Before Core Set 2021 was released, I felt comfortable saying Temur Reclamation was the best deck in Ikoria Standard. Core Set 2021 brought some new contenders to the title, but, after the first batch of tournaments, it seems that rumors of Temur Reclamation’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. This is the list that won the second SCG Tour Online Championship Qualifier:
Erin Diaz took the tournament by storm, beating all three of their opponents 2-0 in the Top 8 with an innovative list that runs several cards that aren’t commonly seen in Temur Reclamation (Sublime Epiphany and Nissa, Who Shakes the World to name a few). On top of that, there were three other players who finished in the Top 16 with more standard versions of the deck.
The deck’s success in the tournament isn’t proof that Temur Reclamation is still the best deck, but it’s certainly an indication that it could still be, and the differences in Erin’s deck show us that we might be far from arriving at the perfect list. Today, I will talk about what I believe is the direction that Temur Reclamation should follow in the Core Set 2021 Standard metagame.
I should start by saying that, despite Erin Diaz’s success with the list, I’m not a huge fan of it because I believe these changes improve upon the matchups you’re already good in while doing nothing to help the games you lose. The way I see it, there are three common types of games I lose with Temur Reclamation:
- I lose the mirror when they manage to resolve Wilderness Reclamation before me.
- I lose to planeswalker locks such as Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils.
- I lose to aggressive decks that come out of the games too quickly.
These aren’t the only ways you lose, obviously, but they are the most frequent ones, so they are the ones you should try to fix. The inclusion of Nissa, Who Shakes the World seems good against the second issue, but does nothing to help against the others (in fact, the card is actually a liability in these situations). Cards like Sublime Epiphany are powerful in midrange matchups (such as Yorion Orzhov Blink) but do not seem strong against either aggressive decks or decks playing Mystical Dispute. Given that I cannot remember the last time I lost with Temur Reclamation to a deck that wasn’t either aggressive or playing Mystical Dispute, I cannot imagine the card belongs in the deck, especially since you have almost nothing to copy.
Erin Diaz’s deck is going to be stronger than normal lists versus Bant decks and Yorion Orzhov Blink decks because Nissa is very powerful there, but it’s going to be weaker against decks on either side of the spectrum. Those are the ones I’m looking to beat right now because I believe I already beat everything that is in the middle — in fact, I’m playing Temur Reclamation specifically because it’s so good versus midrange and ramp decks. Given that Erin Diaz got paired versus three Bant Control decks in the Top 8, the choice seems to have paid off, but I would not recommend it in the future.
So, if I don’t like Diaz’s anti-Bant approach, how would I build Temur Reclamation right now? I would do the opposite and slant it towards beating aggressive decks.
In the previous format, the natural predator of Temur Reclamation was, in my mind, Bant Control. This didn’t mean it crushed Temur Reclamation, but that it was generally slightly favorable if you build Bant with Temur Reclamation in mind, and why wouldn’t you? Other than Bant, the biggest predator was the mirror itself. The aggressive decks were few and far between and as a whole, not very threatening. Of those, Mono-Green Aggro was the best versus the deck, but that also made it easier to sideboard against, since it was the only aggro deck that could actually give you trouble.
Now, the situation has changed. There are more aggro decks and they are as a whole better against Temur Reclamation; we no longer have just Mono-Green Aggro, but also Mono-Black Aggro, Gruul Aggro, Pawblade, Selesnya Counters decks, Rakdos decks, etc. — you can no longer just play a bunch of Aether Gusts and call it a day. On top of that, the card that was once your best trump versus aggro decks, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, is not as reliable anymore. The black-based aggro decks actually get to run maindeck removal that deals with Uro without feeling bad about it (and Demonic Embrace to go over it), and the green-based aggro decks get Scavenging Ooze. It used to be that I would sideboard into a configuration of all removal spells and four Uros and feel invincible, but this is no longer the case.
The counterpart to this is that every deck has to react to these aggro decks, not just Temur Reclamation. Bant simply can’t play a lot of Dovin’s Vetos; Narset, Parter of Veils; Mystical Disputes; and Aether Gusts or it will be demolished by the aggressive decks in the format. This means that, while your matchup versus aggro decks got worse, your matchup versus everyone else got better, to a point where I believe that your Plan A of casting Wilderness Reclamation and Expansion // Explosion is enough and you don’t need to deal with Nissa, Who Shakes the World.
Once we’ve identified that we want our deck to be slanted against aggressive decks, there remains the question of how to best do that. Here are the cards that I think you can reasonably play in the maindeck to beat aggro:
Of those, I feel there are some that don’t really mix together. For example, I wouldn’t want to play Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse alongside Flame Sweep, and I wouldn’t want to play Nightpack Ambusher alongside Storm’s Wrath. To decide what the best plan versus aggro is, you need to take into account what your deck is going to look like after sideboarding.
