As we travel to Ixalan, Standard is in for some radical changes. Not only will we get a bunch of new cards, but we also have to say goodbye to Battle for Zendikar, Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows over Innistrad, and Eldritch Moon. This rotation will happen on Ixalan’s release date: Friday, September 29.
We don’t know much about the new cards yet, but I can talk about the impact of the ones that rotate. In this article, I will count down my picks for the Top 10 clusters of rotating cards. It won’t be an exhaustive list, but I will attempt to highlight the biggest losses. To capture as many relevant cards as possible, I’ll start with two groups of honorable mentions.
Honorable Mentions: All-Around Good Cards
These support spells and creatures have seen a reasonable amount of play over the course of their Standard legality, but they are relatively easy to replace and don’t seem to make or break a deck.
None of them are an essential piece of a current top-tier deck. It hasn’t always been that way—Sylvan Advocate was one of the most-played Standard cards at some point, but we haven’t seen it much in recent months. At least Brad Nelson and Corey Baumeister reminded the world at Grand Prix Minneapolis that it’s still legal… for now.
Honorable Mentions: Unique Effects to Build Decks Around
These cards have inspired brewers around the world, and I have enjoyed playing against the wacky decks these cards spawned. It’s possible exert decks may live on without Always Watching and that Metalwork Colossus decks may survive the loss of Hedron Archive, but some archetypes (emerge, for instance) will be completely gone after the rotation.
I do hope that we will continue to see these kinds of game-altering or build-around cards in future sets. The variation in strategies saves us from an endless swamp of midrange mirrors.
This strategy never really took off, but if you’d like to give White-Blue Spirits one last try, then you have about one more month to do so.
The two cards that did not rely on tribal synergies with other Spirits (Selfless Spirit and Spell Queller) have seen the most play in Standard. They were popular inclusions in the Bant Company decks of old, then became the backbone of White-Blue Flash, and in recent months I’ve seen them in White-Blue Monument decks. But their stint will come to an end.
9. Delirium Cards and Enablers
Delirium was one of the most memorable mechanics to come out of the Shadows over Innistrad block. With payoffs like a 4/4 for B/G and a Demonic Tutor for G (I may be stretching it a bit here), delirium was worth building around. The strategy got worse after Emrakul, the Promised End was banned, but it’s still seeing some play to this day.
8. Mono-Red Cards
Given the dominance of Mono-Red at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, these cards deserve their own category. Village Messenger and Collective Defiance are not particularly important, as many decks have already opted for Soul-Scar Mage or Chandra, Torch of Defiance instead, but the loss of Falkenrath Gorger and Incendiary Flow could weaken Mono-Red a little bit.
Falkenrath Gorger could reliably attack for 2 on turn 2, and there is no clear replacement. Options include Flameblade Adept in a more discard-centric list, Inventor’s Apprentice in a version with more artifacts, and Hope of Ghirapur in a version that needs artifacts, but none of them sound amazing. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ixalan contains a 1-mana pirate that synergizes with Kari Zev, Skyship Raider. We’ll see…
Incendiary Flow is a good burn spell, and its rotation means that the deck loses a bit of reach. However, Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa’s Pro Tour winning list didn’t play even a single copy, opting for Abrade instead. It is likely that Mono-Red decks in the future will continue to focus on controlling the board rather than burning the opponent to a crisp.
7. Battlelands and Shadowlands
I didn’t feel like it was necessary to list all 10, but every Allied color combination loses 2 dual lands.
To some extent, this is not a big deal, as many of these lands had already been replaced by cycling duals (like Canyon Slough) and checklands (like Sunpetal Grove) will return in Ixalan. But for Allied-color decks with double-colored cards in both colors, such as Nathan Lothamer’s Black-Red Control deck from the Top 8 of Grand Prix Minneapolis, having to go down from 12 to 8 dual lands could hurt their consistency.
6. Shadows Block Double-Faced Cards
We’re getting some new ones in Ixalan, but double-faced cards have always been a fan favorite, and looking at this list, I can see why. All of these cards have a memorable effect on the game, as you might expect when you can write twice as much text on a card.
Out of the bunch, Archangel Avacyn has probably seen the most play, and it was one of the best 5-drops in Standard for quite a while. Maybe Angel of Sanctions will get a chance to shine after the rotation. Oketra’s Monument, on the other hand, will become much worse after Westvale Abbey and Hanweir Militia Captain rotate out.
5. Eldrazi and Eldrazi-Related Cards
I could have extended the list with small creatures like Eldrazi Skyspawner, Blisterpod, and so on, but when I think of “Eldrazi” in the context of Standard, the first thing that comes to my mind is a humongous 10/10 for 10 mana.
