Have Bear, Will Punch

Posted in Limited Information on February 25, 2015

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

Beef: It's what's for beatdown.

Welcome to Temur Week, where we take a closer look at the clan with the biggest creatures and the most combat tricks. Green, blue, and red is a powerful combination of colors, and traditionally my favorite three-color group. (My Commander deck is Temur colors.) Huge green creatures, red burn spells, and blue tempo plays to keep blockers at bay combine to make a potent combination.

In the interest of journalistic integrity, I thought we should get one thing out of the way before diving into what makes Temur tick: Temur is probably the worst of the five clans from Tarkir.

Savage Knuckleblade fans need not worry, though. As it turns out, the clans are all quite balanced and all playable when open enough. So even though Temur is the least powerful overall, it's by no means bad. This block was designed well and every clan has its place. It's just that if given the option to have a high-quality deck in any of the clans, I think many professional players would choose the other clans before choosing Temur.

As my loyal readers will know, once an archetype is open enough, it can be quite good, and this is definitely the case with Temur.


The first thing to note about Temur is the core mechanic for this clan: Ferocious.

At first glance, ferocious looks more like a bonus ability on already good spells rather than something to build a deck around. After playing it and seeing how powerful these cards become with ferocious, though, everything changes. It turns out ferocious is exactly the kind of mechanic you want to build around, as the cards go from pretty good to game-swinging once ferocious is enabled.

The single most important card in this strategy is this one:

Ye Olde Bear Punch started off life as a mid-level removal spell and continually rose in the ranks until it eventually landed as the best green common in Khans of Tarkir. It's considered one of the best commons in the set, period.

It's also the perfect card to illustrate the importance of ferocious in these Temur decks. Without ferocious being enabled, Savage Punch isn't amazing. It's just okay, in fact. But with ferocious active, it's a game-winning play to resolve this card. Not only do you get to outclass and eat an opposing threat, you get to attack for a ton of damage in that same turn.

One cool effect of this card that wasn't immediately apparent is that you can target any of your creatures with it, and they'll still get the +2/+2 bonus even if they aren't the creature with 4 power or greater on your team. This allows you to take on less risk, as you don't have to target your biggest (and often best) creature with the Savage Punch. It also allows you to diversify your threats a bit before a big attack.

A close cousin of Savage Punch is Temur Battle Rage:

They may not look too similar, but once you have that ferocious enabled, Temur Battle Rage performs similarly to Savage Punch.

A common line involving this card is to play an Alpine Grizzly on turn three, and then attack into an opposing morph the following turn. You then use your Temur Battle Rage after your opponent blocks and suddenly he or she is left taking a whopping 6 damage and losing the creature. (Note: this is the same result as if we had played a Savage Punch instead.)

If Savage Punch and Temur Battle Rage are two of the most important ferocious spells for Temur, what is the best way to get them active?

As mentioned before, Alpine Grizzly is the default creature to get your ferocious going.

At only three mana, the Bear does a great job of getting things moving. Similar to the Bear (but a bit worse, perhaps) is Gore Swine.

Gore Swine is a bit fragile at only 1 toughness, but works well with Temur Battle Rage and gets Savage Punch active—even if it's not the all-time best target itself.

For just one more red mana, you get upgraded significantly:

Poor Summit Prowler just looks so boring. A vanilla 4/3 for four mana simply isn't very exciting in a world of powerful three-color morphs. But boy does it do good work in these Temur decks! Often, you'll see builds of the deck heavy in red and green, with a splash of blue: these are the decks where Summit Prowler shines. It's as big or bigger than anything your opponent will be doing on turn four, and it enables the all-important ferocious as well.

Another ferocious enabler doesn't look like it would be as it only has 3 power, but it turns out it does a fine job:

Since the prowess will trigger and resolve whenever you play your ferocious spell, it's as if Bloodfire Expert had 4 power anyway. Think of it like a red Alpine Grizzly when it comes to Savage Punching things, for example.

