As we travel to the plane of Ravnica, 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 Kaladesh, Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, and Hour of Devastation. This rotation will happen in six weeks from now on the release date of Guilds of Ravnica: Friday, October 5th.
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 most important “groups” of rotating cards. It won’t be an exhaustive list—for example, it doesn’t include Deserts, Cats, Haze of Pollen, aftermath cards, or Zombies, but I will attempt to highlight the biggest losses.
10. The God-Pharaoh’s Gift Deck
Eternalize was one of the more memorable mechanics to come out of Hour of Devastation, and God-Pharaoh’s Gift encapsulated it perfectly. Several decks were built around this 7-mana artifact, but the one that stuck around was the W/U Refurbish build that propelled Pascal Maynard to his 2nd-place finish at Pro Tour Ixalan.
Since it wasn’t a typical aggro, midrange, or control deck—it was more like a combo engine—the deck added some diversity to Standard. Unfortunately, every single key card from the deck is rotating, so it won’t survive the rotation. If you’d like to give it one last try, then you have about six more weeks to do so.
9. The Mono-Blue Storm Deck
Another unique deck is Mono-Blue Storm, which rose to prominence after the printing of Sai. It aims to win by playing a flurry of spells: bouncing your own cheap artifacts, drawing a ton of cards, and eventually using Aetherflux Reservoir. So it’s a combo deck, but as Daan Pruijt explained, it also draws on elements from control decks and prison decks. Unfortunately, every key card is rotating.
Sure, some artifact payoffs (such as Karn, Sai, and The Antiquities War) remain. But nearly all of the setup cards (including the ones above, but also Heart of Kiran, Cogworker’s Puzzleknot, Servo Schematic, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Walking Ballista) were from Kaladesh block. Since we’ll be left with Fountain of Renewal, Treasure Map, and not much else, it will be hard to construct a synergistic artifact deck after the rotation.
8. The Artifact Cards from Mardu Vehicles
Another deck that heavily relied on the artifact theme from Kaladesh block was Mardu Vehicles. Even though Smuggler’s Copter—“the result of a new card type pushed too far”—was quickly banned, the Top 8 of the subsequent Pro Tour consisted of six Mardu Vehicle decks. Heart of Kiran proved to be extremely powerful, and the archetype stuck around ever since. I had a great time playing this synergy-driven aggro deck for an entire season until Ramunap Ruins and Goblin Chainwhirler eventually tempted me to switch to Mono-Red.
Scrapheap Scrounger, Heart of Kiran, and Aethersphere Harvester—the actual artifacts in this list—even found widespread adoption in other decks. For example, B/R Aggro and Steel Leaf Stompy. The rotation of these artifacts will hopefully result in more diversity among 2-drops in the post-rotation Standard.
7. The G/B Constrictor Deck
Winding Constrictor was released in Aether Revolt, and it spawned a variety of black-green decks that focused on exploiting +1/+1 counters or energy counters. These powerful synergies will soon come to an end, as all of the key cards are rotating out.
Most of the other cards in B/G Constrictor (such as Vraska’s Contempt, Ravenous Chupacabra, Thrashing Brontodon, and Llanowar Elves) remain, but without Winding Constrictor as a build-around, you’re left with a group of individually powerful cards that lack coherence.
6. Fastlands and Cycling Lands
Every two-color combination loses a dual land: the allied color combinations lose the cycling lands, and the enemy color combinations lose the fastlands. We retain the 10 checklands, weaker duals like Evolving Wilds and Woodland Stream, a tribal land in Unclaimed Territory, and whatever Guilds of Ravnica will bring.
Given that the new set is a multicolor set, you have to imagine that there will be dual lands in Guilds of Ravnica. But since it will only feature Selesnya, Boros, Golgari, Izzet, and Dimir, it’s possible that the set will contain only five duals. The shocklands would be an obvious callback to the original Ravnica, but this is all just speculation at this point—we’ll have to wait and see.
