Temur Aetherworks – Lance Austin’s Mutation

Posted in Event Coverage on December 4, 2016

By Marc Calderaro

Coming into Grand Prix Denver, you could hear a persistent rabble of the crowd: “There are only two good decks,” they say. “Black-Green Delirium and White-Blue Flash are the only things worth it”; “Red-Green Aetherworks is fun, but it’s not good.” This seemed to be the general consensus—even after the re-tooled Red-Green Aetherworks deck began storming Magic Online last week.

But they were wrong. And a funny thing happened when players went about proving it. This story reveals not only the emergence of a new mainstay deck—Temur Aetherworks—but also the strange nature of how decks end up in the hands of their pilots.

At the beginning of Day 1, various players started revealing what they thought was their “secret tech”—adding Blue to the Red-Green Aetherworks deck. The addition of Whirler Virtuoso seemed to shore up all the deck’s bad match-ups, and gave it an extra dimension. Pro after pro delivered this message in hushed tones—like their team were the only ones who knew.

The Red-Green version of the deck already dismantled Black-Green Delirium, but had problems with White-Blue Flash and any semblance of a control deck. Though the deck is streamlined—it accelerates into Aetherworks Marvel to drop bombs like Emrakul, the Promised End and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, while controlling the field with Kozilek’s Return and Harnessed Lightning—just a few pinpoint spells from the other side and it folds like laundry. The additional power from Blue gave it all the game. This is the info pros knew, that they thought others, including other pros, wouldn’t have discovered.

But as the first day wore on, it seemed that more people were playing this third option than anyone first thought. It was a terribly kept secret. Second-ranked Owen Turtenwald and the players at Pantheon had it; eleventh-ranked Mike Sigrist and Face-to-Face players had it; “Future Pro” Ray Perez, Jr. had it. In fact, at least one player had even gone so deep as to add Confiscation Coup to steal opposing Aetherworks Marvel!

In the Round 8 feature match area there were three different matches with the deck, and not by design—that’s just what the pros were playing at the top tables!

Many parallel evolutions were seeming to spontaneously generate throughout the community. How was it that this deck had made the rounds so completely, and no one seemed to know? And what does it actually do to make Aetherworks Marvel a real player again?

The Deck

The short answer to the second question is “Whirler Virtuoso.” It basically does everything—as Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad winner, ninth-ranked Steve Rubin put it. “But you have to actually test it to find that out,” he said.

Its main function: “It adds to the board while giving you energy ... I know, that sounds silly.” Rubin laughed. “But you rarely make Thopters with it. I mean, sometimes, for chump blockers, but it gets on the board, and it gives you energy. You need both in the early game.”

Perez disagreed a bit when he talked about testing the deck. He didn’t 5-0 with the deck in Magic Online leagues until he figured out to start using Virtuoso more aggressively. “I would have 9 or 12 energy or something, and I don’t dump it into the Virtuoso, and then four turns later I realize I would’ve just won.”

It was these humble creatures that took the it over the edge. Somehow, by taking out Kozilek’s Return, the aggro match got better. Sideboarding into more creatures made the White-Blue Flash match better. However Sigrist had no illusions about how good the Flash match-up could get. “I wouldn’t say it’s a good match-up ... If you draw at least as many Harnessed Lightning as they draw Spell Queller, it’s good.” He gave me the Siggy serious eye, then laughed.

The last part of the case for Blue is the counterspells. That was what sold Perez before he trusted the innocuous Virtuoso. Now, you can go toe-to-toe better against decks where disruption is paramount—especially other Aetherworks decks.

Right now the counterspell choices are varied: Ceremonious Rejection, Spell Shrivel, Void Shatter, Negate, etc. But the counterspells themselves add the extra dimension of control, that parallels Virtuoso’s threat addition.

So the deck works because it attacks all the angles you need—threat density, enabling energy to make your Marvels more productive, and better access to disruption. Makes sense.

But how it got in hands of these players like Hall of Famers Ben Rubin and Paul Rietzl, to Pro Tour Eldtritch Moon Top 8er Sam Pardee, and Pro Tour champions Alex Hayne and sixth-ranked Steve Rubin? That’s a different story entirely.

The Proliferation

To the first question: How was it that this deck had made the rounds so completely?

There are two answers. But only one of them is in attendance this weekend—Lance Austin.

