What are we losing from the rotation? What decks are going to make it to the new format relatively intact? What changes and what formerly dead decks are getting a boost from Ixalan?
Major Format Changes
What’s leaving, deck-wise?
Zombies is dead. You may hear some creaking from the floorboards, but without a massive influx of playables, the deck is done. We lose Cryptbreaker, Relentless Dead, Diregraf Colossus, and Dark Salvation, which is essentially every good reason to play the deck in the first place. It’s just too bad to see this deck leave, as it’s one of the fairest top tier decks we’ve had.
B/G Constrictor in its current form. While the core remains intact, it loses the cheap planeswalkers, Grasp of Darkness, Tireless Tracker, and Grim Flayer. The grindy version effectively needs to be completely rebuilt to stay relevant, and the non-energy aggressive builds no longer exist. People will immediately flock to B/G Energy, which loses very little by contrast. More on that deck below.
Mono-Red takes a hit to the curve. It loses Village Messenger, Falkenrath Gorger, Incendiary Flow, Collective Defiance, and various sideboard options. While the deck is still going to be fine even if you downgrade in the 1-drop and burn department, the deck gets slower and the removal suite becomes more limited. More emphasis will be put on Hazoret, Glorybringer, and Chandra to do the heavy lifting.
What this means is you may see builds embrace the top end we typically saw in post-board games as the game 1 focus. Of course, it really depends on the kinds of creatures and burn spells we see in Ixalan that might fill these gaps. Captain Lannery Storm is already being bandied about as a possible addition, and if you raise the curve, the Captain plays nicely with jamming a Glorybringer a turn earlier.
The precise quality of the red deck is going to come down to what it gets out of Ixalan and how well it lines up against B/G Energy/Temur with the reduced burn suite.
Eldrazi decks are over because the Eldrazi are gone. They are no longer legal in the set. The deck [insert color] Eldrazi can no longer function because there are no Eldrazi available. Did I mention all the Eldrazi are rotating?
G/R Ramp and all its variants lose their entire top-end. It turns out with no Eldrazi there are very few legitimately scary threats, let alone ones that can turn around a game in which you skipped your first 4-5 turns. The loss of Chandra, Flamecaller exacerbates the issue—all the payoff threats that have huge board presence implications are leaving the format.
Of course, we’ve already seen some giant Dinosaurs that could fill some of the vacancies. Right now, though, none of them quite fit the exiting ramp deck, and none of them are good enough at wiping out a bunch of creatures. If control gets big though, then the easy answer is to just jam Carnage Tyrant, because that card is simply disgusting against a slow value deck.
What changes with the mana of the new format? Well, creaturelands leave, which is quite possibly the biggest deckbuilding consideration for the new format. The reveal lands (Port Town and friends) and the shadowlands are really not much of a loss. To be frank, those lands were borderline trash and a big reason why allied color combinations were at such a disadvantage. There was no reason not to take enemy fastlands and creaturelands when given the option.
That paradigm gets flipped on its head when we introduce the checklands back into the format. They play very well with cycling lands and are easier to use in general. Suddenly you aren’t being horribly punished for having the audacity to play allied colors—give me Glacial Fortress all day in my U/W Monument and U/W Approach decks. The format slowing down even slightl also benefits the midrange and control players who may not need to worry about a few more early stumbles for color consistency and untapped lands down the line.
Finally, special shout-outs to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Archangel Avacyn. This combo single-handedly kept white decks (and the bulk of white aggro/midrange) relevant for months on end. I will not be sad for either to head off into the sunset—you’ve won enough Pro Tours. Go join your EDH Angel and Modern Gideon tribal decks (now that the planeswalker rules have changed). For the rest of us, it means that we no longer have to ask how we can ever attack into an unanswered Gideon with 5 mana sitting open.
Almost nothing relevant for control strategies will depart. All their best tools come from Kaladesh onward, and outside of a few niche answers like Blessed Alliance, there’s not a whole lot to shed tears over. I’ve been critical of any control decks performing at a high level for a long time now, but if there was ever going to be a time to return to form, it would be now. Besides Temur Energy and G/R Pummeler—arguably both the equivalent of Block Constructed decks—U/R, U/W, and U/B Control decks keep all of their best tools while everyone else gets weaker.
Hell, you may even see a world where Pull from Tomorrow can finally get all the sweet value you’ve been left wanting.
Speaking of decks that don’t lose cards, G/B Energy, G/R Pummeler, and Temur Energy, outside of Tireless Tracker and (here’s those words again) sideboard options, almost nothing has changed. You can effectively take Brad Nelson’s winning Denver list, tweak a few cards, and be good to go for week 1. G/R Pummeler benefits from people forgetting the deck existed, and with everything else becoming weaker, it may have a chance to come out of the woodwork and turn-4 everyone’s cool brews. Before you get too excited, I’ve seen nothing to indicate a favorable Temur matchup, so the deck may be dead on arrival.
Still, let’s quickly hit on the energy shells.
Replace Grasp of Darkness with a different removal spell and your deck is already pre-made. Obviously, you can tweak from here, but this is the easiest deck to design in the G/B shell.
Be on the lookout for any cheap draw or upgrades to pump spells for this deck. Otherwise, the core of it is going to remain the same until it rotates out.
Gift decks lose some discard options while the straight U/W builds are effectively rotation-proof. All the relevant combo pieces were in Amonkhet block, and while Angel of Invention is the best card to bring back, you could see better options crop up with Ixalan. Meanwhile, Minister of Inquiries, Cathartic Reunion, Trophy Mage, and Champion of Wits aren’t going anywhere. The only cards the Jeskai build loses are Insolent Neonate, Dispel, and Mausoleum Wanderer—two sideboard cards and a support creature. If you were sad you didn’t get to play the Gift decks in this Standard, odds are that there will be plenty of time to do so in the next one.
Over the next two weeks we can start adding in more Ixalan cards to the decks as the meat and potatoes of the set start to come out. If we don’t have enough freshness, then I’ll instead take a closer look at what control decks’ traditional issues have been, and what we can do to fix them.