Also similar to Alpine Grizzly (once on the battlefield, at least) is Whirlwind Adept:

For the duration of Khans of Tarkir draft, Whirlwind Adept straddled the line of playability. You'd see it here and there, but I got the vibe that if a player had anything to play over it, he or she would. But since Fate Reforged came out, its stock has been on the rise. It's incredibly difficult to interact with, as it has hexproof. This clears the way for the aforementioned ferocious spells to do their thing.

And all of this talk of enablers is leaving out the truly dreamy ones like Temur Sabertooth and Pine Walker, which says nothing of all of the rares that do the same thing.

Speaking of Rares

Let's look at some of the better rares for this archetype. I've pulled a few of the headliner rares and mythic rares out of the two sets to look at, but this is not a complete list. There are plenty of sweet, bomby rares in this format. I decided to focus on the ones that are truly best in this archetype.

First up, Crater's Claws:

This is just one of the best rares in the set, and in a dedicated Temur deck it's rare that it's not the best card in your deck. The two "free" mana from ferocious may not seem like a huge deal, but once you fire this spell off in game, it clicks. Assuming you have ferocious enabled, you can fire this off as a one-mana, 2-damage burn spell.

That's right: you can kill an opposing morph for just one red mana. But there are even better targets for Crater's Claws. Namely, your opponent. Nothing changes a game plan quite like drawing Crater's Claws. The game just becomes so much simpler when you know that your opponent's life total is 8 lower than your opponent thinks it is.

Next up is a similar card with a dramatically different effect, Icy Blast:

If you play Crater's Claws without ferocious, you are missing out but you are also still a pretty happy Magic player. The gap between ferocious Icy Blast and not-ferocious Icy Blast is much wider, however. Temur is absolutely the best deck for Icy Blast, as it can set up a relatively quick and high-power board state that can fully capitalize on a card like Icy Blast.

If you time your Icy Blast on your opponent's turn for maximum value, the card can turn a losing proposition into a resounding victory for you. This is quite difficult to replicate and it's part of what makes Icy Blast so great in these decks.

Next up is a card I am personally a huge fan of, the biggest of Knucks:

I love everything about this card. The artwork, the mana symbols, the cool abilities. The power and toughness are also standout points for me. If you haven't had the pleasure of running out Savage Knuckleblade on turn three (or turn four with extra red mana) in a game of Limited, I highly recommend it. He demands an almost-immediate answer all while enabling your ferocious spells.

Another cool card for Temur is See the Unwritten:

See the Unwritten is a swingy card that isn't always amazing, but when it's good, it's very good. I've played it before without ferocious and hit an Alpine Grizzly as my best card. While depressing, this probably marks a realistic worst-case scenario for the card.

As an example, I watched my friend and coverage text writer Marc Calderaro resolve See the Unwritten putting not one, but TWO Sandsteppe Mastodons into play on the same turn. That has to be scraping the upper limits of what the card can do, but averaging these cases out shows you what a powerful play it can be.

Da Real MVP

Among all these solid creatures and powerful ferocious spells lies one of the hidden gems of the format, and a card that has gradually grown from almost never played to format staple:

Barrage of Boulders is the kind of card that wins games that weren't winnable in any other way. It outright steals victories. The key to the card is that you can't just throw it into any old deck and hope things work out: You need to be able to enable ferocious. Combine that with high-powered creatures that often have low toughness (Gore Swine, Alpine Grizzly, etc.), and you have a winner.

Sometimes you even get lucky and face a Mardu token deck where you can use Barrage defensively to kill bunch of creatures. For a card that looks pretty mediocre upon first reading, Barrage of Boulders has had a major impact on the format, and Temur is the place where it does the best.

Like I said before, Temur may be the least powerful of the clans from Tarkir, but that doesn't make it bad. Assuming you know the game plan, and that you aren't fighting anyone else for it at the draft table, Temur can win and win impressively.

Until next week!


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