Tempered Steel Primer

Over the past few months, we’ve seen a slew of decks win events. Valakut, Caw, Red, Birthing Pod, and now Solar Flare. Tempered Steel is not on that list, but why is Ari so high on the deck?

Over the past few months, we’ve seen a slew of decks win events. Valakut, Caw, Red, Birthing Pod, and now Solar Flare. Only one event to my knowledge was won by Tempered Steel, and that was months ago.

So, why am I so high on the deck?

The deck smashes people. There isn’t much to it. You have raw power and options to back it up. Unlike the usual Savannah Lion beats, you have resilient threats and ways to grind out long-term advantages. In my opinion, most of the downswing in the archetype’s success has been due to good players abandoning it when things got rough and never looking back. Sure, my win rate with the deck has declined since those first few weeks, but 90% is a tough mark to match. If anything, the format has gotten much softer with the rotation while Tempered Steel lost very little.

So let’s start from the top.

This is the core of the deck. Since I picked it up, these cards have not changed and likely will not in the future.

4 Memnite
4 Vault Skirge
4 Signal Pest
4 Glint Hawk Idol
4 Tempered Steel
4 Dispatch
2 Mox Opal
4 Inkmoth Nexus

4 Tempered Steel:

This card is a massive upgrade compared to other single-card enablers like Puresteel Paladin. Being an enchantment makes it extremely difficult to answer this card. Last year Into the Roil was the card that helped control decks try to bridge the gap, but without it they are left with sorcery-speed answers like Oblivion Ring that let the Tempered Steel player connect for some huge amount that turn and be assured a hit the next turn.

4 Memnite, 4 Vault Skirge, 4 Signal Pest:

This is the core of early drops that makes your Tempered Steels actually good. Even if the card isn’t in play, they can grind. Notably, multiple Signal Pests can represent as good of a clock as the enchantment, and Vault Skirge can race some red spells.

That said, Memnite is a complete blank most of the time when it isn’t a 3/3 or making Mox Opal go wild. Signal Pest is also really bad in most aggressive mirrors, as they tend to have fliers to eat it on an attack or removal for your other guys to blank it. I board some of these out fairly often.

4 Glint Hawk Idol, 4 Inkmoth Nexus:

These cards are why you aren’t some generic terrible White Weenie deck that folds to Day of Judgment. While a control deck does need the Day to beat most of your draws, they still need more in order to stop these. Last year, Celestial Colonnade and Squadron Hawks did a fair amount of the job, but without those, things change a ton. Not only do they not have as many good follow-up plays to stop these cards, but without Hawks to stall the early game, they are going to have much less life and time to work with to answer the non-creature threats.

4 Dispatch:

Kills everything dead. Some copies come out against Red as establishing Metalcraft is more difficult.

2 Mox Opal:

This card is obviously very good, but two is the base number. Drawing multiples is fairly miserable, and it rarely gets active on two without Ornithopter.

From there, you have some gaps to fill. Potential options are:

A Splash:

We tried this last season, mostly with blue for Preordain and Unified Will. The end result was that it was miserable to ever draw a Glacial Fortress without a Plains. You can’t afford the tapped lands. All of the gains (primarily Galvanic Blast or Mana Leak) are overridden by making your main plan significantly worse. The one splash that was realistic on the mana was Gitaxian Probe, but that card really didn’t do anything. The information was nice, but there are actually 60 cards you want to play, and the lost information on your hand is still relevant (seeing a Probe in a seven means you are deciding based on six cards and a random draw, making your keeps on the play with a Probe being similar decisions to a six on the draw).

The one thing I have yet to try is splashing for Moorland Haunt. You would only have blue from Opal and Seachrome Coasts for two Haunts, but if going late and grinding becomes a concern it could be within reason.


Porcelain Legionnaire, Spellskite, Spined Thopter, Phyrexian Revoker, and Shrine of Loyal Legions are the real options here (sorry Hovermyr enthusiasts). You are looking for around 5-7 cards for this slot.

Porcelain Legionnaire was the card we tried first and seems like the obvious choice because of the three power, but it turned out to be much worse than it looks. Taking a look at the shell of the deck, the only non-flying creature you have is Memnite. Legionnaire just ended up turning on their ground blockers and getting in less damage than a Spined Thopter.

Phyrexian Revoker suffered from a similar set of problems as Legionnaire, especially once you consider Snapcaster actually trades with it instead of chumping. Turning off things like Liliana and Birthing Pod is cute, but the card just doesn’t fight well.