Austin is a Magic player with a long history in the game, but his 22 years with the Air Force (so far) has made it difficult to keep a community of players, as he’s bounced around the country from base to base, deployment to deployment. But lately, he’s returned and is stronger than ever. He just went X-2 at Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth to finish 10th, and he’s already passed that and looking to go higher, with a first-ever Pro Tour qualification in tow. Austin was an avid athlete in his youth, and since getting back into Magic he’s used it as an outlet for his competitive streak, and when he commits to something, he’ll be damned if it doesn’t happen.

Austin isn’t a “pro player” per se, and only had tertiary links to the big-name players through attending Grand Prix, but it was his chutzpah that caused the Temur Aetherworks to be played in the numbers it was this weekend. He’s the one who handed off the list and said, “This is gold, trust me”—from there it spread like jam.

“It was all Shaun McLaren,” Austin was quick to say. “For weeks he was working with some ‘RUG’ midrange decks without Aetherworks that I already liked a lot.” The Pro Tour Born of the Gods champion McLaren (who was the second answer to the question above, by the way), had be tinkering with Temur energy. It was fun, but it wasn’t quite there. Even when McLaren played in the Magic Online Championship Series, it needed work. But McLaren knows his stuff, and Austin followed him step for step.

As the innovations happened, Austin tested, iterated, and fell in love. “I was beating White-Blue Flash!” he said—which any Aetherworks Marvel player can tell you is a feat.

It was then he sent a message to a casual acquaintance—Mike Sigrist. “I barely knew the guy, you know, but we had been in touch before.” He continued, “I sent him the list saying, ‘Look, I think this is really good; you should really think about playing it.’” It was little more than a shot in the dark. Austin said, “He was like ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ll test it,' which I completely understood. I didn’t really expect anything to come of it after that.”

But Siggy did test it. And he fell for Temur too. From there, he sent it to two-time Player of the Year, new Pro Tour Hall of Fame member, and second-ranked Owen Turtenwald. The two started hammering out the deck’s issues, and tinkering to see if it really was as good as it seemed. Apparently it was.

As the Grand Prix approached, players started asking about Standard. Sigrist’s friends crew, like Hayne, Pardee, and Rubin got their hands on the deck—Pardee didn’t get it until Thursday. Pardee noted “I said, ‘I’ll play three games with it, if I like it, I’ll play it.’” He’s playing it. The same thing happened on the Pantheon side with Ben Rubin, William Jensen and Paul Rietzl.

From McLaren it went to Austin; from Austin to Sigrist; from Sigrist to Turtenwald, and there the paths split into two traceable paths. But wait, aren’t we missing one? Well, actually we’re missing a few. But the missing one in this article is “The Once and Future Pro” Ray Perez, Jr.

How does he fit into all this?

Perez had a different route outside of the Austin entirely. He went straight to the source—Shaun McLaren. After McLaren went 3-3 in the Magic Online Championship tournament with an early version of the deck, Perez reached out and asked if McLaren thought the deck had legs. “At the time I wasn’t a huge fan of the Virtuoso, but I loved the counterspells in the sideboard.”

Even though McLaren’s answer wasn’t a resounding yes, Perez iterated the deck and made it his own. Each time McLaren would stream, or post a new article about the deck, Perez was paying attention.

“I can only test so much, so I read everything to keep up.” And boy did he. He found himself on the same successful list as many giant names—and it looks like at least one will be into the Top 8 in the next few rounds.

Those are the roots of this new tree.

Steve Rubin was explicit when he said Temur Aetherworks will be a new mainstay in Standard after this weekend. It’s the whirler that caused a whirlwind.

All this because Lance Austin, with yet a Grand Prix Top 8 to his name, was watching streams and reading articles, putting in the work, and reaching out to a person in the community he respected. It’s a cool story that many of us dream about as deck hounds. Austin will only keep going up from here.

“Once I qualified for the PT at Dallas, that was it. I’m committing,” he said. He talked to Sigrist and learned that Silver is within his reach. “Now Silver, then Gold, then Platinum, the Hall of Fame.” He was jocular, but the spirit was in his eyes. He’s proven his resolve, commitment and success in the Armed Forces; he’s shown his ability to get good ideas to the right people—creating this entire Temur tree before us. So why not this?

Temur Aetherworks is here to stay, and so is Lance Austin.

Lance Austin's Temur Aetherworks – GP Denver 2016

(2) Owen Turtenwald's Temur Aetherworks – GP Denver 2016

(6) Steve Rubin's Temur Aetherworks – GP Denver 2016

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