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March 22, 2017

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Evaluating Energy for Modern

Hello and welcome back to Going Rogue, where winning isn’t the goal but it often happens anyway.

Rather than looking at a specific brew today, I want to turn our attention to an important question regarding deck creation in Modern: Is energy viable as a deck archetype?

The answer today is almost certainly a “no”. The card pool is too small to draw from, and the power level just isn’t that high. But eventually, as the mechanic returns once, twice, or maybe even three times, it’s hard to see how the cards with potential don’t start to add up to something meaningful. Some energy cards are already attractive fringe considerations for Modern play, just on the merits of their regular power level, so the way is already lightly paved.

What I’ve done for today is gone through all the cards from Kaladesh block that either produce or consume energy, culled the obvious flops, and prepared a systematic review of each card with regards to its modern potential.

The Criteria

  1. How high is the card’s ceiling?
    This is the only criteria I’ve used to eliminate cards from even appearing on this list. It doesn’t matter how much energy you have, Riparian Tiger is never going to be better than a 6/6 trampler that costs five, which is just miles outside modern playability. The cards cut based on this criteria are basically those which, even with unlimited energy, just don’t add up.
    But beyond the cutoff criteria, there will still be a range of impacts, even if energy was infinitely available. Is the card game-ending in that perfect scenario, or merely powerful?
  2. How high is the card’s floor?
    For the times that we’re not in Magical Christmas land, how is the card going to perform when energy synergies aren’t online? Harnessed Lightning is pretty awful in a vacuum, it inches closer to consideration if it can reliably deal 10.
  3. How much energy do you need to make it playable?
  4. And finally, the middle ground that is probably the most relevant indicator in all but the most linear builds, how much energy you need to be able to spend on the card to make it good. If only four energy is readily available, Longtusk Cub still looks pretty good.

Based on these criteria and a bit of a qualitative assessment, I’ll assign each card a letter grade for its viability. A high grade can reflect one of two things: a) an extremely low opportunity cost over its non-energy counterpart, or b) an extremely powerful and/or reliable effect.

With that said, we’ve got a lot of cards to go through, so I’m going to skip the banter and get right to it.

Starting off with an easy one. Aether Hub‘s floor is a Tendo Ice Bridge, and its ceiling is a pain-free City of Brass that also makes colourless mana for all your favourite Eldrazi shenanigans. There are several existing decks that could already slot this in with no other energy payoffs, and if there’s ever a Modern energy deck, this is an automatic 4-of in every one of them.

Outlook: A+. Obvious card is obvious.

Aether Meltdown is borderline-respectable defense in a combo or fliers deck as it is. It is cost-efficient and has flash, and is therefore almost capable of replacing common Modern removal spells. That said, the ceiling isn’t very high, since two energy probably doesn’t go very far.

Outlook: C+. Neutralizes a lot of common threats and will nicely serve any future energy deck that needs to buy some time.

As a threat, this Aethergeode Miner bad. At its best, it’s basically a Devilthorn Fox with hexproof, failing to compete in a Wild Nacatl world. Combine it with two Decoction Modules, though, and we get infinite triggers. While that particular combination is unlikely, the combo angle is probably this card’s best shot.

Outlook:D-. Doesn’t lay enough beats, combo potential is probably janky, and it’s in a bad energy colour to boot.

The stats and life-gain here are real, and it’s hard not to have decent expectations for Aethersphere Harvester‘s modern potential. The challenge is in finding its home. Personally, I like it anywhere where 1/1 tokens are abundant, and it may even hedge respectably as a sideboard card in decks like Elves or Tokens.

Outlook: A-. Borderline playable without synergies. Probably less relevant in energy decks, actually, so it hardly fits the article, but oh well.

As time goes by, Modern has become increasingly a format of cheating in huge things, and Aetherworks Marvel is certainly a way to do it. Generating its own six energy is a slow process, but with infinite available, a repeatable Summoning Trap for all card types is extremely hard to beat. Then again, one Summoning Trap is usually extremely hard to beat enough. This is powerful, but sacrifices reliability for overkill compared to similar options.

Outlook: F. Powerful effect in a sea of more powerful analogues.

Speaking of high ceilings, infinite 6/6s ain’t bad. Then again, Witch’s Familiar is. In the real world, eight energy doesn’t just fall out of the sky, but if you reliably have that much kicking around, Architect of the Untamed is rock solid. Making energy off its landfall trigger is slow-going, but freely flowing energy stores quickly turns this into a seriously jacked-up Blade Splicer.

Outlook: C. Unplayable on its own, but almost irreplaceable if energy is bountiful.

While obviously outside of modern playability now due to the quality of colour fixing available, it’s hard to imagine an energy deck without Attune with Aether. It’s almost a free effect, and its not hard to envision an energy deck wanting four or five colours for maximum shenanigans.

Outlook: B. Will never see play outside an energy deck, but is a likely 4-of there if and when it happens.

The lack of Moment’s Peace is probably the biggest thing interfering with Modern having a viable turbofog deck. While Consulate Surveillance costs four and needs to spend two energy per source, this can hypothetically be a Circle of Protection: Everything, if the situation allows.

Outlook: D. There’s a lot of innovation between now and when this card becomes viable, but there’s a potential future where “Surveillance” decks are a thing. A terrible, terrible thing.

The Viscera Seer of the energy world. Almost useless on its own, but potentially the central piece of an oppressive puzzle when paired with the right effects. The bounce ability is likely cost-prohibitive, unfortunately, but the energy trigger could potentially get out of hand fast.

Outlook: D+. I see silly non-competitive combos in this module’s future, but probably little more than that.