Let’s analyse the options one by one:
The most powerful card in aggressive matchups is Storm’s Wrath. It has the biggest swing potential and casting it will correlate more to winning against decks like Mono-Black Aggro and Mono-Green Aggro than any other card on the list. The fact that it kills Questing Beast; Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig; smaller Stonecoil Serpents; and Spawn of Mayhem when none of the other removal spells do is a big plus. It’s also much better than something like Flame Sweep against Bant Control.
The counterpart is that it’s actually not that easy to cast. Double red and sorcery speed mean you need two red sources, and sometimes you simply don’t have that, especially because your early-game is blue- and green-intensive so your Fabled Passages can be taxed. For example, if your opening hand has Island, Fabled Passage, Growth Spiral, and Storm’s Wrath, you usually cannot afford to search for a Mountain. When I played Storm’s Wrath in the maindeck, I often ran into situations where I died with it in my hand without access to double red (sometimes even with Fabled Passage, since there is only one Mountain in the deck).
I believe that if you play Storm’s Wrath, you might need a second Mountain to fetch. This is extremely awkward with Growth Spiral and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. This means you cannot play a second Blast Zone, which will make your matchup a bit worse versus Teferi decks (even if Storm’s Wrath isn’t awful versus them).
The second problem with Storm’s Wrath is that it plays the worst with the other sideboard options. In Game 1, you need a card to beat aggro singlehandedly and Storm’s Wrath is the best for that. In Games 2 and 3, however, you don’t need a Hail Mary — you need a card that complements the rest of your plan. If you bring in six other removal spells, you’re going to end up using Storm’s Wrath to kill one creature, and it’s really inefficient for that. If you bring in Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse and Nightpack Ambusher, it plays really badly with those as well. If your plan is Storm’s Wrath, you need something like Elder Gargaroth that survives it. Elder Gargaroth is completely fine, but does not overlap with other matchups like Nightpack Ambusher or Jolrael would.
Scorching Dragonfire is hit-or-miss. It’s the single best card versus Anax, Hardened in the Forge, for example, and sometimes it exiles a Cauldron Familiar or a Woe Strider, but sometimes it just doesn’t kill what you want to kill. It’s very bad in the mirror, but at least it can be used to exile an Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath (or you can use two of them to kill it the second time around), so it’s better than Storm’s Wrath. It’s better versus Bant if all they have is Teferi, but if they also have Narset and Nissa, then I like Storm’s Wrath more.
Scorching Dragonfire is a low-impact sideboard card, but it complements the creatures more. It’s a cheap card that goes in the graveyard for Uro and it plays very well with keeping mana up for Nightpack Ambusher.
Flame Sweep is the best card you can have versus small aggro (Mono-Red Cavalcade or Pawblade), but it’s also the worst card you can have versus noncreature matchups. Even against the same deck, it’s often hit-or-miss. It’s incredible versus some Mono-Black Aggro hands, for example, but sometimes they have two copies of Knight of the Ebon Legion that are 2/3s and it doesn’t do anything. It is worth noting that you can copy it with Expansion to kill bigger creatures and that this comes up quite often.
The reason I like Flame Sweep is that it plays very well with the sideboard options I like. It’s excellent with Nightpack Ambusher and also good with Bonecrusher Giant. It’s not good with Jolrael, but the fact that a lot of the Bant decks have Jolrael themselves makes it better against Bant than it would normally be.
Bonecrusher Giant is a bit of a cross between Scorching Dragonfire and Storm’s Wrath in the sense that you can use it early on and you can also use it to stop a Questing Beast or a Stonecoil Serpent. It’s quite good versus decks with smaller creatures, but the fact that it can’t kill Mayhem Devil, Anax, or a Scavenging Ooze that has been pumped once is often problematic.
Outside of its ability to trade with bigger creatures, the biggest strength of Bonecrusher Giant is that it’s actually a playable card versus Bant Control. When you play versus Bant, you usually want some ways to kill an early Jolrael or Scavenging Ooze, but none of the answers you can play are good cards unless they’re specifically being used to kill these two creatures. Having access to Bonecrusher Giant means you can still have answers to these cards after sideboarding while not being embarrassed if they don’t draw them, which is a huge plus.
Bonecrusher Giant plays well with Nightpack Ambusher and Jolrael because it’s one more creature to beat down with, but sometimes the fact that it doesn’t immediately go to the graveyard is a liability for Uro.
Another issue with Bonecrusher Giant is that having it makes you more vulnerable to Claim the Firstborn, which indirectly makes your Uros worse. If I’m playing versus a deck with only three Uros as targets (plus Shark Typhoon), I’m not going to feel good about leaving in all my Claim the Firstborns (I’d probably leave in two at most). If they also had Bonecrusher Giant (and Jolrael), I’d feel better about leaving in all of them. However, it’s nice to have a creature that dodges Noxious Grasp.
