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A TEMUR PRIMER FRANCESCO GIORGIO 15/09/2017

Hello everyone. Today I am writing about a deck that has served me very well in the past month or so, granting me victory at RPTQ London and a 12-3 result at GP Turin. I’m talking about Temur Black, a variation of what is basically the most popular archetype in the current Standard format.

The reason to play this deck over the traditional Temur Energy is obviously The Scarab God. This card alone gives the deck a more varied lategame, a soft counter to graveyard decks and finally it is simply the best midrange card in the format. The Scarab God must be answered, immediately, or he will take over the game faster than any other card that fits the 5 mana spot. Additionally, Temur Black is in my opinion the best shell for the The Scarab God because it will usually already be ahead by the time it casts the God, thanks to the other resilient creatures. Lastly, it makes sideboarding against the deck more difficult since now the 5 drops are more varied, and there aren’t many cards able to answer all of them.

There are many card options when building Temur and I’ll try to go through as many as possible. I’ll start with the decklist I played in Turin, from there I’ll explain my card choices and alternatives, sideboard strategies and matchups.

 

The Maindeck

Manabase: The manabase is fairly standard. There are just a few decision points here. One is whether to play a Blooming Marsh over a Forest to have an additional black source. I chose not to since I find a single swamp enough to cast the God, when paired with the Attunes, Hub and Servants. So I don’t think the extra tap land is worth it. The other choice is the number of Lumbering Falls, Game Trail and Sheltered Thickets, for which you have 3 slots. I chose one of each, the weakest being Game Trail, which I still wanted since it sometimes allows to cast a turn 1 attune, where the other lands would just break the curve.

Removal Suite: Most lists run 8 removal spells chosen from Harness Lightning, Abrade and Magma Spray. My list has one less because I find that in many matchups, particularly in the mirror, multiple removal spells are often redundant. 4 Harness Lightning are basically a must, and I chose to have 3 Abrade over Magma Sprays to better fight Gifts and Mardu decks, which are on the rise.

2 Drops: 4 Servant are a must here. They provide ramp for the 5 drops, energy and a 2/2 body which is relevant at times. I believe the deck needs to play the 4 and 5 drops as soon as possible, hence why I am also running a single Druid of the Cowl.

There are then 4 Longtusk Cub. I don’t actually like the card a lot, I think it is the weakest 2 drop and I often side it out. I actually only played 2 in the RPTQ, however, it is good against all the bad matchups of the deck, which are the ones where the deck needs to apply pressure as soon as possible.

3 Drops: This is where my list differs the most from the others and where I have had the most discussions with other people playing the deck. Here are the options: 

  • Rhonas, the Indomitable: Rhonas is one of the best threats of the deck. Paired with Bristling Hydra, it creates both the best defense and the best offense in the format. I would play even more than 2 if not for the fact that drawing the second copy is the actual worst, since the first never dies. I don’t think anyone should run less than 2. 
  • Whirler Virtuoso: Another one of the staples, he is great in so many situations, providing blockers against Red, and giving you a one man army against control. Most list, including mine, run 3 and I can see going up to 4. 
  • Tireless Tracker, Rogue Refiner, and Aethersphere Harvester:  Let me say first of all that I think Refiner, Tracker and Harvester, are just equally medium, so I chose to run only 2 cards chosen between these. None of them measures well against Rhonas and Virtuoso, and I prefer the early pressure of Cub over the card advantage. Rogue Refiner, for example, gives a card and generates some energy, which seems great and is why most lists run 4, and yet there are 0 in mine. Refiner certainly has its upsides, however, the deck must contain 60 card and something must be dropped in favor of other things. Refiner is only card advantage if the 3/2 body is somehow relevant, and I believe it rarely is. Hence I prefer the possibility of drawing more cards with Tireless Tracker. Harvester is another valid option, but I dropped it considering that lists are running an increased number of Abrades.

4 Drops: There aren’t many options here. Hydra is the best threat of the deck in many matchups and the main reason to play an energy list. If anyone is running less than 4 I would question why they are even playing this deck in the first place. For the extra slots, some lists run Woodland Wonderer, which is an additional threat to turn on Rhonas and close games fast, but I prefer the versatility of Chandra.

5 Drops: We’re finally here. After Hydra, the five drops are the other reason to play this deck. These are the best threats standard can offer and most of the games will revolve around having one of these stick to the board. The number of Glorybringers and Skyships can vary, but I think the deck should contain exactly 2 Scarab Gods. Like Rhonas, you really want to see one, but the second copy is completely useless.

The Scarab God will take over games very fast. Usually 1 or 2 activation are enough to make any board impossible to handle for most decks. Remember that it is possible to activate it in response to its own trigger to get the additional life loss and scry.