Spellskite was amazing last year, but the two major reasons for that have left the format. Splinter Twin no longer exists, and you no longer have to protect your Tempered Steel from an Into the Roil. The card still is very good against Red and helps protect your key cards in the mirror post-board, but there isn’t space for an 0/4 in the main as of now. If things move towards Gut Shots and Geistflames, Spellskite could come back around.

Spined Thopter is very average. It isn’t anything special, but I can’t complain about a two-power flier. I’ve boarded it out when it threatens to trade with a 1/1 flier at a loss of mana, and I would consider cutting it in the future.

Shrine of Loyal Legions varies in power from insane to miserable between matchups. Against control and midrange, you can sit on the card until it is lethal and wreck them. In more time dependent matchups, it often is too clunky. Last year, Caw was so big you wanted to “max” out on the card at three, but this year things appear to be less skewed. Solar Flare is still a big enough player that it deserves two.

Hero of Bladehold:

Let’s talk about Ancient Grudge. On paper, Ancient Grudge should be a disaster for Tempered Steel. Creeping Corrosion was already miserable, and Grudge can kill Inkmoth Nexus that was one of your answers to a Corrosion. Tempered Steel is great, but it relies on all of your artifact guys not dying. The same thing applies to the suite of Viridian Shamans from Birthing Pod, which can also take out a Tempered Steel with the five-drop Acidic Slime.

So, why do green decks struggle against Tempered Steel in Block and continue to do so today?

Because Tempered Steel gets to play a Titan.

Hero of Bladehold singlehandedly ends games. When things go wrong with the rest of your deck, Hero steps in. She also makes Mox Opal considerably better by making the jump to four mana on turn three relevant. This card alone flips the Pod matchup around. Going forward, the default should be an automatic four-of in the deck.

The last cool part about Hero? The spot removal that is generally good against Hero, namely Doom Blade and Dismember, isn’t so hot against your other 56 cards and is already stressed by Nexus and Idol. Add to that the fact that the decks that are particularly loaded on actual removal are fairly cold to Shrine, and you have a great spread of offensive options that require a perfect suite of answers to combat.

There are costs to playing the card. First of all, you need twenty-four mana to reliably cast it. I went up to twenty-five post-board at times last year, but that was specifically against Valakut, as you needed to hit it on turn three or four and couldn’t afford to miss. The third Mox Opal is an easy fit here, as it is fairly easy to get metalcrafted for a turn three Hero.

Hero also ups the number of dead hands you can get. Sometimes you draw hands full of Dispatches and die, but that’s something I’m willing to accept for the games where you just jam a Hero and auto-win.

Additional Removal:

Oblivion Ring is a little clunky, but not out of reason. If Elesh Norn goes up in stock, it might come back as a way to answer it, same with Gideon Jura, though both of those come alongside their own Oblivion Rings that would answer yours so be careful.

Leonin Relic-Warder is okay in the mirror, but I would rather have Oblivion Ring, as it doesn’t die to Dispatch. Outside of the mirror, Ring is also better.

Past all of those, you have Dismember. Dismember is the mana-efficient option, and I chose it for Indianapolis, as I wanted the most linear build possible. It looks like things are moving more towards the Titan and Red side of things, so I may consider moving towards cards that are better against both of those options.

Glint Hawk:

Not an artifact for Tempered Steel, often clunky to cast, and for all that effort you just get a 2/2 flier. Really doesn’t add anything to the deck. In the world where you want to be playing a 2/2 non-artifact flier, you should not be playing Tempered Steel.

Mikaeus, the Lunarch:

I’ll let you in on a secret: Steel Overseer was very mediocre. If you got to activate him enough for it to be good, you should have won anyway. Far too often he was just clunky and slow. The best thing he did was level up a Nexus so that if you got swept you still had a real offense left. He just won the fight for space last year because the pump helped you push through Squadron Hawks with otherwise x/1s, and Hero was too slow to maindeck against Twin, Pod, and Valakut (though you wanted the sweeper resilient body post-board in the last one).

Mikaeus is just a worse Steel Overseer.

Now, that said, there is one place where the effect is key: the mirror. There and against other white and green aggro decks, things often bog down to board stalls where repeatedly sizing up your team is game breaking.

Things appear to be moving away from these matchups, so Mikaeus is likely not worth the space any more, but I would consider him as a board card and move him back to the main if things shift again.

A List:

If I were playing in a major event tomorrow, this is the list I would play.

