When Ixalan is released, we will see a large rotation with two blocks consisting of two sets, Battle for Zendikar block and Shadows over Innistrad, leaving. When a new set is released, it’s always awesome to see the new spoilers, and to explore new synergies and combos with the old cards. But with a rotation as large as this, it’s more important to examine which cards are leaving, and what’s no longer suppressed by these cards.
Last time, I covered Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch, so check that out if you missed it.
Shadows over Innistrad & Eldritch Moon
The shadowlands disappear with Shadows over Innistrad, which worked well with the cycling lands and battlelands. The showlands have been a big part of aggressive two-color decks, letting you play 1-drops of each color. That will change with only checklands and cycling lands that always come into play tapped on turn 1.
Westvale Abbey has been the perfect value land for any mono-colored deck or deck that abuses a lot of mana and small value creatures such as Cryptolith Rite, Zombies, or U/W Monument decks. It will be sad to see these kinds of strategies go, as well as any token strategy, since the card lets you change your game plan and turn the corner out of nowhere with haste and at instant speed.
This card might not seem like much, but it’s been around in a lot of the best decks since it was released in 2016. Thraben Inspector has been a part of Bant Humans Company, Mardu Vehicles, G/W Tokens, Mono-White Humans, and U/W Monument, to name a few. It’s the glue that held a lot of decks together, whether it was fixing mana, getting extra card advantage, or defense for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Without Thraben Inspector, I fear for Mardu Vehicles, which says a lot!
Traverse the Ulvenwald, Grim Flayer, and Ishkanah, Grafwidow are part of the same G/B delirium package that will be leaving Standard. This dominated for a long time before Glorybringer showed up to make Temur Energy the midrange deck to beat. At some point, Traverse the Ulvenwald was the best card in Standard, no doubt because of its versatility, allowing the delirium deck to function without having to play too many lands while having a tutor for any creature in the deck later in the game.
Grim Flayer is no slouch either. It’s not an incredible card in Standard, but a necessary glue to punish decks that had inconsistent draws or to punish planeswalkers.
Ishkanah, Grafwidow brought Bant Company to its knees basically on its own, which is no easy feat. Ishkanah lost some of its traction when it lost its partner in crime, Emrakul, the Promised End, but is still a hell of a Magic card, popping up in delirium decks from time to time. I’ve lost, but mostly won, with these cards at a lot of tournaments and I will be sad to see them go.
The second-best 1-drop after Bomat Courier is leaving Mono-Red, which is actually not a huge deal. You can either go a little bit bigger, or play Soul-Scar Mage, which has already seen play to some extent.
The core of the U/W Monument deck is of course Oketra’s Monument, but without these two, there won’t be much to power that engine. Bygone Bishop and Hanweir Militia Captain, together with Westvale Abbey, gave that deck the power to go over the top. Without them, the U/W Monument deck will crumble.
These two cards are the upsides to playing Mono-White Humans, and without them, there’s no reason to. But I’m sure Craig Wescoe will find a way!
This card has never been a major staple in Standard, but it’s been an important part of the U/R Control deck’s sideboard plan. With both this and Dragonmaster Outcast out, you have to look in less desirable places such as Kefnet, Glorybringer, or even Glyph Keeper to widen your attack angles.
These three sleepers hadn’t done much in Standard until Amonkhet block came out to fill in the details. But without this powerful trio, most likely the best three cards in the deck, Amonkhet block will likely not be enough to make Zombies a tier 1 Standard deck anymore.
It feels like this card has been around forever because I’ve played it for so long. And it’s great! Tireless Tracker is the perfect weapon in any grindy matchup. It’s a threat on the table that replaces itself, sometimes even twice with Evolving Wilds(!), and that snowballs if it’s not killed. It doesn’t really get better than that.
Oh wait, it does! It gets better post-board, since games slow down. You could search for it with Traverse the Ulvenwald, return it with Liliana, the Last Hope and double its counters with Winding Constrictor.
Tireless Tracker has been a dominating force in Standard ever since it was released until very recently. Why? The only format where Tireless Tracker doesn’t thrive is in one that has a lot of aggressive elements to it, and you don’t have enough sideboard cards against every deck. The games don’t slow down enough to make Tireless Tracker its best if you compare with earlier Standard formats that only had 3-4 tier 1 decks. Regardless, it’s still being played. Brad Nelson won the last Standard GP with a few in his sideboard, even though this is the worst environment for it so far! I’ll miss Tireless Tracker because it plays the games I want to play, it gives me a lot of options, and it’s hard to play with.
Prized Amalgam decks have been off and on in Standard. It’s never really been tier 1 while other decks has overshadowed it, but has always been a force to be reckoned with. Well, not anymore!
Shadows over Innistrad’s poster girl Archangel Avacyn changed how Standard was played ever since Steve Rubin won the Pro Tour with 4 in his main deck. Sorcery-speed removal got worse, and it was hard to play a creature mirror whenever your opponent passed with 5 mana up. Archangel Avacyn has actually been the 5-drop of choice even since Glorybringer and Hour of Devastation was released, featured in both Bant Company and Mardu Vehicles as the best cards in both decks for their respective mirror matches. Archangel Avacyn, on the verge on being too powerful, has always been one of my favorite cards. It has flash, meaning that it’s flexible and it’s hard to play against as much as it’s hard to play with.
Another nightmare to play against in a creature mirror, much like Archangel Avacyn. The only reason this card, which in a vaccum is very powerful, saw less play than it should have is because the format has been infested with natural enemies such as Liliana, the Last Hope and Walking Ballista. Even though we’re at a point where both cards are played, we’ve still seen it in the U/W Monument deck because of its power to keep important creatures like Bygone Bishop and Spell Queller alive. Without a natural way to deal with Selfless Spirit, it’s incredibly annoying, because when you plan to deal with one snowballing creature, they play Selfless Spirit, meaning you have to deal with that first and then the snowball just continues to grow.
If it weren’t for Emrakul, the Promised End, Liliana would have been the best card in Eldritch Moon. Liliana is one of the best planeswalkers ever printed, seeing play in multiple formats and it was the perfect glue to make the delirium deck tick. It was a planeswalker for delirium, it filled your graveyard, it kept down swarms of weenies by itself, and re-bought Emrakul in the late game, whether you topdecked it or just found it. It was also the perfect win condition if they somehow removed your Emrakuls, with its ultimate winning almost any game.
I played a wild match at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon against Mike Sigrist where he had two Liliana ultimate emblems and I had one myself. I kept him back every turn by playing Kozilek’s Returns in his end step until I finally drew Emrakul to cinch the game. Not only has Liliana won me a lot of matches, but also some of my most memorable situations! With her gone, black won’t really have another good planewalker except Liliana, Death’s Majesty, which pales in comparison.
Finally, PV doesn’t have to test this duo before every Pro Tour!
Both Distended Mindbender and Elder Deep-Fiend had a moment of greatness at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. But they quickly got overshadowed by Emrakul, the Promised End, and then other decks. They haven’t been at their peak since then, but Elder Deep-Fiend has popped up here and there. Every Pro Tour, new creatures that give you value and that don’t mind getting sacrificed have gotten a nod, whether it was Nissa, Vastwood Seer, Matter Reshaper, Pilgrim’s Eye, Rogue Refiner, or Champion of Wits in the service of the large Octopus. Not anymore!
Check back later in the week, when I’ll count down the biggest winners and losers from the Ixalan rotation.