Glorybringer and Skyship tend to be equally deadly, but extra care is needed to make sure they don’t get removed. It is usually correct to hold the Dragon until you can be sure to kill at least the first creature.

The Sideboard

As the deck plays 4 colors there are countless options for the sideboard, so I will only list my own choices and the reasoning behind them.

 

4 Negates: Negate is the best card against all of the deck’s bad matchups (ramp, control, gift, etc) so playing 4 is a must. Wraths of any kind are actually quite good against Temur, and countering them is key to victory.

1 Essence Scatter: There aren’t many clean answers to a Scarab God, but this is one of them. It is difficult to keep open mana in the mirror, so the card is not great, but there aren’t many alternatives.

1 Confiscation Coup: A soft answer to God, but again not great there since they can still kill it and it will go back to their hand. It is however great against any threat from BG, Glorybringers, Rhonas and Skyship.

2 Dispossess: God Pharaoh’s Gift is quite a bad matchup so it is nice to have an “I win” card against them. I am actually unsure whether to run this or not, since I ended up having too few slots for the mirror.

2 Chandra’s Defeat: Cheap removal against Mono Red and an answer to Chandra and Glorybringer for the mirror. This card has saved me many times, and I could see playing an extra copy.

1 Magma Spray: As I am running only 7 maindeck removal spells, the extra one is here for cheap interaction against Mono Red, Zombies and Gift.

2 Radiant Flames: The sweeper of choice for decks like Zombies, BG and Gift. It is preferred over Sweltering Suns since it is very easy to cast it for less than 3 when it is important to save our creatures.

1 Chandra, Flamecaller: An additional sweeper against Zombies, that also doubles up as a threat against control decks and ramp.

1 Nicol Bolas, God Pharaoh: When you need to go over the top, Nicol Bolas is certainly the best there is. For any matchup that gets grindy, like the mirror, control or Ramp.

The Matchups

I will now briefly describe the strategy and sideboarding against various decks of the format. If you are unfamiliar with the current meta, you should read the Standard primer by Joao Choca published on this website, as it gives a good rundown of the main decks.

Temur Energy

The mirror is mainly dominated by Bristling Hydra and Scarab God. There are no cards to deal with the Hydra and it will usually stick to the battlefield forever, or until it trades with an opposing Hydra. Try to form a good ground force until it is time for the 5 drops to dominate the board. It is important to not waste removal on the small creatures because an unchecked Glorybringer, or Skysoveregn can easily close the game. The dragon should only be played when it is guaranteed to live or kill something while it is usually fine to play The Scarab God as soon as possible.

Sideboard:

-4 Cubs
-2 Virtuoso

+2 Chandra’s Defeat
+1 Essence Scatter
+1 Negate
+1 Confiscation Coup
+1 Nicol Bolas

I don’t like Cub in the mirror as it dies easily and with it we might lose a big energy investment. Virtuoso is also not very impactful. For those we board in efficient removal and cards to go over the top.

Mono Red

The first game against Mono Red consists of handling the early aggression while sticking a large threat that can either block or race Hazoret. Virtuoso is the best card here as it can provide (near) infinite defense while we get to the five drops. Hydra is also great as it is a guaranteed blocker since it can’t be faltered by Ahn-Crop Crasher.

Sideboard:

-2 Chandra
-2 Scarab Gods
-1 Skysovereign

+2 Chandra’s Defeat
+1 Essence Scatter
+1 Confiscation Coup
+1 Magma Spray

Postboard we assume a heavy control role, siding in more cheap removal and a couple of ways to permanently deal with Hazoret. Beware of Chandra out of their sideboard as it can easily become a problem if left unchecked.

Zombies

Zombie is a fairly easy matchup. The only way they can go over the top is with an unchecked Diregraf Colossus or by playing multiple Liliana’s Masteries. However, they cannot deal with Scarab God or Skysovereign, so try to get these out as fast as possible whilst sitting behind an Hydra.

Sideboard:

-2 Virtuoso
-4 Cub

+2 Radiant Flames
+1 Chandra, Flamecaller
+1 Confiscation Coup
+1 Magma Spray
+1 Nicol Bolas

First, as a general rule, Cub should be sideboarded out against most decks playing Fatal Push. Virtuoso might seem good, however it tends to just generate chump blockers which is not a great way to use energy since the matchup is about having a good board presence. Postboard Zombies becomes very slow and brings in discard and Skysovereign, so you should have time to play some big haymakers. Mastery is again the card to watch for here, as multiples can be very tough to beat, to the point that I could see bringing in Negate.

UW Approach

Control decks are hard, especially ones with white sweepers. However, they eventually need to tap out for the first Approach or for the sweeper itself. Use this opportunity to stick a threat like Chandra or The Scarab God and hope for the best.