Sideboard Notes:

Hex Parasite is in case some joker shows up with Illusions. He actually just kills all of them. The card is also relevant against Tezzeret. Realistically I might just play a Revoker instead, but I figured the knowledge should be out there.

Dismember is just another kill spell against something like Humans. Could be anything, just wanted a bit more removal.

Gideon is a beast. You can’t play more than one due to the cost, but it just ends aggro mirrors, which can often grind out longer.

Yes, there are a million cards against aggro matchups in the board. You just don’t board for control out of beatdown decks most of the time. Too often you see people trying to board situational answers for these matchups and then losing because they draw a bunch of bricks. Sure, you can upgrade a couple threats here and there and swap creature removal for discard or counters, but things like Purify the Grave are not what you want against Solar Flare.


If you don’t want to read a long list of minor details, here’s the summary.

Tempered Steel is really good. Hero of Bladehold is also really good. If you get those cards in play, you win. If you don’t, you have to grind.

For those who want to pick up on some of the finer details, read on.

Solar Flare and other control:

1: Make sure Tempered Steel sticks. You don’t just have to slam it into Mana Leak mana; your cards don’t have provoke. If it is in play, grinding them out goes from a chore to simple. Baiting the Leak with an Idol or similar to get the Steel down is often correct. The clock the Titans represent is made much less relevant by Dispatch and Oblivion Ring.

2: In general, err towards riding out Shrines for long-term value. If you have an empty board, it likely is worth getting some pressure down, but other than that, save them for threatening lethal.

3: They will have to tap out for a threat. This means if you have them dead to a Nexus but are still making progress, consider what happens if you just hold it back and prevent them from ever tapping out.

4: In case these all didn’t make it obvious, having a good read on their hand can be critical. Sometimes you can’t afford to play around everything and have to make a decision or two. When this does happen, you want to make the best one possible.

Sideboarding: Against Flare, maybe +1 Oblivion Ring, -1 Hero of Bladehold. And that’s a very tentative maybe. Hero is worse here than in other matchups, but still represents a must-answer threat.

Against U/B and U/W, things might shape up similarly. You may want to shave removal for random sideboard threats, as literally any attacker is better than a blank if they don’t have targets.

Your cards that are good against control are the ones that are just good in general. They might have a bit more than game one. Just bash them anyway.

Mono Red:

This matchup is like Limited.

On one side, you have Mono-Red. They have the quality common removal, some good guys, all in all a solid deck.

On the other side, you have Tempered Steel. They have less and worse removal, their guys are a bit clunkier, and overall they should be behind.

Except they have the bomb rares.

Mono-Red does NOT beat the card Tempered Steel. They are stretching for answers to Hero of Bladehold.

You can win without these cards, but more often than not you ride one of them to victory. If things aren’t that easy, here is how it works.

In terms of what to kill, Hero of Oxid Ridge exists, and if you can’t beat it, plan to kill it. Otherwise, just aim to preserve your life total and board.

Apply pressure, but you don’t assume that you will win a flat out race. Be prepared to block.

Remember the key life totals to stay above are multiples of three.

-4 Signal Pest, -1 Memnite, -2 Dispatch, -1 Mox Opal, -1 Shrine of Loyal Legions,
+3 Timely Reinforcements, +2 Celestial Purge, +1 Gideon Jura, +1 Oblivion Ring, +2 Spellskite

This should be enough cards for the Red matchup. I don’t think game one is bad, but I don’t want to remain on the same plan if they are boarding in a ton of Arc Trails and Manic Vandals. Same thing applies as game one; only their board upgrades their solid removal to two-for-ones while you upgrade your mediocre cards to good one- or two-for-ones, which generally is more important.

Birthing Pod:

First of all, understand what their key numbers are for Pod and use your removal to keep them off of them. In general, it is just the big ones, but four is almost all blanks and definitely worse than three, five, or six.

Beyond that, it’s all about aggression and Hero. Jam them and/or get down a Hero and keep them from killing it in combat (their only outs are Morkrut Banshee at five or Fiend Hunter at three). Without Cunning Sparkmage, the matchup is significantly easier, as you have real time to set up.

If you have to go long, your best threat will likely be Nexus. Not only can they not Tree away Poison, but they will be short on answers if you can fend off Slimes.

Sideboarding: -3 Shrine of Loyal Legions, +1 Dismember, +2 Spellskite.

See above. They will have more removal, but odds are Hero won’t be their main focus. Just get that guy down, and everything works out. If you are seriously concerned about this matchup, you can try some Indomitable Archangels in the board, but I thought it was fairly easy now.