I wanted to skip this card and say “just play Massacre Wurm“, but it’s hard to skip a splashy mythic. What I like about Demon of Dark Schemes is that, unlike Massacre Wurm, it can provide tremendous card advantage over several turns. What I don’t like about it is that, unlike Massacre Wurm, it doesn’t just win the game on the spot, and is realistically only recurring the wimpy x/2s it managed to kill.

Outlook: F. Just play Massacre Wurm.

In a game I know is going to go long, I’m perfectly willing to pay three mana to have every 2.5 Serum Visions generate a free lightning bolt. The challenge, though, is that by the time Dynavolt Tower comes down on turn three, I’m probably concerned about controlling threats outside its range. Meanwhile if I’ve managed to stabilize, I think I’d rather it just be a four-mana Planeswalker like Chandra, Torch of Defiance instead.

Outlook: F. Asks too much, delivers too little.

Finally, a not-broken-but-still-attractively-costed “draw three”. Era of Innovation generates energy only medium-well, thanks to the need to pay 1, but the sacrifice payoff is pretty high. Big mana artifact-based combo decks like Eggs might be able to make use of it, or it could also play a role as an almost-Ancestral Recall in an energy-themed control deck. It’s not hopeless.

Outlook: C. Probably needs a true energy deck to make it work, but its ceiling there is high.

Glimmer of Genius may be the world’s sorriest Dig Through Time impersonator, but it’s still a Dig Through Time impersonator. The floor is high enough on this card that I’d be happy playing it in a control build with very marginal energy payoffs. Jam a singleton energy-related finisher, and this is a real strategy. Definitely one of my favourites on this list.

Outlook: B+. Very close to playable already.

This is closer to Dark Confidant than it looks, and in the right environment, it’s actually much better. All it asks of you is to reliably untap into Turn two with one energy, which doesn’t seem so unlikely with Aether Hub and Attune with Aether as other plausible payoff cards. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner isn’t going to make it on its own, but this is well-positioned to someday be one of the most powerful energy cards in the game.

Outlook: B+. Not yet, but soon.

The Time Warp ability certainly grabs the most attention, but what’s actually most viable about Gonti’s Aether Heart is that it produces energy at a decent rate. Unfortunately, it also costs six mana, and has an awkward time fitting in with its otherwise-most-likely home in a bunch of blue cards.
But hey, maybe it and Ugin’s Nexus can be a thing?

Outlook: F. Or maybe not.

A bit of a challenge to play, but a 1-drop that passes the Lightning Bolt test is no joke. Add to that the fact that it’s an affordable way to go the way of bounce and energy refill shenanigans, and suddenly Greenbelt Rampager seems likely to fit into a future energy deck as a flexible engine/early beater. That versatility is incredibly valuable.

Outlook: B-.

A 1R Terminate is only really valuable in a deck without either white or black, and Temur decks generally have enough going on that they aren’t going to want this effect unless it literally kills anything at anytime. Outside of a Stuffy Doll/Boros Reckoner monstrosity, I don’t see Harnessed Lightning ever making the cut.

Outlook: D-.

A 4/4 haste for three seems like a decent curve-topper in some sort of budget mono-red deck, and the value is pretty real if Lathnu Hellion gets to connect twice s its self-provided energy allows for. On the other hand, even with infinite energy, the risk of losing tempo to a cheap removal spell is very high. But when Hellion tribal finally arrives…

Outlook: F.

This is a more responsible take on Architect of the Untamed. While not as bombastic in Christmas land scenario, it’s going to fit in far better in a normal deck. Longtusk Cub is a real contender for a low-to-the-ground tempo deck as a realistic way to outclass every other vanilla creature on the board. Its energy generating ability is pretty tame, though, so it badly needs friends.

Outlook: C. But if it’s ever able to reliably be played on turn two with four energy available, it jumps quickly into high B territory.

The value on this is very real, and it could easily become the glue that holds a Simic-based energy deck together. As it is, similar to my thoughts on Glimmer of Genius, I also wouldn’t be totally embarrassed to play it in a deck with limited energy payoff – although I’d certainly need to be wanting to attack. It’s a not-embarrassing body that fits under a Collected Company and replaces itself – what’s not to love?

Outlook: B-.

I like that both this and Aether Meltdown play great defense against Wild Nacatls for two mana in a blue energy deck. That redundancy could help each card become realistic options. Being a creature leaves it significantly more vulnerable, however, and unless we can reliably untap with its draw ability armed and ready, it’s not going to take us anywhere fast.

Outlook: D-. Almost not-embarrassing defense, but only almost.

There was a lot of hype about Voltaic Brawler slotting into Naya Zoo decks when it was spoiled, but reality quickly set in. It’s efficient and powerful, but trading down tempo to a one-mana removal spell isn’t where an aggressive modern deck wants to be.

Outlook: D-. Call me when they make a Giant Growth that you can cast for energy alone.

While not quite Pia and Kiran Nalaar on its own, for a mana less, it’s not far off. Potentially viable in some sort of Temur Collected Company shell, to help overwhelm the opponent with targets to fire away at, and strong as both a source and sink of our thematic resource. The floor is pretty low, and the ceiling is simply buzzing.

Outlook: B. Testable as it stands, feeds artifact synergies, and can win in infinite fashion. What’s not to love?

In summary, energy is certainly not there yet, but there are enough high-potential pieces in place that I want to keep my eye on for when the mechanic inevitably returns.

Top three energy cards for Modern today:
Aether Hub, Aethersphere Harvester, Glimmer of Genius

Top three energy cards to keep your eye on:
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Attune with Aether, Whirler Virtuoso

Top three energy “Hail Mary” cards:
Architect of the Untamed, Consulate Surveillance, Decoction Module

What do you think about energy in the format? Got a big idea that I missed? Leave it in the comments, and we can bump this article a few years down the road and see what actually happened.