We've all come to recognize just how powerful the energy cards from Kaladesh are, but when the set was first released, it was the artifact theme that was most prominent. W/R Vehicles won the first Standard Open when the set was legal, and that deck quickly evolved to incorporate a black splash for two very powerful cards:
The former is an aggressively-costed creature that can come back for more quite easily, and since its color requirement isn't relevant until later in the game when you want to recur it, splashing it in the Boros shell was quite easy.
But it was Unlicensed Disintegration that was the real prize. Three mana is about the price we expect to pay for restriction-free removal in Standard, especially at instant speed, and Unlicensed Disintegration tacks on a free Lava Spike, a huge gain for answering planeswalkers or to simply pressure your opponent's life total in an aggressive deck. For much of the last year, Unlicensed Disintegration was a premier removal spell in Standard, but since the rotation of Thraben Inspector as a cheap source of an artifact, the decks that support it have disappeared.
I'm not ready to give up on such a powerful card, and I think Rivals of Ixalan has added enough tools to make it work, despite not replacing Thraben Inspector with another source of cheap artifacts.
The key to unlocking Unlicensed Disintegration is putting it in a shell where the three damage is most relevant. Initially that looks to be a very aggressive shell, but that doesn't need to be the case. Mardu Vehicles evolved over time from an aggro deck to a midrange deck in part due to Unlicensed Disintegration making the extra aggression unnecessary. You could instead use it to turn the corner in a midrange deck, allowing you to supplement it with more powerful cards.
Unlicensed Disintegration already restricts your deckbuilding by requiring a certain number of artifacts, and further restricting yourself to the low curve and high threat density of an aggressive deck results in playing weak cards like Bomat Courier. I've registered Bomat Courier in two sanctioned events in my life, and both were miserable failures. I'm not going to make the same mistake again...hopefully.
So I'm looking for a deck that can stand toe to toe in combat with more powerful decks, but has the ability to deal a lot of incidental damage so it can punish any stumbling from the opponent or set up to turn the corner quickly should it fall behind early.
My first pass:
Heart of Kiran is the natural pairing with Unlicensed Disintegration since Smuggler's Copter is banished to the shadow realm, and it of course also plays nicely with Scrapheap Scrounger. Heart of Kiran also plays well with planeswalkers that start on high loyalty, which this deck has a pair of in Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Angrath, the Flame-Chained.
Conveniently, both of these planeswalkers also deal incidental damage to the opponent. Their +1 abilities Shock and Angrath, the Flame-Chained can set up big swings with its second ability. I struggled to evaluate Angrath, the Flame-Chained when I first saw it because its abilities look to pull it in two different directions. It can generate card advantage but doesn't have a high impact on the turn it enters the battlefield, meaning it's slow; however, it can generate material advantage over time and also has the ability to create significant damage output, which makes it seem more aggressive.
This shell maximizes Angrath's abilities since it can play to either extreme, and even in games where you're aggressively using its +1 to empty your opponent's hand, the damage is going to add up when combined with all the other sources of direct damage this deck has. Lightning Strike, Cut//Ribbons, Unlicensed Disintegration, and Ramunap Ruins mean that no life total is safe, putting pressure on your opponent to have an answer immediately for all of your early threats.
If you land Heart of Kiran into Weldfast Engineer for an early six-point attack it's going to be very difficult for your opponent to survive a long game, but they're forced to use removal on your threats or fall victim to Pia Nalaar and Key to the City clearing the way for more big attacks. At the same time, you have plenty of sticky threats and sources of card advantage to play an attrition game. The ability to attack on multiple angles is critical to the success of midrange decks, and this deck does that very well.
If you wanted to get more aggressive, I think there are enough artifacts to support Inventor's Apprentice, but as I noted earlier, I'm not interested in playing underpowered cards in this shell. However, if you want to be aggressive, you can make up for that lower power by taking advantage of tribal synergies.
Since we're in red and black, Ixalan block is pointing us firmly toward Pirates. Interestingly, there's a nice bridge between the tribal and artifact themes of such a deck in Fell Flagship, a powerful effect that like much of Ixalan's tribal cards, hasn't had enough support to see play.
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Daring Buccaneer
- 1 Dire Fleet Daredevil
- 4 Fathom Fleet Captain
- 4 Rowdy Crew
- 4 Captain Lannery Storm
The presence of Fell Flagship means you need to move away from Heart of Kiran so as to not overload on vehicles, but that just makes room for some of the two-mana Pirates that are available. I prefer Fathom Fleet Captain since its menace means it'll be easier to connect and force your opponents to discard cards, and it can create more Pirates to leverage the anthem effect from Fell Flagship.
