The Preliminary Gauntlet for Post-Rotation Standard, Part 1: Midrange

Last week, I went over the top 20 card clusters that will rotate out of Standard with the release of Battle for Zendikar on October 2. This week, I’ll look ahead and provide a gauntlet of 5 different decks. My aim is to give an early impression of what we can expect from Standard after the rotation, which is useful because we didn’t have a Block Constructed Pro Tour this year. I’ll build my decks with cards from Tarkir Block, Magic Origins, and the Battle for Zendikar cards that have been spoiled by Monday, August 31.

My gauntlet is composed of a variety of strategies: one control deck, one aggro deck, one ramp deck, and two midrange decks. I’ll go over the two midrange decks today and cover the others later this week.

Abzan Hangarback Megamorph

Abzan has been dominating Standard recently, but it will lose several key cards in the rotation. All versions lose Thoughtseize and Hero’s Downfall. Additionally, the control variant loses Elspeth and Courser of Kruphix, the aggro variant loses Fleecemane Lion, and the megamorph variant loses Satyr Wayfinder. But these cards can be replaced. Here’s my build.

It’s like Hangarback Abzan, but with Deathmist Raptor instead of Fleecemane Lion. This deck looks good to me—Siege Rhino remains powerful.

Some quick comments on card choices:

  • Gideon is a powerful turn-4 play. Like Sorin, you can get a 2/2 creature right away, but Gideon has 4 rather than 2 loyalty afterwards. The flip side is that Gideon is more difficult to cast due to its double-white cost, and his +1 doesn’t swing a damage race as well as Sorin on the turn he comes down. Nevertheless, my first impression is that Gideon can earn a spot in the deck.
  • The number of Dromoka’s Commands is low because Courser of Kruphix, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and other enchantments from Theros block are rotating, and several red burn spells are rotating as well. Moreover, the deck has fewer early drops for fighting purposes.
  • Utter End is the Hero’s Downfall replacement. Stormbreath Dragon rotates out, and exiling is relevant against Hangarback Walker and Deathmist Raptor. Ruinous Path would be good in this slot too, but I chose to avoid double-black cards for mana base reasons.
  • Despise and Duress replace Thoughtseize against big-creature decks and control decks, respectively.

The mana base is an interesting one. I could have copied a mana base from Hangarback Abzan and replaced the Temples by Scoured Barrens and Jungle Hollow, but I made some changes. First, I went down to 25 lands because there are no more Temples to mitigate mana flood, no more 6-drops to cast, and a free scry if you mulligan. Second, I included more basic Swamps because there are no more Fleecemane Lions to make you feel bad about that. Third, I included the Battle for Zendikar dual lands: 3 Canopy Vista along with 14 basics or fetches. To attain so many basic lands, I included 3 Evolving Wilds. The more, the better, of course, but 14 will enable an untapped Canopy Vista on turn 4 a good percentage of time. (I’ll analyze the precise numbers later this month.) Either way, it’s a tight balancing act. I like that we have 14 black sources, 17 white sources, and 19 green sources in the deck right now. The black requirement, by the way, is why I don’t have the 4th Canopy Vista.


Jeskai will survive the rotation as well. The deck loses Lightning Strike, Stoke the Flames, and Goblin Rabblemaster, but they can be replaced. And Mantis Rider and Soulfire Grand Master remain reason enough to go Jeskai. Below you can find a midrange build. I didn’t go for a token version with Jeskai Ascendancy because Dromoka’s Command and Virulent Plague are still legal.

Lightning Strike was a great spell that worked well with Jace and Soulfire Grand Master, so it will be missed. I chose to replace it with Draconic Roar, which necessitated the inclusion of Thunderbreak Regent and Dragonlord Ojutai.

Some quick comments on other card choices:

The mana base was again an interesting puzzle. First, I have no Haven of the Spirit Dragon because it doesn’t help cast Mantis Rider. Perhaps more surprisingly, there is only 1 Prairie Stream. These new duals are good for wedge-colored decks that are only splashing the enemy color, but not for wedge-colored decks with a heavy commitment to the enemy color. In this case, the deck contains Thunderbreak Regent, and I want at least 17 sources for such a double-red card. I want 4 Flooded Strand along with 2 Island, 1 Plains, and 1 Prairie Stream for sure. That’s 8 non-red-producing lands already, and if we run 25 lands, this means that every other land in the deck has to produce red. Consequently, we can’t run more than one Prairie Stream.

Concluding Thoughts

Cards like Siege Rhino, Den Protector, Mantis Rider, Wild Slash, and so on will likely remain staples in the post-rotation Standard. Later this week, I’ll complete the gauntlet with Esper Dragons, Temur Ramp, and Atarka Sligh.

Although my decks will likely change a bit after more cards are spoiled, they yield a context to evaluate new cards. So, if you’re a Standard player and see a new Battle for Zendikar spoiler, don’t look at new cards in a vacuum. Instead, ask whether the card would be good against or in these gauntlet decks!

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