Either way, mana consistency remains important, and the availability of mana fixing will drive the post-rotation metagame to a large extent.
5. Good All-Round Removal Spells
Although none of these cards are truly essential to the strategy of any deck, they have seen a lot of play over the course of their Standard legality. Fatal Push and Abrade were even deemed efficient enough to make it into Modern. Hence, red and/or black Standard players will have the most trouble finding suitable replacements for their removal spells.
Lightning Strike and Cast Down remain legal, so that’s a start, but Grixis Midrange in particular will have to change a lot of cards after the rotation. Then again, that deck also loses its entire creature base save Nicol Bolas, so it is due for a complete overhaul anyway.
4. Blue Control Cards
This is a relatively long list, featuring win conditions, countermagic, and card draw spells. The loss of the win conditions in particular is bad news for Esper Control or U/B Midrange. The Scarab God was considered to be the most powerful card in Standard, and the “combo” of Torrential Gearhulk plus Vraska’s Contempt could swing around games just as well. They have no clear replacement after the rotation.
Taking into account the additional loss of Fatal Push, I expect that control players after the rotation will ignore black and instead opt for W/U Control with Teferi, Settle the Wreckage, and Search for Azcanta. Even though this archetype loses Fumigate and Approach of the Second Sun in the rotation, we retain a 5-mana sweeper in Cleansing Nova and a win condition in Teferi.
3. Steel Leaf Stompy Cards
These green cards see regular play in Steel Leaf Stompy. In addition, the archetype loses Heart of Kiran and Scrapheap Scrounger. All in all, the majority of its early game rotates out. Fortunately, all of these cheap creatures can be reasonably replaced by Merfolk Branchwalker, Thorn Lieutenant, Jadelight Ranger, and Adventurous Impulse.
I expect that Steel Leaf Stompy will survive the rotation. Llanowar Elves into Steel Leaf Champion should remain one of the best possible starts in Standard, and you can still follow up with Vine Mare and Ghalta. To keep combat interesting in the new Standard, I hope that Guilds of Ravnica offers a good combat trick to take the role of Blossoming Defense and Rhonas.
2. All Energy Cards
I already hid several energy cards in previous categories, but the mechanic deserves a category of its own. In the way it was executed, the energy mechanic can rightfully be called a mistake. The first energy card to be banned was Aetherworks Marvel, following its dominance at Pro Tour Amonkhet. Turn-4 Ulamogs were unhealthy, and there was little counterplay to the strategy.
But even without Marvel, Temur Energy continued to dominate. It was the deck that William Jensen used to become the 2017 World Champion, and it put multiple players in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Ixalan. Since it was nearly impossible to reach a truly favorable matchup against the deck, Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner were eventually banned as well. The remaining energy cards still saw some play, but due to these bans, energy finally lost its stranglehold on the format.
I think the rotation of Aether Hub will prove to be the most impactful out of all of energy cards because it was regularly played in non-energy decks. Even as a 2-of mana fixer, it made it possible to, for example, consistently run Sarkhan’s Unsealing and Steel Leaf Champion in the same deck. Aether Hub also improved the mana base of Nicol Bolas decks. Such multicolor decks will get harder to build after the rotation.
1. Over Half of the Mono-Red Aggro Deck
Ramunap Red dominated the Top 8 of Pro Tour Hour of Devastation and remained a crucial part of Standard ever since. Given that Ramunap Red was so strong against decks other than Temur Energy, Rampaging Ferocidon and Ramunap Ruins were banned along with the energy cards.
But a strong deck remained, featuring individually powerful cards at every spot of the mana curve from 1 to 5. Yet if you look at the list that Wyatt Darby used to take down Pro Tour Dominaria, then over half his creature base (19/26 cards, to be precise) and over half of his sideboard rotates out. The loss of both aggressive early-game creatures and the powerful top-end is a big blow. Black-red versions lose even more, as Scrapheap Scrounger and Unlicensed Disintegration rotate as well.