Honestly, I feel like Aether Gust’s time to shine has passed. It used to be that aggro decks were either base-green or base-red, so you kind of had targets against everyone, but nowadays most of the aggressive decks are base-black, so it can be a big liability. Some of them have some number of red cards, but some have zero.
Even then, Aether Gust still might have a place as the only removal spell that actually has a good use in the mirror. If one player has three Scorching Dragonfires and the other three Aether Gusts, the game will be kinda lopsided (though certainly not unwinnable for the Scorching Dragonfire player). Personally I like one or two, especially as Uro insurance, but would certainly play no more than that, and can see playing zero copies.
I’m a big fan of Nightpack Ambusher, since it’s good against both aggro and control/mirrors. The main issue I have with it is that it’s only really good versus mirrors in sideboarded games, when both players bring in a lot of counterspells and try to play at instant speed. It’s not bad versus mirrors or Bant in Game 1, but the game is usually all about Wilderness Reclamation, so it’s quite easy to just go over the top of a Nightpack Ambusher. Furthermore, in Game 1, you lack answers to other creatures and they can just block the Ambusher — Shark Typhoon in particular can be an issue if you don’t have access to Brazen Borrower and that’s a hard card to maindeck nowadays.
Overall, I’ve been playing two copies, but I treat them more like cards that are good against aggro than anything else. Still, it’s much better to have a Nightpack Ambusher than a Scorching Dragonfire (or any other removal that you can play, really) in the mirror or against Bant, and it will steal you some games in these matchups.
Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse
I tried Jolrael and I didn’t like it, but perhaps that was a product of the decks I played against, because I did like it in Bant Control and the decks are not so different. The absolutely worst scenario is when it dies to Bonecrusher Giant, which makes you want to quit the game immediately, but I also ran into trouble when I drew it later in the game and just couldn’t use it enough to justify it. It doesn’t really play well with any of the sideboard options, not even the single-target removal spells, because they are competing for the same spot in the curve. For example, imagine a hand of Jolrael, Uro, and Scorching Dragonfire. If you want to use Jolrael, you need to cast Jolrael on Turn 2 and Uro on Turn 3, and you can only cast Dragonfire on Turn 4. Is this really a better curve than casting Dragonfire on Turn 2, Uro on Turn 3, and Nightpack Ambusher on Turn 4?
Overall, I need to try Jolrael a little more, especially in the maindeck, but from what I’ve played with it I haven’t liked it.
When all is said and done, I think there are two possible options that outclass the others. One of them is Flame Sweep + Nightpack Ambusher + a mix of spot removal. How you fit these cards between maindeck and sideboard is honestly not as important as what you have access to in the end. This is what I’ve been playing:
This has three removal spells (plus one Aether Gust) and two Flame Sweeps in the maindeck, so it’s got a little more removal than I’m used to playing, and also two Nightpack Ambushers as a reflection of the rise in aggro decks. After sideboarding, you can morph into a Temur Control deck (and that was the one part of Erin Diaz’s plan that I actually really like — as far as I know, Diaz took out all Reclamations against aggro).
Elder Gargaroth isn’t as good as Baneslayer Angel but it’s the best you can do here, and I’ve liked it more in Temur than in Bant. Having a mix of Nightpack Ambusher; Elder Gargaroth; Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath; and Bonecrusher Giant means you’re not very easy to sideboard against either, as there’s no card that will kill all of these other than Heartless Act, which has just fallen out of favor due to Eliminate and Grasp of Darkness. The best removal spell versus you is Noxious Grasp, which hits both of the big threats as well as Scavenging Ooze of any size, but even that misses the Giant and not everyone plays them.
This is the list I’ve been playing, and what I would play if I had a tournament right this moment. The other list I want to try, however, is one that’s Storm’s Wrath focused. This list cannot play Nightpack Ambusher in the maindeck, and, while it can play it in the sideboard, it’ll not be a very important part of the plan versus aggro (unlike in the Flame Sweep list), so I think you can do without it and play Commence the Endgame instead. This list has four Uros, since they work well with Storm’s Wrath, and three Elder Gargaroths after sideboarding, which become your main plan against aggressive decks.
I expect this list to be worse in mirror matches and versus the super-fast aggressive decks, but better versus the decks that have slightly bigger creatures.
Overall, I think Temur Reclamation is still a Tier 1 deck. It might not be the dominating force that it once was, but it could still easily be the best deck in the format. Now, all that’s left is finding the perfect version. I don’t know which version that is yet, but I believe the general approach should be making your deck better against aggressive decks rather than making it better versus Bant Control.