. The balance on some of these cards is way off, and banning one won’t have the effect that most bans have. Additionally, the potential targets for a ban are rather laughable. Whirler Virtuoso demands a lot of Energy to get off an activation past the first, and banning the combination of Attune with Aether and Aether Hub is such a bad look for Wizards of the Coast that they would lose a lot of faith that the consumer currently has in them. Banning a 1 mana effect that brings a land into hand, and effect we’ve seen many times before, and a land that essentially only produces colored mana one time on its own, would be laughed at by many in the Magic community. It would also further the precedent that Standard decks aren’t safe if they’re the most powerful decks in the format, which is harmful for Magic in the long term.
To summarize, taking out one piece of the currently wildly successful Energy deck wouldn’t actually harm the strategy as much as most bans, thanks to the deep pool of potential replacements available, and a ban would seriously harm Wizards’ reputation, as it would be admitting to a mechanical mistake that, in my opinion, isn’t a mistake in and of itself.
Why Rivals of Ixalan is a Critical Set
The health of Standard for the foreseeable future could rest on the shoulders of Rivals of Ixalan, which releases in January. Why do I think this?
Primarily, I think that Rivals of Ixalan could help Standard out or could even bring it to a worse place. The nature of tribal decks in Constructed is that those that are very good and viable become oppressive, as the cards’ combined power overwhelms most, if not all, opponents. Ixalan itself didn’t give us enough tools to really see a Dinosaurs, Vampires, Merfolk, or Pirates deck in Standard, but Rivals of Ixalan very well could. If Rivals doesn’t do enough to enable these powerful tribal decks in Standard, we could be in for a very Energy-heavy few months (or more). If Rivals pushes tribal decks a little too far, we could be left longing for the days when we complained about Energy decks being too oppressive.
Energy decks are currently far and away the best thing to do in Standard. They’re more powerful, consistent, and flexible than every other deck in the format. However, banning a part of this strategy would, in my opinion, do more harm than it would help. With Rivals of Ixalan on the horizon, we could be in for a great format if the upcoming set adds just enough, but even perhaps a worse situation if it adds too much or too little to the decks it’s looking to enable. We’ll just have to wait and see.
If you’re looking for a new deck to play in Modern, read Riccardo Monico’s article here, where he discusses the deck he used to go 8-1 in Baltimore this past weekend and why he thinks you should be combo-ing in Modern along with him.
Follow us on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/spellsnare_
Like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/spellsnare