The Mirror

Land Steel, or race them with removal and Pest. Those are your two basic options. Odds are whoever has the pump advantage will win. Maindeck Oblivion Ring should be a solid edge here.

In scenarios where Steel isn’t in play, Hero is a much larger factor. Even if you can’t kill it, you can block it down and should probably do so. On the flip side, consider if attacking actually is a profitable trade if they block or if you should hold until you can get more value by killing a blocker or something.

Other than that, there isn’t too much. Save removal for a Hero if it will beat you unless the alternative is immediate death. Don’t make poor trades in combat. Run out Mox Opals so that you can preemptively turn off theirs.

-2 Spined Thopter, -4 Signal Pest, -2 Shrine of Loyal Legions
+1 Oblivion Ring, +2 Mikaeus, the Lunarch, +1 Gideon Jura, +2 Spellskite, +2 Revoke Existence

I’m not sold on taking out the second Shrine and bringing in the third Spellskite. Shrine can be clunky at times, but going late it gives you another way to break through. I also might bring in the Dismember to fight Hero.

In general, the cards coming out are the guys that trade poorly with a Vault Skirge or Inkmoth Nexus. The cards coming in are trumps or removal.

Same thing as game one, only now you have more chances to set up a Spellskite first to redirect removal from your pumps and more answers to a resolved Steel. If possible, try and save an answer for Steel at all points rather than blowing it on a creature.

There are definitely more things you will play against, but these are going to be the big four moving forward. Part of what makes Tempered Steel so good is even against random things, your default game plan doesn’t move. Just resolve a Tempered Steel or a Hero and go to town. That’s not to say you don’t have to make decisions about how to play your other cards and when to activate various things that are somehow inexplicably easy to mess up. It’s just the general game plan doesn’t really change.

All in all, Tempered Steel is still a strong choice despite the lack of results this past weekend. The deck has a ton of raw power and plenty of options to play around the answers that exist for it. Don’t let the “budget” reputation of the deck fool you, it packs a punch.

Legacy Combo Update: TES

So, I finally caved and tried out TES in an event.

First, my constant complaint about Wasteland and Daze is more of a problem than I thought. There is never really excess mana in the deck. Without Cabal Ritual, you can’t just power through quite as hard and are often counting to exactly six or seven for whatever option you have available. The lack of Preordain also cramps your mana as it makes it more difficult to amass a hand of Rituals.

Second, if anything, this deck should be called ANT. I won around 70% of my games that ended with a Tendrils with that card, as opposed to around 30% with the U/B builds. While it takes less life to be safe, I’m not sure how comfortable I would feel on the draw against Burn Zoo with this deck.

Third, I hate Burning Wish. Diminishing Returns is the stone worst, often putting you at worse than a coin flip to win. The only real upgrade without a sideboard Infernal Tutor is access to Empty the Warrens, whereas other options can get Rituals or Ad Nauseam. As much as I hate Grim Tutor at times, I will never doubt it again (at least until something new rolls along).

Fourth, the non-fetch mana base turns Brainstorm into a miserable card. There’s a reason that Brainstorm wasn’t this good before Onslaught. With only four fetches, you can’t rely on being able to shuffle cards away. I felt this was a very crippling aspect of the deck, and it was very easy to just get stuck while trying to find something to win.

Fifth, the extra early kills is mostly just variance unless you count Empty the Warrens. You basically need LED plus Infernal to actually win on one or two, which could happen anyway in U/B.

Sixth, Empty the Warrens feels miserable to resort to but gets the job done more often than expected. It is definitely a powerful option against a lot of decks to just be able to move in a bit earlier in order to race a Hymn or Counterbalance.

Finally, Orim’s Chant versus Thoughtseize is definitely up for debate. In a world of Spell Snares, Stifles, and other conditional counters, I would rather have Chants. In a world of Dazes and Spell Pierces, the ability to preemptively Duress is key. The white mana for Chant is a downside to be weighed, but in the future it might be right to adjust for certain metagames.

While I would never play TES again, I wouldn’t mind transplanting some of the cards to a list closer to my current one. I would consider a list with two Ad Nauseam and Chrome Moxes to be reasonable at times, as well as a list splashing Chant. Empty the Warrens is also a sideboard plan I will keep in mind, especially as it forces them to reconsider sweepers going to game three. There were definitely lessons to learn from branching out, and I plan to apply them in the future.

I’ll be back soon with more results from Storm variants, so stay tuned for more, likely with 100% more Past in Flames!