Sideboard:

-3 Harness Lightning
-3 Abrade
-1 Druid of the Cowl

+4 Negates
+1 Chandra, Flamecaller
+1 Essence Scatter
+1 Nicol Bolas

Postboard the situation gets better, thanks to the playset of Negates and the big planeswalkers we can play as soon as they tap out. Nicol Bolas is a beating since it can first empty their end and then cast the second Approach when it is the top card of the library. Essence Scatter can be useful as they actually have a lot of creatures in the board.

Mardu Vehicles

This deck used to be the best deck in Standard and is now seeing a resurgence. However thanks to the Abrades, Hydras and Glorybringers, Temur has the answers to all of Mardu’s greatest threats. Still, the deck is capable of dealing a significant amount of damage with Heart of Kiran so save the Abrades for it and try to keep the board clear of artifacts to avoid the damage from Disintegration. Avacyn could be a beating if you are not prepared for her so always be careful when they pass with 5 mana.

Sideboard:

-4 Cub
-2 Chandra

+2 Negates
+2 Radiant Flames
+1 Essence Scatter
+1 Confiscation Coup

Once again, Cub is horrible against Fatal Push and Chandra dies too easily because of Disintegration. We take up the control role trying to kill whatever they play while Hydra holds the ground and keeps Gideon in check. Remember to also bring in Chandra’s Defeat if they have Glorybringers.

God Pharaoh’s Gift

God Pharaoh’s Gift can be considered the combo deck of the format. There are not many ways that Temur has to attack it, and indeed winning game ones requires both a fast start, preferably with a turn 4 Scarab God and an Abrade to take care of the first Gift.

Sideboard:

-2 Hydra
-2 Harness Lightning
-2 Virtuoso
-1 Chandra

+2 Negates
+2 Radiant Flames
+2 Dispossess
+1 Confiscation Coup

There’s not much to do postboard than hope to have a fast start again or to resolve a Dispossess. Hydra usually gets chump blocked every turn and Virtuoso is too slow and will only offer chump blockers in the lategame if we are losing. Dispossess does win the game on the spot, but the hand must still be functional so it is not worth it to mulligan just to find it.

BG Constrictor

BG has somewhat fallen out of the meta, mostly because it has a hard time against Temur. Like Zombies, it has no way to deal with Hydra, God or the Skysovereign. One thing to watch out for is a fast start that involves a Snake into Rishkar or Ballista, so it is better to always remove their two drop, rather than playing a creature. Also, be prepared for the turn when Gearhulk comes down and try to trade when possible and buy time until The Scarab God takes away the game.

Sideboard:

-4 Cub
-2 Virtuoso

+2 Radiant Flames
+1 Chandra, Flamecaller
+1 Confiscation Coup
+1 Nicol Bolas
+1 Negate

Radiant Flames is very good against BG when played at the right time. It kills most of their early game, including the annoying Nissa Plants that can chump block Hydra and buy time for their Gearhulk. The other cards are for going over the top since they become slower as well, bringing in discard and Skysovereign.

Ramp

Ramp is a very hard matchup as it has Wraths, unkillable threats and makes all of Temur removal spells dead. Winning game one is hard, and usually involves them stumbling, or a very fast start from Temur, involving Cub, Rhonas and Hydra.

Sideboard:

-4 Harness Lightning
-3 Abrade
-1 Druid of the Cowl

+1 Essence Scatter
+1 Chandra, Flamecaller
+1 Confiscation Coup
+1 Nicol Bolas
+4 Negate

For postboard games, things swings in Temur’s favor, since Negating a Fumigate (or Hour of Devastation for the red version) is usually enough to win. Hour of Promise is another good target for Negate as they really struggle to get to 10 mana for Ulamog if they don’t resolve an Hour. Nicol Bolas is unlikely to come down in time, but if it does (usually by having mana from Chandra) it will seal the game immediately.

Final Thoughts

The current Standard format is very open, and there are many valid decks to choose from. Temur is definitely the most versatile of them and can be built to face any specific metagame. If you are looking for a deck to play at Nationals, this should be a strong candidate. Hopefully this article will have given you a solid base of knowledge to start playing the deck, but my advice is to experiment with all the other options for the deck until you find the decklist that most suits your playstyle and the metagame you are expecting.

About Francesco Giorgio:

Since he started playing Magic in 2012, Francesco has fully immersed himself in the competitive aspects of Magic. After moving to England in 2014 he became a Silver Level pro and has been a constant presence on the Pro Tour ever since. Francesco joined Team Axion in 2016, with the aim of contributing to the development of a major mainstay team at future Pro Tours. Francesco is at his best with a 40 card deck, but also enjoys the Standard format. His achievements include 2 Limited GP Top8s and a 3rd place in the 2014 World Magic Cup. Francesco is the current captain of the English National Team and aims to bring the team to another important finish at this year World Magic Cup. His main objective for this season is to Top 8 the WMC and maintain his status as captain for next year.