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I've been buried in Draftland since set release, which is a pretty magical place. That said, seeing Sultai Energy win an event is no shocker to me. It's an already great deck that added even better cards.
If you want to know how Sultai became a viable color combo in Standard, you have to start a bit earlier than this weekend.
- 2 Noxious Gearhulk
- 4 Gifted Aetherborn
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 3 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
- 2 The Scarab God
The story starts from the weird overlap period on Magic Online. All set legality updates have to be implemented in a Wednesday downtime, but set releases don't occur until Mondays. Don't ask why; only know that presumably changing this breaks a demonic seal.
This leads to a couple of days where all the reprints from a new set are legal in their old versions and any sets rotating out are gone, but none of the new cards exist. In that period, Thiago Saporito, aka bolov0, 5-0'ed a League with Sultai Energy. Not Sultai with Winding Constrictor (more on that later), but a deck more aligned with the Temur Energy deck.
Attune with Aether got really good. It went from being one of the best cards in the format to…being one of the best cards in the format, but better. A big part of this was the change from Sunken Hollows to Drowned Catacombs making your first Attune lock in untapped mana in the midgame.
Importantly, in Sultai, you can use Blooming Marsh or Botanical Sanctum to cast your Attune with Aether, find a basic land, and now have untapped U/B checklands. Thiago took full advantage of this, basically splashing Attune with Aether to make a potentially inconsistent U/B land set work for both early blue Censors and early double-black Gifted Aetherborns. This deck is basically the surviving version of the U/B Scarab God Control deck from the end of last season, slanted to beat the suddenly legal Duresses with more creatures like I suggested a couple weeks ago.
This new mashup of great cards should have foreshadowed what we saw this weekend, where Andrew literally proved he was the better Jessup en route to winning the event. While they didn't even play Drowned Catacomb, the not-Temur G/U pairing still proved well worth it.
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Hostage Taker
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
- 1 The Scarab God
Hostage Taker is really, really good. In modern Magic, where creatures are often two-for-ones, finding two-for-one creatures that advance your battlefield position over just drawing cards is huge. Shriekmaw-style effects are great, and Hostage Taker one-ups that by being a potential three-for-one Mind Control plus body. We haven't seen that in this price range since Sower of Temptation, and unlike Sower, there's a finite window for them to kill Hostage Taker and not still be down cards.
Look at these cards people had serious concerns about killing! Guess what? The base G/R decks playing them are the ones that have the biggest problem managing them. Great job playing good cards; sucks you can't beat your own deck.
Oh no, another indestructible God, how can I ever beat it! If only I could exile it or cast my own!
I'll take this moment to point out the Magic Online PTQ was won by Four-Color "Temur" Energy…with Hostage Taker. Welp, Hazoret down, that's one less talking point.
Hostage Taker also performs another important function against Ramunap Red by exiling a cheap creature for immediate recast in the mid-game, giving you a very stable battlefield against future haste creatures. A three-body swing makes it very difficult to randomly die.
The Scarab God is a weird case. Getting your The Scarab God exiled by Hostage Taker is often an absolute nightmare. I'm not sure how anyone ever beats The Scarab God, let alone beating their own copy. But due to the return-from-graveyard ability, you have a bit larger window for an answer than normal against Hostage Taker, as just Harnessed Lightning on The Scarab God cast means you get it back, and the card is basically unbeatable if you get to return a Hostage Taker with it. Given that The Scarab God is in the realm of "too good to not see play," in the same colors as Hostage Taker, and works well with Hostage Taker to bury non-mirrors, I expect to see a lot of it, but I would also be interested to see if sideboarding it out in mirrors is a worthwhile plan.
The genius of the Sultai (Constrictor) Energy deck played by the Jessups last weekend was that it had breakers for the Hostage Taker mirror matches. The big breaker was Blossoming Defense to counter their four-mana removal spell, but Walking Ballista is also something you can do to extend onto the battlefield but also use as a way to clear Hostage Taker in response to the ability.
Also worth noting on Blossoming Defense: you get to dodge all of the Hostage Taker mirror match dynamics. There are weird issues when you get into the six- to eight-mana range about not letting them immediately cast the "hostage," and Blossoming Defense lets you initiate those fights many turns earlier.