After Aetherworks Marvel spurred many months of turn-4 Ulamogs, we now finally have a Red-Green Ramp deck that can be called “fair.” Using spells like Hour of Promise to reach 10 mana ahead of time, it’s the type of deck that I think is good to have around in Standard. It actually makes me a little sad that Ulamog rotates out.
Several other cards that made sense in an Eldrazi-infested world also rotate out. This includes lands like Sea Gate Wreckage, Sanctum of Ugin, and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, as well as devoid spells like Transgress the Mind. Doomfall and Lay Bare the Heart are reasonable alternatives to Transgress the Mind, though.
Wandering Fumarole (in Blue-Red Control) and Hissing Quagmire (in Black-Green Energy) are arguably the most important in the current metagame, but all of these creaturelands have seen a lot of play in the last two years.
Mana bases are always more important than you might expect, and the loss of these creaturelands could hurt enemy-color decks. Then again, they still have access to fastlands (like Concealed Courtyard) and there are alternative lands that mitigate flooding (like Canyon Slough or Ramunap Ruins).
3. Planeswalkers and Oaths
In total, 11 planeswalkers will rotate out, and I listed all of them. This is the entire Gatewatch, plus 6 other characters. I think it’s fair to say that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has proven to be the “best” one, but his rotation will give Gideon of the Trials a chance to shine.
All of the Oaths (except for Oath of Ajani) rotate out as well. Oath of Nissa is arguably the most important—the green Ponder drove the consistency of Green-White Tokens, 4-Color Saheeli, and various other decks over the last one-and-a-half years.
2. Investigate Cards
White-Blue Monument already hasn’t been putting up impressive finishes lately, but does it even retain any part of its creature base? As it turns out, only 4 Cloudblazer survive the rotation. Good luck with that.
Mardu Vehicles might be in trouble too. Thraben Inspector allowed the deck to reach a critical mass of artifacts for Toolcraft Exemplar, Unlicensed Disintegration, and Spire of Industry. Without it, the deck will run into consistency issues.
Is there a replacement? Inventor’s Apprentice is not a good one—you can’t replace an enabler with a payoff card. Bomat Courier might be an option, but it has a poor size, is more easily removed than a Clue, and doesn’t make for an ideal pilot. Either way, after the rotation of Thraben Inspector and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, I fear that there simply won’t be enough of an incentive to run white. Without white, you don’t have Toolcraft Exemplar, which in turn means Heart of Kiran doesn’t have enough adequate pilots, and eventually the deck topples like a house of cards.
1. Over Half of the Mono-Black Zombie Deck
If I look at Yusuke Sasabe’s list from the Top 8 of Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, then over half the nonland part of his main deck (23 cards, to be precise) rotate out. This doesn’t bode well for the Zombie tribe at all. Without Cryptbreaker and Dark Salvation in particular, I have strong doubts whether the Zombie tribe will continue to be worth building around.
Besides these tribal cards, two of the best cards against Mono-Red rotate as well.
Grasp of Darkness was a perfect removal spell for Hazoret the Fervent, while Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet could regain all the life you lost in the early turns. We saw those not only in Mono-Black Zombies, but in decks like Green-Black Energy as well.
I expect that the rotation of these 6 black cards will shake up Standard considerably.
Without knowing the full contents of Ixalan and just based on the cards that rotate out, my predictions for the future prospects of today’s top-tier Standard decks are as follows:
- Mono-Red will almost surely stick around, albeit without Falkenrath Gorger.
- Zombies will not survive the rotation.
- Mardu Vehicles will be severely weakened by the loss of Thraben Inspector and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and I strongly doubt if it will stick around in its current form.
- Black-Green Constrictor loses Grasp of Darkness, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, Hissing Quagmire, and more. But the core of the deck remains intact.
- Temur Energy loses nothing of importance and will likely continue to be relevant.
- Blue-Red Control loses Wandering Fumarole and its Thing in the Ice sideboard plan. But the deck has access to an alternative win condition in Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh, and it will likely stick around.
- White-Blue Monument will not survive the rotation.
- Red-Green Pummeler loses nothing of importance and will likely stick around.
- Mono-Red Eldrazi and Mono-White Eldrazi lose their eponymous cards and will not survive the rotation.
- Red-Green Ramp still has Hour of Promise, but the big question mark is whether Ixalan has something to replace the big Eldrazi. The Dinosaurs, maybe? I’m looking forward to find out.