Nevertheless, I expect that some kind of red deck will linger. There will always be players who enjoy pointing Shock and Lightning Strike at their opponents. (I’m one of them.) But these decks will look different than before, and the total number of Goblin Chainwhirlers in the metagame will decrease.
Predictions for the Future
Several decks will not survive the rotation, including W/U Gift, Mono-Blue Storm, Mardu Vehicles, and B/G Constrictor. I also don’t have high hopes for U/B Midrange or Esper Control. Other decks will likely stick around in changed form, and “new” decks will emerge. Let’s speculate based on the cards that remain legal.
Since Ixalan block was a tribal block and Unclaimed Territory will be one of the best mana fixers available in post-rotation Standard, all tribal decks will get better. A while ago, I proposed four budget-minded tribal decks using only cards from Ixalan block. U/G Merfolk or W/B Vampires in particular could become reasonable options, assuming that the popularity of Goblin Chainwhirler drops sufficiently for a return of 1-toughness creatures.
Dominaria introduced the triple-colored cards that incentivized you to build mono-color decks. Especially in mono-white and mono-green, I see an excellent start to a creature base. You have Knight of Grace, History of Benalia, Benalish Marshal, Resplendent Angel, and Lyra Dawnbringer in white, and you have Llanowar Elves, Thorn Lieutenant, Steel Leaf Champion, Vine Mare, and Ghalta in green. Depending on the support from Guilds of Ravnica, two competitive mono-color decks could arise here.
In mono-red, we retain Shock, Lightning Strike, The Flame of Keld, Goblin Chainwhirler, and Rekindling Phoenix. That’s a good start, but we’re sorely lacking good early drops. Our best options are probably tribal-based. We could go Pirates with Daring Buccaneer and Fanatical Firebrand, we could go Wizards with Ghitu Lavarunner and Viashino Pyromancer, or we could go Goblins with Skirk Prospector and Goblin Instigator. It will all depend on the contents of Guilds of Ravnica, but if I would have to choose right now, then I would bet on Wizards, as Wizard’s Lightning has already proven successful in Standard.
The next deck that may be viable in post-rotation Standard is Grixis Dragons. Sarkhan, Dragon’s Hoard, Nicol Bolas, Demanding Dragon, and Unclaimed Territory is a good start. I keep mentioning Unclaimed Territory because after the loss of fastlands and cycling lands, it’s one of the best fixers remaining. Still, for a 3-color deck, it will need extra mana fixing from Guilds of Ravnica to function. Fortunately, Guilds of Ravnica will feature Izzet and Dimir, so I would expect a serviceable mana base (as well as many new high-quality spells) for the Grixis colors.
Finally, an excellent core for a white-blue deck remains, even if the Azorius guild won’t be in Guilds of Ravnica. From the starting point of Teferi, Settle the Wreckage, and Search for Azcanta, you can go in two directions.
First, you could add Seal Away, Essence Scatter, and Syncopate to build a dedicated control deck. Especially if Guilds of Ravnica adds an instant-speed card advantage spell and another removal spell, you have all the key ingredients to build an outstanding W/U Control deck.
Second, you could add Nexus of Fate, Root Snare, and Gift of Paradise to build a Turbo Fog deck. It may be hard to call it that way if all you have is four copies of Root Snare, but Settle the Wreckage is already earning its stripes as a pseudo-fog. See, for example, Eric Froehlich’s Top 8 list from last weekend’s Grand Prix.
A potent sideboard card against both Teferi decks is likely Sorcerous Spyglass, but it’s a bit early to go into hate cards and metagame considerations.
Standard is in for some radical changes with the upcoming rotation, and that’s all without seeing the contents of Guilds of Ravnica.
Which rotating cards will you miss the most, and what are your early expectations for the post-rotation Standard?