Being a little more aggressive means a one-drop is more appropriate here than in the above list, and the Pirate theme allows you to upgrade that one-drop to Daring Buccaneer. This list has seventeen total Pirates, which seems a little low to support Daring Buccaneer, but you have to make some concessions when balancing multiple themes, and I'm not willing to sacrifice Scrapheap Scrounger. If Fell Flagship were a Pirate vehicle, I wouldn't need to worry so I'm just going to blame WotC if it doesn't work.
In the three slot it's possible that a split of Pia Nalaar and Captain Lannery Storm is correct since the former is almost certainly a better individual card, but I want to start by maximizing the tribal synergies and then pare down from there. I envision a lot of curves utilizing Captain Lannery Storm as a four-drop so you can use the treasure token with your fourth land to Lightning Strike a potential blocker, creating a big attack that puts your opponent well within burn range.
The last card to talk about here is Rowdy Crew. I wanted a curve-topper with some size and this deck doesn't have a lot of card types so it should be a 5/5 quite often. It plays nicely with Key to the City to deal big chunks of damage if your early aggression is answered and provides a bit of card advantage for a deck that is sorely lacking in it since I cut all the planeswalkers.
The last deck I have with Unlicensed Disintegration is the one that uses it most sparingly. There are some blue Pirates I'm quite interested in, most notably Warkite Marauder, and that means splashing Unlicensed Disintegration, just as Mardu Vehicles did last year.
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Daring Buccaneer
- 2 Dreamcaller Siren
- 3 Siren Stormtamer
- 4 Warkite Marauder
- 2 Admiral Beckett Brass
- 4 Captain Lannery Storm
Despite the power of Unlicensed Disintegration, this list only plays three because the burn spells are incredibly effective in this shell. Warkite Marauder turns them into Terminates, even for Hazoret the Fervent and The Scarab God, and Captain Lannery Storm lets you double spell with cheap removal very early in the game, putting you incredibly far ahead, at which point a single Unlicensed Disintegration will be enough to end the game.
Warkite Marauder is certainly weak to Whirler Virtuoso, which could be too much of a problem to overcome, but in the early game it's unlikely that your opponent can make more than one Thopter token, so a single removal spell can get you through until your opponent is in burn range.
The added reach from the cheap burn spells is also important since this is the most aggressive and thus, least powerful of the three lists I'm featuring today. There are multiple one-drops and plenty of creatures with flying so Fell Flagship should be quite effective even if you're not crewing it.
The downside is that with a low curve and three colors the mana is quite tricky, and it'll take some iterations to find the right balance. It's possible that the deck is better off as a straight U/R list so it can eschew Renegade Map, but the black splash here is very good. Scrapheap Scrounger and Unlicensed Disintegration aren't even the entire story since you also gain access to Admiral Beckett Brass.
Admiral Beckett Brass, even without its second ability, would be quite good in this deck, but if you ever Confiscate a permanent from a non-control opponent, the game should end on the spot. Granted, if you're connecting with three creatures with a lord on the battlefield you're well ahead to begin with, but the threat of the ability will force your opponent into some awkward blocks, especially in combination with Warkite Marauder. So I'm willing to believe that the card is overkill and you'd rather have more copies of Dreamcaller Siren to force through damage, but I'm going to start by trying the card with the most potential.
Brewing with Rivals of Ixalan is an awkward proposition because we're currently awaiting the Banned/Restricted List update coming next week. Whether or not a key card or two is banned from the energy shell makes a huge difference in how we have to approach new cards and decks. Right now the ability to compete with Rogue Refiner and friends is the most important metric on which to evaluate new decks, but that could completely change if it or Attune with Aether is on its way out.
That said, Unlicensed Disintegration is one of the cards that has competed and come out even or ahead of Energy. Mardu Vehicles was arguably the best deck in Standard last winter and while it was Gideon, Ally of Zendikar that got most of the press, Unlicensed Disintegration was as important a piece to the deck's success.
So brewing around a card that has already proven itself against the worst case scenario is a great place to start. Whether or not Temur Energy as we know it remains a deck, Unlicensed Disintegration and Scrapheap Scrounger, supplemented by some important new cards, should be able to compete in Standard.
And it's that cross-block supplementation that I like most about these decks. The recent blocks have all been so disjointed as to create a Standard format where the top decks are found by picking a block and building around the themes of its most powerful cards. But limiting yourself to the card pool of a single block is a huge concession in deckbuilding, and I prefer to find places where different blocks can overlap and support each other. Kaladesh may be an objectively more powerful block than Ixalan, but that doesn't mean the former has to dominate the latter.
So when you're building your own post-Rivals decks, look back at the other blocks in Standard and see where you can find common ground. Your results will be a higher individual power level with little or no sacrifice in upside from synergy.